Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Zen Koan

I read a few Zen Koans over the past few years, and re-read them over the past few days. Funny how time and effort sometime don't correlate.

Here is presented an unpublished Zen koan.

It was the morning when the snow and dew argued on the leaves of the cherry tree. The tree never participated. The leaves never participated. The sun was warmer than she had been a few weeks ago when the snow had won. Makoto was a bright boy and disciple of Kazuo. Unlike most boys his age, he wasn't admitted into a monastry, but brought under the aegis of Kazuo. Everyone in Kyoto regarded Kazuo as an enigma and spoke with two tongues about him. Makoto heard neither.Makoto watched the sun rise and melt the snow on the branch that dangled outside the zendo. With every falling drop his mind grew anxious. The cherry tree had borne her tears far too long and was gladdened at the sight of the golden orb. Soon she would blossom into a shocking bunch of pink against the azure sky and the white of spring afternoons. But the future wasn't present in Makoto's mind. When the remains of the defeated snow dangled dearly to the sallow leaves he jumped up and ran to his Master. His footsteps made no more noise than the fall of the now melted snow.

He waited outside his Master's chamber. His Master was deep in meditation. He sank to the floor and touched his head to the tatami within the chamber. Kazuo opened his eyes and softly shut them, before Makoto raised his troubled head. Kazuo's eyes shone with a smile none could see. The sun was up above the house and Kazuo was still in meditation. Makoto waited as he knew not what else to do.When the sun lit the other side of the house, Kazuo opened his eyes and nodded his permission to Makoto.
"I am sorry to disturb you Master."
"Hmmm"
"I wanted to know what is love?"
"Hmmm. I need some tea."

Makoto took permission and rushed to make tea. He picked the finest herbs and jasmine and prepared tea for his Master. He wasn't allowed to taste it before his Master did, so he carefully smelt the snaking fumes and decided that it was appropriate to serve it to his Master.

"Master."
Kazuo had his tea. He sipped every drop and let it run on his tongue. Makoto realised that he was hungry too as he hadn't had his meals. He gulped while he covered the teapot with the black woolen cloth. Kazuo finally replaced the cup in the tray.

"Master, if I may ask you something?"
"Hmmm"
"What is love Master? In all its forms?"
"Hmmm. Do we have sufficient rice at home for dinner?"

Makoto excused himself and rushed to the kitchen. He checked all the containers and bowls and made sure that the sounds of emptiness of the vessels and his stomach were well concealed. He paused to gather the right words and rushed back.

"Master, I haven't done used my begging bowl today. Please let me go out and get some rice."
"Hmmm. Saburo-san had promised to offer the food to our household. Maybe you could save time by going there."

Makoto requested permission and grabbed his begging bowl and ran out. The evening made his feet frigid and the straw sandals were no protection from the steely pinch of the early night breeze. He rushed to Saburo-san's house and knocked on the door. Nobody answered the door. He knocked again and curled his toes into a fist. A soft voice came from within.
"Who is it?"
"Bhiku Makoto. Master Kazuo sent me to ask Saburo-san for some rice. Not much. Just enough for two bodies."
"Father is not at home. Can you come later?"
Makoto wasn't sure. His Master might not like his unsuccessful voyage.
"Rice enough for one person, is all I ask. I shall wait here while you get it for me. Rest assured."
The door opened silently to one of the most beautiful girls Makoto had ever seen. Her eyes were wide open before they demurely turned towards his sandals. He slowly hid them under his habit. Her hair fell straight on her pale delicate forearm and such a union of the blackest black with the whitest white was divine, or as some in Japan say, the handiwork of the devil. Her voice was like the gurgling of the stream that stretches from the yawning caves of the mountains yonder into a widely awaiting parched earth. Such lips were those that cherry blossoms divided the redness amongst themselves and still failed to be redder than the pink that the world loved. Her kimono grew from a gentle ivory near the nape of her neck to a soft pink near her elbow, much like the blush that grew on her cherubic face having realised that she was now held in rapture. The scarf she wore made her skin seem more pale. She looked up to see a handsome bhiku with eyes as passionate as her tender heart.
"Please come in"
"Uh! A little rice is all I need."
She bit her lower lip till he decided to step in.
"I shall bring you rice. There is fish too. Would you want some?"
"No, rice is all that my Master asked."
She shuffled into the kitchen and returned with a large bowl of steaming hot rice. She placed it beside him and proceeded to fill his bowl with a small cup. Her hair and the scented rice mingled to intoxicate Makoto. He rose sharply.
"Thank you. You are very kind."
He turned and left.
He ran into the dark night as fast as he could to get away from those eyes. From one black dream into another.

He entered the house and filled his Master's bowl with rice.
"Master? Rice. Saburo-san's family was very kind."
Kazuo smiled.
"Hmmm. It took you a while."
Makoto hesitated.
"Saburo-san's daughter had her reservation in opening the house to strangers."
"Hmmm. I forgot her name."
"I am sorry Master. I hadn't enquired."
"Hmmm."
At length, Kazuo finished his bowl of rice and rose to leave for his inner chamber.
"Master. Pardon me for disturbing you."
"Hmmm?"
"Master, I wanted to know what is love."
Kazuo smiled.
"You still don't know?"
Makoto looked up and smiled. He bowed his head on the tatami and left the chamber.

19 comments:

  1. This sure made me smile :)

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  2. Glad it did.

    As I had mentioned in an earlier post, the bath is a dangerous place. It tickles the mind with stories and ideas. Today's shower showered this one on me.

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  3. I don't get it!

    The attraction Makoto feels for the girl is love? Or is it the mundane duties that he performs in obeisance to the Master?

    I am perplexed!

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  4. Meera :-)

    Neither.
    Actually in a way both and still neither.

    Its a koan. Spend some time on it. ;-)

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  5. hmm..

    So comforting to the EYES
    The font 'n the SIZE
    U’ve been WISE :)
    But,wonder y it took you this long to REALIZE!?

    *giggle*

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  6. But my dear, you must know
    Ne'er thought there'd be a plaint What the blog, now, does show
    Is a face my brush did not paint

    Honestly, I didn't even think that people would read my blog. Anyway, I am not rectifying it. I tried and I failed miserably last night. Another friend of mine is working on it. She wanted a free hand!! She's got it all.

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  7. Yours is by far ONE OF THE best blogs I've come across till now (haven’t been into this for long myself ‘n am no authority).

    Happened to visit your blog a few time earlier 'n was completely put off 'cos I had to keep scrolling up 'n down!

    Your friend has made life a lot easier. *bless her soul* :)

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  8. Yeah I agree with you Xena. This is indeed a very good blog.:-)

    Mr. Eroteme, you are lucky to have such obliging friends. :-)

    Btw, is this a Koan at all? I am beginning to wonder.. :-)

    My eyes are half closed and I am close to satori... If I do find the answer I'll let u know. But as of now, I am clueless...

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  9. I am grateful to both of you, although terribly embarrased...

    An old beggar
    Beneath a toddy palm
    Telling stories

    Maybe its not a Koan. Maybe it is.

    Satori reveals all; where muted silence is a saga and an epic is meaningless chatter of birds returning home at dusk...

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  10. *Xena wonders what Satori actually is*

    *Xena believes its probably the HIGHEST state of mind that one reaches on meditating*

    but,where was I when the rest of the world learnt about this?? :(

    *Xena thinks she should catch up on such terms..after all life is a lot more than just work..yeah war *

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  11. Xena, its ok not to know satori. Meera and I take interest in the land of the rising sun and hence are familiar with a few terms and peculiarities of that land (you must listen to the opening description of Japan in the movie Last Samurai. Very beautiful. I also had a post about the leading actress of that movie.)

    Satori is pretty much what you think it is and is a term quite specific to Japan and Buddhism in particular.

    "Xena does this", "Xena wants that"!! :-))
    I had a kid friend who used to address herself like that (there is a word in English for this and I am racking my brains to recall).

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  12. *Xena feels ok..for now, at least*

    TU! :)

    (TU= Thank You...just in case;) 'cos this is'nt from Japan :D )

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  13. Hi, came here via Xena.

    This is truly a ... thought provoking story. The following is my perception:

    Love - means many different things to many people.

    "What is Love master? In all its forms?"

    I suppose this lil story is meant to make a person think. But love is not limited to the affection one has towards ones loved one (the fact that the student did the master's bidding even when he had not got his answer. He waited patiently - only love can do that)

    Love it was which made the student resist the urge to flirt, love it was which made the student tell teh truth, love it is which fearlessly prompted the student to relentlessly pursue the question.

    But above all - love it is which surfaced the question - What is Love?

    Whatever form it may take - Love is simple, the simplest feeling of affection and the most natural - as natural as the snow slidding down the leaves of the cherry tree and the sun warming the earth after the winter cold.

    Love demands nothing. The student knew the master was hungry and ... he was. He just did what he did everyday.

    Love in all its simplicity is mistaken to be the most complex - "You still dont know?"

    I loved that :-)

    See you next week end(that's Thursday Friday for me)

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  14. Trou,
    Pretty neat analysis. But a koan doesn't have a single __right__ answer. But you have understood it very well. Seriously.

    "He waited patiently - only love can do that"

    Hmmm

    "Love it was which made the student resist the urge to flirt"

    Is that so?

    "Love in all its simplicity is mistaken to be the most complex - "You still dont know?"

    I loved that :-)"

    Glad I had something to offer for your love...

    Koans by their very nature are not meant to elicit a specific right answer. They are meant to run continuously in your head and prop up whenever they feel like...

    I hope I do not make an arrogant claim in supposing that this is a koan, but I had no better name for it. Do refer to my comment where I said "Maybe its not a Koan. Maybe it is.".

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope to see more of you ... A little caught up today, so I will visit your blog sometime soon...

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  15. Yup, Love was what stopped the student from flirting - Love for his master - Not Love at first sight; rather it should be 'Lust at first sight' ... LOL :-)

    Was just flirting around relishing the last few minutes I have before I pack off to Sharjah. So, see u on Thursday. I like these Koans - may I have some more ? *Pretty Please* Its so much like my business cases - I always tell my students - there's no right and wrong depends on how you justify - kinda making them political. But a Koan has a ... relation to paprables ... just makes you ponder and think about it ... before I become late - Adieu.

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  16. Hmmm.
    He noticed everything beautiful about her, didn't he? Which takes us to the question: What is flirting? ;-)

    Sure. Koans written by others are available here:
    http://www.thesegoto11.com/zen/

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  17. Hmmm... Beauty Lies in the eyes of the Beholder... Flirting then could mean the fact that some people or all people who engage in the refined and polished act of flirting find that when they have seen all that is to be seen no longer find 'beauty' in what they first beheld to be beautiful and so they keep moving ... relishing and enjoying that which they behold as beautiful as long as it appeals to them. That is my opinion of 'Flirting'.

    So what then is 'Beauty'? Can there be one universal meaning of beauty? I dont think so, unless there exists just one man in the universe !

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  18. Parvati9:54 PM

    @Eroteme: I am still caught in the quiet of the whole Koan, and have nothing at all to say.

    Except for of course the obvious - thanks a lot for allowing us to share in something of such pristine beauty. Truly beautifully written.

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  19. Parvati12:17 AM

    @Eroteme :
    "
    "Xena does this", "Xena wants that"!! :-))
    I had a kid friend who used to address herself like that (there is a word in English for this and I am racking my brains to recall). "

    The English term that describes the practice of referring to oneself in the third person is ILLEISM, and Xena or your kid friend who habitually practises illeism is called an ILLEIST.

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