Last week, I was invited to attend a hossen, "a combination examination and graduation ceremony" that marks the end of
a Zen student's term of training. It had been many years since
I'd been in a Zen temple.

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.
After a small bell rang came an harmonically sweet chanting that went on for about fifteen minutes, while other visitors joined me in the waiting room. When the chanting stopped, we were ushered outside, down steps into the basement, where we were told
any reasonable person can conclude that the redemption of the world, if it’s to be achieved, can only be achieved through magic. It’s too late for science. It’s too late for what to expect before walking back upstairs into the zendo.

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!