week, I was invited to attend a hossen, "a combination examination
and graduation ceremony" that marks the end of
I arrived early,
took off my shoes, and sat in a vestibule. There was a curtain between
it and the zendo, the meditation hall, behind which was silence,
except for a cough or two.
A few weeks before, I met the woman whose hossen this was. She had chosen the last of the ancient Chinese "Ten Oxherding Pictures" on which to be questioned, and someone had told her that, as I had published a translation many years ago, I knew something about them. She asked about the tenth verse, in which the enlightened monk returns to the marketplace. I had translated the poem: "Barechested & barefooted, / strolled into the city, / Grimy & dusty, / a broad grin. / No need for magic here, / stunted trees are brought quick / to full growth."
The Buddha spent seven years in a forest practicing extreme asceticism before, sitting beneath a tree, he realized that who we think we are is not born, but constructed afterwards, an illusion. [It is whispered in Buddhist circles that the tree, called the Bodhi Tree, is the true Buddha.] The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, "A tree sprang up / O sheer transcendence!