Zen story – Su Dongpo and Master Fo-yin

My son turns 10 years old today, and I told him the following story that made him laugh and think. I hope you do to.

Feeling particularly inspired that morning, Su Dongpo wrote the following brief poem and sent it to his teacher, Zen Master Fo-yin, who lived just across the Yangtze river.

“I bow to the god among gods;
his hair-light illuminates the world.
Unmoved when the eight winds blow,
upright I sit in a purple-gold lotus.”

After receiving the poem, Master Fo-yin replied with two words:

“Fart! Fart!”

When Su Dongpo received the Master’s reply, he became furious and without further ado, jumped on a boat, crossed the Yangtze river and barged into Master Fo-yin’s house saying:

“How could you possibly send someone a note with these two words? This is slanderous!”

“Slanderous?” replied Master Fo-yin. “Who was I slandering? You said you were unmoved by the eight winds when they blew. But look at you now! Just two farts blew you across the Yangtze river!”

Recognizing his error and realizing he boasted about a spiritual progress he had not yet achieved, Su Dongpo apologized to the Master for his outburst and promised to strive to always act with full humility.

Notes:
– The eight winds are praise, ridicule, misery, happiness, honor, disgrace, gain and loss — all external elements affecting our internal quietude if taken at heart and without wisdom.
– Su Tung-p’o or Su Dongpo (1037-1101) was a poet during the Song Dynasty. He is better known as Su Shi (his art name).
– Master Fo-yin (1011-1086) was a Great Master of the Zen tradition. He was known for his strict discipline and wonderful sense of humor, as is the case with many Zen masters and others who have reached such serenity, that joy springs naturally and in its many forms.
– Here, I have most humbly put into my own words a story I once read written by Zen Master Hsuan Hua.

I tipped the moon… a bit

Did you know that during some nights,
if you stretch your arm, you can touch the moon?
Now, do so, but very carefully.
I did it the other day,
and well… I tipped it… a bit…
and suddenly
the whole world did not take itself so so seriously!
People laughed for no reasons at all.
It only rained during the night.
The little crabs started walking straight.
And all the children slept peacefully,
all weapons silent… finally.
Yes!
And all this from tipping the moon … a bit!
Just a little bit, really, when I touched it.
I have to say it was great!
But what a scolding did I get!
Grouchy people had lost their pout,
while chatty politicians were tied up in knots.
I thought it was funny, but they did not.
With all the rain, the insects were a tad frustrated,
but the flowers were delighted,
and so were the gardeners around the world.
A few tulips were even spotted in the Sahara desert!
Crabs got well… slightly dizzy.
Now that’s not so good, is it?
They could have gotten used to walking straight,
I think, most humbly.
The fierce warmongers smiled
twitching their large moustaches,
and some even laughed
when their weapons turned into potashes.
Others I admit, did not like having their shinny boots
covered with pink goo.
But…
Someone else stretched his arm
and tipped the moon back straight.
Now it looks stiff and cold,
and makes me feel so so old.
The grouchy recovered his pout,
the crab walks again sideways,
and it rains most days.
Many children went back to covering their ears
while the warmongers develop new high tech gears.
I want to stretch my arm again,
and make the moon look like Charlie Chaplin.
Come with me tonight and we will do it together.
So that maybe,
the world stops taking itself so so seriously.

Kenza.

Just as the sun

 

Just as the sun starts to light up the sky, flocks of birds fly over the house.

White snow egrets with gold reflected on their wings, ducks in almost perfect formations and swallows moving in waves.

Closer to me, a few hummingbirds buzz around the lavender; while, despite the coolness of the air, bees start their morning collection around the same flowers.

These are the sights I am privileged to, and every dawn I give thanks for the beauty.

This morning, from way way up, a white egret pooped. As simple as that, and it landed a few centimeters from my foot.

I took it as a blessing both for its ordinary nature and … for having missed me.

I smiled and the smile remained with me for the entire day.

Who would have thought? Life brings us joy in so many forms!

Kenza.

Deconstruction

[Instructions: Read … or cut in little pieces and put back together as you wish … or don’t read at all.]

The old man
reading the telephone book
at the beach.
Deconstructing the population,
re-ordering it in alphabetical order.
Page three onwards,
it gets as boring as reading Derrida.
But telephone books don’t exist anymore!
Which reminds me that
you can’t make prank calls anymore either!
Remember them?

But now you can voice an opinion
even if you know nothing
five thousand kilometers
away from the blasphemous dictator
… it helps and shields
and allows you to say
whatever you want.
Just like a prank call.
And yet…
Have you thought
of the consequences
for the ones trapped
five thousand kilometers away?
If drones visit them,
well you know…
it’s complicated!
Certainly more complicated
than laughing at the butcher
after he told you he had pigs’ feet.

Oh and that zit on the nose
and the wrinkles
and the sad face
all of them erased
by computer magic.
Is that de-construction
or re-construction?

[I always get them mixed up.]

Now everyone shows up
so so happy!
Hiding the tears – what tears?
Hiding the loneliness – I’m not lonely!
Speak for yourself!

Oh and we still have that capacity
you know
of blowing up the earth
forty times over!
Just like that!
Without even moving our toes.

Tell that to the old man
reading the phonebook
attached to a web of tubes
sustaining his breathing.
But his life?
Oh who cares!
He gets to live long so
do not complain!

Everyone wants that
you know …
a loooong life
and to be young
and to stay young.
What happened to that
growing old gracefully?
Remember the ad?
Now no one wants that.
They want a loooong life.
Don’t they realize how empty it will become?

[Additional instructions: there are four “o” in long. That’s Shi in Japanese. Do you know what else it means? No? Here is a hint: ]

Oh but science my friends!
Science!

A table is basically made
of a gazillion particles
where 99.99999% of each particle
is made of emptiness space.
Yes!
But when you tell them
that we are all larger
than the sum of our parts,
they all chant in unison
and out of tune:
“Nonsense! Irrational! Preposterous!”

Ok then.
I have no idea why I am writing all this.
Oh well just… You know…
Tangents….
I have always loved mathematics
almost as much as language
Wait hold on…
Language!

They also messed with that!
Didn’t you know?
Now he and she and it
and me and you
must all be used
ap-pro-pri-a-te-ly
and if possible all at the same time
so as to offend no one.
Hum…
So if I understand correctly,
it is back to the phonebook method.
De Saussure

[Ha! “de chaussure!”]

and Derrida must be pleased;
but not Plato, the master of ideas,
nor Russell, the one of logic.

[Even more instructions: if you have no clue what I am talking about, cut in little pieces, mix well and make a puzzle.]

So I decided:
he is all of you,
and she is just me!

And the plays and the operas!
Now they take away
the plots and replace them
with stupidity…

[It is the first time I use this word, kindly note my restraint.]

A gentle lady Macbeth,
an Ophelia that remains alive,
a Sisyphus that makes it up the mountain,
an Oedipus without love tangles,
and Carmen Oh! Carmen!
No longer selling cigarettes
nor her body…
“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
que nul ne peut apprivoiser…”
No more…
They placed it in a cage
with a label
and a responsible attitude.
So adjust your tie please.

As for me well…
This year I will turn an absolute number!
I love it and it gets
rarer with age.

[I told you I liked mathematics.]

I will take full advantage of it
since it can only be divided by one and itself.
So I will be renewed
just as I am.
My heart will not be fractioned
and no one will be able
to deconstruct me!
Ha!

Kenza.


Music: Julia Migenes-Johnson sings “L’amour est un oiseau rebel” from the Opera Carmen. 

On my way to the boulangerie

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Mama! What did you see on the way to the boulangerie?

When I went out of the house early this morning to go to the Boulangerie, the mist was so thick I could not even see the end of my toes! But let me tell you what I could see as I walked really fast to avoid my ear tips from freezing.

As I walked by the vegetable and fruit market, I saw birds gathering around our friend. You know, the giant man with the large belly who always wears those bright green sweaters. He was giving them bread. The birds looked so hungry. Some were eating right out of his generous hand!

IMG_2030

As I rounded the corner towards the Boulangerie, I saw a lady with a large hat full of multi-coloured feathers being pulled by a rather funny looking dog. He was in a good mood and as I approached them, he wrapped himself around my legs. “I am so sorry!” the lady with the multi-coloured feathered hat told me with a smile. “It is my son’s dog. His name is “gato” as in “gâteau” cake in French.” “It is fine,” I said as I tried to unentangle myself from the dog’s happy embrace. “It is a bit confusing for Mexicans,” she added as the dog pulled her forcefully away. Well, confusing for the dog as well, I thought.

At the boulangerie, I saw our friend Claude, the Chef Boulanger. He said “Bonjour! Comment va le petit?” Claude is always so nice!

But the cashier was grumpy. I wanted to make her smile by telling her about the big man feeding the birds and the lady with the multi-coloured feathered hat and the dog named “gato,” but I hesitated. So I just gave her an immense smile. That made me look rather silly, but I did not mind. Yet, grumpy she remained. Maybe I should have told her about the man and the feathered lady and the confused happy dog. I should have known better.

IMG_7043 IMG_7050

As I headed back home with my bag filled with fresh from the oven petits pains au chocolat, croissants and a baguette, I saw the morning mist gently rise above the tall pink church tower. It looked magnificent and I must say that San Miguel, perched high with his wings and staff, looked absolutely dashing! A pigeon was eying him though, and I am afraid he was about to fly and land on his head, taking away some of his aplomb.

IMG_4336 IMG_4406

More pigeons greeted me as I made my way back home. Two of them were busy gossiping while warming up in the early morning sun on their balcony. You know the one near the yellow and red church, right above the rendez-vous place of young secret lovers. I am certain they were exchanging stories about the latest ones to have promised to love each other for eternity, as it always happens right there, under their balcony away from the pry of onlookers, and parents.

And finally, as I turned into our little street, I looked ahead hoping to see you at the window and I did! I was so happy! That was the best thing I saw on my way to the boulangerie.