Monday, November 21, 2005

My Favorite Zen Story

(I'm not a Buddhist. I'm not even a Zen Buddhist. But, because nothing else blogworthy has happened this week, I will repeat my favorite Zen story.)

A friend of mine gave me a copy of the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. The first part of the book is a collection of cute little Zen stories. The rest of the book gets weirder and weirder, and I've never liked it much. But here is the story:

"No Water, No Moon."
When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Down By The Lake

On Saturday I had some errands to run. I was walking in a direction I don't normally go, when suddenly I remembered, "The lake is nearby." (Officially, it's called a pond, but for me it's certainly big enough to be a lake.) "How close is it? Do I have time?" I was somewhat undecided - but then I looked to my left and saw it.

Walking along a four-lane city street, looking down a side road and seeing an expanse of blue, sparkling water that seems to fill the horizon. Some people might be able to walk on by, but not me.

It's been a while since I was down there. They are doing some refurbishment - quite a bit of it was fenced off, but right down by the water, three new benches were accessible, and I took one.

The sun was shining almost directly into my eyes. Soon I closed them. Sitting with your eyes closed next to a lake is not the same as sitting with your eyes closed any place else. You'd think it would be, but it's not. I could hear sounds of the city, but faintly. It seemed to me that I could smell the water. And when my eyes were open, all I could see was water, sunlight, trees, and houses among the trees. There's a small, tree-covered island in the middle of the lake. Evergreens, mostly.

After a while I got up. Walked along just a little way, into the shade. Leaned on the fence (this one was ornamental, black iron, not part of the renovation) and looked at a pair of ducks in the water. The smell of water is stronger in the shade . . . smell of mud, smell of cold.

Then I walked back up the street, four blocks, back into the city.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Weather of the past week

Last weekend it snowed (on October 29). It took me a while to remember that it doesn't usually snow around here before the end of November. The snow all melted the next day.

Most of the leaves were still green, but that snowfall was like an announcement: "Okay! It really is autumn now!" It seemed to me that every day the color of the trees was noticeably different from the day before.

There is something about autumn that just grabs ahold of me. The trees seem to catch on fire. Burning yellow, orange, red, consumed from within. As if they retain their heat, while the warmth goes out of the air. For a few trees, the change of color is more gradual - they seem only to become metallic. But in all cases it is a transformation that almost seems to have something desperate about it, and something proud as well. The sky turns a paler shade of blue.

I walked past a house with a tall evergreen hedge, and some very large evergreen trees. Among them was another tree, whose leaves were dark red. You don't often see leaves turn that color, and in this case it was all the more intense, the darkest of red against the darkest of green.

But aside from that one day of snow, I think the weather has been warmer than it usually is at this time of year.