Wednesday, October 3, 2018

as you gave them to me...

Soen Nakagawa
Floating today like some cartoon cloud into my cartoonish mental tableau came the words once uttered by Soen Nakagawa, one-time abbot of Ryutaku-ji monastery in Japan. Soen was a slight man with a Zen rep, a large bundle in small clothes, and, at the time when we stood talking together, I was in a state of ... well ... I guess "awe" is as good a word as any.

It was at some sort of informal tea that followed on the heels of something formal that had been held at the zendo I then attended. Just talking with him one-on-one was pretty woo-hoo, somehow. I was telling him about how several of us had gone to a New York park to gather ginkgo nuts, which we understood he liked, prior to his visit to the city. We took off the lousy-smelling, orange/brown exterior, baked the nuts within and put them in bowls for the tea. I told him this tale as we stood next to a table on which a bowl of ginkgo nuts rested.

As soon as I finished the small tale, Soen's hand dove into the bowl of nuts, grabbed a fistful, and extended them to me:
As you gave them to me, so I give them to you. Do you understand?
He said that.

At the time, I was flummoxed, but then, it was a time when I thought all Zen students had a responsibility to be flummoxed ... all the time. This was the enlightenment game, after all, and no matter for easy-going exchanges or laughter or ... well, you know ... not easy at all. I don't recall what I said in return. Probably bumbled and fumbled until I could get back to serious, flummoxed stuff.

But today, like a puffy cartoon cloud that brings a nice smile with it:
As you gave them to me, so I give them to you.
OK. Does it matter who said it?

1 comment:

  1. Of course it matters.

    Few people can make an impression lasting some thirty years. Soen made many lasting impressions.

    The impression may be formed around some wordplay but it’s not merely wordplay.

    I’d like to see how far you get just clowning around.