To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
The Money Lender
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
If you haven’t read the previous issues:
Part 13: Tim
Tim had been disappointed when he and Charlene were unable to get together on Tuesday. He had wanted to take her to the Lodge in Death Valley for lunch. But her parents had returned early and she was needed at home.
And then, on Wednesday, Charlene seemed worried and told him that she suspected something was wrong… very wrong. But she didn’t know any more than that. And then he was accused of stealing money from the office. He knew nothing about any theft. The documents he saw were forgeries… he and the forger may have been the only people in the world who knew that to be a fact, but he and the forger also knew that the truth might never be known by anyone else.
Charlene called him Wednesday night. “I’m at a pay phone,” she said. “I’ve got to be quick. I’m just telling you that I know you’re innocent; but I don’t think that anyone of importance is in the mood to hear that. Try to understand that my family has me practically engaged to a second cousin and that they know you’re the good looking kid with the map of Ireland all over his face with whom I took the boat out on Sunday. I’m trying to defend myself against a suspicion of collusion or conspiracy or some damned thing. It hasn’t been easy for me. My parents are furious and that you’ve been blamed makes me hope and pray they had nothing to do with this mess. Tim, be patient with me. We will prevail.” She began to cry. “With God’s help, we will prevail.” She hung up the phone, leaving him with no idea how close to hell this scam would take them.
When Tim Murphy came to work on Thursday, he feared that at any moment he would be fired officially. But no one seemed to notice him. He did not know that when Dave Lonigan had talked to whoever it was who owned FNN CCC on Wednesday night, he was told to get rid of the “rat” but not before the auditors could complete an immediate examination. Also, if the other religious cashier left, he was to make sure he knew where he was at all times – in case they needed him.
And still, no one paid any attention to him. Tim looked around quizzically. He opened his station, counted his “starting” money from the box labeled for his station, and took away the “closed” sign from his window. In hopes of protecting her, he purposely avoided looking at Charlene.
Joshua Mays came to work, too. His eyes were swollen and he maintained the most defeated expression he could manage as he opened his station.
Charlene ignored Tim until she passed his station and put a note on it that said, “You steal hearts, not money. When love is pure, God will help. We will survive this together.” She opened her station and conducted her business without a single change in her demeanor. But Tim was elated. He blushed and tried to sneak looks at her. He smiled broadly at his customer.
The auditors came and brought with them a man who took fingerprints but who was not with any official police department. He took everyone’s fingerprints and then left.
By lunchtime it was clear that the accountants had discovered $30,000 worth of missing money-order blanks. They were, by no means, finished their audit, but they told Dave Lonigan that his office has sustained at least this much theft. No corresponding cash receipts were made to cover the disbursements made to the various check cashing offices that had paid out the money-orders. The cancelled orders were examined and the payor’s noted, as well as the endorsements of Keith Martin. The auditors noted immediately the similarity between the M in Martin and the M in Murphy. Both Joshua and Tim were photographed. The man who had taken the fingerprints took the photographs to the places the money orders had been cashed. Timothy J. Murphy was unequivocally named as the man who had cashed them.
The police were not called. Instead the man who had taken the fingerprints took Tim away in a car. Joshua wept. “Why did he do such a thing?” he asked Charlene who did not seem as concerned as Joshua expected her to be. She did not answer him at all. He repeated the question in the doorway to Dave Lonigan’s office.
“Come in and sit down,” Lonigan said. “And close the door.”
Joshua sat in front of his boss’s desk and looked as though he would soon collapse from the shock of it all.
“I talked to Father Joseph at Saint Steven’s,” Lonigan said. “He thanked me for expressing my confidence in you. I never suspected you for one moment. But I want to tell you… and I’m really sorry about this… that letter did its nasty work. I don’t think they’ll take you there while you’re still under such a cloud. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Joshua saw an opportunity to make some money from the situation. “I spoke to him, too, last night. He never told me that he talked to you… that’s how they are… discreet. He did say that he wanted me to prove myself… prove that I was capable of living a monk’s life… you know… no wine, women, and song… well, maybe the song is ok… if it’s a chant.” He liked the way he said that. It made him sound innocent and naive. “But,” he continued, “he recommended a place nearby… where he could sort of keep an eye on me… I guess. There’s a Zen Buddhist monastery in Sandyville. It’s small but strict. He wanted me to spend a year there in contemplation as a guest, not a postulant. Of course, I’m required to make my confession and then take Holy Communion once a week. There are a few other exceptions like exemption from certain Buddhist prayers; but the Monseigneur of Saint Steven’s knows the Abbot of the Zen monastery. The only thing is that I have to come up with $5000 for my room and board. It’s a donation a guest or maybe a person trying out monastic life makes when he’s accepted. I expected to give Saint Steven’s an initial donation… which was only three-thousand. The Zen place is $5000. So if you could let me work a little while longer…”
“I’d love to have you stay on, Josh. But I don’t think your heart’s in it. We’ll be happy to make up the difference. Two-thousand dollars after what Murphy put you through is not asking for much. I’m gonna take your place at your window. And Charlene’s brother who used to work here can come back to take Tim’s place. We’ll get replacements for you both and let the evening shift double up. We’ll manage.” He got up and went to the safe, happy to know that the delicate matter of Joshua’s not leaving the area in case he was needed had been solved. When he returned with a cash box, he said, “Here,” handing Joshua two-thousand dollars, “go with God. And don’t forget to say prayers for all of us, including Tim.”
Joshua Mays took the money and wiped his eyes. “You are too good,” he said. “Should I leave now?”
Lonigan ushered him to the door. “Sure. Why not? You’re too upset to work especially with him around. You just give those Zen people something to think about. Maybe you’ll convert them!” He grinned and Joshua tried hard to return the smile.
As Joshua left the office one thought occupied his mind. “I am not going to tell Rick about this money. If I do, he’ll demand it from me. And I’m no fool.”
The man who had taken fingerprints drove Tim to his home and went inside to talk to his parents. He sat on the couch. “Your son stole at least Thirty-thousand dollars from our company. He’s got to make restitution plus a little interest on the sum. So he owes $40,000. Nothing’s going to happen to him. Ain’t nobody threatening to take him out into the desert and blow his kneecaps off… or to break one of your legs, Mr. Murphy. But you understand that the money has to be repaid within two weeks. I’ve checked and I see you own your home. Banks are giving mortgages at pretty low rates these days. I wouldn’t delay if I were you.” After saying this, he stood up and said, “Thank you for your kind attention.” He went to the door and left.
Tim Murphy looked at his parents. “Mom… Dad… I don’t know anything about this. I’ve been framed for the theft. But nobody’s called the police. I don’t understand what’s going on. But I’m innocent. I want you to know that.”
“Of course you’re innocent,” his father said. “It’s not necessary to try to reassure us of that. But these people play rough. There’s no police, so there’s no law. We certainly can’t call the police.” He turned to his wife. “Call the bank… maybe we can get one of those reverse mortgages they advertise.”
Tim dropped to his knees and began to sob. He had to be helped to his bed.
Part 14: Rick and Joshua
“Are you ready to discuss the Lankavatara, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, and the Gospel of Thomas?” Rick asked. “For a man who has claimed to be knowledgeable about theology, and has gotten very slick on the subject of money,” he looked at Joshua; and whether it was Joshua’s guilt, Rick’s good guess, or just his natural prescience, Joshua wondered if he knew, and if he did know, how he knew that he had gotten two-thousand extra dollars. He stared blankly at Rick as his mentor continued sarcastically, “your responses are certain to delight me. What then, have you learned about these scriptures?”
Joshua stammered a few things he had been prepared to say. “Thomas gets… well… weird… about a male and female combination. As to the Lanka… nothing. I didn’t understand it.”
“I talked to Joe Pulaski. He still doesn’t know what the topic will be. He said that he heard that the Monseigneur preferred just the Lanka’s Nirvana section, which may mean the idiots at the Zen Center will stick with Nagarjuna’s poem. So read the Nirvana Section of the Lanka to refute anything he says and continue to mess with Nagarjuna. Ultimate Reality. Hah.
“My pal Joe, and the Monseigneur, and the Abbot know the circumstances under which you were admitted to the Zen Center; but nobody else does. You’re going to be given special leave to accommodate your Catholic requirements, but only Abbot Jy Shao will know why you’ve been allowed out.” He smiled. “I’ll be happy to hear your confession and to let you communicate with the Almighty. So while I shower, you can read Nagarjuna’s poem about Nirvana. It’s an idiotic argument. Even you should be able to grasp it.” He handed him a book. “Here a text that contains his 24 verse poem on Nirvana. There’s a bookmark at the page. Don’t worry about Vasubandhu. That’s the other argument.”
“Whose side are you on?” Joshua asked.
“Neither. It’s a stone age argument. Look. They picked the side they wanted. Chuan Yi is stupid and the abbot is always sick.”
“Who will win?”
“The Monseigneur will regardless of the topic. I never lose.”
Joshu sat at the kitchen table and read the first verse:
If everything is relative,
No origination, no annihilation,
How would Nirvana then be reached?
Through what deliverance, through what annihilation?
He read the verse half a dozen times. Rick entered the kitchen naked. “Are you lost already?”
“The language is bizarre.”
“Yes… that’s because people who are qualified to translate it are not the same people who understand it. And nobody allows for the natural alteration in a word’s meaning. Years ago to be called ‘gay’ was to be called ‘happy and light-hearted.’ Now it exclusively defines sexual orientation.
“When you argue ancient philosophy, always keep in mind that you are arguing with idiots. Do not become one yourself. These would-be lovers-of-wisdom, that is to say, the philosophers, will tell you that nothing exists… everything is empty… and then they will waste your time arguing about what emptiness means when what they’re full of is pure shit. Nirvana has two dozen meanings at least. How can you discuss anything when you don’t agree on basic terms? Hmm? You can’t. So when you read the verses convert the jargon into ordinary terms.” He pointed to the first verse. “Everything means all things. Yes? No?”
“Relative is mere measurement of quality or quantity. A is long relative to B. C is fat relative to D. So things may appear different but they’re made of the same stuff. So what law is the first verse stating?”
“The conservation of matter?”
“Bravo! So what does the first stanza mean?”
“If nothing can be created or destroyed, how can you add or subtract Nirvana as an entity?
“Exactly. Read the second verse.”
Should everything be real in substance,
No new creation, no new destruction,
How would Nirvana then be reached?
Through what deliverance, through what annihilation?
“This says the same thing as the first stanza,” Joshua said, surprised.
“Precisely. Now read the rest… but to yourself, please.”
Joshua, asking only for a few definitions of the odd terms, read the twenty-four verses. “He says that if you blank your mind you achieve what you’re supposed to achieve. The material world and the spiritual world are identical. You can’t think your way into Nirvana because it doesn’t exist.”
“Precisely. But, dear boy, it does exist. There are two distinct worlds, the material and the spiritual. This is the so-called Transcendentalist view. Some knowledgeable forms of Zen hold that you reach Nirvana when you enter the egoless state. Of course! But your material world ego must then be replaced by your Buddha Consciousness. Now, we consider the material world illusory because everything in it is constantly changing. Heraclitis figured that out a few thousand years ago. ‘All things are in flux’ You can’t step into the same river twice. The water keeps flowing.
“Here’s the problem: Some fools think that the word “illusory” means “empty” and the material world does not exist. There is a difference between illusion and delusion. But they don’t appreciate differences. The world exists but only as, say, the aurora borealis exists. Constant change. When we say ’empty’ we mean empty of ego. The kind of ’emptiness’ these fools talk about is attained by self-hypnosis. Unfortunately, the state that’s entered is not Nirvana. Yet they strive for hours each day to attain the state of nothing. And they see the impervious numbness of those who have attained it, and they stand there and tell you anybody who experiences something different… something blissfully ecstatic… is wrong. Only in philosophy can an idiot stand there and tell you that what he thinks is more significant than what you experience.
“Nothing in the material world is standing still. If we reach the point in which nothing moves, we reach entrophy. No heat is being exchanged. No changes are taking place. But we’re a long way from reaching the Heat Death of the Universe.
“Nagarjuna put thought above experience. Perhaps he never progressed passed meditation or samadhi. Who knows? Who cares? Are there no better uses a man can put his life to than arguing about what Nagarjuna thought?”
The discussion began to bore Joshua. “Ok. I’ve got it. I’ll memorize the poem. And get familiar with the Gospel. Then, so that you can win, should I bullshit my way through the meaning by mis-interpreting it?”
“Are you offering me your help by cheating? My boy… I do not require your help in defeating those assholes. I admire and pity Jy Shao. He has seen truth. But the others? Huh! They’ve never even known true meditation. The World of the Spirit is alien territory to them.”
“But they do believe in ghosts.”
Part 15 Aaron & Family in hospital.
It was time for the mid-day Angelus. Paul Oteiza and Stella Buchanan automatically knelt down on the floor near Aaron’s bed. Father Salazar knelt beside Aaron’s bed but kept his elbows up on the mattress. Aaron mumbled that he did not know what to say to him. He had begun to realize that his life had been saved by some religious act, and he did not want to disrupt the process by insisting that he was not a goy, that they had misinterpreted something… he did not know what it was, but it was keeping him alive.
“That’s all right, son,” Father Salazar said softly. “We’ll limit our session to the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer. How’s that? And if you feel strong enough, we’ll toss in a Hail Mary. Mr. Oteiza, here, one of the two anngels who saved your life, is devoted to our Holy Mother. It was in her service that he helped to rescue you. Shall we begin?”
Aaron nodded and managed to say, “Fine.”
Standing in the doorway, hushed into silence by the floor’s supervising nurse, Mr. and Mrs. Blumenthal, grim-faced as they restrained their anger, and Mr. and Mrs. Weitzman, out together for the first time in years and treating each other as strangers, watched as Aaron began to mouth the words, following the priest’s lead, “The Lord is my shepherd…” Aaron saw them but did not let on that he had.
The visitors stared at the man and woman kneeling beside the priest. The man looked like an old cowboy. And the woman, brazenly wearing a sleeveless dress despite the needle marks in her arm, who was she? One of those Mexican cantina girls?
Mrs. Weitzman had signed the insurance forms when she and her husband arrived at the reception area of the hospital. At that time, they were grateful to God for having spared their only son. They did not know why the computerized form had given his name as Aaron Harold Weitzman, but there would be plenty of time to correct errors made in the confusion of medical emergencies.
The Psalm’s recitation was finished. Aaron could hear his visitors shuffling nervously in the doorway. So far, so good, he thought. And then he could hear the four of them gasp as Father Salazar began, and Aaron repeated each phrase, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
Aaron’s face had been bandaged where cholla barbs had been excised from his face and the desert sun had burned the skin badly enough to warrant burn medication and a special gauze covering. His face was also bruised and his lips were swollen from having removed the cholla spines from his hand. The four visitors began to wonder if they had come to the right room.
Father Salazar was pleased with the prayers. He hazarded a final prayer. “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you,” he said, and to the visitors’ complete confusion, at the conclusion of the prayer, the priest picked up the bandaged left hand from which hung tubes and rosary beads and he lifted and guided the hand through making he Sign of the Cross on the patient’s forehead and chest.
The four visitors marched to the nurses’ station. Mrs. Weitzman asked, “Are you sure our son is in Room 410?”
“Weitzman, Aaron Harold? Yes, your son is in Room 410.”
“Harold?” Mr. Weitzman whispered. “What is going on?” They waited until they saw the priest, Paul Oteiza, and Stella Buchanan walk down the corridor and get into the elevator, and then they went to Room 410 and closed the door behind them.
Mrs. Blumenthal elbowed Mrs. Weitzman away from the patient’s side. “What happened to Rebecca?” she hissed.
Aaron whispered. “We had an accident on an ATV. Her neck got broken. I’m so sorry.”
Now Mrs. Blumenthal began to shout. “Not as sorry as you’re gonna be, you murdering thief! Not married even two days and your wife has a fatal accident. You take us for fools? You killed our baby. You milked us for all you could get! All along you took advantage of her and laid your little trap. Didn’t even have the decency to use protection. Oh, you’ll be sorry, all right. Maybe you think you’ll get the house and the bank account and the insurance policy. You won’t. We’ll see to that! We already spoke to our Rabbi about taking the matter before a Bet Din, a rabbinical court of justice. This marriage was fraudulent.”
Mr. Blumenthal sneered. “And this show of Catholic devotion? You think you can escape justice by calling yourself a Catholic? Less than a week ago you took solemn Jewish vows! And while we’re on the subject, where are my girl’s rings? In the morgue they said they were given to you. I’d like them back! That farce of a wedding will be annulled! You will get nothing!”
“Just a minute…” Mr. Weitzman finally spoke. “You don’t know what happened. Look at this boy! He got put in the ICU because he was hurt so bad. He’d have to be a stupid killer to almost get himself killed while killing somebody!” It was not a ringing endorsement of Aaron’s efficiency or innocence.
“You defend him? You adulterous bastard!” Mr. Blumenthal countered. “You’re here to make a show… maybe suck up to him to get some of the money he weasled from us! It’s in his blood! Like father, like son!”
“Please!” Mrs. Weitzman shouted. “Can we not remember that Aaron is in critical condition? When he’s able I’m sure he’ll tell us what happened!”
Mrs. Blumenthal snarled at her. “You who live a lie, who raised this boy to be a liar… you want us to wait for him to think up a good lie. We know what the truth is! We identified the truth in the morgue! You think we didn’t see that junkie woman in here with him? A fine son you raised. Look at his arm too. You think the hospital put that many holes in his arm! Aii! Aii! My baby was sacrificed to a couple of heroin junkies. My God! My God! What did he do to my baby…” She began to wail so loudly that two nurses came running to the room.
The visitors continued to argue so violently that the hospital manager was summoned from his office. His advice was to call security and have the disruptive persons escorted to their cars or whatever conveyance had delivered them there. Aaron could hear them arguing all the way down to the elevator and continue to call each other names until the elevator doors mercifully closed.
His ankle and his arm were broken and surgically repaired and in a cast. His wrist, too, had a broken bone in it. His collar bone had been fractured. He didn’t know if the extensive casting of his right shoulder and arm included a repair of that bone. His left hand hurt from the cholla spines, a few of which were, he believed, still stuck between his fingers. Tubes hung from something behind him which he could not turn to see. Needles entered a vein on the back of his left hand and were taped in place. There was enough slack in the tubes for him to move his hand that had been only lightly bandaged. He lifted his hand and looked at the rosary.
A nurse entered his room. “I hope everything has calmed down by now,” she said, reading the monitor of a screen he could not see. “Is there anything I can get you, Harold?”
“No,” he whispered. “I’m ok.” But Harold Aaron Weitzman was not ok with anything. He cursed Arnold Goldman for abandoning him. He cursed Rebecca for trapping him. He cursed Aunt Esther for giving him such a cheap wedding present. He cursed Uncle Benny for vouching for a low-life piece of shit like Arnold. He cursed his father for having the kind of character that would be charged to him as an inherited trait. He thought of the little baby that lay inside Rebecca in the morgue. The string of contemptuous charges ended. He began to cry. He had really wanted the baby. Maybe the Coroner would tell him if it was a boy or a girl.
Another nurse came in and saw the tears running into the bandages and wiped his face and made him blow his nose on a tissue from a little box that would appear on his hospital bill as a “sanitary mucus removal agent” that cost $35.00.
Part 16 Joshua
Joshua Mays parked his Toyota Camry in a dirt area just beyond the parking lot of the Zen Center of Sandyville. While jasmine vines draped the monastery’s courtyard wall and even the awning that covered its tiny official parking area, and there was a variety of trees – cottonwoods, elms, mesquites – that grew in a kind of park area in front of the monastery and could provide shade for half a dozen cars. There was no shade whatsoever for the barren area that surrounded the rest of the parking area. He parked on sand and in sun.
He counted twelve cars parked outside the Zen Center of Sandyville. “For a cloistered monastery,” he said aloud to himself, “these guys get around.” The Center, itself, he thought, had that eclectic look that renovated places always had. Their original layout had been specific to a function; and a new owner could only apply cosmetic decorations in an attempt to convert the function.
Originally the site contained a placer mining operation which failed when the initial estimate of marketable surface minerals proved to be over-inflated; and then in one particularly rainy season, someone bought the area and tried to raise cattle on the acres of blooming sage that seemed to materialize from nowhere. The building that contained offices, kitchen, and dining room, became the cattleman’s family residence, although the kitchen and dining room were still used communally. The assay office was converted to a room for tools and equipment; the big shed became a barn for horses and as an emergency shelter for the cattle. Two of the dozen rooms of the miners’ dormitory continued to be used by cow hands while the other ten rooms became storage rooms for hay and miscellaneous supplies.
When the climate returned to normal and the “open range” vegetation dried up, the place was sold to the Zen group. The barn became a temple and meditation hall; the office was the administration office and the Abbot’s residence; and the communal kitchen and dining room stayed the same. The tool room became the library; and the dormitory once again housed men – although each 9 x 12 room was partitioned in two, and a monk’s cell measured 9 x 6 feet. Twelve new doorways had to be carved into the central corridor’s walls, but at least each monk had his own room.
Joshua looked around. Nobody, he thought with some disparagement, could turn a barn into a cathedral. But, as he often told himself when he entered Rick’s bedroom, “Any port in a storm.”
Still, he wondered, what would cloistered monks want with cars? He placed his accordion pleated aluminum foil sun-screen across the inside of his windshield and rolled down his windows. People who left their windows up often returned to their cars to find that the sun had heated the interior of the car to such a high temperature that the windows had “blown-out” which made them look like webbed and sagging glass mats.
He brought his bag of toiletries – shaving equipment, athletes’ feet powder, and deodorant into the reception area. A “swamp” evaporative cooler supplied the only relief from the heat, but the unit was effective. A monk looked up from the receptionist’s desk. He did not smile. He merely asked, “Are you Joshua Mays?” Joshua answered, “Yes,” and the monk said, “Have a seat. Shi Chuan Yi will be with you shortly.”
Joshua looked around and wondered how long he would be stuck in such a place. There was an ongoing audit at the FNN CCC and because of the theft, there would likely be several more in rapid succession. At most it should take six months for everything to cool down and for him to be regarded as a sincerely religious man.
Chuan Yi came out of the Abbot’s office and, walking briskly past Joshua said over his shoulder, “Follow me.” Joshua got up and walked behind the man into a side office. “The envelope please,” Chuan Yi said, holding out his hand. “And your car keys and cellphone if you have one.”
Joshua parted with his car keys, his new iPhone, and the envelope that contained $5000. Had he been asked for his wallet, he would have declined. Knowing that he was expected to do something in the future, and actually doing it, were, he decided, two entirely different things. He truly was cutting himself off from the outside world and he wondered why Rick couldn’t have picked a nicer “inside” world for him to inhabit.
Chuan Yi did not indicate that Joshua should sit down, and despite the five chairs that were lined up against his office wall, Joshua remained standing as the priest counted the money, took it to the Abbot’s office, and then returned with a large barber’s bib and a battery powered razor. “Follow me,” he said.
They went out onto the rear veranda and Joshua was ordered to kneel. “To you know the Five Fundamental Precepts?”
“Yes,” Joshua answered. “No harming, no lying, no cheating, no intoxicants, and no sex.”
“Do you accept these Precepts?”
Chuan Yi removed a small red plastic booklet from a pocket inside his robe. He wrote the name Fa Hui on the flyleaf. “Your name is Fa Hui. Please kowtow and then find a stool to sit on.”
Joshua touched his forehead to the veranda floor and got up to sit on the only stool that was on the veranda. He looked at the enclosed courtyard and its jasmine covered walls. There were numerous clothes’ lines for hanging out garments that the priests had washed in a tub and washboard beside the veranda. Another tub that was also empty probably contained rinse water, Joshua thought. He saw their propane tank – it was larger than a family size but smaller than the average industrial or commercial tanks he had seen in the outside world. Chuan Yi noticed him studying the courtyard and as he tied the bib around Joshua’s neck and began to shave his head, he said, “The garden in the rear is lovely and loving maintained by us. You may do kin hin, walking meditation, in our flower garden after meals. Do not use our garden to fart in or to relieve yourself in any way. Your garments must be laundered on Mondays. A line will form to use the washtub. You will be last in line. You will do as every senior monk directs you. You will not indulge in any frivolous conversations with other monks.” As he finished shaving he untied the bib and shook the shorn hair from it. “The wind will blow the rest away,” he said. “Are you familiar with the Lankavatara Sutra?”
“Not as much as I’d like to be, but I have read the Nirvana chapter recently,” Joshua said.
“Have you now?” Chuan Yi said snidely. “A Mahayana scholar! Think of it! Well, we shall see. Do you favor Vasubhandu’s version of the famous argument?”
“No Reverend Brother,” Chuan Yi corrected him.
“No, Reverend Brother,” Joshua dutifully repeated.
“Let’s get you settled in a room and also get you some proper garments.”
The dormitory had a morning eastern side and an afternoon western side. The morning side was the desirable side and the monk who was evicted from his room to accommodate the newcomer was not at all pleased to move his things into the hot side of the building. He gave Joshua a dirty look that suggested that Joshua would pay dearly for having caused his eviction.
Chuan Yi told the departing monk to bring a set of “in-house whites” – tunic and knickers and stocking socks and garters as well as a “”street wear” grey uniform of tunic and knickers and grey stocking socks and a grey street robe. “I’ll have Fa Hui stop by the library and get his own shoes to wear.” He turned to Joshua. “You won’t get a black robe and kesa to wear until you’re ordained.” With that final bit of information, he left the room.
Joshua sat on the hard bed and began to rethink the necessity of spending time in a Zen Center. He rubbed his hairless head as his opinion of Rick’s intuitive genius plummeted. Who the hell was Chuan Yi? Rick’s pal? No. Rick’s pal was at Saint Stevens. Joe somebody. Rick doesn’t have a pal here. Shit. For five grand the pompous asshole could have been at least civil.
The evicted monk returned with two tunics, two knickers, two stocking socks, and one grey robe. “Go in the building next door… the one with the red door… and you’ll be given shoes.” Joshua held up the tunics. They were different sizes and both were much too large. He left his room and walked down the corridor to the exit and then went out into the scorching heat and headed for the building with the red door – the building that had once been an assay office and then a tool room and was now a library and shoe supply area. He opened the door and looked inside.
“Come on in,” the only monk in evidence said. “You’re the new guy. Have a seat and give me one of your shoes.” Joshua was wearing sneakers. He removed one and handed it to the monk. “Nice kicks!” the monk said. “I bet these set you back a hundred or more.”
He went into a closet. “My name’s Fa Dao,” he called.. “Fa Dao Shakya. I’m ordained. And you are?”
“Fa Hui. I see we both have the same first name.”
“No. We both have the first last name. Fa is a lineage name in the Lin Ji or Rinzai lineage sequence. The Chinese put the last name first. You know, like the tennis player Li Na. Her first name is Na. Sometimes you’ll see Shakya written as Shi – the Mandarin spelling. And then that’s the really last name. So technically I’m Shi Fa Dao. But Abbot Jy Shao prefers us to use Shakya at the end. I don’t know why. ”
“Who is Chuan Yi?” Joshua asked.
“An asshole, but don’t quote me. We’re not supposed to bad-mouth other monks.”
“He asked me about the Lankavatara Sutra. Does he solicit information about it… I mean is it some kind of test of a monk’s knowledge of Buddhism?”
“Word has already gotten out that the next commentary Abbot Jy Shao is gonna write is about the Nirvana section of Lanka. Jy Shao is a nice guy but he’s fragile and allergic to dust which is a tough allergy to have here in Sandyville. He can’t weigh more than a hundred pounds. I’m serious. He’s skeletal. Always coughing from the dust. There’s something in it that he can’t tolerate. Personally, I think Chuan Yi is hoping he croaks so that he can become Abbot. But don’t quote me.”
“I’m incommunicado. Who the hell am I gonna quote you to?”
Fa Dao put a pair of cotton top and rubber sole shoes on the floor at his feet. “Try these. I matched them as best I could.” He handed Joshua a plastic bag. “Put those kicks in this bag and keep the bag under your bed… as far back to the wall as you can get them.”
“Jesus!” Joshua exclaimed. “Are there thieving monks in here?”
“Let’s just say that they’re the borrowing kind. And what they borrow you can kiss goodbye. But don’t quote me.”
Joshua bagged his sneakers and slipped his feet into the shoes that fit perfectly. He shrugged. “Thanks, I guess.”
“We have a friendly meal time here. We’re not like the Japanese orders… all stiff and silent. So look for me in the line outside the dining hall. Today is Thursday. We’ll have French Toast for lunch. And a big bowl of fruit for dessert. We have to go in shifts because French Toast has to be immediately served. Cold French Toast sucks. The food’s pretty good here.”
“Can I quote you about that?” Joshua grinned.
“Wouldn’t hurt, my brother. Wouldn’t hurt at all.”
The dining room seated nine people at a time. When Joshu arrived, the administration staff was having lunch while two groups of nine monks each waited in line. Joshua and Fa Dao were in the last group.
As the administration staff left the dining room and passed Joshua, Chuan Yi stopped and asked, “I trust you availed yourself of the library-copy of the Lanka.”
Joshua stared at him. “No, Reverend Brother,” he said weakly, “I didn’t know I was supposed to.”
“Are you telling me that I am mistaken when I say that we discussed the Lanka?”
“No, Reverend Brother,” said Joshua. “We did talk about it.”
“Then you are a disobedient oaf. And an impudent one since you seem to be calling me a liar. You were given an assignment and you chose to ignore it. This deserves punishment.”
Everyone turned to stare at Joshua who did not know how to respond.
Chuan Yi continued. “You distinctly told me you favored one of the two arguments. You gave me a name. What was that name?”
Abbot Jy Shao and another priest came out of the dining room and were approaching Joshua and Chuan Yi just as Joshua answered, “Nagarjuna'” – which Joshua pronounced as Nag-uh-jun-ahr – as Rick had pronounced it.
“You’re a rare scholar of Nagarjuna,” Chuan Yi sneered. “Can’t even pronounce his name.”
Joshua was facing the abbot and Chuan Yi’s back was to him. The abbot had not heard Chuan Yi’s comment. “Wonderful!” he said to Joshua. “That’s exactly how my old master pronounced the name. The British and New Englanders just hate to say “r” when it’s written but they will say it when it’s not.” He patted Joshua’s shoulder and continued to walk to his office. “Welcome aboard, my son,” he called, “and don’t forget the Gospel of Thomas!” He turned to the man he had been walking beside. “I hear the new man’s quite a deep thinker.”
When all the administrative staff had left the dining room and the next nine monks had entered, Fa Dao whispered to Joshua, “Your life just got harder. The abbot made a fool of Chuan Yi. And he was just getting started with his technique. What he does is work your ass off researching and writing commentary that he gets published as sole writer, or sometimes submits to a contest they have… something that he’ll take all the credit for. Unless, of course, the work is bad. Then you’ll really get shit on. But the opening gambit is the same: Chuan Yi chastises a person so that to get back into his good graces, the person becomes his slave.”