PUTTING LEGS ON A SNAKE

by Ken Jones


Hazy moon
the rusty weathervane
clanks and groans

A brief, broken sleep, spilling vivid dreams, and leaving a metallic taste beneath the tongue. The hour before dawn, lit by one large candle. One by one the black robed figures file in. They bow to a hall of shadows. They bow to their meditation cushions. They bow to one another. Their bows knit darkness and light. Clack ! Clack ! -- wooden clappers hasten the stragglers. On the walls we face our tall unsteady shadows.
 
Silence settles, and then a rustle at the door. The Master pads in; does his rounds . A board creaks as his heavy shadow passes by. Palms joined, our chant growls deep in the belly :

All evil karma ever committed by me
On account of my beginningless greed, anger and ignorance
Born of my body, mouth and thought
Now I atone for it all

The last line dies away mournfully. Minds turn inwards: the contemplation of Mind. Legs locked, I sit rooted on my cushion. At first, old films in the skull cinema -- the usual serials, docu-soaps, and trailers. Boring. The reel slows, the pictures fade…
 
Faint streaks of dawn across the sky. Pale light begins to fill the hall. Far away some small bird repeats its creaky one-note call.

Window pane
a bluebottle crawls unsteadily
towards the morning star

A choreographed breakfast. Three nested oryoki bowls, chop sticks, a spoon, a scraper, various cloths are manipulated to the sound of chants, bells and clappers, accompanied by tea and porridge. At first, tiresomely complicated; once mastered, elegant simplicity. Strong green tea, steaming shadows on the polished floor.
 
The servers alone can indulge in a little exhibitionism. Brenda, from Liverpool, comes flouncing in, her sash tied up behind in a great bow. Sure footed beneath the hem of her robe, she bears aloft a porringer, the head of John the Baptist. For me, her fellow Scowse, a coquettish bow, a sly wink.

Prancing dakhini
a string of grinning skulls
preserves her modesty

Samu – work period. Round the back, in thin rain, I scrape away at a wall that has already been scraped. Mindfully. Ignoring the rule of silence my fellow scraper introduces herself as the editor of an Australian fashion magazine. Inhaling deeply, we share a limp roll up and chat about Enlightenment.
 
The Zen day gets seriously under way. The liturgy: bare feet on black mats.

That bald old monk
the way he offers incense
all there is to know

I know that man. Young German communist, tortured by the Gestapo. For us Buddhist Bolsheviks, old soldiers of past lives, the road is long, the gratitude is deep.

Soapstone Buddha
an archaic smile
last of the incense

Afterwards the Master delivers his morning teisho. My German friend and I sit flanking him like impassive China dogs. “To light your lamp in broad daylight and go rummaging around for what stands right before you is black comedy indeed !” Some of us knit our brows; others try to look Enlightened. Comedians with sore legs, sitting eight hours a day, locked in one kind of lotus or another. Only the Liverpool woman voices disagreement. She’s fond of him.
 
A long sit.

In the corridor
worn shoes lined up
each pair itself

The jikijitsu prowls down the seated ranks. First the raised shadow of his “wake up stick” , then his pink feet. From time to time he stops to straighten backs, adjust hands. “Don’t sniff !”, he roars, “Just dribble !” “WAKE UP !” Thwack ! Thwack ! Then we hear the stick being placed back in front of the Buddha and a heavy body easing itself onto its cushion. We enjoy a bit the peace. A fly alights; tiptoes round my skull; is gone.

At the end of the lane
that goes nowhere
dappled sunlight

Dokusan ! Interviews ! Move !” I am trampled in the youthful rush. Out in the corridor the interview line strains and sweats out the meaning of life. Inside the Master’s room, incense and aftershave. Nothing to lose, I grow frisky and congratulate him on this seven day production of the Theatre of the Absurd. Each day waiting for Godot. He comes clean. “An idiot captain of a ship of fools”.
 
Wandering about; kicking stones; seeking Enlightenment still.

Torchlight --
in the White Rabbit’s burrow
a stately mushroom

Hazy moon: symbolizes enlightenment.
Morning star: signalled the Buddha’s great awakening.
Scowse: from Liverpool.
Dakhini: a Tantric goddess.
One kind of lotus or another: meditation posture; most can manage “a quarter lotus”.
Jikijitsu: disciplinarian in the Rinzai Zen tradition.

top

Site designed and hosted by Community Internet Services