Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Story time

There was a great story (apparently true) told at my retreat, about a Zen teacher from China who moved to Tennessee. He bought a little old house with a big old oak tree on the front lawn. His neighbours told him, "That tree's gonna blow down. You gotta chop it down."

He nodded, in his inscrutable Chinese way, and said, "Good. I chop."

The next morning he went to the local hardware store and bought a hatchet. One of his neighbours came by and saw him chopping away at the biiiiig tree with the little weeny hatchet, and said, "Don't do it that way. It'll take ages. I'll go get my chainsaw and have the tree down in half an hour."

But the old man shook his head and said, "I chop."

His neighbour rolled his eyes, but left him alone, figuring that after a few hours of this futile chopping, the old man would have had enough and would come asking to borrow his chainsaw.

Instead, every morning at 9 am, for exactly an hour, the whole neighbourhood would hear a steady chop chop chop from the old man's front yard. It got so that if he missed a morning they'd come over to see if he was okay. He went from being "that crazy Chinaman" to being part of the community.

Eventually he explained to some of his new friends that this is how he taught meditation: every day you chop away just a little more, and sooner or later a great tree falls.

Well, after months of this it became clear that the great tree was due to fall. On the last morning the neighbours all gathered around to witness the last few hatchet chops. (I visualize a neighbourhood jamboree, with the womenfolk bringing sandwiches and jello molds, and the menfolk leaning on the fences and offering advice, but that's pure invention.) At last, with a mighty creak and splintering noise, the tree crashed to the ground.

After the cheering died down, someone asked the teacher what he would do now.

"Make firewood" was his reply.


Karl Elvis said...

Dammit, this must mean I had a zen teacher in my yard on new year's day.

Buck Daruma said...

You gotta watch those things you know. They're like moles. First you see one, then two, and before you know it your whole garden's full of them, going on about the frogs in the pond.