Opowieść 32: Ciemne lustro

 

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya

Opowieść 32: Ciemne lustro

 

Drodzy Przyjaciele,
Żyjemy jak gdyby w pokoju oświetlonym w pełni słońcem Dharmy. Kiedy pozostajemy wierni Dharmie, to nawet, gdy przychodzi noc, krajobraz poza pokojem mimo wszystko pozostaje oświetlony „odbiciem pełni księżyca” Buddy. Jesteśmy w stanie widzieć wyraźnie czy to za dnia, czy to w nocy.

 

Jednakże, kiedy tylko zboczymy ze ścieżki Buddy, okazuje się, że ów promienny księżyc zniknął, a słońce Dharmy uległo zaćmieniu. Kiedy wyglądamy przez okno, świat jest pogrążony w mroku, a my nie widzimy już nic poza naszym mglistym odbiciem w szybie.

 

Żył kiedyś pewien handlarz żywnością, którego kochała rodzina, przyjaciele, a nawet klienci kupujący w jego sklepie, w szczególności sąsiedzi. Kiedy nastawały gorsze czasy, kupiec sprzedawał ubogim swoje towary po nieco niższej cenie, a jeżeli zdarzało się, że jakiś klient był kaleki, to pomagał mu nawet zanieść zakupy do domu. Poza tym, zawsze ofiarowywał jakąś sumę na szczytne cele, a także pozwalał na umieszczanie ogłoszeń o zaginionych kotach w oknie swojego sklepu.

 

Pewnego dnia jednak kupiec zaczął się zmieniać. Jego sympatia do ludzi osłabła. Stawał się coraz bardziej chciwy. Człowiek, któremu wcześniej pomógł, kupił sobie nowy samochód… lepszy, niż jego własny. Kupiec przestał zatem dawać upusty ubogim. Pieniądze, które dotychczas ofiarowywał na szczytne cele, zostały wydane w inny sposób, postanowił więc nie dawać już więcej datków. A kiedy w końcu jego własna kotka gdzieś zaginęła, inni sprzedawcy nie zgodzili się na umieszczenie ogłoszenia o zgubie w witrynach swoich sklepów. Kupiec zatem sam przykleił ogłoszenie w oknie własnego sklepu, oferując nagrodę za jej znalezienie. Kiedy jednak kotka się w końcu znalazła, to odmówił on wypłacenia nagrody, twierdząc, że to sam znalazca wcześniej tę kotkę ukradł. Problemy zaczęły się mnożyć. W Świecie Materialnym problemy zawsze się mnożą.

 

Handlarz nieustannie się bogacił, ale równocześnie stawał się coraz podlejszy. Był chciwy, dumny, zazdrosny i miał wszystkich w pogardzie. Jego sąsiedzi przestali go darzyć miłością. Więcej nawet – przechodzili na drugą stronę ulicy, kiedy go spotykali. On sam natomiast łamał sobie głowę nad przyczynami tego stanu rzeczy, a nie mogąc ich dociec postanowił zapytać kapłana. „Co jest ze mną nie tak, że wszyscy przestali mnie kochać?” zapytał.

 

Kapłan poprowadził go do okna. „Spójrz na zewnątrz i powiedz mi co widzisz.”
Kupiec opisał ulicę, park oraz przechodzących ludzi.

 

„A teraz”, powiedział kapłan, prowadząc go do lustra, „powiedz mi co widzisz.”

 

„Widzę tylko siebie”, odpowiedział kupiec.

 

Kapłan odpowiedział, “Różnica pomiędzy tymi dwiema szybami jest taka, że jedna jest czysta i przejrzysta, co pozwala ci widzieć świat na zewnątrz, kiedy przez nią patrzysz. Druga natomiast ma posrebrzaną taflę przyklejoną od tyłu… a w tym srebrze możesz ujrzeć jedynie siebie.”

Translated by Fa Yin

The White Birds

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya

The White Birds

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

Kanin, a professional hunter, was a good man. He was brave and reliable; and his skill with bow, net and spear was such that his reputation flourished even in lands he had never visited.

It pleased Kanin, but did not puff him up, to know that whenever an elephant or tiger was threatening a village, or whenever a visiting potentate required a guide to lead a sporting party, Kanin’s name – not the name of any younger, stronger man – would always be the first name called.

One day, while tracking a tiger into an unfamiliar part of the forest, high in the mountains, Kanin came upon an uncharted lake, a wondrous place, a hidden sanctuary that teemed with dazzling white birds. Incredulous, he blinked and rubbed his eyes; but they continued to identify waterfowl of every kind – heron and crane, goose, duck, egret and swan – and all in such profusion that he shook his head and giggled for many minutes before accepting his vision as genuine. Not even in legends or rumor was such a place as this mentioned.

“I believe that I see them,” Kanin shouted at the sky, “but how can I ever believe my good fortune?”

Proprietary thoughts began to crowd the hunter’s mind, for he realized that since it was unlikely that anyone else could know of the lake, all of its riches were his alone to exploit. “Why was I blessed with such a discovery?” he asked as he sat and marveled at the scene.

He could see the future clearly. “I need never work again,” he announced to the indifferent birds. “No more trekking through mud and brambles! No more insects and snakes! I have found enough wealth here to keep me prosperous for the rest of my life.” He would open a poultry shop, he decided, and every week he would come to the secret lake and take all the birds he could sell. Of course, great care would have to be taken to ensure that no one followed him! No one else could ever be allowed to know the location of his treasure.

His hopes for the future gave way to plans and plots and then to the deceptive schemes of secrecy – for he was a hunter and well understood the requirements of strategy, tactics, and stealth. Then, noticing his hunger, he roused himself and built a cooking fire.

Selecting a plump duck that swam nearby, Kanin drew his bow and took aim; but just as he loosed his arrow, the duck dived and the shaft harmlessly parted a few of its tail feathers. Annoyed, Kanin shot another arrow. This time the duck moved sidewards just enough to let the tip graze its breast. Again Kanin tried, and again he missed. Disgusted with himself, he tried to regain his composure “My excitement has put my aim off the mark,” he said, and he chose a larger target, a white swan. But again and again, his arrows struck nothing but water.

Out of arrows and furious with himself, Kanin resorted to his net. Carefully approaching some cranes that were wading at the water’s edge, he flung his net at them; but the birds quickly stepped out of range of the encircling net. Repeatedly Kanin retrieved and flung his net, but the birds always managed to elude it.

Trying to assuage his anger and frustration, he told himself that after all, his arrows and net were of a gauge suitable for tigers, not birds. The finest hunter in the world is dependent upon his equipment. He would simply have to return with finer arrows and a much lighter net.

Hungry and defeated and having neither the appetite nor the energy to search for rabbit or other game, he quenched the fire and turned homewards, carefully marking his trail as he went.

The next day at the marketplace he provisioned himself. He obtained new fowler’s nets, a tall backpack of wicker cages with a padded tump line, and the finest arrows the fletcher sold. Then he strolled through the marketplace and chose the perfect location to erect his poultry shop.

The following day, rested and equipped, Kanin followed his trail back to the hidden lake. The steep climb and heavy burdens slowed his progress and the sun was near to setting when he finally arrived. Yet the splendid sight renewed him. He could spend a lifetime, he thought, just trying to count the birds. “What good fortune!” he exclaimed. “What incredibly good fortune!”

Noticing the hour, he quickly made camp in a nearby cave, built a fire and then, with a quiver filled with fowler’s arrows, he strode to the water’s edge and took aim at the nearest birds. To his astonishment, his arrow missed the target. Again and again he tried, selecting other birds; but he could strike nothing but water.

Somehow, he reasoned, he was warning the birds. Some movement of his, imperceptible to him, was signaling them. He needed to observe their reactions more closely, but it was too dark to see clearly. Kanin retreated to his camp convinced that he had failed because he had hunted at a disadvantageous time. “I was exhausted from travel. My movements were clumsy. Tomorrow I will get up very early and then, when I am alert and the birds are still sluggish with sleep, I will kill one and capture many.”

He awakened before dawn and crept to the water’s edge. As soon as he could clearly discern a target – a sleeping duck – he shot at it; but the duck simply turned out of the arrow’s path. Kanin could not believe it. “What can this be?” he raged as he watched his arrow pierce only the still, cold water. “What black magic is this?” But though he seethed and fumed and repeatedly tried to strike a bird, he invariably missed. He also flung his nets, but they, too, entangled nothing but branches and water lilies.

He struggled to control himself, to find a cause for his failure. “I’m angry… furious… and the angrier I get, the worse my aim gets,” he reasoned. “Who knows better than I how emotion can confound the hand and eye?” When he regained his confidence and calm, he tried again. Still, he could not strike a single bird.

Dejected, he sat in his camp alternately cursing himself and his quarry until hunger nudged him, sending him into the thicket to hunt for lesser game. “Am I not known for my tenacity?” he asked himself. “Has any quarry ever successfully eluded me?” And he truthfully answered himself, “No. I brought down every elephant, deer or tiger I ever pursued; and I will bring these birds down, too.” He snared a rabbit, and as he roasted it, he formed a plan and waited for morning.

At first light he began to jog towards home. Not having to mark his trail or stop to eat, he moved quickly and was able to return to his village by early afternoon. Gruffly he dismissed his friends’ greetings and neighborly invitations. Nothing could deflect his concentration from its single- pointed goal.

The following morning, carrying all the equipment he needed to manufacture arrows, repair nets, and establish a permanent camp, he returned to the lake.

Though in the days and weeks that followed he shot hundreds of arrows, none ever struck its mark. Though he flung his nets hundreds of times, none ever settled upon a single bird. But his obsession was complete. Though exhausted and nearly maddened by defeat, Kanin continued to prowl the lake’s uncanny precincts, vowing that though he died in the attempt, he would capture the birds.

Several months passed. The hunter began to look and act like a wild man, crazed and brutish. His hair and beard grew long and tangled. He wore animal skins instead of tattered clothes. He snarled and grunted and the only words he spoke aloud were challenges and curses.

It was only when he sat near the entrance to his cave, at a point which overlooked the lake, and stared impotently at the birds that his expression betrayed his wild appearance. Only then did his face show that look of hopeless longing, that bitterness and sorrow which only human creatures know.

One morning as Kanin was beginning to stir, he heard a strange noise. A human voice! Someone not too far away was singing or chanting. Kanin crept out onto his lookout point. There, on the farthest stone of a row of stepping stones that extended into the water, stood an old priest; and all around him, nuzzling his legs, perching upon his shoulders, vying for the caress of his hands, fluttering, cooing, chirping and singing, were the damnable birds! Kanin winced in disbelief. He covered his face and bit his lip, then he crawled back into his cave and cursed himself more violently than he had ever cursed the

birds. But as the beautiful melodies continued to torment him, a scheme formed in his mind. Was he not a hunter?

Surely, he thought, the priest’s scent would be in his clothes. If he could only get those robes! He would shave his beard and hair and with pine boughs scrub away his own scent, and then dressed in the priest’s garments and singing the priest’s song, he would trick the birds.

Kanin returned to his ledge and studied the priest’s movements and memorized his song. “I hope you stay long enough to require rest, old man,” he whispered to the distant singer, and he added menacingly, “I also hope that you disrobe when you rest,” for Kanin had already decided that if necessary, he would kill to get the garments.

But the priest did not stop to rest. Instead, he simply bid the birds good bye, stepped back to shore and ambled into the forest.

Quickly Kanin left his lookout point, grabbed his knife and followed the priest.

The trail was difficult to follow. The priest did not go down in the direction of the villages Kanin knew, but instead moved laterally, over rocky ledges, until he reached the opposite side of the mountain.

For hours Kanin pursued the priest. Then, just before nightfall, he trailed him to his destination, a temple situated in a small and isolated town.

Kanin waited, hidden in shrubbery. He was sure that the priest, fatigued from his journey, would retire quickly. The old man would, of course, sleep soundly. Kanin would simply steal his robes and return to the lake. Fortunately, there was a full moon. It would aid escape just as the obliging night would discourage pursuit.

Unaware that a servant also shared the priest’s room, Kanin entered and reached for the robes. The servant, terrified by the intruder’s wild appearance, shrieked in alarm. Kanin struck him had across the face and, clutching his prize, ran into the forest.

On and on he ran until the cries of alarm dwindled into silence. Then he stopped; and after wrapping the precious garments in fern fronds to keep his own scent from contaminating them further, he climbed a tree. There, secured in the nook of a stout branch, he waited for morning.

At dawn, as he heard the distant temple bell summon the villagers to prayer, he continued to retrace his path back to the lake. He knew that he was being followed for he could hear dogs barking whenever he stopped to catch his breath or determine his direction.

Kanin moved quickly; but it was not until his pursuers stopped to eat their noon meal that he was able to gain safe distance. All day he travelled without rest until, near sundown, he arrived at his cave.

Quickly he began to sharpen his knife and to hone it finely to a razor’s edge. Then he lathered his face and head with the juices of marsh roots and shaved his hair and beard, carefully drawing the blade across his skin to remove the least stubble.

He entered the water and with pine bristles scrubbed his body until all his own scent had been washed away. It was dark as he dragged himself from the water and collapsed in exhaustion on the cold ground.

At the first light of dawn he was ready. He draped himself in the priest’s robes and, concealing a fowler’s net within the vestment’s folds, he followed the stepping stones out to the exact spot that he had seen the priest stand.

Kanin began to chant, his voice floating gently across the still water. Its unfamiliar sound captured his attention. How strange and beautiful, he thought. There was even an echo! Then, as he stopped to listen to the sweet reply, he happened to glance down into the water and was startled by what he saw. A face he did not recognize – a serene and gentle face – looked up at him from beneath the surface! Kanin gasped and the face also gasped. And suddenly Kanin realized that the submerged countenance was his own! “I’ve startled myself,” he confessed nervously.

Then, as he looked up, he saw in the distance a silver- ribboned waterfall which he had never noticed before. “Strange,” he said, “that in all this time I never even wondered about the source of the lake.” A peculiar feeling came over him. He felt as if he were just regaining consciousness after drugged sleep or a fainting spell. He squinted and rubbed his eyes.

Color began to fill his vision. Darting past him came a hummingbird’s iridescent green and the celestial flash of a bluebird. And there were roses by the lake… red and pink and yellow… and he detected their fragrance… and the fragrance, too, of honeysuckle vines that cascaded down the bank and into the water. How could he have missed all this? How beautiful this lake was… how the morning sun streamed down through the trees and glistened on the water… and the birds… how lovely they were… how innocent and peaceful. And suddenly an anguished cry rose up from deep within his chest and he covered his face in shame. “What a blind and ignorant fool I am,” he cried. “What a vile and savage brute! Oh, Lord, forgive me!” Tears rolled down his face and he raised his hands in a beggar’s gesture. As he extended his arms, the net slid from his shoulder and fell into the water. Then the water birds came to gather at his feet.

That night the villagers returned to the temple. “The thief got away,” the servant said. “We thought we had tracked him all the way to the lake, but he wasn’t there; and since it was getting dark, we turned back.”

“Oh,” inquired the priest, “then you saw no one?”

“Only a priest,” said the servant, “rather like yourself. He was kneeling in the water chanting the Buddha’s name.”

No one understood why the priest suddenly laughed. 

Essence and Expectations: Digging for the Gold of Insight

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya

Essence and Expectations

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

 

Archimedes was stymied. The greatest mathematician in the world had a problem that baffled him. How could he determine whether an intricately wrought crown was pure gold or gold adulterated with a base metal? He knew what a given quantity of gold should weigh and that the same quantity of adulterated metal would have a different weight; but how could he determine the quantity of material in the crown? He couldn’t cut it up into measurable pieces. What to do? What to do?

As every troubled thinker does, Archimedes decided to take a hot bath. And it was then, as he sank into the water and the liquid sloshed over the sides of the tub that the concept of displacement occurred to him. Two things cannot occupy the same space. He might not have been able to measure the space the crown occupied by measuring the crown, but he could easily measure the amount of water the crown displaced. He could quantify the material! Jubilant and still naked, he ran through the streets shouting “Eureka!” I have found it! I have found the answer!

How do we tell false from true and penetrate surface to probe core? Insight requires the hard work of disciplined thought and observation; and most of the time we’re too tired, or lazy, or distracted to bother. So we laugh or gape or, if we do feel an emotional response, we look at the reflection of what we’ve projected onto the surface and coo adoringly or cast the glancing shadow of our own malice; but usually we see nothing but what it suits us to see. We don’t care to look behind the mirror.

From the trove of oriental wisdom comes a famous parable which illustrates the meaning of dharma, the nature or natural order of a thing, the design ‘plans and specs’ to which the thing conforms. Regardless of any superficial characteristics it may present, everything has its dharma, its true, interior nature.

In the parable, an encounter between a venomous creature (a scorpion) and an innocuous one (a holy man) is observed by an uncomprehending man who, though he thinks he understands what he sees, has no real insight. He cannot penetrate the surface to plumb the depths of meaning.

Several years ago, in his film, The Crying Game, Neil Jordan brought a version of the parable to the West’s attention: A soldier, while making love to a woman, is captured by rebels who hold him hostage. Hooded, his hands bound behind him, he is guarded by a calm and gentle man who tries to make him as comfortable as possible.

The soldier, fearing execution, plays upon the guard’s compassionate nature by evoking manly sympathies. By action and word he poses the Archimedian problem: what is our true nature? Are we what we appear to be?

On the surface they would seem to be opposites. Racially, one is black, the other white. Politically, one is a soldier in service to the ruling power, the other a rebel in arms against it. But underneath these surfaces, do they not share a common nature? Do they not love, play, joke, urinate, and do all things that make them human? Are they not equals? The captive displays a photograph of the beautiful woman he loves and asks the guard to visit her and to convey the final thoughts of his undying love. It seems little enough for a condemned man to ask.

But the soldier further attempts to compromise the guard, to seduce him with voluptuous praise. There are, he insists, only two kinds of people in the world: “those who give and those who take” – the implication being that they are both good ‘giving’ men who give because it is their nature to be kind and compassionate. “You will help me,” says the soldier, “because it is your nature to be kind. You won’t be able to act against your nature.” And then, to illustrate his point, he relates the parable of the encounter between a venomous and an innocuous creature, in this version, a scorpion and a frog:

A scorpion, desiring to get to the other side of a river, asks a frog to carry him across. The frog is reluctant because he fears that the scorpion will sting him; but the scorpion dismisses the possibility saying that it wouldn’t be in his interest to sting the frog since then they’d both drown.

“The frog,” says the captive soldier, “thinks it over and then agrees to the deal.”

But mid-way across the river the scorpion stings the frog who, shrieking in pain, asks the scorpion why he has done this; and the scorpion replies, “I couldn’t help it. It’s my nature.” The theater audience laughs. It’s a clever explanation… the divine blueprint, the genes and chromosomes of scorpionhood. Yes, the guard will likely yield to the imperatives of his nature and help the soldier.

But if we are seeking insight, immediately we are confused. There is a problem here. Neil Jordan has dunked us in the Archimedian tub. First, there is the flaw of contract. There has been no “deal.” What is the necessary consideration? What benefit would the frog receive from ferrying the scorpion across the river? None was stated. If we are to believe that he is acting out of simple kindness, why then is the guard’s adherence to his own nature being likened unto the scorpion’s? He is being asked to act as benignly as the frog, not as detrimentally as the scorpion. Something does not jibe. We sink into the bathwater and await enlightenment. In television’s small claim’s court program, Judge Joe Brown, we recently heard another version of the parable. The judge, after deciding a case in favor of the defendant, responded to the plaintiff’s claim that her faithless and irresponsible lover had unduly enriched himself at her expense, by turning to the camera and lamenting, “It’s always this way. A person falls in love with someone who keeps breaking promises and acting badly. But the person keeps on forgiving the bad conduct. And then, when the relationship finally ends, there’s the inevitable complaint of breach of contract. ‘I gave this and I was promised that…’ On it goes. It reminds me of a story,” the good judge recalls, “of the woman who finds an injured snake on the road. She brings it home and nurses it until it recovers. But as soon as the snake is healed, it bites her. She says, ‘How could you bite me after I did so much to help you?’ And the snake says, ‘Lady, you knew I was a snake when you brought me home.'” The spectators in the courtroom laugh. A snake can’t help being a snake. Yes, the woman’s got nobody to blame but herself.

But something is wrong with this scenario. And once again we are sloshing in water, trying to understand, squinting to see truth. Do we assist only those distressed persons who post a bond, who give us a surety, a guarantee of reward, or payment-in-advance for our trouble? What is the judge trying to teach us? That we should be indifferent to the sufferings of others or restrict our charitable assistance to those who are certifiably impotent? Wouldn’t we rather be the Good Samaritan and risk ingratitude – or worse, than be the kind of person who ignores a signal of distress?

Perhaps a look at the original parable will help to clarify the problem:

A holy man is sitting by a river into which a scorpion falls. Seeing the creature thrash helplessly in the water, the holy man reaches down and scoops it up, placing it safely on the ground; and as he does this, the scorpion stings him.

Again, the scorpion falls into the water; and again, the holy man rescues him and is stung for his trouble.

Yet a third time the scorpion falls into the water and is saved by the holy man; and yet a third time the scorpion stings him.

Standing nearby is a man who has been observing this indignantly. He approaches the holy man and angrily asks, “Why do you keep rescuing a scorpion that keeps stinging you?”

The holy man gently shrugs. “It is a scorpion’s dharma to sting,” he says simply, “just as it is a human being’s dharma to help a creature in need.”

In the holy man’s demeanor and his explanation, we understand the parable. He has acted without egotistic desire, without expectation of reward or compensation, without entering that realm of conditional existence that is, for a spiritual person, assiduously to be avoided. He has acted in perfect freedom, doing what he considers is the right thing to do, without fear of consequence because he knows that his happiness does not depend upon exterior events or eventualities. He is an individual, independent, needing nothing or no one. He is responsible only to his God; and because he respects God’s designs – all His blueprints for life, he acts without singling himself out for special consideration.

And this equanimity is possessed by the guard just as it is prescribed for the plaintiff.

In The Crying Game we’ll indeed discover that the guard is the counterpart of the holy man. He, too, acts innocuously, without contract, without expectation of reward. It is the seductive soldier who is the poisonous scorpion; and, regardless of how he promises to conduct himself, he will act in accordance with his own ego-nature’s self-interest. All his talk of brotherhood, of a shared, generous nature was calculated to manipulate, an allurement to conscience. It was not what it seemed to be. In fact, he has secretly untied his hands and, relying upon the guard’s sense of decency – which surely will not allow him to shoot a man in the back – he breaks free and runs away, leaving the guard to face summary execution for having allowed his prisoner to escape.

And then we recall… as Judge Joe Brown would have had us recall… that we had indications of the soldier’s character at the outset of the film. Didn’t we witness his infidelity in the opening scene? Wasn’t he betraying ‘the great love of his life’ at the time he was captured? And later, didn’t he lie and conceal relevant truth when he cleverly aroused the guard’s interest in the photograph? His faithlessness and duplicity were already a matter of record.

Judge Brown, in his examination of the Plaintiff’s case, also established this point. At the outset of the relationship, the evidence of character, of nature, was there; and the plaintiff chose to ignore it, preferring to see what she wanted or needed to see. Only in retrospect, was each gift of money a loan. But why, the plaintiff was asked, when the man had not repaid the first loan did she give him a second? And, when he also failed to repay that did she give him a third and put her credit cards at his disposal for the fourth and fifth, and so on. The woman had an ulterior motive, one with which we all can sympathize, but one that had nothing to do with business agreements. She wanted to be loved and appreciated. In fact her gifts were bribes, inducements to yield the love she sought. But her image of herself – and her explanation for her actions – was that she was a kind and generous person, one who couldn’t ignore someone’s needs. She said that she helped because it was her nature to help. But if this were true, why was she demanding repayment?

In the absence of any evidence of agreement to repay, the Judge had to find for the ungrateful defendant. And so he spoke of a woman who had nursed a snake and who had not been prepared to accept the consequences of snake-handling.

The soldier’s and the Judge’s version of the parable are not intended to explain anything. They merely serve to warn, to caution us against accepting self-serving assurances and self-gratifying suppositions – and never to discount dharma. Yes, we are free to help an injurious person as often as needed, and to forgive him as often as we wish; but we cannot expect him to reform himself in accordance either with our hopes or with his manipulating promises. We are not asked to refrain from helping a scorpion, but only to remember – to remain aware – that it is a scorpion we are helping.

And implied in this awareness is the need to determine why it is we are helping him. Did we profess kindness as a means of huckstering a holiness which, in truth, we did not possess? Did we require love and appreciation so much that we were willing to purchase it? Is our ego such that we imagined that we could convert a scorpion into a canary, a serpent into a lapdog?

And if it is true that we have lavished so much attention upon someone who was so unworthy, so snakeish, what does that say about our powers of perception, not to mention taste? The ego’s desires are like beads upon a mala, an endless concatenation of fondled expectations. If ungratified, we experience disappointment; if gratified, we drop the bead and palpate the next desire.

In a social context, if we act purely to help someone, we do so without quid pro quo arrangements. If we are repaid, fine. If not, fine. Where there is no contract, there is no remedy – nor need of one.

In The Crying Game‘s final scene, the guard, asked to explain his self-sacrificing nature, repeats the parable of the scorpion and the frog. But he does this entertainingly, without guile. He exaggerates the shriek of the frog and dramatizes the scorpion’s response. In perfect simplicity, unaware even of his own humility, he likens himself unto the scorpion. He can’t help his nature – which we know is unconditionally loving and expansive.

The plaintiff, upon whom humiliation has been imposed, will likely shrivel. She’ll no longer grovel for snake love, but we must suppose that until she can look within herself and discover her own egoless self-worth, she’ll continue to see reflected love or hate in those upon whom she has cast her imaged desires.

Archimedes did not allow himself to be deceived by appearance. He tasked himself with the hard work of achieving insight which required simply and monumentally that he solve a problem in measurement.

The crown was not what the goldsmith said it was. The metal was gold alloyed with cheap copper. In the process of ascertaining this, Archimedes had discovered a great, eternal truth.

With what joy did that old man run naked through the streets. 

 

Expectations by Ming Zhen Shakya

Ming Zhen Shakya speaks…On Expectations

Expectations

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

What backsliding is to religious conversion, recidivism is to penal rehabilitation. Both represent failure, and Zen priests who have a prison ministry can be losers on both counts.

Often we are moved to tears when we give Precepts to a man who receives his certificate with such profound gratitude, with such pride that he has been accepted into Buddhist ranks, who vows with such sincerity to try with all his might to conform his conduct to the requirements of the Path, and who does not show up for another meeting. We never see him again. We might learn that he’s espoused another faith, which, frankly, is better than hearing that in the exercise of Buddhist ethics as he understood them he got himself tossed into solitary confinement.

The same inability to predict the future informs our cheery bon voyages when a prisoner is released. Good luck we say to him certain only that he’s going to need it.

And so we wonder if the man will stick with Zen or attach himself to another group, or if he will successfully re-enter civilian life or revert to the kind of behavior that got him incarcerated in the first place. We doubt that we have understood him at all – else we should not be so uncertain. We’re supposed to be spiritual physicians who diagnose illness and recommend whatever nostrums are necessary to effect cure; but often we don’t have a clue.

Not only in prison ministries does this doubt occur. In our civilian sanghas we are frequently surprised by the unwonted actions of a member we thought we thoroughly understood. We miss seeing his face at a meeting and when we inquire about his health or his whereabouts we’re told that he has joined another Buddhist group or even another religion – maybe even one of those that regard Buddhism as devil worship. Or else he sends his regrets that he cannot attend meetings on our scheduled evenings because he’s taking a course in Continuing Education in order to satisfy a curiosity he has always had about Eighteenth Century French literature. What was going on in his mind when he bowed so reverently to Guan Yin and chanted so joyfully? Was there a tip-off that we missed? A signal that we failed to see?

In his essay, What Is Man, Martin Buber, that indispensable thinker, gives us some direction, a hint of where to look. If we read the work for its academic or literary value, we’ll, of course, find it interesting; but without some specific ‘cases’ to which we can relate the information, we’re not likely to find it useful. It is true that Buber mostly speaks of “epochs” of man, periods of complacent belief and periods of penetrating inquiry; but the old alchemical rule nevertheless applies: “As it is in the macrocosm so it is in the microcosm.” The general, after all, sums particulars.

It never hurts to see a problem from a different perspective.

The conduct of two men associated with the prison sangha had puzzled me for a long time. It disturbed me that I couldn’t even begin to predict how they’d react to civilian life when they were released. They had left in their psychological wake a jumble of dots that I just couldn’t connect. Then I happened to remember Buber’s essay; and after re-reading it, the prisoners’ dots lined up to station themselves into a recognizable pattern.

Buber begins his discussion by reciting Immanuel Kant’s four-question formula for the “knowledge of the ultimate aims of human reason.”

“What can I know?” the answer to which Kant intends metaphysics and not epistemology to supply.

“What ought I to do?” which ethics will answer.

“What may I hope?” which religion presumes to solve.

“What is man?” The first three questions are essentially contained in this fourth.

In order to answer these questions, a man has to ask them first. He has to wonder, says Buber, about “his special place in the cosmos, his connection with destiny, his relation to the world of things, his understanding of his fellow men, his existence as a being that knows it must die, his attitude in all the ordinary and extraordinary encounters with which the mystery of his life is shot through.” It is the man who feels himself alone who is most disposed to engage in such self-reflection. This is the man who does not inhabit, who, Buber notes, “lives in the world as in an open field and at times does not even have four pegs with which to set up a tent.”

As we read, we understand that the man who has the security of a protective “philosophical” house appreciates its walls and roof and does not wish to blow them down with gusting questions. If he sees the horizon he is content to fantasize about what lies on the farther side of it. And if his fantasies begin to bore him and thus cease to satisfy, he may investigate that farther place to find new sources of comfortable illusion. He seeks only to gratify his ego’s superficial needs as he stays within the safe boundaries of his religious expectations. If he sees the stars he may regard them as sources of entertainment or, perhaps, as serving of some utilitarian purpose. But he does not marvel as the Psalmist marvels, “Lord, when I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?

As Buddhists we know that we must ask these questions and feel this overwhelming awe; for without having our lives “shot through” with these perforating inquiries, we inflate, our Buddhist ego-image swelling buoyantly into a complacent stratosphere. We become contented in our habituation, domesticated by the routines and appliances of religion – the wafting incense on our altars, the artful wall hangings and statues placed in the corners of our sanctuaries, the gestures, the vestments, the liturgy. We sit upon cushions in our meditation halls as if we are safely inside Plato’s Cave watching flickering shadows on the walls. We do not allow ourselves to wonder what dramas are unfolding outside that comfortable theatre, what else we might hope for, what more we ought to do, what knowledge of self lies behind the silhouetted images we study.

The man who does ponder the unknown declares his independence and in his own eccentric way becomes a free agent. He is not satisfied with firelight. He wants to see the Sun.

The two prisoners whose temperament I could not gauge both attended meetings of our medium-security prison sangha, but only one had taken Buddhist Precepts.

The one who officially became a Buddhist was intelligent, well groomed, polite, and faithful in attendance. His conduct in and out of chapel was uniformly good and owing to this exemplary behavior he had been granted parole and would be released as soon as a place opened for him at a halfway house. He very much wanted to join a Buddhist sangha when he was released and, because he had much affection for Vietnamese culture and was somewhat familiar with the language, I suggested that he join a Mahayana Vietnamese temple that had recently opened in our town. This news seemed heaven sent to him, and he asked me to inquire whether they would be averse to having an ex-con in their group. I didn’t see why they would be, but I visited them anyway and asked. They did not object and in fact, since they spoke very little English they looked forward to having a bilingual American there in their increasingly American congregation. They gave me a few brochures, a little Vietnamese dictionary, and their meditation schedule – they were open to the public three nights a week. He received this information with great joy. Future possibilities were becoming realities. He was particularly excited to learn that the temple “haven” was located just a few blocks away from a restaurant in which he had been promised a job.

Then, several weeks later, before a meeting someone told me a rumor that he planned to go to Buenos Aires as soon as his probation period was completed. After the meeting I asked him if he did, indeed, plan such a journey. “Yes,” he said, “as soon as my parole’s up, I’m going to Argentina.” I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I know some people who live there.”

“Relatives?”

“No, just some people I met once in Dallas. They send me a Christmas card every year.”

I was speechless. Finally I asked, “How are you planning to get there? You’ll need a passport and visas–”

“–I can get a passport after I complete parole.” He said this as if it were going to be a perfectly simple thing to do. Why would the State Department prevent him from leaving the U.S. and why would another country refuse to put out the welcome mat for a penniless American ex-convict.

“What about money? And how do you plan to get there?”

“My sister has a camper parked in her driveway. It won’t fit in the garage. She said it needed a little work, but if I fix it up I’m sure she’ll let me borrow it.”

Drive? This was bizarre. “Do you know where Argentina is?” The question was rhetorical. I was referring to the immense distance, one quarter of the earth’s surface east and one half of the earth’s surface south from where we were.

“It’s in South America.”

“There are a lot of countries between here and Argentina and every one will require a visa and a hefty fee to bring in a recreational vehicle, not to mention insurance. If you have an accident they won’t just let you leave, trusting you’ll come back for adjudication. They’ll want to see evidence of your ability to pay any debts you incur. You’ll also need money for gas and oil and food and car repairs and bridge tolls and ferry boats and all the rest.” “I’ll have money from my job delivering pizzas.”

Delivering pizzas? This was not quite the same as working in a restaurant. “Do you have a car?”

“No, my sister has a new Escort I’ll use. As soon as I finish at the half-way house, I’m moving in with her.”

“Isn’t your sister married… with kids?”

“Yes. I’ll bunk in the camper until I can afford my own place. I’ll be working six nights a week, maybe seven. It shouldn’t take me long.”

The Vietnamese meditation schedule suddenly became meaningless. To me, his entire life-plan became meaningless.

We walked out of the chapel and I recall standing in the sunlight squinting, stunned. I didn’t know what to make of his previously stated intentions and this new fantastic scheme.

In civilian sanghas we sometimes find the same aborted volition, the instantaneous switch from one goal to another. A plan, enthusiastically conceived, dies of neglect, a pitiable orphan. Projects designed to raise money – publishing a newsletter, selling homemade religious articles, construction of accommodations for guest members – are suddenly abandoned. Those who fathered the plan deny paternity and leave the residual responsibilities to others. Their generative abilities are needed elsewhere.

The other man who puzzled me only occasionally sat with our group. He was an American Indian of the Sioux Nation who had been in prison for more than half his life. Sentenced, at eighteen, to twenty years, he was now thirty-eight. He had applied repeatedly for parole but had always been denied – for while he was manageable enough not to warrant being sent to a maximum security prison, he was still considered sufficiently incorrigible to warrant early release into the civilian population.

To call his appearance “sloppy” would be to ‘condemn it with faint praise,’ to borrow Shakespeare’s line. He was a mess. His coarse long hair pushed the ‘unacceptably unkempt’ envelope that the prison staff itched to open. Several of his front teeth had been knocked out in one or more of his frequent fights; and although the prison dentistry service had given him a partial plate, he preferred not to wear it and risk its destruction. He kept it in a treasure box in his cell. Once, however, he did wear it to show me, and I could see that wild handsomeness that I think Emily Bronte imagined when she created Heathcliff – not as Olivier played him – a passive, effete and pensive gentleman who happened to find himself in unfashionable garments – but a kinetic, electric, brooding man whose thoughts, behind those darting eyes, no outsider could ever apprehend.

At one meeting he gave me an Indian Prisoner’s Rights manifesto he had drafted and asked if I would edit it; but it required no correction that I could see. He had acquired an education in prison; and he used it to lobby for official recognition of Native American religious forms of worship. His ceaseless agitations had paid off and down at the end of the prison yard, near one of the watchtowers, was a little sweat lodge he and other Indian men had finally been permitted to build. I was told that he functioned as a kind of shaman in the sweat rituals and that he “could really zone out” during the proceedings. He kept track of the sky and knew when Venus was the Morning Star and when the Evening. Information like this was the criterion by which he gauged all other data. Compared to this, of what significance could he possibly assign the news that half the buttons on his shirt were missing?

I remember asking the warden as he boarded the exit bus, “How do you think he’ll do on the outside?” And the warden answered, shaking his head, “He’ll get in a fight before he gets off that bus.”

We hope for the best about people who are practically strangers to us. It is the nature of our service. In most Zen congregations there is little social interaction between pastor and congregants. We have few bake sales, hymn-sings, pujas, boy scout troops, or other community activities; and Darshan (dokusan) is limited to a few minutes of discussion about meditation practices. Rarely does a teacher encounter students in those social occasions that reveal most about their personalities. Usually, then, we are left to gauge intelligence by the quality of questions asked in forums; to gauge fidelity by attendance; generosity by contributions to the collection box; cleanliness by the appearance of robes; and so on. In short, in the span of two hours per week, we are required to form opinions about a person’s character – perhaps even to write letters of recommendation – based upon such brief, structured encounters and flimsy evidence. In a prison setting, it is even more difficult to determine character. There are few after-service chats and, aside from snail-mail, no communication between meetings.

As I re-read Buber and thought about that strange jaunt to Argentina, I saw that what I was missing was that a man who is secure doesn’t have to wonder about his place in the universe. He has no anxiety. He is a believer, a creature of habit, a regulated dreamer, an accidental guest – a person who is sanguine about the future that, owing to the largesse of others, always seems rosy. He trusts that everything is going to work out so why worry?

But why is he so secure, so enthusiastic or so casual about unlikely schemes that he presents as realistic goals – schemes which might at first seem reasonable but will later evidence a grandiose or unacceptably presumptuous nature?

How does a man experience the Real? Buber says simply that man has a threefold living relation. “First, his relation to the world and to things; second his relation to men – both to individuals and to the many; and third, his relation to the mystery of being – which is dimly apparent through all this but infinitely transcends it… The Absolute or God.”

The person who is afflicted with worldly fantasy is mired in the first ‘living relation.’ No matter how his behavior seems to conform to society’s standards, he sees the material world through acquisitive eyes. He objectifies even himself as a created image, which he assumes that other people will also accept as substantive and genuine. He identifies with desirable objects; and he objectifies even people who become to him mere ways and means, tools to fulfill his needs and desires. We may see him in a prison or in a commercial workplace. He may go to church or to the Zen center every week. He may sit in meditation or bow his head in prayer, but what is he thinking? It is things – his garments, the incense, his breakfast, the weather.. and how these things affect him, or how he can alter or use these things to his advantage. We find his likeness in all forms of literature. He’s Williams’ Blanche DuBois who affects gentility while plying the skin trade, depending upon “the kindness of strangers” and, ultimately, the coerced hospitality of her sister. The only constant is the need to cling to the self-image of superior bearing. Perhaps he starts out innocently like Thurber’s Walter Mitty who seems outwardly to be quite happy performing such ordinary tasks as driving his wife to the beauty parlor; but what is he thinking? Only his body is behind the wheel of his sedan. The rest of him is at the controls of a dive bomber that is now engaged in desperate combat in the skies over Europe. He’s not a dutiful husband sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for his wife to be beautified, he’s a famous brain surgeon performing an operation that his colleagues lack the skill and courage even to attempt. Thurber let his short story end in one of these imaginative adventures; but if he had written another chapter to the story, Mitty might easily have sought the rewards of fantasy heroism in the real-life adorations of a co-worker or a lunchroom waitress. His wife and children – if he had any – would become strangers, creatures from that “other” world, the one that could not satisfy his fancy.

It is such self-absorption that evicts from consideration those who fulfill laborious obligation in order to give residence to vagrant dreams.

Yet, in a curious way, these fantasies often have a real-world, practical function. They provide leverage and set the stage for contrived conflicts that provide excuse for change. If we look hard enough we can find method in the schemes. Consider the possible manipulations in the proposed trip to Buenos Aires. The ex-prisoner would move in with his sister and it would take about 2.5 hours for her husband to express an intense desire to get him off the property. But there is a problem. No one wants to be known as the kind of person who would turn a brother out, especially one who is “trying to get his life together.” Prodigal Sons and Lost Sheep and Good Samaritans will be marched onto the front lawn like so many pink flamingos or plaster gnomes. Biblical precedents will picket the house. It will be the sister who must deal with categorical imperatives.

The request had been merely for the brother temporarily to occupy the camper- a request that seemed too simple to deny. But he will come into the house to eat; to shower, shave and use the toilet, to watch television, to talk on the phone; to do his laundry, and if it is too hot or too cold, he will come in to sleep on the couch. What will it cost her and her husband to eliminate this expensive invader of their privacy while retaining their reputations as decent people? He says he wants to take the camper on a long trip. Well, that will get rid of him. But wait! Their names are on the title – which means they’re responsible as owners of the vehicle. What if he doesn’t keep up the insurance? He wants to buy the vehicle from them and to pay it off in monthly payments. He offers to commit himself legally to pay; and with a great flourish will sign a promissory note which, as the saying goes, will be like a verbal contract – not worth the paper it’s written on.

But will he pay? It is no more likely that he will honor his debt than it is likely that anyone will ever examine the appropriateness of his need or his proposition. He wanted his sister’s camper and he found a way to get it. He invoked familial sentiment when he made the request; and that sense of security, of entitlement that is inherent in the request will obviate any sense of responsibility to pay. This is not mere cynicism. This is precisely the course that is followed by a person whose living relation is confined to things.

He is unable to empathize – to consider the negative effect his presence or his debt will have upon his sister – for that would be the second stage of “the threefold living relation.” Society will aid him in his self-absorbed goals. Always, the one who is asked to give is reminded more forcefully of the “duty” to be charitable than the one who desires to receive is ever reminded of the obligation to be self-supportive or to lessen his requirements.

In the world of things we find strange participation mystiques, the imbuing of an object with animate qualities with which the person then identifies and associates. Not only does the person believe that the quality of a thing magically adheres to the possessor who becomes unique or important in direct proportion to his evaluation of that symbol or object, but he must also advertise his identified allegiance to that magical element. Especially in prison we find men who have used their own flesh to commemorate an identity with and commitment to such other-worldly power: They are “illustrated men,” tattooed not with the usual salute to Mother, service motto, girl, flag or rose; but with serpents that entwine entire limbs; lightning bolts that discharge from an earlobe and strike the chest; birds of prey that seize a nipple in their talons; blood dripping daggers and swords; and, most incomprehensively, a variety of chains and barbed wires that encircle arms and necks. Allegiance to people can alter. Today’s benefactor is too often tomorrow’s adversary; but the eagle is an emblem of power that will never weaken. The blitzkrieg is forever.

To dismiss this as jailhouse machismo is to overlook those symbols of identity – the designer labels, the expensive cars, the “conspicuous consumption and honorific waste’ which characterize leisure class possessions. To whatever extent an owner invests these showy objects with his own identity, he, too, is an illustrated man.

It is not the goal of penal authorities to manufacture saints in prison. They do strive, however, to deliver men and women to the second stage of living relation: to establish a relationship to the world of men. This requires empathy – an ability to understand and accept The Golden Rule, an ability to put oneself in the shoes of another and feel his joy or sorrow, his comfort or pain, and then to act so as to alleviate his sorrow or to appreciate his joy. Empathy allows a man to see the world through the eyes of other men not merely to see his own reflection in their eyes.

We do find in prisons those who keep The Golden Rule – who treat others as they would have others treat them. Men do strive to better themselves, to become aware of what they do not know – and need to know – and to educate themselves accordingly, to form friendships that are not predicated upon survival but upon common interests, to find, as Buber said, their “special place in the cosmos” and “connection with destiny.” We even find men who attain the third category of “living relation,” who transcend the first two stages and establish “a relation to the mystery of being, to the Absolute or God.”

The Sioux Indian did not get into any fights on the bus. He went home to the northern plains to live. After he was out a month he called me to say that he was doing fine. Yeah… yeah… he had met a nice gal and was getting set to move into her trailer. He also got a job delivering building supplies and was saving up to put a down payment on a used pickup truck. But what was really important – what he was calling to tell me – was that he had gone to Wisconsin to see Miracle, the white buffalo heifer. He had actually seen her with his own eyes. Did I know that she was not an albino, an anomaly or some freakish creature – but was a testament to God’s inexplicable power to affect change, cleansing change, black to white change – a merciful and beautiful purity! – like the white lotus flower rising out of the muck!?

I said I knew and understood.

A few months later I heard from him for the second and last time. We talked a little about spiritual matters and I could still hear the wonder in his voice. “You’re doing well,” I said, “I can tell.” Then he casually stated every enlightened man’s credo. “I’m a king. I’ve got a good woman, a clean house, a steady job” and then, as a concession to the exigencies of commerce, a little pride of ownership crept into his voice and he added, “and a pickup truck that only needs paint.” 

Dharma i Karma II

Ming Zhen Shakya

Ming Zhen Shakya (Author)

Fa Yin (Translator)

Dharma i Karma Część II: Karma Autor: Ming Zhen Shakya Tłumaczenie: Fa Yin Karma jest kolejnym ze słów, które najwyraźniej świetnie funkcjonują podlegając werbalnym nadużyciom. Zniekształć je, wypacz, użyj do najohydniejszych celów, a dodasz mu tylko żywotności i siły oddziaływania. Poddaj je torturom upychając je w metempsychotyczny kontekst, a ono zajaśnieje tylko większym blaskiem. Nie jestem pewna czy gliny mi pomogą czy raczej mnie aresztują widząc jak się z nim obchodzę. Żyjemy w naprawdę skomplikowanych czasach.

Zacznijmy od stwierdzenia, czym karma nie jest w kontekście Zen. Karma nie jest ani boską daniną bądź odpłatą, ani też nagrodą czy też karą za czyny popełnione w poprzednim życiu. Nie mieliśmy żadnego poprzedniego życia. Nie, w Zen nie ma czegoś takiego.

Zen wymaga od nas życia w chwili obecnej oraz tego, żebyśmy pozbyli się iluzji odrębnego istnienia w formie niezależnych, samostanowiących o sobie ego. Musimy zrozumieć, że w ostatecznej instancji ego nie istnieje, a stąd wynika, że my jako jednostki też nie istniejemy, nie istnieliśmy także w przeszłości oraz nie zaistniejemy w przyszłości.

Z jednego należy wreszcie zdać sobie sprawę: wszystkie religie na swoim podstawowym poziomie są jedynie środkami cywilizującymi. Zbierają do kupy najróżniejsze grupy dzikusów i narzucają im prawo i porządek, czy im się to podoba czy nie. Zmuszają nas, abyśmy postępowali względnie moralnie, kusząc nas obietnicą nieba czy też coraz to lepszych reinkarnacji, których zwieńczeniem jest urodzenie się bogatą, piękną i naprawdę inteligentną osobą mieszkającą w prestiżowej dzielnicy Filadelfii. Nie stronią również od gróźb wiecznego potępienia czy też coraz to gorszych reinkarnacji, które poprowadzą nas przez dzielnice biedy aż do czegoś najstraszniejszego, co znajduje się na samym dnie Zatoki Delaware.

To oczywiste, że system kar i nagród działa. Któż z nas bowiem wydałby choćby złotówkę na romantyczną kolację nie licząc przy tym na następujące po niej rozkosze, lub też płaciłby podatki nie obawiając się zaproszenia do więzienia wysłanego przez Urząd Skarbowy?

Fakt, że przeczymy możliwości przyszłego życia wypełnionego zasłużoną przyjemnością lub bólem, nie oznacza jednak, że nie doświadczamy któregoś z tych odczuć w życiu obecnym. (Co ciekawe – wielu obserwatorów i jeszcze więcej komentatorów wydaje się wierzyć, że osoby praktykujące Zen zabiegają o całkowite wyzucie się z odczuć przyjemności i bólu. Nirwana wydaje im się stanem podobnym do katatonii, a człowiek doskonały statystą w filmie Georga Romero. Bierzemy takiego Szczęśliwego Buddę, odchudzamy go do 40 kilogramów, jego uśmiech redukujemy do lekkiego grymasu – i tadam, mamy to.) W rzeczywistości my, buddyści Zen, jesteśmy przekonani, że już zwykłe życie może stać się piekłem pełnym goryczy i bólu, a zatem celem praktyk Zen jest przeniesienie nas do błogości Nirwany jeszcze zanim przestaniemy oddychać. Niebo i piekło istnieją, i to istnieją tu i teraz w naszych umysłach. O ile zatem nie ucięto nam głowy, zabieramy nasze niebo i piekło ze sobą, dokądkolwiek się udajemy.

Powiedzmy to zatem wyraźnie. Nasza szkoła Zen może nie uznawać doktryny reinkarnacji, ale to nie znaczy, że sama ta doktryna jest zupełnie nieskuteczna. Każda Ścieżka posiada swój własny kodeks etyczny oraz zasady, które nadają jej znaczenie oraz kierunek – o ile akceptuje się dany system w całości. W tym sensie doktryna reinkarnacji, kiedy bierze się ją jako jeden z elementów konkretnej drogi zbawienia, jest właśnie w obrębie tej drogi doktryną skuteczną. Każda jednakże religia, która zakłada wiarę w reinkarnację, stwierdza jednocześnie, że skoro tylko, dzięki zadanym praktykom, człowiek osiągnie Nirwanę, to od razu zostaje wyzwolony z konieczności kolejnych wcieleń. Czyli, krótko mówiąc, nawet doktryna o reinkarnacji jest używana tylko jako tratwa, pomocna w przeprawieniu się przez rzekę, tracąca jednak całkowicie wartość, kiedy uda się osiągnąć drugi brzeg Wyzwolenia.

Każda z wielkich religii świata mówi o mistycznej drabinie, a ci, którzy po niej się wspinają, nie należą raczej do kasty przestępczej; w ten sposób, unosząc się ponad pospolitymi podnietami nie potrzebują już wcale gróźb czy też obietnic pośmiertnej nagrody. To wcale jednak nie oznacza, że osoby nie zainteresowane ścieżką mistyczną swojej religii, nigdy nie wzniosą się na mistyczne wyżyny. Wznoszenie się zależy od Łaski. Postęp zwyczajnej osoby jest podobny do trudnej trasy wspinacza górskiego. Nie osiągnie szczytu ten, kto okrąża podstawę góry, albo przeskakuje z jednej ścieżki na drugą. Osiągnie go natomiast ten, który trzyma się jednej ścieżki, podążając nią od początku do końca, decydując się kroczyć nią z pełną wiarą, akceptując zarówno wszystko, co już rozumie, jak i to, czego pojąć jeszcze nie potrafi. Wszystko i tak w końcu stanie się jasne, o ile nie ulegnie pokusie wplatania własnych interpretacji pomiędzy dogmaty i zasady doktryny, albo nie porzuci ścieżki idąc za pseudo-naukami New Age jakiegoś Nattiego Bumppo – jednego z owych wygadanych poszukiwaczy prawdy, którzy, jak tylko uda im się przypadkiem natknąć na jakiś jeden prosty odcinek drogi, od razu gotowi są poprowadzić całe tłumy na samiutki szczyt.

Zen jest alchemicznym zwieńczeniem procesu integracji archetypów. Osiągnięcie tego celu jest tożsame z ekstazą boskiego zjednoczenia, która z kolei przekłada się na najwyższy spokój płynący z odczucia pełni – bycia całkowicie niezależnym i odpornym na manipulacje innych. Zen nie jest terapią grupową ani cieplutkim, milutkim poczuciem wspólnoty pod okiem jakiegoś przypadkowo boskiego mistrza. Zen to nie klub. Zen to religia.

Nieobecność w Zen pojęcia karmy jako zadośćuczynienia za przeszłe błędy bądź zasługi nie oznacza jednak nieobowiązywania przysłowia: „Jak sobie pościelesz, tak się wyśpisz”. Wprost przeciwnie, wydaje się, że problemy zwalają się na głowę właśnie problematycznym ludziom. W podobny sposób, działania płynące ze szczodrości często odpłacane są w bardzo przyjemny i najmniej oczekiwany sposób. Potoczne rozumienie słowa karma jest zatem użyteczne i, jak się wydaje, trafne. Czyny egoistyczne, ukierunkowane na własną korzyść, charakteryzują ludzi, którzy nie znają innego sposobu na współżycie, jak tylko manipulowanie innymi dla osiągnięcia znaczenia społecznego. Ich machinacje zawsze gdzieś się załamują, bądź wymykają się spod kontroli, wpędzając ich samych w poważne tarapaty. Z kolei czyny płynące ze szczerej życzliwości nie potrzebują motywacji w postaci obietnic przyszłej nagrody, a posiadając taki Nirwaniczny charakter powodują namnażanie się kolejnych aktów dobroci – zgodnie z prawem mówiącym, że duchowa dobroć jest zaraźliwa. Nie ma zatem nic złego w przywoływaniu pojęcia karmy jako namowy do postępowania zgodnie z maksymą: „Nie czyń drugiemu co tobie niemiłe”. To jest po prostu zdrowy rozsądek zastosowany do moralności.

Podsumujmy zatem nasz wywód o tym, czym karma nie jest, stwierdzeniem, że ludzie, którzy nadal mają skłonność do zabijania, gwałcenia, rabunku czy też pretendują do obejmowania ważnych stanowisk w strukturach duchowych, powinni trzymać się z dala od świętych przybytków Zen. Jeżeli natomiast chodzi o wymądrzania amatorów, to naprawdę słyszeliśmy już zbyt wiele, począwszy od mylenia świerzbu w kroczu z rozbudzeniem energii Kundalini, poprzez przyrównanie nagłego wyrwania ze snu na jawie do Satori, aż po przekonanie, że Zjawisko Purkiniego jest tym samym co poświata auralna w stanie Kensho. Naprawdę za dużo już tych głupot.

W porządku – jeżeli karma tym wszystkim nie jest, to czym zatem jest?

Pomimo, iż już pisałam o karmie w wielu moich innych artykułach, spróbuję podejść teraz do tej kwestii nieco inaczej.

Karma to działanie – ciągłe, niemające końca działanie, które w każdym momencie współtworzy samsaryczną sieć przyczyn i skutków. A każdy z tych momentów to zwykłe „teraz”. Wszystko płynie, powiedział Heraklit – i wiedział, co mówi. Tak jak nie ma żadnych trwałych, niezmiennych rzeczy, tak też nie ma dających się wyodrębnić konkretnych skutków, które mogłoby być przypisane danej konkretnej przyczynie. Na każdy skutek składa się nieskończona liczba przyczyn. A ponieważ wszystko nieustannie jest w ruchu, nie ma czegoś takiego jak czas zero. Tabliczka nigdy nie jest tabula rasa. Jedną z najtrudniejszych do pokonania przeszkód w Zen jest zrozumienie, że czyjekolwiek działania w jakiejkolwiek chwili nie płyną z wolnej woli. Dodatkowo, nie jest możliwa zasadna ocena czynu jako dobrego lub złego, ponieważ zawsze pozostaje otwarta kwestia „w stosunku do czego”, której nie sposób ostatecznie rozstrzygnąć. Lis zabija zająca i zabiera zdobycz do swojego legowiska – co jest dobre dla lisiątek, którym uda się dzięki temu uniknąć śmierci głodowej, a złe dla zajączków, którym się to nie uda. Idąc dalej tym tropem, nie jesteśmy w stanie stwierdzić, jakie inne zdarzenie miałoby miejsce gdyby właśnie to jedno się nie wydarzyło.

Na pewno zgodzimy się, że zabicie ośmioletniego dziecka jest okropieństwem, ale nie da się tego stwierdzić bezwarunkowo. Dla zobrazowania tej kwestii przytoczmy kawał z okresu II Wojny Światowej:

Adolf Hitler, zdeklarowany miłośnik astrologii, radzi się astrologa z pytaniem, na kiedy gwiazdy przewidziały jego śmierć. Astrolog, mając słuszne powody obawiać się swojego klienta, bada jego horoskop i stwierdza” Gwiazdy mówią, że umrzesz podczas żydowskiego święta”. „Kiedy jest to święto?” pyta Hitler. Astrolog jąkając się mówi: „Nie wiem”. Hitler wyzywa go od głupców i żąda natychmiast podania daty. „Mój Fuhrerze,” wyjaśnia łagodnie astrolog, „którykolwiek dzień, w którym umrzesz, będzie żydowskim świętem.”

Jak ktoś świadomy okropieństw II Wojny Światowej poczułby się, gdyby jednak miało się okazać, że Adolf Hitler został zabity w strzelaninie podczas swojej codziennej drogi do szkoły? Ale któż mógł to wszystko wcześniej przewidzieć? Nikt. Co więcej, któż może zgadnąć co jeszcze mogłoby się wówczas wydarzyć, co mogłoby mieć nawet gorsze konsekwencje niż dojście Hitlera do władzy? Nieskończenie wiele przyczyn składa się na każdy skutek, a ten ze swojej strony, stając się samemu przyczyną, wnosi swój wkład w wywołanie nieskończenie wielu kolejnych skutków. Nie istnieje sposób na dokładne wydzielenie pojedynczego zdarzenia, aby je pochwalić lub zganić, na usunięcie choćby jednego węzła z całej sieci bez wywarcia wpływu na pozostałe jej elementy. Nie możemy być nawet pewni tego, czy dane zdarzenie jest tak naprawdę dobre czy złe, gdyby patrzeć na nie nieco spoza bezpośredniej perspektywy. Czy istniała tylko jedna przyczyna II Wojny Światowej? Nie. Przyczyn było nieskończenie wiele.

Historia jest zapisem samsary. Usiłuje ona wyizolować i przebadać przyczyny danego zjawiska, pojedynczo bądź w grupach, co w ostatecznej instancji nie tylko, że jest niemożliwe, ale w obliczu faktu, że każde pokolenie i tak wszystko na nowo przerabia, jest zwykle stratą czasu. I Wojna Światowa ani nie zapobiegła ani nie przyczyniła się do II Wojny Światowej. W samarze rzeczy nie są tak proste.

W Zen celem jest to, żeby znaleźć się w tak dobrym miejscu, w tak duchowo satysfakcjonującym miejscu – co w praktyce może oznaczać jedynie transcendentne doświadczenie Nirwany – że jeżeli dano by nam możliwość przeżycia naszego życia ponownie, to nie zmienilibyśmy w nim ani jednego detalu, bez względu na to, jak bolesny detal by to był. Zmiana choćby jednego wydarzenia mogłaby bowiem uruchomić lawinę innych wydarzeń, które w konsekwencji mogłyby wyrzucić nas poza obręb ścieżki, która przecież tak czy inaczej doprowadziła nas do tego tak bezpośredniego i jednoczącego kontaktu z Bogiem.

Data gwiezdna 3134.0. Z powodu wypadku w zakrzywieniu czasoprzestrzeni, doktor McCoy zostaje teleportowany na ziemię w momencie Wielkiej Depresji lat 30-stych XX wieku. Kirk i Spock przybywają z misją odszukania go, a Kirk zakochuje się w młodej, słodkiej pracowniczce socjalnej Edith Keeler. Kiedy Edith zapada na zdrowiu, McCoy usiłuje jej pomóc, jednak Kirk uświadamia sobie, że jeżeli ona przeżyje, to rozkręci ruch pacyfistyczny na tak wielką skalę, że USA włączą się do II Wojny Światowej zbyt późno, co z kolei da nazistowskim Niemcom wystarczająco dużo czasu na skonstruowanie bomby atomowej i wygranie wojny. Gdyby zmienić przebieg choćby jednego życia, jedno malutkie wydarzenie, to historia mogłaby przybrać całkowicie inny obrót. McCoy nie może usunąć jednego węzła z karmicznej sieci, nie wpływając jednocześnie na jej wszystkie pozostałe elementy. Linia życia Edith Keeler jest już bowiem wpleciona w sieć wielu innych żyć.

O ile wspaniale było przyglądać się młodziutkiej Joan Collins w roli Edith, to o ile wspanialej mógłby wyglądać scenariusz (ale któż by to zrealizował?), w którym Kirk, mając te wszystkie złe przeczucia, sam załatwiłby młodego Adolfa (może Joan mogłaby wtedy grać jego Mutter).

Właśnie – dlaczego zatem nie zdecydował się sięgnąć w ten sposób do samego źródła zła? Ano z tego właśnie powodu, że gdyby nie Hitler i jego przesądność, to nie doszłoby do obrony Normandii, a Enterprise nie odbywałby teraz swojej misji. Tylko, że wówczas inny Fuhrer mógłby zainwestować jeszcze więcej środków w Wernera von Brauna i Peenemunde, a wtedy cała zachodnia półkula mogłaby wznosić okrzyki „Sieg Heil”. (Zrobię teraz mała dygresję i przywołam artykuł z Harpera, z okresu mniej więcej Sputnika i naszego żałosnego programu rakietowego Vanguard, w którym bardzo chwalono stację ABC, która jako jedyna przekazała informację o tym, że na przylądku Canaveral, przed obiadem dochodziło z głośników słowo „Achtung!”). Tak, sprawy mogłyby potoczyć się całkiem inaczej dla Spocka, Kirka, McCoya i wszystkich innych nas, wielbicieli Star Treka. Trudno to sobie wyobrazić, ale mogłoby być naprawdę jeszcze gorzej.

Karma jest siecią przyczyn i skutków… samsarycznej gry akcji i reakcji, w którą jesteśmy uwikłani. Z danego powodu wydarza się jedno, z innego powodu wydarza się drugie, i nie ma sensu osądzać czy któreś spośród przyczyn bądź skutków są dobre czy złe. Pewne jest to, że istniejemy tu i teraz. Udało nam się przetrwać aż do momentu, w którym jesteśmy w stanie zastanowić się nad swoim położeniem. Inny bieg wypadków mógłby spowodować, że w ogóle nie byłoby nas pośród świadomych ocalałych. Pozostaje zatem jedno pytanie: „Czy jesteśmy wystarczająco zainspirowani, żeby odwrócić uwagę od świata i poszukać schronienia w Buddzie?”

Osobie praktykującej Zen wystarczy prosta akceptacja faktu, że wszechświat jest mechaniczny, a Bóg pogrywa sobie z nim w kości. Nie jesteśmy w stanie zapragnąć czegokolwiek duchowego nie będąc do tego uprzednio zainspirowani. Ci z nas, którzy maja wystarczająco dużo szczęścia, znajdują się w odpowiednim miejscu o odpowiednim czasie… Duch w nas wstępuje i zostajemy uniesieni. Powstajemy jak kwiat lotosu z zastałej wody i rozkwitamy, nieskalani przez paskudne doświadczenia poprzedzające moment, w którym szczęśliwie doznaliśmy inspiracji – tę cudowną szansę.

Podkreślmy – rodzimy się już z pewnym skłonnościami, pewnymi odziedziczonymi tendencjami i talentami, silnymi i słabymi stronami, które zrealizują się bądź też nie, w kolejach naszego życia. Wiele rzeczy z otaczającego nas świata może nam albo pomóc albo nam zaszkodzić. Dorastamy nie będąc świadomi, kiedy proces kształtowania się kończy. W którym momencie przestajemy być uczniami a stajemy się czeladnikami czy też mistrzami? W dniu, w którym budzimy się stwierdzając, że dziś są nasze 18-ste bądź te 21-sze urodziny? Nie…to wszystko jest raczej nieustającą, mechaniczną grą przyczyn i skutków, w dziedzinie możliwości i faktów; i nic się tu nie może zmienić aż do momentu, w którym poczujemy w sobie obecność czegoś boskiego.

Wola jest wolna tylko dla tych, którym udało się wyzwolić i uzyskać przez to wolność w kierowaniu nią. Wszyscy inni łudzą się sądząc, że są panami swojego losu. Są oni bowiem uwikłani w sieć karmy, tego uwarunkowanego z każdej strony świata ciągłej zmiany, w którym zmienia się nie tylko otoczenie zewnętrzne, lecz zmieniają się także oni sami, obserwatorzy tego otoczenia.

A teraz ostatnie słowo dotyczące dwóch praktycznych zastosowań nauki o karmie. Pierwszym jest pewna technika medytacyjna, w której osoba koncentruje uwagę na swoich własnych myślach czy doświadczeniach i stara się prześledzić wstecz różne przyczyny, które do nich doprowadziły. Pomijając już fakt, że praktykujący może dzięki niej wpaść w głęboki stan medytacji, może on także odnieść przy okazji wiele etycznych korzyści. Jeżeli odczuwa on dumę z tego, co udało mu się kiedyś dokonać, to powinien medytować nad wszystkimi warunkami, składającymi się na ten jego sukces – nad wszystkimi sprzyjającymi okolicznościami, które w sposób istotny go umożliwiły. Nawet jeżeli było tak, że człowiek działał w sposób naprawdę niezależny i na przykład ukończył uniwersytet oraz uczelnię medyczną, to i tak znaczną część zasługi musi przypisać dobrym genom, zdrowemu odżywianiu czy też właściwemu wychowaniu, które sprawiły, że nie był tak dalece jak mu się wydaje panem na własnej zagrodzie. Podobnie też, jeżeli czuje głęboki wstyd za coś, co kiedyś zrobił, to może spróbować wrócić myślą do powodów swojego postępowania i ujrzeć dokładniej wydarzenia, które go do niego przywiodły. Już choćby częściowe zrozumienie przyczyn danego zdarzenia jest w stanie rozwinąć w człowieku ogromną ilość wyrozumiałości, wdzięczności czy empatii. Drugie zastosowanie nauki o karmie polega na podejściu do samego działania jako praktyki i ofiary. Prosta, ale zdecydowana zmiana w nastawieniu jest w stanie przemienić niewdzięczny obowiązek w szansę nabrania pokory, umniejszenia dumy i nabycia łagodnego, duchowego stosunku do innych. Wykonuje się wówczas daną pracę nie po to, żeby na nasze konto wpłynęła pensja, albo też aby uniknąć krytyki lub zyskać uznanie, ale jako budującą praktykę, ofiarę złożoną Dharmie. Kiedy rezygnujemy z lgnięcia do owoców naszej pracy i poświęcamy tęże pracę w ofierze na ołtarzu Buddy, przyczyniamy się tym samym jeszcze bardziej do jakości naszego wytworu. Jak to mówią architekci, „Bóg tkwi w szczegółach.”

Dodatkowo, skupienie na samym zadaniu sprawia, że czas upływa szybko, a my, nie odczuwając nudy i rozproszenia, pracujemy dużo wydajniej. Nieważne przy tym, jak podrzędna jest to praca – praktyka tej medytacji wymaga skupienia uwagi na samym działaniu, przy jednoczesnym starannym odrzucaniu towarzyszących jej zewnętrznych myśli i bujania w obłokach. W ten sam sposób wykonuje się także medytację chodzącą. Medytujący ogranicza swoja uwagę do samych tylko kroków, na przykład uświadamiając to sobie w taki sposób: „teraz przenoszę ciężar ciała na lewą stopę i podnoszę równocześnie prawą stopę, którą z kolei przenoszę do przodu i stawiam na podłodze…” i tak dalej.

Karma joga wymaga od nas jedynie, abyśmy pracowali wyłącznie dla przyjemności, która płynie z samego faktu możliwości jej wykonania, a także bezinteresownego odcięcia się od jej owoców. To oczywiście nie znaczy, że odmówimy przyjęcia zapłaty, kiedy zapłata się nam należy, lecz że dodamy do naszych czynności pewną duchową wartość, a samą pracę uczynimy „modlitwą w ruchu.”

Nasza praca jest przecież tylko tym, co robimy. Nie jest tym, czym jesteśmy.

Dharma i Karma I

Ming Zhen Shakya

Ming Zhen Shakya (Author)

Fa Yin (Translator)

Żadne inne słowa z leksykalnego magazynu buddyzmu nie grzmią równie donośnie co Dharma i Karma. Militarne skojarzenia nie nasuwają się przy tym przypadkowo: my, buddyści, jesteśmy zewsząd atakowani przez legiony sprzecznych definicji, które zmuszają nas do angażowania się w bezsensowne spory o dharmę oraz problematyczną karmiczną grę akcji i reakcji. W obliczu braku spójności znaczeniowej na modłę kodeksów prawnych, nawet najbardziej niepozorne analizy sutr mogą obrócić się w słowną agresję. Religia tak pokojowa jak buddyzm zasługuje chyba na lepszy los.

Zdaję sobie sprawę z tego, że każdy ma własne definicje większości terminów, i że kiedy zbierze je do kupy, zwykle wystarczają mu one na wytłumaczenie wielu podstawowych faktów. Nie chodzi mi jednak o niedostatek informacji. Problem polega raczej na tym, że zestawy definicji, którymi posługują się różne osoby rzadko się ze sobą pokrywają.

Oczywiście, że zawsze zaczynamy od własnego rozumienia terminów – co znaczy, że kiedy zabieramy się do formułowania jakichś konkretnych definicji, robimy to nie oglądając się na ogólne przyzwolenie. Jeżeli nawet nie osiągamy przy tym pełnej zgodności, to przynajmniej udaje nam się ustalić reguły gry.

Dharma jest wielowymiarowym wyrazem. Może być pisana wielką i małą literą, występować w liczbie pojedynczej i mnogiej, oraz być częścią zbitek słownych. Dla celów niniejszej rozprawy ograniczymy się do następujących definicji: Dharmakaja jako kosmiczne ciało Buddy; Dharma jako umysł Buddy; dharmy jako procesy fizjologiczne bądź zdarzenia; Dharma jako buddyjskie prawo; dharma jako obowiązek przestrzegania buddyjskiego prawa przez odczuwające istoty; oraz dharma jako „rzeczywistość” lub naturalne cechy wszelkich pozbawionych inteligencji gatunków.

Opis bóstwa nie przebiega w ten sam sposób, w jaki przypisujemy cechy zwykłym stworzeniom czy rzeczom. W buddyzmie Zen, przynajmniej w naszym ujęciu, rozpoczynamy od boskiego ciała Buddy w jego totalności, które nazywamy Svabhavikakaja. To ciało totalne jest później dzielone na trzy inne ciała – kaje – w zależności od sposobu bądź też stopnia duchowego rozwoju, na którym się je spotyka: Nirmanakaja, Sambhogakaja oraz Dharmakaja.

Nirmanakaja przejawia się jako zachwycające wizje w pierwszej i drugiej osobie, „ja” i „Ty” – „ja” będące samym medytującym jako obserwatorem, natomiast „Ty” będące symbolem napotkanego bóstwa (osobą, zwierzęciem bądź przedmiotem nieożywionym). W Zen tymi boskim postaciami mogą być buddowie, bodhisattwowie, lub też ich wysłannicy nazywani buddami medytacyjnymi, którzy w terminach jungowskich są tożsami z przejawami archetypicznej jaźni. Wizje Nirmanakai nie są ograniczone do form antropomorficznych – wiele pełnych znaczenia wizji zawiera postaci świętych zwierząt, takich jak koliber, orzeł, wąż, byk, niedźwiedź, tygrys, koń czy nawet pies. Dodatkowo także Ci, którzy faktycznie mieli do czynienia z historycznym Siddhartą jako Tathagatą (istotą ludzką, której osobowość została całkowicie przemieniona, i która z tego powodu przejawia się jedynie jako Natura Buddy), mieli przez sam ten fakt udział w doświadczeniu Nirmanakai.

Sambhogakaja jest najbardziej ezoterycznym ciałem Buddy – ciałem radości – doświadczeniem najwyższej medytacyjnej, androgynicznej ekstazy, która dana jest nam za pośrednictwem Wielkiego transseksualnego Dzieła Alchemicznego – zjednoczenia przeciwieństw, inaczej boskich zaślubin, owocujących nieśmiertelnym płodem/boskim dziecięciem lub inaczej – lapisem/perłą. W tym ekstatycznym stanie medytujący wkracza do niebios Tuszita, domostwa przeróżnych buddów i bodhisattwów – co w przełożeniu oznacza wiele lat praktyk duchowych. Wiele buddyjskich kompleksów klasztornych posiada specjalnie wydzielone pomieszczenia dla adeptów, którzy osiągnęli ten etap boskiego zjednoczenia. Każdy spośród owych szczęśliwców może przebywać w takim odosobnieniu przez okres trzech lat. Przynoszone są mu posiłki, a on dzięki temu może je spożywać nie będąc w żaden sposób rozpraszany przez intruzów. W nocy natomiast, kiedy na zewnątrz jest już spokojnie, może on wyjść ze swojego pokoju, żeby posiedzieć pod gwiazdami i pogawędzić z innymi, którzy przechodzą przez podobne doświadczenie. Chcę wyraźnie podkreślić, że ta transseksualna/androgyniczna tożsamość dochodzi do głosu tylko podczas przebywania w sferze Sambhogi i w żaden sposób nie znaczy, że medytujący stał się homo-, czy też biseksualny w codziennym życiu. (W rzeczywistości nie prowadzi on w ogóle żadnego normalnego życia seksualnego.) Ten egzaltowany stan znajduje potwierdzenie w miłości, którą Rumi żywił do Szamsa, a także w fakcie, że wielu świętych mężów stawało się wybrankami Chrystusa, itp. Szczegóły tego doświadczenia wykraczają jednak poza ramy niniejszej analizy.

Dharmakaja: na początku nadmienię że jest to jeden z tych tematów, które są szczególnie upodobane przez amatorów filozoficznej dyskusji. Tak, wiem – ja także do nich należę. Kilka tygodni temu, w telefonicznej rozmowie z Chuan Zhi, webmasterem Nan Hua, wypłynął temat Dharmakai. Praktykujący Zen łatwo dają się wciągnąć w dziwne dyskusje – stąd fakt, że on i ja, siedząc po przeciwnych stronach półkuli, rozmawialiśmy o Dharmakai, nie jest, jak mi się wydaje, aż tak dziwny. Tak jak mówiłam – jest to gorący temat „Widzisz”, paplałam, „co dziś jest żołędziem, jutro jest już dębem, a pojutrze korkiem do wina”. „Tak,”, Chuan Zhi łagodnie potwierdził. „Zatem”, kontynuowałam, śmiało zmierzając do celu, do którego, jak mi się wydawało, żaden śmiertelnik jeszcze dotąd nie dotarł, „jeżeli weźmie się sumę materii i energii wszechświata, wszystkie te dharmiczne zdarzenia i interakcje, otrzymuje się tę ciągle zmieniającą się masę materiału. Co dzisiaj jest molekułą, jutro jest kilkoma atomami, a pojutrze garstką protonów i neutronów.” „Tak”, Chuan Zhi łagodnie potwierdził, „…i elektronów”. „Tak, tak”, powiedziałam przechodząc na prędkość kosmiczną, „Iluzja – Maja! – polega właśnie na postrzeganiu czegokolwiek jako stałego i nieuwarunkowanego. To, co arbitralnie, dzięki samemu jedynie doświadczeniu zmysłowemu, uznajemy za trwałą ‘rzecz’, posiada ‘rzeczowość’ tylko w przelotnym, zmysłowym sensie. „Tak”, Chuan Zhi łagodnie potwierdził, „.. i kwarków… i leptonów.” Musiała minąć chwila, zanim zorientowałam się, że rozmawiam przecież z kimś, kto ukończył fizykę na uniwersytecie. ”Bystrzak”, podsumowałam, próbując wydostać się z dołka, który pod sobą wykopałam.

Potem przeszliśmy do innych tematów, odnośnie których mogłam już wypowiadać się jako autorytet – jeśli nawet nie jako znawcy, to przynajmniej entuzjasty.

Pozwólcie jednak, że porzucę ten wątek, żeby zastanowić się nad intuicyjną mądrością jednego spośród wielkich hinduskich mędrców. Czy Siddharta przewidział rozwój fizyki jądrowej? Odpowiedź twierdząca na to pytanie byłaby niedorzecznością. H.G.Wells przykładowo wątpił czy Budda w ogóle potrafił pisać. Świat Buddy nie był światem skomplikowanych technologii. Trudno jest wyobrazić sobie, że on, Śiariputra i Ananda, mimo iż zasadniczo bardzo bystrzy, kiedykolwiek zabawiali się mechaniką kwantową. Budda jednak był świadomy faktu, że, jak to także zaobserwował współczesny mu Heraklit, „wszystko płynie”. Co więcej – właśnie stwierdzenie ciągłej zmiany uczyniło Buddę sławnym. Widział on bowiem, że zdrowi zapadają na choroby, młodzi starzeją się, a żyjący umierają.

Doświadczenie Dharmakai jako takiej jest tożsame z wkroczeniem w bezosobową Pustkę, duchowy obszar, do którego prawo wstępu mają wyłącznie Ci, którzy już przeszli przez obszar pełni, tj. Nirmanakai oraz Sabhogakai.

Jedynym wyjątkiem jest nieuchwytne i fragmentaryczne doświadczeni Satori, które jest jakby przedsmakiem Pustki, w tym sensie, że gdy się pojawia, to człowiek przez krótką chwilę postrzega świat oczami i uszami swojej Natury Buddy. Przeciwnie do obiegowej wiary, Satori wcale nie jest naszym ‘codziennym’ umysłem – oczywiście za wyjątkiem sytuacji, kiedy ten codzienny umysł należy do kogoś, kogo słusznie można by nazwać Tathagatą.

Starożytni uwielbiali posługiwać się pojęciami mikro-/makrokosmosu do opisu Wielkiego Dzieła Alchemicznego. Ta opozycja przewija się w większości dawnej literatury ezoterycznej. „Jako i w niebie, tako i w pojedynczym człowieku.” Trzymając się tych pojęć, można porównać wielką Dharmakaję do ciała ludzkiego w całości. Jako, że sama Dharmakaja składa się z atomów itp., tak i ludzkie ciało składa się z komórek itp. Szczególnej uwagi wymagają komórki, które składają się na różne organy zmysłowe. Te „skandy’ czy inaczej – złożenia – to oczy, uszy, język etc., których rola polega na przekazywaniu danych do naszych mózgów, które z kolei także są elementami sieci skand – tak samo jak i świadomość ego. To są właśnie dharmy egzystencjalne czy fizjologiczne. Ponieważ składowe Dharmakai są w ciągłym przepływie – przybierając coraz to nowe kształty – przeto i dane przekazywane przez dharmy łączą się w niekończący się ciąg uwarunkowanej informacji, który sam także ciągle się przeobraża, podporządkowując się zwykle dyrektywom dochodzącym z ego. Mimo, iż samo ego zbudowane jest na obraz kosmicznego Boga, tj. jako czynnik porządkujący chaotyczne bodźce docierające z zewnątrz, jest ono jedynie jednym spośród wielu dharmicznych zdarzeń. W rzeczy samej jest ono ułudą, tak jak żołądź, dąb i korek do wina są jedynie chwilowymi stop-klatkami nieustającego procesu starzenia. Ponieważ w nieskończonym samsarycznym czasie nie można dokładnie uchwycić momentów, w których jedne formy przechodzą w drugie, nie istnieją zatem stałe czy nieuwarunkowane wydarzenia psychiczne. Nie da się usunąć choćby jednego splotu z karmicznej sieci, nie powodując tym samym zmiany całej sieci. Wszystkie postrzegalne istoty i wydarzenia składają się na Samsarę, czyli Maję – świat ułudy. Sutra Serca, sumiennie recytowana codziennie przez miliony buddystów, wyraźnie stwierdza, że „wszystkie dharmy mają naturę pustki”. W dalszych fragmentach zapewnia się nas, że dharmy nie pojawiają się ani nie znikają, nie są skażone ani czyste, nie zwiększają się ani nie zmniejszają. Trzeba przyznać, że jasność nie jest mocną stroną tych zapewnień; a wielu spośród je recytujących zapewne zastanawia się co tak naprawdę znaczą słowa, które recytują. Pomocne może być zrozumienie, że tym, co czyni dharmy pustymi, jest nieobecność substancjalnego „Ja”. Ego jest zasadniczo nieistniejące, tak, jak i nieistniejące są wydarzenia, które to ego postrzega.

Wkroczenie zatem do Dharmakai i ujrzenie czystości i nieruchomości – cichej muzyki sfer – jest tożsame z doświadczeniem Nirwany, Ostatecznej Natury Pustki, Siunjaty. Na tym polega zjednoczenie natury Buddy pojedynczego człowieka z uniwersalną Naturą Buddy, inaczej Dharmą, gdyż jako że Dharmakaja jest uniwersalnym Ciałem Buddy, tak uniwersalnym Umysłem Buddy jest Dharma.

Buddyzm jest religią. W całej tej układance jest miejsce na Boga. Istnieje Jeden wielki kosmiczny zarządca, Jeden Byt Absolutny, Jedna Ostateczna Rzeczywistość. Ten Byt Absolutny zamieszkuje we wszystkich odczuwających istotach. Jest on naszą Naturą Buddy, czy też Umysłem Buddy. Sprawy zaczynają się komplikować kiedy temu Umysłowi Buddy przypisujemy inteligencję oraz jakości.

Oczywistym wydaje się fakt, że w momencie gdy ten sam Umysł jest w każdym z nas, to ten sam Umysł nie może kierować się jakimiś preferencjami. Jest on zatem taki, jaki musi być: „nieosobisty” i całkowicie niezaangażowany. Umysł Buddy jest biernym obserwatorem. Możemy zaczerpnąć nieco z jego mocy, ale nie angażuje się on celowo w nasze życie. Nie mści się on na naszych wrogach (w których, o dziwo, także mieszka), i nie jest jakoś wybiórczo łaskawy w obdarzaniu nas ziemskimi faworami. W buddyzmie światem Prawdziwym jest Nirwana. Umysł Buddy egzystuje w prawdziwym świecie i jako taki jest trwały, nieuwarunkowany, a zatem wieczny, tj. poza czasem. Gdzie nie istnieje czas, tam nie może być także mowy o przestrzeni. Ponieważ Umysł buddy „stacjonuje” w każdym z nas, nie musimy udawać się w podróże międzygalaktyczne, żeby spotkać Dharmę. Jedyne co musimy zrobić, to zwrócić się do wewnątrz, gdzie możemy spotkać Umysł Buddy w medytacji czy w samadhi. Nie trzeba donikąd się wybierać. Mówi się zatem, że Samsara i Nirwana egzystują w tym samym miejscu – z tym tylko, że Samsara jest światem widzianym oczami ego, natomiast Nirwana jest światem widzianym oczami Natury Buddy. Doświadczenie Dharmakai polega zatem na wkroczeniu w wymiar bez ego – wymiar, który jest poza dobrem i złem, słusznym i niesłusznym, oraz innymi osądami tego rodzaju. Nie istnieją żadne baśnie, które by o nim mówiły. Jest on poza historią, która z kolei jest terytorium Samsary – świata ułudy.

W buddyzmie Zen mówi się także o współzależnych, uzupełniających się jakościach Yin i Yang. Całość materii i energii to element Yin. To materialne, fizyczne ciało nie działa jednak bez ograniczeń. Jego struktura i dynamika kierują się prawami fizyki, które to prawa z kolei tworzą element Yang. Yin/Yang. Shakti/Shiva. Eros/Logos. Moc i Prawo, któremu Moc podlega.

W tym przypadku ‘Dharma’ będzie oznaczać normy etycznego postępowania (zasady i prawa), które Umysł Buddy narzuca wszystkim odczuwającym istotom; ‘dharmą’ natomiast określimy obowiązek podporządkowania się tym zasadom i prawom; bądź, jak w przypadku istot nieinteligentnych – posłuszeństwo naturze lub typowe zachowanie.

Nie wolno nam działać w sposób niepohamowany, pobłażając sobie w czym tylko zapragniemy, i załatwiając sprawę poprzez przypisanie później całej winy naszej arcyludzkiej naturze. Wiadomo, że istoty ludzkie są zdolne zarówno do wielkich cnót, jak i do wcale niemałych wad. W momencie jednak, gdy taka istota ludzka zdarza się być buddystą, ma ona obowiązek dostosowania swojego zachowania do Buddyjskich Wskazań.

Istnieje taka stara przypowieść o skorpionie i świętym który objaśniał Dharmę: święty siedzi na brzegu rzeki, do której wpadł skorpion. Skorpion miota się w wodzie, zaczyna tonąć, a święty, widząc jego agonię, wyciąga go z wody i stawia na ziemi; w tym momencie skorpion go kąsa.

Po czym skorpion znów wpada do wody, i znów święty go ratuje i zostaje przez niego ukąszony.

Sytuacja powtarza się po raz kolejny…a koleś stojący nieopodal nie wierzy własnym oczom. Nie może zrozumieć dlaczego święty bierze udział w takiej przewidywalnej, paskudnej grze. W pewnym momencie żąda wyjaśnień.

„No więc”, zaczyna święty, „To jest kwestia dharmy. Dharmą skorpiona jest kąsać , natomiast dharmą ludzkiej istoty jest pomagać potrzebującym.”

Tak, jak materialne ciało Buddy kieruje się prawami fizyki, tak duchowe ciało moralnego człowieka kieruje się prawdami i prawami zawartymi w tejże Dharmie i objawionymi przez Buddę Siakjamuniego – w Dharmie buddyjskiej. Zyskanie takiego wyczucia dharmy rzadko kiedy jednak przychodzi samo z siebie. Potrzeba nieraz sporo wysiłku, jednak Bóg jest miłosierny i spotyka nas wpół drogi. Dla zobrazowania tego problemu i jego rozwiązania, Budda dał nam przypowieść o kupcu i jego krnąbrnym synu:

W niewielkim mieście niedaleko Benaresu żył sobie kupiec ze swoim synem, którego bardzo kochał. Jako, że biznes dobrze prosperował, kupiec nie mógł doczekać się dnia, kiedy mógłby go przekazać synowi. Chłopiec jednak stawał się coraz bardziej niespokojny, zbuntowany i niezadowolony z życia. „Nudzę się i pragnę podniet oraz przygód,”, oznajmił, jak i wielu z nas zapewne kiedyś oznajmiało, „opuszczam zatem dom, żeby szukać szczęścia.” Opuścił zatem swojego ojca i poszedł w świat, gdzie wkrótce popadł w tarapaty. Tak długo napadali go złodzieje i inni rzezimieszkowie, aż on sam stał się taki jak oni. Z biegiem czasu został włóczęgą, szukającym pokoju wszędzie, a nie mogącym znaleźć go nigdzie.

Ojciec ciągle się za niego modlił i wypatrywał jego twarzy wśród tłumów. Smutek kupca wzrastał z dnia na dzień, majątek również. Kupił piękny dom w Benaresie, mając przy tym nadzieję, że jego sława przywiedzie chłopca z powrotem. Lata jednak mijały i kupiec postarzał się z rozpaczy, że nigdy już nie zobaczy swojego ukochanego syna. A wtedy, pewnego dnia, kiedy spoglądał przez okno, ujrzał jego twarz. „Czy to naprawdę mój chłopak”, zastanawiał się, wątpiąc czy po tylu latach oczy go nie mylą. Natychmiast wysłał służących, żeby wypytali chłopaka. „Zapytajcie go o imię i o to, gdzie się urodził”, powiedział. „A jeżeli także wam wyda się, że to mój syn, zaproście go do domu a wtedy ja z nim porozmawiam. Czekałem na niego całą wieczność.” Służący zbliżyli się do chłopca, lecz kiedy poznali jego tożsamość i zaprosili go do domu, chłopak zrobił się nerwowy i podejrzliwy. „Czy drwicie z mojego ubóstwa?, zapytał. ”Lub czy może raczej chcecie mnie zwabić w jakąś zasadzkę?”. Wtedy chłopak odwróci się na pięcie i zaczął uciekać. Gdy służący wrócili i powiedzieli panu co się stało, on nakazał im pobiec za chłopakiem i potraktować go jak obcego. „Powiedzcie mu, że źle was zrozumiał – przecież chcieliście mu tylko zaproponować pracę w stajni”, rzekł kupiec. To wydało się chłopcu bardziej sensowne i tym razem się zgodził. Kupiec bacznie przyglądał się postępom czynionym przez syna, codziennie dając mu nieco więcej obowiązków, a gdy syn nabrał już pewności siebie, został mianowany zarządcą stajni. Wtedy ojciec przekazał mu także nadzór nad trawnikami i ogrodami, a kiedy syn i tego już się wyuczył, ojciec uczynił go zarządcą całego domu.

Kiedy syn odzyskał już w pełni szacunek do samego siebie oraz stał się prawy i opanował wiele umiejętności, ojciec w końcu wyjawił mu jego prawdziwą tożsamość i przekazał mu cały swój majątek.

W trakcie naszego życia, zarówno my grzeszymy przeciwko innym, jak i inni grzeszą przeciw nam. Ciągle wydaje się, że a to jesteśmy małą rybką, na którą poluje wielka ryba, a to, że z kolei my jesteśmy wielką rybą polującą na małe rybki. Wcześniej czy później męczymy się jednak całą tą walką i okropieństwem tego polowania. Pragniemy pokoju i wtedy właśnie spotykamy tę bezpieczną przystań podaną nam w schronieniu Buddy.

Wtedy też zaczynamy zwracać się do wewnątrz.

Żadne omówienie Dharmy nie byłoby pełne bez odniesienia do Mahabharaty (z której wywodzi się Bhagavad Gita). W następującym akapicie przytoczona jest swoista wersja przypowieści o kupcu:

Bóg Dharma ma syna, Judhiszthirę – prawowitego władcę królestwa, które przegrał w hazardzie, a później odzyskał w straszliwiej bitwie, w której jednakże stracił wszystko, co kiedykolwiek kochał. Judhiszthira, opuszczony i przybity, błąka się po opustoszałych ruinach, przyglądając się ogromowi zniszczeń. Widząc to, Dharma przybiera postać psa i zostaje jedynym towarzyszem Judhiszthiry, chodząc przy jego nodze i dzieląc jego los bez osądzania i skarg.

Po wszystkich zmaganiach, wszystkich popełnionych błędach, wszystkich trudach i cierpieniach, które zmuszony był przeżyć, Judhiszthira otrzymuje w końcu możliwość wejścia do Nieba. Bóg Indra zniża się na swoim rydwanie i zaprasza Judhiszthirę do środka. Weźmie go ze sobą do nieba…tylko, że…nie może wziąć też psa.

Judhiszthira odmawia wejścia do rydwanu, jednocześnie błagając Indrę, „Proszę, mój Panie. Ten pies był mi jedynym wiernym towarzyszem. Musi pojechać razem ze mną.” „Nie,” mówi Indra. Nie wchodzi się do Nieba z psami. Pies jest nieczysty. Pies nie ma duszy!”

Judhiszthira protestuje. „Ten pies jest mi wierny i całkowicie zdany na moją łaskę. Jeśli go tu zostawię, to zdechnie. Ale Indra się nie ugina. „W Niebie nie ma miejsca dla psów. Psy są nieczyste. Nie weźmiemy go!”

„No cóż, skoro tak musi być”, odpiera Juddhiszthira. „Nie opuszczę tego psa.”. Na co Indra grzmi. „Nie rozumiesz? Zyskałeś dostęp do Nieba! Nieśmiertelność, wszelka pomyślność i szczęście są Twoje! Zostaw tylko to zwierzę i jedź ze mną! Zostawienie go tutaj nie będzie okrucieństwem. Mogę go zaraz uśpić, bezboleśnie.” I wykonując tajemniczy gest mówi kusząco, „Nikt się nie dowie.”

Judiszthira rozgląda się wokół. „Czy nadal jesteśmy w moi królestwie?” pyta. Indra potwierdza. Wtedy Judhiszthira mówi, „Zatem to ja muszę zdecydować co począć. Nie odprawię tego psa. Odprawię natomiast Ciebie.” Odwraca się na pięcie i ponawia swoja smutną włóczęgę, kiedy nagle jego mały pies znika a na jego miejscu pojawia się bóg Dharma… który jest naturalnie bardzo dumny ze swojego syna. Judhiszthira natychmiast zostaje przyjęty do nieba. Dharmą króla jest dbałość o królestwo, ochrona wszystkich, którzy żyją pod jego panowaniem, niezależnie od tego czy są wielcy czy mali. Król nie poświęca swoich poddanych swoim zachciankom. Poświęca swoje zachcianki swoim poddanym.

Każda ścieżka ma swoją Dharmę, swoje święte powinności, swój Kodeks Etyki, swoje Wu Szi Dao (Buszido), swoją przysięgę Hipokratesa. Dharmą buddysty jest żyć w zgodzie ze Wskazaniami i naśladować Przebudzonego, który pierwszy objawił te Wskazania.

Przy odrobinie szczęścia, może i nam uda się wkroczyć do sfery Dharmakai.

A Quick Course in Zen Theology

Ming Zhen Shakya

Ming Zhen Shakya

There are few things as disconcerting to a Zen Buddhist as having to respond to someone’s assumption that doctrines held by other schools of Buddhism are also held by him. The confusion would easily disappear if all Zen Buddhists held to a common doctrine; but we have our differences, too. We are mostly independent groups, and no consensus rises to fill the void of hierarchical control. Additionally, we hold ourselves “outside the sutras” and are not constrained by the written word – which, even if we were, presents another problem.

The Divine Word that was conveyed by Christ or through Mohammed was memorialized immediately in print; but it was not similarly recorded in Buddhism. Writing may have been known in other areas of India, but it is assumed that five hundred years before the common era it had not yet come to the Buddha’s east India kingdom. Regardless of capability, only in a listener’s memory was anything the Buddha taught ever recorded; and for several hundred years after the Buddha’s death, the routine way to transmit the Dharma was by a bard-like recitation of memorized lines.

Then as now – as, for example, in the case of Catholicism and Santeria, an introduced religion invariably is altered to some degree by the native beliefs and practices. As Buddhism spread, doctrines were skewed according to the differing memories of those who proselytized, to the translation problems of foreign languages, to cultural accommodations, and to the accretions of native gods and religious practices. In China, Daoism and Confucianism influenced the message; in Tibet the Bon religion altered it; in India and neighboring southeast Asian countries, Jainism and Hinduism intertwined its lines with theirs. Buddhism, however, also benefited from its encounters with alien philosophies. By 250 BCE, India’s great Emperor Ashoka, a Buddhist convert, established missions as far away as Syria, Egypt, Persia-Iran, Greece, Italy, and Turkey. In Bamyan, Afghanistan, the ancient cliff-carved Buddhas dynamited by the Taliban are a sad reminder of the Faith’s westward movement.

The Mahayana School, which was created within a hundred years, plus or minus, of the birth of Christ, expanded Buddhist theology to embrace a Trinitarian godhead: Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Future Buddha, the latter being named for Persia’s Mithras/Maitreya, the divine hero of Rome’s legions. Persian-Iranian religious influence was extensive, both east and west. Bodhidharma’s country of origin, we recall, has never definitively been determined. The Chinese merely identified his alien status as “aryan” the root of “noble,” cognates of which are Erin, Iran, Aryan, and aristocratic. As a matter of convenience we usually accept the “aryan” that they applied to him as being aryan-Indian. He was, however, also called “the blue-eyed demon” by the Chinese. In the year 520 CE, when he entered China, there were probably many more blue eyed Iranians than Indians. Maitreya’s Iranian origins is not such a stretch as we might suppose.

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Wikipedia: Mithras and the Bull
This fresco from the mithraeumat Marino, Italy (third century) shows the tauroctony and the celestial lining of Mithras’ cape

Mithraism had been the dominant religion of Rome until the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 CE. Accommodations, which were merely liturgical and in no way compromised the Christian message, were made to reduce the trauma of transitioning to the new “state” religion. Many Mithrasian holidays and practices were retained. Christians had originally worshipped on the Sabbath; but Mithras, being associated with the sun as Sol Invictus, was worshipped on Sunday. Sunday, then, was adopted as the day of worship. Mithras’ birth was celebrated on December 25th, which, owing to the earth’s precession, used to be the winter solstice. Jesus’ birth was believed to have occurred sometime in the spring or early summer – given the activity of the shepherds, but December 25 was agreed upon. The Persian Magi “kings” who had attended the mithraic birth, were retained for Jesus’ Nativity.

Mithraism had both a water communion ritual and a bread communion ritual. It had always been a “mystery” religion that functioned as a kind of exclusive club – if you weren’t a member you couldn’t attend any sacred rite. Christianity, too, followed the practice of “dismissing the catechumens,” i.e., persons who were not baptized were not members, and while they could stay for the first half of the Mass, they were dismissed before the Eucharistic services could begin. This is the reason the Mass is still called the Missa in much of the Catholic world. Curiously, Zen Buddhism also “dismisses” all persons who are not ordained in the Dharma before our sacred Water Communion ritual can begin. (In antiquity it was believed that amniotic fluid nourished the fetus. The water, then, is consecrated to allow us to participate in the generation of the Divine Child.) In our Communion ritual, altar boys pour water into a chalice; and a priest who has dedicated himself to the adoration of Guan Yin, recites mantras, conforms his hands in various mudras over the chalice, dips willow sprigs into the water, and the miracle of transubstantiation occurs. The willow is then used to sprinkle those in attendance with sacred water; and depending on the number of priests present, the chalice may be passed around for all to sip.

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Guan Yin as the androgynous Bodhisattva “Hibbo Kannon” by Kano Hogai, 19th Century Japan

Zen also has a ritual involving bread. In this, tiny loaves of bread are tossed into the congregation for the purpose of feeding “Hungry Ghosts.” (When Grandmaster Jy Din conducted this ceremony he wore an elaborate rose-colored headdress similar to this, except it had long gold embroidered bands hanging down the sides.) The priest who conducts our Water Communion ritual is also dressed differently; but I was standing too far to the side to get any of the details of his elaborate garments. Also, although this priest was in residence at Nan Hua (Ts’ao Chi) Temple, we never saw him walking through the courtyards or in company with other priests. Both rituals are conducted only on special occasions

The wisdom of the Hellenic Sophia inspired the wisdom of the Prajna Paramita. Salvation was no longer the province of the individual arahat; but with the accessibility of the new written word, a more interactive, non-ascetic priesthood, the immediate popularity of the rhythmic Mahayana chants, and the opportunity to seek the intercession of the new Bodhisattva (a deity not recognized in older Buddhist Schools), salvation was suddenly within the reach and grasp of the ordinary man and woman

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Wisdom Goddess Sophia
Photo credit: www.northernway.org

When the various schools had finally committed to print their versions of the Buddha’s teachings, much of what they attributed to him was in fact authored by individuals or committees that were deemed to be inspired – by whom is yet another problem. And even then, it continued to be a common practice for monks to enter a sutra and insert clarifying remarks or anecdotal material that they thought would amplify the message. (The general rule has always been “the shorter the version, the older it is.”) Even the Platform Sutra of Hui Neng, written at Nan Hua Temple in the last quarter of the 7th Century, has many versions. The one declared to be closest to the original by Philip Yampolsky of Columbia University and by my first master, the Venerable Wei Yin, Abbot of Nan Hua Temple, is the relatively short Tang Dynasty version found in the caves of Dun Huang in the 20th Century.

Individual schools and sects ignored certain scriptures and chose instead to regard others as authentic renditions of the Buddha’s words. All sects, however, accepted without question The Four Noble Truths; the Eightfold Path; the verses in theDhammapada; and his dying exhortation.

Zen groups, regardless of whatever other scriptures they may favor, embrace these four accounts as well as two relatively short sutras from the Mahayana Canon: The Heart and The Diamond. Additionally. the chanted Dharani of the Great Compassionate One, is commonly included in our liturgies.

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Wikipedia: A statue of Prajnaparamita, from Singhasari, East Java

Zen, which by definition means Meditation, is the last step of the Eightfold Path; and, as such, concerns itself mainly with the various methods of attaining transcendence. Zen is not bereft of answers to theological questions – they are surely contained in the Mahayana’s more scholarly sutras; but searching these old, repetitious, and interminable texts for answers can be somewhat less than rewarding. Edward Conze did a remarkable translation of one of the Prajnaparamita expositions, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom in 18,000 Lines, but it is one of those tomes that tend to melt the eyes and turn the brain to stone. (I recall one sentence that ran for nearly an entire page.) And so, while we Zen Buddhists are fairly certain about what doctrines we don’t subscribe to, what we do subscribe to is not exactly well defined; and when theological topics present themselves, considerations of mental self-defense usually leave us staring blankly or shrugging our shoulders in bewilderment.

It is a simple matter to brush aside the fanciful Jataka tales which are, after all, children’s stories (to save the life of an innocent bunny the Buddha changed himself into a rabbit and jumped into the frying pan); or the account of his mother’s non-vaginal impregnation by a sacred white elephant; or that he was born possessing the locomotive advantages of ruminant animals – immediately at birth he began to walk (and flowers sprang up wherever his feet touched the ground).

Zen is content to believe the Buddha’s self-description: “I am just a man who awakened,” he said. His choice of the title “Buddha” means exactly that – as the root “budh” in Sanskrit affirms.

Yet, underlying the nonsensical accounts are serious questions that cannot be dispensed with so easily. Can a god become a mortal man, or can a mortal man become a supernatural being… a god? We can smile about Alexander the Great’s response to his mother’s attempt to confer divinity on him. When asked, “Are you a god?” Alexander replied, “Ask the man who empties my chamber pot.” King Philip of Macedonia ridiculed his wife’s claim that not he – but Zeus – fathered her extraordinary son, but it is another matter entirely to consider Joseph’s acquiescence to Mary’s claim of Jesus’ divine paternity. Buddhist temples contain effigies of apparently divine beings. We certainly go through the motions of worship. What is it that we are worshipping?

Given that religion “binds” us to a code of conduct that imposes civilization on us whether we like it or not, it can come as no great shock that all great world religions proscribe murder or violent aggressions, lying and deceitful actions, stealing and cheating, and dissolute behavior involving alcohol, drugs, and sexual misconduct; and Buddhists, most assuredly, are so constrained. This code emphasizes the individual’s actions towards others and promotes peace in the community. The Seven Deadly Sins cover the same territory but focus more upon the person who commits the unacceptable behavior: pride, greed, anger, lust, gluttony, jealousy, and sloth.

There must, of course, be a carrot and stick mechanism that moves us to conform to these civilizing codes. Who among us would pay taxes if it were not for the looming presence of Fort Leavenworth?

Zen Buddhists may not believe in additional lives or in the posthumous rewards of Heaven or the punishments of Hell, but we cannot find it entirely sufficient to say, “The reward is gaining Nirvana and the punishment is simply not gaining it.”

Modern science verifies what humanity has always suspected and The Buddha specified in his Four Noble Truths: Life is bitter and painful and the cause of this bitterness and pain is desire. Desire, as we know, is a wish or thought process – one of those Skandhas that are products of the illusionary material world. In his book, Man Against Himself, noted psychiatrist Karl Menninger informs us:

There are certain laws governing the activity of the conscience with which we have come to be familiar from clinical experience. One of them is that the ego must suffer in direct proportion to its externally directed destructiveness. It is as if that part of the destructive instinct retained within the ego had to carry on within the microcosmos of the personality an activity precisely comparable to that which the ego is directing toward the macrocosmos outside. If the individual directs an attack of a certain nature upon some person in the environment, the conscience, or super-ego, directs an attack of the same nature upon the ego. This formula is well known to us in social organization in the form of the lex talionis, the intuitive basis of all penal systems.” He later adds, “One more fact or ‘law’ about the conscience: a sense of guilt may arise from other than actual aggression; in the unconscious, a wish to destroy is quite equivalent to the actual destruction with regard to exposing the ego to punishment.

Buddhists who don’t believe in after-life karmic judgment, know full well that karmic retribution by way of bad luck, bad health, miscalculation, or a victim’s revenge, always seems to follow the person who egotistically indulges in unethical conduct. “What goes around, comes around,” we say. “You reap what you sow.” Or the wise but unintelligible, “He got his comeupance.” Sentimentally motivated largesse, extended by impulse or with the anticipated quid pro quo of love and respect, are usually regretted with varying degrees of bitterness. On the other hand, a beneficial action taken without expectation of reward is usually taken by an enlightened person who, by definition, is sustained by faith and a deep understanding of human nature. Such a person is not easily felled by misfortune.

Still, while Buddhist ethics are clear, or at least should be, theological fundamentals manage too often to elude us. Finding so little help within the great Mahayana Canon, some Zen groups, including ours, look to another source in the Buddha’s India for answers.

In 1957 – the very beginning of Zen’s popularity in the U.S., Paul Reps wrote one of Zen’s most popular books, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – the last part of which was his version of a Kashmiri Shaivist text, the Vijnanabhairava Tantra. Reps was a lifelong haiku master and devotee of Zen Buddhism; yet, he also was a disciple of Swami Lakshmanju of Kashmir.

In his book’s introduction to the Kashmiri scripture, he writes:

Zen is nothing new, neither is it anything old. Long before Buddha was born, the search was on in India, as the present work shows…

“Wandering in the ineffable beauty of Kashmir, above Shrinigar I come upon the hermitage of Lakshmanjoo. It overlooks green rice fields, the gardens of Shalimar and Nishat Bagh, lakes fringed with lotus. Water streams down from a mountaintop.”

Here Lakshmanjoo – tall, full bodied, shining – welomes me. He shares with me this ancient teaching from the Vigyan Bhairava and Sochanda Tantra, both written about four thousand years ago, and from Malini Vijaya Tantra, probably another thousand years older yet.

Reps translated the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra twelve times before he and Swami Lakshmanju settled on the version he published. Throughout the centuries, numerous translations of this valuable work have been made. Many are wildly different from others, some in the stilted language of their time. We sorted through a collection of these translations and offer below what we determined would best suit our Zen objectives.

A further hint of the connection between Zen and Kashmiri Shaivism comes in the common appellation of Shiva and Avalokitesvara that we find in the Dharani of the Great Compassionate One. We usually chant this Dharani in one of the oriental versions of it, nearly all of which appear on the internet and Youtube. One of our Sangha members has posted the Chinese version. The one I learned first at the Zen Center of San Francisco is the Japanese version, Dai Hi Shin Dharani, which begins, “Namu kara tan no tora ya ya…” Until D. T. Suzuki reconstructed the original Sanskrit, no one had the slightest idea of what the syllables meant. We now know that Avalokitesvara had been accorded one of the names traditionally given to Shiva, Nilakantha, which means The Blue Necked One (his neck is blue since, to protect humanity. he holds the poisons of the world in his throat).

Rather than remain lost in a theological maze, we have followed the line of thought that leads out to the Right Hand (Dakshina Marga) Path of Kashmiri Shaivism. The Right Hand version of any oriental religion is that version that does not include sexual practices – either partnered; in groups; or as a master’s teaching method. The Vajrayana of Tibet has both Paths, but the Dalai Lama is a member of the Right Hand Path, as are all legitimate Zen or Chan Buddhist sanghas. Left Hand (Vama Marga) versions, with their often bizarre sexual rituals, receive much negative publicity that frequently is extended to the rest of us. In Daoism, the two Paths are known as Single Cultivation and Dual Cultivation.

Kashmiri Shaivism is also filled with holy writ, but since Zen is outside the Buddhist scriptures it follows that a serious Zen Buddhist is not going to gravitate to the Canon of another religion. Each Shaivist scripture has many versions and it is easy to become mired in words, especially since the Left Hand Path is also a thriving part of the religion.

It sometimes seems peculiar, particularly to atheists who subscribe to the notion that Buddhists are their non-spiritual brothers, that we support such a large and apparently unemployed pantheon. This accumulation of heavenly creatures, being largely due to the natural affects of proselytization, is admittedly confusing.

The Mahayana’s Trinity may have different names; but most Zen versions essentially compare to the better known Christian Trinity: God the Father would be our Buddha Amitabha or Amitayus (the same Buddha with two names, Infinite Light and Infinite Time). ( In Shaivism this position is usually occupied by Brahman, or by Paramashiva and the feminine Paravach. Shiva means “Auspicious One and Vach (pronounced Vash – as in Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s cosmic girlfriend) means, as in the Latin version, “vox,” means voice.

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Samantabhadra as a courtesan and as a warrior. The iconographic identifying “seat” is the elephant

The Holy Ghost equates to the androgynous Bodhisattva, a being whose visionary presence is encountered after the meditator attains Enlightment (Satori). Bodhisattva means “enlightenment being” the spiritual state in which the divinity is encountered. It is the Bodhisattva who delivers the fluid medium of the Child’s conception. Throughout the world there are effigies that represent what the person has seen and experienced during his profound meditative states. For most iconographic purposes, the figure may appear as a single sexless individual – such as an angelic creature; or as a subtly androgynous individual; or as a “married” brother and sister pair, such as Zeus and Hera, who do not, for obvious reasons, have children by each other; or the same divinity in two distinct forms, such as the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra who may be depicted either as a warrior or as a demure courtesan; or by two different names, as our more familiar Bodhisattva may be seen as the male Avalokitesvara or the lovely Guan Yin.

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Avalokitesvara, National Museum; Sri Lanka Guan Yin, Penang Island, Malaysia

There are also animal representations of the Bodhisattva as Queen Maya’s White Elephant or Zeus’ swan as in Leda and the swan, or as a dove – Guan Yin is often depicted holding “the dove of fruitfulness.” (Hinduism has many sacred pairs, but the one favored in Shaivism is Shiva and his Shakti consort, Parvati, who address each other in theVijnanabhairava Tantra as Bhairava and Bhairavi.)

Christ, The Son member of the Trinity, is our Maitreya or Mithras, our young Future Buddha. Whereas Christians, Daoists, and spiritual alchemists, among others, believe that it is possible for a spiritual entity to penetrate the material world – as a “Spirit made flesh” i.e., to incarnate, and some Buddhists believe that divine beings may, through reincarnation, assume the bodies of living persons, Zen holds that while this may or may not be possible, it has not happened in our case. Our “Son” exists as a spiritual entity whom we may access spiritually, but who does not substantively emerge from our body through the standard spiritual exit, the fontanelles, to appear materially in the temporal world. That event is slated for an unspecified future time. (In Shaivism, the Son is often represented as Skanda or Murugan.)

Zen holds that (to use a Christian assertion which had its origins in the Vedas) “the kingdom of God is within.” And the divine inhabitants of that kingdom are precisely those whose effigies we see in our temples. The Buddha we bow to is the Buddha within. Korea’s beautiful allegorical film, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, elegantly shows the relationship between our ego (the child who grows to manhood, making many mistakes along the way) and our interior Buddha Self (the master who cares for him) and to the Master’s Triune identity. In the film, the veiled Lady and the Child she delivers represent the Bodhisattva and the Future Buddha, as the main character in the film prepares to attain Buddhahood.

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Photo credit: www.kaalita.com
Skanda on his iconographically identifiable peacock “seat”

Human beings, then, have these two identities. The ego identity and the Buddha Self in all its Triune splendor. The relationship is also beautifully stated in the Mundaka Upanishad

Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the Immortal Self sit side by side on the self-same tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.”

Zen’s goal, then, is to eliminate or, at least, to diminish the ego-bird’s appetite for worldly fruits, so that when even little is as surfeit, it will be possible to live out the life of the calm Immortal Observer. We do not overly concern ourselves with celestial topography. A cosmic “t – 1” may be an occasion of significance to astro-physicists, but it is of no value to a man who is trying to recover from a drug dependency, a destroyed marriage, or the venoms of greed or lust.

Detachment and transcendence constitute salvation and bring us to a direct experience of Nirvana, which accords with the Buddha’s dying instruction: “Work hard to break the bonds of worldly passions. Pursue your salvation with diligence.” Fortunately, the same divine Buddha Self exists in each of us; but if an ego-self has not accepted the Four Noble Truths’ directive to discipline himself by following the Eightfold Path or any other religion’s code of ethical self-control, that ego-self is likely to get lost this side of Nirvana.

The ascendancy to salvation occurs in each person’s lifetime, or we, as individual conscious persons, die without knowing Nirvana’s heavenly bliss, but with, unfortunately, more than enough of earthly heartaches. Again, no system of reincarnation or life after death gives us other opportunities. Dead means dead. Those who believe that dead does not mean dead have a right to disagree; and it is a right that we must respect – and never argue about. The burden of proof is not upon us.

It need not be said that the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Time into whom we merge when we attain “the origin” or Empty Circle, continues on eternally without requiring any of our ego’s advice or assistance.

Kashmiri Shaivism outlines in ways that are clear and, as we might expect, decidedly non-scientific, the creation of the material world and the individual’s physical progression through it until he at last returns to its spiritual origins. There are thirty-six stages of development, called Tattvas. Laid out on a number line, only the Tattvas that extend from zero through to, but not including ,#6, are of particular interest to Zen Buddhists. The negative side of the abscissa constitutes The Void.

Nevertheless, going backwards from the first group: Tattvas 36, 35, 34, 33, 32 account for the five physical orders which all obey the laws of force that govern the vibrating “hairs of Shiva.” These are related to the energy chakras: Earth; Water; Fire; Air; and Ether or Space.

Tattvas 31, 30, 29, 28, 27 empower the individual to function in the material world: he must be able to communicate; handle things; move about; perform normal bodily functions such as those of nutrition: eating, digesting, assimilating, and eliminating his food. He must also be able to sleep and keep his body in working condition.

Tattvas 26, 25, 24, 23, 22 provide for those material world qualities which can be perceived: material things have sound, texture, temperature, light and color, flavor and odor.

Tattvas 21, 20, 19, 18, 17 constitute the capacity to perceive. The individual needs to hear; touch; see; taste; and smell.

Tattvas 16, 15, 14 enable the mind to be aware of the perceptions, and to perform those functions which elucidate and govern both the conscious mind and the impulses and intuitions that arise from his unconscious psyche: imagination; memory; thought; judgment; willpower; and so on.

Tattva 13 enables a person to choose among actions that provide for undefiled purity, or for troublesome emotional excitement, or for defiled sluggishness and emotional depression.

Tattvas 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 give to objects those facts of existence by which they can be known. Objects must have position or location; they must exist at a specified time; they must have characteristics that can engage the attention; they must differentiate themselves from the one who is observing them; and they must yield to the observer’s desire to change them as, for example, the farmer oversees the planting of a seed, the irrigation of the plant’s soil, and the harvesting of a crop. New life must be produced just as all life must end.

Tattvas 7 is the individual’s awareness that he is a creature who can transcend the material world and directly access his spiritual center, i.e., his Buddha Self.

Tattva 6, “Maya” (called in Japanese “Makyo”), is the matrix or the initial state of materiality, the fulfillment of divine fiat. Our familiar example of this would be, “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.'” In Oriental religions it is usually the mantric sound of “Om” that initiates the process. According to the Vedas, “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.” This establishes the union of male speaker and female voice; and the divine command that once uttered, actualizes that which was named. “Om” said with a prolonged, vibrating “m” sound is the transformation of spirit into materiality. A scientifically oriented translation of Kashmiri Shaivism’s Spanda Karikas (Yoga of Vibration) covers this originating point.

These “things” of creation, which include the conscious mind, are regarded as being in constant flux and, by definition, are illusionary. In Zen, in order for a thing to exist it must be real and true, and, more, it must be unconditionally true; it must universally true; it must be immutable; and it must be eternal. (It can’t be true here but not there. It can’t be true today but false tomorrow, and so on.) These are the attributes of the real or spiritual world, and, perhaps because it is a genetic code that we all share just as we share the tendency to have two eyes, one nose, two ears, etc., experiences of the spiritual world are virtually identical around the globe.

Religions, at their base level, are wildly different from each other. But each religion has a mystical ladder that the spiritually motivated may climb. As each aspirant reaches the top and looks around, he sees absolutely no difference between himself and the other fellows perched atop their religion’s ladder. At the base level people will torture and kill each other over an interpretation of a line of scripture. At the top of the ladder there is no dissent. The splendor of the spiritual world frees an individual from the curse of pedantry and religiosity that afflicts base-level habitues. Since everything in the material world is in constant flux, including our ego-conscious minds, only those divine laws which govern the material world are real. (Physicists and Chemists should be the natural high-priests of religion since they know these laws better than the rest of us. Unfortunately too many of them assume that their high IQ’s make them more superior to the average man than the average man is to the ape, and they find, therefore, no need to seek a higher interior Self. There are, of course, notable exceptions. Einstein knew that he had a internal spiritual “other,” as did the Reverends George LeMaitre and Blaise Pascal, among others.)

When the individual seeks his salvation, he must pass from Tattva #6 through to Tattva #5, the state of meditation. This is transcendence. It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling or the ephemeral sensation of peacefulness. This is the end of the drab chaos of the whirling material world, an end to conflict, romantic vicissitudes, jealousies, broken promises, grudging duty, and having our happiness depend upon other people. A door opens into brilliantly colored, still perfection. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas, anymore.”

It is in Tattva 5 that we encounter the Platonic Ideal Forms laid up in Heaven. The chosen meditation object will be seen suspended in space in glorious perfection. No matter how prosaic or how complex the object is, it alone in its aura and immensity – yet however much we previously knew about its structure and dynamics, we are left with the profound sense of understanding it as we have never understood it before.

We may experience other visual phenomena, usually a repeating geometric design of related colors. If we are sufficiently rapt, we will ascend into Tattva 4, Samadhi, which is a breathless, prolonged, non-visionary, full-bodied orgasmic experience usually called the Divine Embrace.

Hypnosis, bio-feedback, drugs, sex, and other mind-control frivolities cannot get us there. Humility is a non-negotiable requirement which no doubt accounts for the absence of so many of our scientific brethren.

After a few years, perhaps the time needed to prove ourselves even more worthy and of use to the Dharma, we enter into the Trinitarian experience, Tattva 3. Satori. In this brief encounter, our ego is completely extinguished, and our identity recedes to a vanishing point in the horizon and we look out at the world through the eyes of our Buddha Self. Everything is still there… the sun is shining and the cricket outside the window is still chirping, but everything is suddenly pristine and exquisitely beautiful, and we know that despite the apparent insanities of the material world, all the laws are being faithfully obeyed. As Browning put it, “God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.” It is exactly as it should be. And then, Amitabha closes his eyes and our egos return. Usually we can’t shut up about the experience and are considered to be afflicted with “Zen Disease.” We enter a euphoric state that abates in a matter of days, weeks, or sometimes months.

The “big” experience of Tattvas 2&1 has various names: the Mysterium Coniunctionis, Divine Marriage, the Union of Opposites, or the Rebis experience of spiritual androgyny. This is the Divine Visionary Drama in which we are both a participant and a passive observer. This experience is possible only, in Jungian terms, when the Anima or Animus is fully and contentedly integrated and is therefore not projected outside the meditator onto some human being. Being “in residence” the Anima or Animus is free to subsume the ego identity; the male meditator is subsumed by his Anima (Tattva 2, the female Bodhisattva); the female meditator by her Animus (Tattva 1, the male Bodhisattva). This trans-sexual identity is realized only during meditation and does not, in any way, alter the meditator’s normal demeanor. The honeymoon period lasts for a couple of delirious weeks until it finally settles down into a few years’ worth of indescribable bliss during visionary meditation. Again, the meditator functions in society without anyone’s being aware of what is going on inside his head.

And then comes the dreadful “Dark Night of the Spirit” a wretched series of meditations that the meditator cannot seem to be able to stop. (This experience is detailed in Assault on the Summit which is on our website.)

In the orient, contained within each monastery complex are little one room dwellings reserved for those monks or nuns who attain Tattvas 2 & 1. They may come and go as they please, but no one is permitted to disturb them. Usually only at night do they exit their dwellings to sit under the stars and chat with each other. Their meals and their laundry are cared for by the monastery staff, and the privilege of such care and privacy lasts for up to three years.

Once the Dark Night meditations are concluded, we finally get to the tattva that lies between Zero and Tattva 1. This is the appearance of the Hero archetype, the Mercurial Child/Man, who will subsume our identity during meditation for years to come. The visionary meditations end when the meditator crosses the origin and enters the Void.

The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a dialogue between Shiva (Bhairava) and Parvati (Bhairavi) is to be read slowly and the techniques it recommends are to be practiced without expectation and with gratitude for the instruction. The lessons learned will assist the Path Climber who is ready to proceed at this level of instruction. At the very least the instructions will leave foot prints in his mind that he can follow when he is ready to advance.

Vijnanabhairava Tantra (Divine Consciousness)

Bhairava and Bhairav?, in union and in unity, engaged in a dialogue for the benefit of all who seek liberation.

The lovely Bhairavi spoke:

Lord, by your command the universe came into existence as a grand illusion that hides the splendor of your reality. Many souls have sought the contentment that can come through you, alone. Many are the ways they mistook false for real and brought themselves to bitter regret. How may they free themselves from such painful errors? How may they find the bliss that lies beyond the shifting shapes and names that so confuse them? How may they dispel illusion and see your glorious presence? Teach me so that all may learn. Let all doubt be cleared away.

Bhairava answered:

Beloved, we are eternally bound. As I am the laws that command, you are the energy that moves at my command. The various forms you take are ephemeral and are merely perceived as substantive. Indeed, your forms, in all their manifestations, are illusions.

I will impart to you the hidden truths. Those who see a form and think that they can possess it are trying to embrace a ghost or hold the fog in their hands. All forms are in constant change, and the man who desires to possess the forms, he, too, is constantly changing. Rituals, scriptures, titles and robes of office cannot influence the intrinsic nature of the changing forms, just as they cannot produce a path to salvation’s Reality, a path that lies beyond the forms.

Men, driven by lust and greed, search endlessly to satisfy their cravings. In their folly they do not understand that the greatest wealth and the greatest bliss are contained within their own body.

The Mystical Path leads mankind into the realm of Reality, where there is neither space nor time, and all that is encountered in that realm – the people and things and our interactions with them – follow the outlines of a story which I have written in the stars.

To read that story a man must learn the language of the Real. He must close his eyes to the deceptions of material illusion and turn his attention inwards, upon himself. There he will learn the way. Since you have inquired on man’s behalf, I will give you the instructions.

1. Radiant One, with concentration, the Real may be experienced between the space of a single breath. After breathing in, as the breath is held, feel the beneficence of God. And let all cares escape as the breath flows out.

2. Again, as your breath enters and curves down and as it begins to leave and curves up, through both of these turns, experience the Real.

3. Or, at the precise moment that your in-breath changes into out-breath, feel a pulse beat in the long hollow tube that lies directly in front of your spine and that now waits to be filled.

4. Or, when your breath has gently flowed out and before you breathe in again, pause, and in that moment your illusionary self will disappear and you will glimpse the Real. This will be difficult only to those who are guilty but who feel no remorse.

5. Beloved, think of your True Self as a light that is glowing at the base of the hollow tube. With concentration you will feel a pulse beating at the base of that hollow tube. With each pulse beat, that light will grow brighter and its illumination will rise; and with it will rise the warmth of Eternal Life.

6. Or, in the time and space between the pulse-beats, feel lightning strike the base.

7. Goddess, you may instead imagine a trail of your alphabet’s letters, each in black ink, waiting to enter the hollow tube and to slowly rise to your throat before the next letter enters. Do not hurry.

When you have mastered the sight of each letter rising, select the letters L and M. Place between them the vowel sound of “uh” and see this syllable LuM printed in bright red. Let it enter the hollow tube at the base, and let it strike the base with the sound of a musical note from a scale of your choosing. Let that syllable rise slowly to your throat and when it reaches your mouth, softly sing that sound, letting your barely parted lips vibrate as you pronounce the sound of Mmmmm… which will then trail away into infinity with your escaping breath.

When you have mastered the sight and sound of LuM, select the letters V and M and place between them the vowel “uh” and see this syllable printed in orange. Let it enter the hollow tube at the base, and let it strike the base with the next higher note on the scale you have chosen. Let that syllable VuM rise to your throat and as it enters your mouth, softly sing that sound, letting your barely parted lips vibrate as you pronounce the Mmmmm. That sound will retreat into infinity with your escaping breath.

When you have mastered this, repeat the instructions for each spectral color: Yellow paired with R and “uM” and the next higher note; Green paired with Y and “uM” and the next higher note; Blue paired with H and “uM” and the next higher note; Indigo paired with O and “m” and the next higher note. And finally, in violet, let the pure Ahhm enter, strike the next higher note and rise up to your throat. When it enters your mouth, softly sing the sacred syllable.

Do not hurry. Only those who are angry and have not vowed to forgive will have difficulty.

8. Radiant Goddess, place your attention between your eyebrows. See there a light that glows softly and with each breath grows brighter until it fills your head so completely that it bursts, showering sparkling light in all directions.

9. Or, imagine each of the spectral colors to be a small sphere in space. See each, in turn, shimmer like a star and then slowly fade, dissolving into the vastness of the sky. See Red, then Orange, then Yellow, then Green, then Blue, then Indigo, and finally Violet.

10. Devi, With your eyes closed, see your divine beloved as living inside your body. Study your beloved. Learn the details of face and form.

11. Imagine that all your thoughts twist into a fine thread that circles your body. Let it start at the space between your eyebrows, run over your head, down your back, curve under you, and ascend, passing your abdomen, chest, neck, and face until it reaches its starting point. Twist each worldly thought that arises into a thread that will circle your body until it forms a cocoon of finest silk.

12. Perform the mudra that closes the seven gates. Raise your elbows outwards, place your thumbs tightly in your ears, your index fingers gently on your eyes, your middle fingers against your nostrils, and your fourth and fifth fingers on either side of your mouth, pressing your lips together as a child’s kiss. Listen intently to the silence.

13. Or, when you touch your closed eyelids as lightly as a feather, waves of undulating shapes will form. Study these shapes. These will open your heart and from your heart they will enter the firmament.

14. Recall a sound… a distant bell… or a waterfall.. or as if you have placed coiled sea shells against your ears. Listen intently to the recalled sound.

15. Inhale and as if you are chanting aloud, hear the single sound “Om” in your mind. Hear it clearly and prolong the sound as if you are expending one breath.. Then add to it another harmonious voice and let the two voices chant Om for as long as one breath would last. Then add another harmonious note as if three voices are singing. Then add a fourth voice and when you have heard that chord clearly, add a fifth and a sixth, singing that one chord more loudly, clearly, and harmoniously until it seems as if a heavenly choir is singing that chord and filling the cosmos with its rapturous sound.

16. With each addition of a voice to the original sound, awaken to its beauty.

17. While listening to an orchestra, focus your attention on one instrument and trace its path through the composition.

18. Aloud, hum a single note, then reduce the sound to a whisper and then to the point that it is inaudible; and as it fades, sink into a silent harmony with that note.

19. Imagine that your body has become a spirit and then imagine that all around you cease to be material until the world is filled with spiritual beings.

20. Bhairavi, enter the space that is above your own form. Observe yourself from above and see that your form is not different from mine.

21. Experience the bliss of mystical union with that form.

22. As that form of your other self, live your spiritual life among the spiritual persons that fill your universe. This life will be real and you will understand the illusions of earthly life when you return to them.

23. Consider your body as expanding into infinity, embracing all of the cosmos.

24. Consider your body as shrinking down to the size of a mustard seed.

25. The Beloved is revealed when one breath has been exhaled but the next breath has not yet begun. So, between two breaths, feel the Beloved fill your body.

26. Withdraw all your senses into your heart. Feel that you touch, taste, smell, hear, and see from a place inside your heart and that the rest of your body is lifeless.

27. Let your breathing slow down until your sense of self disappears and then your other Self will reveal itself.

28. When your body has completely relaxed and you are unaware of your breath, forget your thoughts and perceive your heart and see all the sensory energy scintillate and crackle with life. Into all this activity your Beloved will enter and calm your heart. It will be as a sea that knows no wind.

29. When you are working in the world, you will keep your thoughts on your work; but when you have a free moment, focus your attention on the space between two breaths. If you practice this relentlessly, within a few days, you will be reborn.

30. When lying on your bed, imagine that an electrical charge, like a enveloping grass fire, starts at your toes and spreads up your legs and up to your skull… consuming your body while yet leaving your ghost-like, spirit-filled body intact.

31. When lying on your bed, imagine that waves are lapping at your feet and then are gently traveling up your legs, abdomen, chest, hands, and arms, until the undulations lap against the inside of your eyes. The Shakti will fill you.

32. When you are sitting in sunshine, breathe deeply and slowly and gently close your eyes and see geometric shapes form like a kaleidoscope on the inside of your eyelids.

33. As you exhale, direct your breath to fill the space between your eyebrows before you allow it to pass through your nostrils.

34. With the space between your eyebrows filled with energy, send it down to your heart and then take control of your dreams.

35. Create a make-believe world in your mind, walk through it and learn its details, then burn it down to ashes and watch the wind blow the ashes away.

36. If you are directing anger towards someone or something, or if someone’s anger is directed towards you, imagine that you are sitting on a beach as the tide is coming in and that you are writing the word “calm” in the sand. Watch the word disappear as the tide comes in. The anger given or received will disappear as the word crumbles into the tide. Remember this when you sit down to meditate, and as you recall the water erasing the word, erase your sense of ego-self and be filled with your spiritual other.

37. Smell a flower or a perfume so that you know its scent and then, later, as you sit in meditation, recall the scent.

38. Hear the sound of a chord and understand its notes and later, as you sit in meditation, recall the chord.

39. Run your fingers over soft velvet or a coarse stone, learn how it feels, and later, as you sit in meditation, recall the touch of it.

40. Taste a tart fruit like a lemon or a grapefruit, memorize the effect it has upon your mouth, and later, as you sit in meditation, recall the taste of it and the effect it had upon your mouth.

41. Look at a bowl that contains a substance and visualize the bowl as being empty, and later, when you are sitting in meditation recall the bowl as being full and then again as being empty. See it clearly as though it were in front of you.

42. When you sit in meditation imagine that you are alone in the universe. Let everything around you disappear, one object at a time. The pressure of “things” will disappear.

43. When you are in meditation imagine that you are sitting where you are and then imagine that you have vanished and that the space is empty.

44. When feeling a caressing breeze, imagine that you, as your beloved, are caressing you through the breeze.

45. When feeling an insect such as an ant crawl across your foot, concentrate upon the feeling and make it vanish even though you can still see the ant.

46. When feeling sexually aroused, feel it as a fire that eternally burns without becoming embers.

47. When in this excitation your senses quiver as shaking leaves, enter this shaking.

48. Even while only recalling an embrace, remember the moments of transformation and then relive them.

49. Imagine that the inner channel which lies before your spine is the stem of a lotus flower. See it as red inside and blue outside. Meditate on its internal emptiness and you will feel the emptiness of space.

50. When you eat or drink, become the taste of the food or drink, and be filled with it.

51. Oh Lotus Eyed One, whatever you see or taste or touch or smell, be aware of that sensation and understand that it is now part of you.

52. Whenever you act, be aware of your actions and let no other activity intrude upon your awareness.

53. In a hypnogogic or hypnopompic state, at the moment between these two states of sleep and wakefulness, and observe your mind and you will be rewarded with glimpses into the Real.

54. When you see the cloudless sky on a sunny day, stop and enter its clarity.

55. In your mind create a home for yourself, a perfect dwelling in a place that you consider beautiful. Create a protective zone around this setting and when you are beset with the illusions of the material world, repair to your perfect dwelling and there sleep peacefully or walk along the secret paths.

56. Look lovingly at an object that you often see but rarely consider the manner in which it is made, and then, close your eyes and piece by piece, take it apart and lay the pieces side by side. Note the color and texture of each piece.

57. Sit and face a white blank wall or a sand dune and stare into the light and you will see and feel the presence of your spiritual other.

58. On nights on which there is no moon, stare into the darkness and let your entire being dissolve into the darkness.

59. Waves are born of the ocean and get lost in it, flames arise and die, the sun appears then vanishes. So does everything find its source in spatiality and returns to it.

60. Dance until you are exhausted or spin rhythmically until your mind can no longer think clearly, and then stop and retreat into your exhaustion and confusion and suddenly you will feel the essence of Bhairava.

61. Feel as if you are lifeless, unable to move, totally without energy. Having no resistance let Bhairava enter you.

62. Stare into a well as a fortune teller stares into a crystal ball and see the surface of the water become a screen upon which pictures move.

63. Make no judgments or criticisms about the practices of other people. Do not try to determine sacred and profane.

64. Be careful whenever you refer to yourself as a substantive being. When you say, “I am” or “I want” know that neither you nor the object of your desire is real. Knowing this cease your desire and your ego awareness.

65. Remember that the universe is a shifting illusion. Happiness lies in realizing that the false is false. Seek always the real.

66. Beloved One, anger, jealousy, contempt, vanity, pride, embarrassment, love, hate, lust, fear… these are all forms of bondage to those who are tricked by Maya into believing the ephemeral is permanent, that paste is pearl, that self-interest is generosity, or that casual promises are sacred vows. In ignorance, pleasures found quickly will end quickly; but the pains they cause seem endless.

67. If you should awaken to reality through one of the senses or through thought, quickly send your joy down into your heart and you will feel the boundlessness of space.

 

Sudden School Zen and Gradual School Zen

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya

Sudden School member, Yun Men (Ummon) Lineage

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

Louis Sullivan, Architect. The Tall Office Building Esthetically Considered

When the purpose of a Quest is to attain insight into the nature of the material world’s “emptiness”; to acquire a self-mastery of body and mind; to be mindful always of one’s balancing center; and to be non-judgmentally aware of every moment’s thoughts – understanding how and why they have arisen; and to enter a contemplative void, what form does the method and setting take?

When the purpose of a Quest is to attain the spiritual summit’s ecstasy; to crown the top of mountain and mind with the Future Buddha’s effigy; to know even for a single moment what it is to be one with the Buddha Self; to replace loneliness with solitude; and, while in meditation’s transcendent reality, to mingle in androgynous rapture with the Bodhisattvas; what form does the method and setting take?

Generally speaking, the former is usually called the Path of Gradual Enlightenment or The Northern School, while the latter is usually called the Path of Sudden Enlightenment or The Southern School.

Few things in life are carved in stone, and certainly the form that Zen temples take to accommodate their diverse aims is not one of them. Yet it is interesting to see how Louis Sullivan’s dictum, Form follows function, does, as a general rule, apply to the settings in which these Quests occur.

As the term Gradual suggests, the methods of the Northern School usually consist in long periods of disciplined adherence to a daily practice of sitting in strict concentration – upon either eliminating thoughts or analyzing thoughts objectively. Visionary experiences are eschewed and pejoratively termed “Makyo” the Japanese version of “Maya.” Attendance is compulsory.

To insure that there will be no disruptive activities, such as snoring or restless posture adjustments, a monitor may be employed. He quietly patrols the aisles, carrying a stick, which he does not hesitate to use.

Breathing practices require either observing the breath or counting it: “a long breath being a long breath and a short breath being a short breath,” as it is colorfully put.

Practitioners sit on a hard kapok-stuffed Zafu (cushion) which provides the needed raised platform-edge for the practitioner’s spinal base to attain a 15 or 20 degree angle with the floor. In this way the body’s weight is distributed in a three pointed position: the knees and tailbone. When the spine is so elevated, it is much easier to take the full lotus posture.

Since such focussed attention is aided by silence and the absence of distracting decoration, temples favor the simplicity that we find in traditional Japanese interior design – clean lines, natural wood and stone, opaque window coverings with dark rectangular mullions, and only one or two flowers in an ikebana arrangement. Practitioners face the wall; and when there is insufficient wall space, they sit in precise linear arrangements.

As the term Sudden suggests, the methods of the Southern School are intended to detach ‘archetypal’ instinctive ties from the people, places, and things of the material world, and then to integrate these archetypal or divine characters into the individual psyche. These experiences have a revelatory nature and occur without warning.

Since this process is not aided by protracted introspections, the practice of disciplined periods of sitting in order to concentrate is disdainfully regarded: “You can make a mirror polishing a brick sooner than you can make a Buddha sitting on a cushion.” A variety of seed-engaged concentrations is employed to achieve meditation’s altered state of egoless consciousness; and deep structured breathing exercises, such as the Healing Breath, Alternate Nostril breathing, and the breath visualized as an object that is pushed through the various meridians are followed.

To aid in the process of detaching and then integrating archetypal projections, Southern School temples are more cathedral-like, ornate and filled with dramatically posed statues; wall decorations; elaborate altar pieces, enameled wood, bouquets of flowers; bells, chimes, and drums; and voices chanting. The reverberation of a temple drum entrains the heartbeat, the aorta, and the spinal cord that runs beside it. (No person who has ever heard the drummer at, for example, Yun Men (Ummon) Temple in China will ever forget the sound.)

In a meditation hall, Southern school participants come in and sit, and if they fall asleep, nobody bothers them. If someone snores, concentration upon the sound of snoring may be practiced. If a practitioner wants to stay awake, he signals the Tea Monk who brings him a cup of strong jasmine tea. Attendance is desired but not compelled – although on nights when the Abbot gives a Dharma talk, it is wise to be present.

The practitioner sits on an inclined-plane bamboo-slatted bench. His knees generally do not touch the floor. The bamboo slats are spaced apart so that air can circulate around them.

In the dining room, Northern practitioners sit in complete silence during meals and keep rigid postures and rules of etiquette; ‘Southern’ practitioners laugh and talk during meals and aside from saying Grace at the start of the meal, keep no other rules except to clean up after themselves.

Commentators from both schools often claim the exclusive Right of Way to the Path that leads to the Buddha Realm; in fact, although it cannot be denied that a certain amount of enmity occurs between the two groups, elements of each regimen are frequently compounded with elements of the other.

When a practitioner falls away from the Path, he may have fallen victim to the hazards within each system. An old fencing instruction describes a frequent source of failure: “Holding a saber is like holding a bird. If you hold it too tightly you squeeze it to death; if you hold it too loosely, it flies away.”

The Southern School’s loose approach to rules contains the risk that the practitioner will fly off, following some tangential interest, or he may experience an unrelenting euphoria. The Northern School’s strict application of rules may squeeze to death the practitioner’s spiritual enthusiasm, or he may succumb to robotic self-hypnosis.

The institution’s teaching staff may contribute to failure by not fully understanding the reasons behind some of the practices. For example, the Northern School favors facing the wall; the Southern school favors facing the center of the room. The reason for facing the wall is said to be Bodhidharma’s nine years of wall gazing at Shao Lin Ji. What is often overlooked is that those years were alleged to have been spent while he sat facing a whitewashed wall. This practice would constitute a pursuit of “The Ganzfeld Effect.” Science has discovered that when a person sits and stares at a bright, blank visual field that is devoid of features, such as a white wall or a sand dune, the light will be reflected back into his eyes, serotonin will be released, and he will enter an alpha rhythm state. Without that bright blank wall, a person sits in vain in front of a wall.

(Note: anyone who wants to experience the Ganzfeld Effect can take a ping-pong ball that has no writing on it, cut it in half along its seam, smooth the edges of each half with a file, take clear tape and tape each half over an eye, and then turn to face a bright light source. In record time, undulating grey or iridescent shapes will form and reform and the Alpha state will be attained.)

As to maintaining order in a meditation hall, in an established Southern School monastery in China, there are monks and nuns of all ages. Older monks and nuns often tend the sick during the night and, in the morning, come to the meditation hall where the restful atmosphere lulls them to sleep. Other monks and nuns have been working in the kitchen all night preparing breakfast. Most monasteries are in remote areas where the water is not potable and a huge vat of water intended for the day’s tea consumption must be filled and then boiled over a wood fire. Beating these people for the crime of falling asleep tends to seem uncivilized.

When a teacher restricts breathing exercises to the simple counting or observing the breath, he deprives the practitioner of the benefits of the Healing Breath or the breath-object circulation through the meridians. The Healing Breath, using the time-proportion of 4:16:8 for inhalation, retention, and exhalation, requires the practitioner to sit upright and inflate the chest to its absolute maximum and then to hold the breath steady and release it, first by letting it seep out of the nostrils and then by contracting the abdomen until it seems that the navel is touching the spine. This practice forces much marginally residual air from the lungs – air that is laden with bacteria and particulate matter from dust or other air pollutants. The body’s immune system is relieved of the burden of fighting off the effects of these unwelcome intruders. Additionally, the prolonged retention of the breath, acts exactly like the stretching of a muscle during a yoga exercise. When a muscle is under the tension of a gentle stretch, and then that tension is suddenly released, the muscle produces serotonin.

As to the strict requirements of maintaining the three-pointed Zazen posture, to whatever degree a practitioner experiences pain, he has gone 180 degrees away from where he wants to go. One of the reasons Southern School Zen does not particularly care to meditate in a group setting is that to enter a deep alpha state is to salivate profusely, a result of activating the para-sympathetic nervous system. To sit in a group, lost in sweet oblivion, with the mouth hanging open and drooling is to create an image most of us would like to forget. But this is the wonderful result of true meditation. Pain, however, induces the sympathetic nervous system to initiate the secretion of adrenalin in a fight or flight response. The mouth gets dry (think about standing up in front of a group and giving a speech when one is not used to speaking publicly). As the mouth dries, teeth stick to lips, the heart beats wildly, the blood pressure rises, epinephrine and Cortisol are released and as blood is withdrawn from the skin, hands feel clammy. The practitioner is as far away from alpha states as it is possible to get. Once that adrenalin is released it may take as much as 90 minutes for it to wash out of the system.

The full lotus posture is the best posture to take – and using a long meditation band or cloth to circle the small of the back and the knees is a marvel of comfort. But Lotus must be learned gradually so that no pain is ever felt. As the rule in Yoga states: “If you feel pain, you are doing it wrong.”

People who succeed in crossing the transcendental barrier and in achieving meditation’s altered state of egoless consciousness often push on into Samadhi, which is orgasmic ecstasy and, as such, is a valid reason for absenting oneself from a room full of Questors.

The presence of so much elaborate artwork in Southern School temples requires an explanation. A statue supplies an image which connects with an emotional counterpart within the observer, releasing and channeling its expression. In the making of Star Wars, for example, George Lukas famously discussed creating this vital cast of “engaging” characters with mythologist Joseph Campbell. Carl Jung first presented this pantheon of fundamental characters – “archetypes of the collective unconscious” – whose genetic templates influence and direct the emotional life of human beings. Literature and film succeed according to how well they invoke the counterparts of these characters within the psyche of the observer or reader.

When a practitioner sees a statue in a great temple and stops to “engage” it, he responds to it in a deep level of his psyche – a level that he does not consciously consider. At the beginning stage, he may need the comforting expression of the compassionate Guan Yin; or the reassurances of a Bodhisattva’s benign smile. He may need to respond internally to the allurements of the androgynous Bodhisattva Samantabhadra in her demure courtesan identity, or he may need to gain the brave resolve and inspiring courage of Samantabhadra in his heroic warrior identity. He may find spiritual fortitude in the fearsome sword-wielding Manju. As he nears the goal, he will recognize in them the characters he has come to know while he has been in the true meditative state.

buddhaflower.jpgPhoto credit: mysticalchrist.org

The phenomenon of emotionally interacting with a work of art is not new to us. No mother of any religion can view Michelangelo’s Piet‡ with indifference. No soldier, regardless of the gear he carries, can see the great sculptor’sDavid, and not know how naked and alone he is when he stands and faces what is always to the single soul, an immense adversary. The image replicates itself deep in his psyche. He will not know how he had the strength to do it, but while he was in that adversary’s presence, he, like David, stood and held his ground. A Christian has an emotional response that accords with the image he reflects upon: Christ as the suffering figure on the Cross moves him to understand the pain and betrayal he, himself, has felt and also the forgiveness he is inspired to give. He may see Jesus as the gentle teacher whose heart is revealed in his Sermon on the Mount and he will strive to become a better person, one to whom someone could say, “I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was in prison, and you visited me.”

Buddhists experience similar emotional responses upon seeing an effigy of the gentle Buddha who preached, in thunderous silence, the Flower Sermon and challenged us to transcend the material world and be one with that lotus. He will look upon the sacrificial suffering of the emaciated Buddha and see how despite losing everything else in the material world, his faith will sustain his serenity.

buddhafast.jpgFasting Buddha
Photo credit: neatorama.com

We engage these archetypal figures because they comfort and inspire and in doing so facilitate detachment and integration. The goal demands that we cease depending upon the people, places, and things of this material world to give us an identity and to define for us who we are. Foolishly we fail to realize that an attachment has two ends. While we fulfill our ego’s needs by tapping into what it has connected to, that entity has needs too, and it will draw from us whatever it needs to fulfill its clamorous demands.

In the Gospel of Luke 14:26 we read: “If a man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Christian mystics understand. Everyone else tries to tickle the lines in an attempt to lighten the mood of what they perceive to be an oppressive state. The instruction does not lead to oppression, it leads to freedom.

In Zen we have the mondo: The master instructs the novices, “You must kill your father, and your mother, and your friends, too. Destroy them all if you want to attain Zen.” One novice asks, “And you, Master. Must we kill you, too.” And the Master replies, “There is not enough of me left for you to get your hands on.” The master knows that the ego’s attachments are the umbilical cords through which it parasitically feeds, thickening the veil that it places between the interior Buddha Self, Amitabha, and the world. When the ego’s veil is thinned to a mirror’s reflection, we, at last, may see the world and all that’s in it, through the Buddha’s eyes.

Detachment is not easily accomplished. It requires enormous self-discipline.

We cannot purchase the bliss of Integration. We cannot put a price on Freedom.

Beginner’s Question: What is Zen?

Answer: A cauldron of boiling oil over a roaring fire.

The Crossword Puzzle (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here

PART 7: ELIMINATING THE IMPOSSIBLE

 

Meanwhile, the Thanksgiving Day holiday had ended and there was no need for Mrs. Eglington to keep trudging up and down the old attic steps or for Gladys to stay in her upstairs room, either.  They stayed in the house to serve Paige for whom they had no affection or respect.  They agreed to stay on until the probate procedure was concluded; “I’m going to see about moving into the master bedroom,” Mrs. Eglington confided to Gladys, “and you can see about taking Nola’s bedroom.   I’ve got enough money of my own saved to buy a new mattress… and besides, he wasn’t killed in that room.  Master Roland is a kind man.  He’ll understand.”

The two women approached Paige who definitely did not want her servants going around town telling tales about life at Ghent house, and she was also lonely living alone on the second floor.  At first she seemed reluctant and didn’t quite know what to say.  “You can’t use my room or the children’s rooms; and I don’t know what to do if one of them brings a friend home to spend the night. And I miss my sister,” she began to cry.  ”When she returns she will be given her choice of bedroom so one of you will have to leave the room immediately.”

Mrs. Eglington allayed her fear.  “If you ever require the rooms, we’ll move back into the attic in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  Have no fear, Madam.  And no one in town will know that we’ve come down to the second floor.  You have our word.  It’s just that the stair to the attic is so difficult for me,” she pleaded.

“All right,” Paige agreed.  “But tell no one.”

Telling no one did not include Gregor, Jules, or Hines.  Jules waited for his inheritance, but Gregor and Hines had no specific reason to stay.  Jules knew only that he had been named as a beneficiary.  He did not know to what extent Hines had lied to him.  The atmosphere in the house did not conduce to contentment in any form.  Often the servants did not reply normally, but snapped or snarled, or said something sarcastic in response to each other’s questions or comments.

Hines Whitman was furious when he heard that Mrs. Eglington was moving her things into the master’s bedroom.  “I wanted that room for myself!” he announced as if what he said had any significance.

No matter how he grumbled about having to live in the turret, the others each had a remark that sealed him in the uncomfortable quarters.   Gladys said, “When Nola comes back, I’ll have to move out of her room and I’d just as soon stay in the carriage house as go back to the attic.”  Gregor grunted but did not voice an objection.

“Carriage house?  You can live there but I can’t?” Hines complained.

“Maybe you have attic to yourself,” Gregor grinned malevolently.

“You can continue to live with Jules over the Four-car garage,” Gladys noted.

“I’d leave today but I have to think about references,” Hines countered.  Since he had been needed to stay on to help with the unusual paperwork associated with a death in the family, Paige had asked Roland to let Hines use his room, but Roland declined saying that he did not want his privacy violated.  Gregor had not wanted his privacy invaded either and so he had drapes hung on the windows that faced the turret.

 

At the beginning of December, Paige called Nola and asked to meet with her to get some needed advice, and despite Ellis’s advice not to meet with her, she agreed.  “Let me do a little more investigating,” he insisted.

“I can be investigating at the same time,” Nola said.   Paige came to the house.

“After the funeral but before the kids left for school after Thanksgiving,” Paige anguished, “all hell broke loose.  Previously Pierre had blamed you for causing trouble between Spence and me.  And then the Will was just read and he found out that I control all the assets except the house.  Spence assigned a huge amount of our liquid assets to furnish that clinic.  We’re far from broke, but nowhere near where we used to be.  The house is now Roland’s – but we all have the right to live there as long as we stay single.  Pierre didn’t know this.  He thought he’d get a big chunk of cash and wanted an expensive Italian sports car for Christmas. He told all his friends who laughed at what they considered his fantasy.  So he asked me for money to buy the car and I refused.  It’s outrageous.  He’s not even a freshman in college!”

“What was his reaction?”

“He called me every name in the book.”  Paige began to cry.  “He says he doesn’t care who knows what a tramp I am.  One of the servants must have told him about Gregor and me. He keeps referring to the pain I must have caused his father by carrying on with Greg right under his nose.”

“You brought me on board,” Nola said.  “You’re responsible for Spence’s recovery. Prior to my coming there Spence was being killed slowly by his well-meaning servants.”

Ellis’s car pulled into the driveway and Paige, not wanting to talk to anyone else, decided to leave.  “Pray for me,” she said as she left the house and gave a nod to Ellis who met her in the doorway.

 

Later that day, Pierre Ghent went to the police station to recant his earlier statement.  Dave Rowan called Ellis to tell him.  “He now wants to be truthful and reveal that it was his mother’s sexual relationship with numerous other men that caused the trouble.  Nola was innocent.  She actually helped his dad.”  Rowan chuckled. “We’ve taken his statement.  You can drop by and read it whenever you want.”   He paused, “Listen, do you have any idea why he reversed himself so completely?”

“My guess would be that the kids knew that originally their mother was going to control the purse strings, and they regarded that as history from back in the days that Spence loved her and she was honorable and they were little.  Spence did a lot of talking to his attorney recently and the kids probably thought he’d rectify that outdated provision and let them inherit the money directly.  I doubt that they were aware of just how much money Spence had spent lately.  He let his partners buy him out and didn’t have a personal income from his investment company for years. But while he worked, the family could have lived on his salary alone.  Without it, they dipped into their considerable portfolio. He lost a lot in the last recession, too, and didn’t have the wherewithal to recoup his losses.  Then in the last year, Nola and Hines were hired and Spence went flying first class around the world and made a Swiss Spa his home away from home and committed a fortune to the new clinic addition… and the woman who went with it.  Big bucks, all told.”

“So Pierre thinks that by discrediting his mother he can have her removed as executrix.  Nice kid.”

“What’s flesh and blood compared to money?”

“Why am I surprised?”  Rowan grimly chuckled.  “Listen, Ellis, in some of Spence’s papers there were other puzzles – normal ones – that he seems to have started just before he died.  They don’t have themes listed, but there are clues.  I’m stymied but maybe Nola can give us some answers. I’m gonna see about bringing her back here to have a look at them.  Is that ok with you?”

“Sure… just let us know. I’ve got to go out again to Corbin’s office.  You can reach me there if you need me.”  Ellis disconnected the call.  He felt good about Rowan’s attitude. Clearly, Nola was not seriously considered the prime suspect any longer, despite the legal machinery that was still chugging away.

 

Nola called Paige to tell her about Pierre’s recantation.  “He’s just a kid,” she said, “looking out for his own interests in the only way he can figure.”

Paige cried and blew her nose. “They have no respect for me.  Spencer poisoned them.”

Nola switched to another related topic.  “I’ve been thinking about the study. There are ground-level windows on two sides of the room.  At the far end there are drapes between the windows and Spencer always used to keep a loaded rifle behind one of the drapes.  Tell me about that.”

“There are lots of feral dogs and coyotes that come out of the woods and attack our goats.  While Spence was sick in bed, Jules would sometimes check the area and if he saw the goats being threatened, he’d lower a window and ask Gregor to shoot the dog and then dispose of the dead animal.”

“Did you say, ‘Lower a window?’” Nola asked. “Why not raise it?”

“Because they’re all near ground level.  If you lower the top, you can lean on both window frames for stability when you take a shot. Since the windows are so easy to raise and lower, anybody could have climbed in and out without the rest of the house knowing it. i just thought I’d mention it.”

“So,” Nola noted, “any servant could have climbed in to help carry Spence into the bathroom.”

“It needn’t have been a servant,” Paige said.  “The windows at the far end are close to the rocky hill that was too steep for us to use.  But the workmen did rig a rope at the side.  They pounded down a few posts and strung a rope to help them get up.  They’d often throw stuff down that side to save them the extra steps of going all the way around the estate to approach it from the front.   Anybody could have climbed up without being seen on the driveway.”

“Jesus,” Nola said.  “We have to start someplace and the sooner, the better.  Paige… talk to whichever one of the servants is still on good terms with you.”

“That’s probably Mrs. Eglington,” Paige said.  “I’ll see what I can learn.”

 

“Give me an honest answer.  How do your children care for you and Spence?” Nola asked with Incredulous concern. “There doesn’t seem to be much mourning for his loss or sympathy for you.”

Paige sighed as tears filled her voice,“There was a time when we were a loving family… a unit.  But kids have a way of taking their own path.  They want to create their own personality and make themselves appear to be independent. They don’t want to walk beside you anymore.  They separate themselves by letting the only things they have, love and loyalty, convert to disloyalty and hate.”

“Do you believe that Spence killed himself because Ingrid Hesse died in a car crash? Between losing her and investing all that construction money, I think he believed life was over for him, and that it’s possible one of your servants took the gun.  I don’t believe that someone entered the study and just shot him.”

Paige sighed. “It’s always a mistake to think that because you pay someone, they feel love for you. Sure… all of them were capable of such mischief.  Everybody looks out for Number One, even people who cash a paycheck you signed.  It might help if we found out what plans Spence had for him and Ingrid. They must have had domestic plans… respectable ones. He never asked me for a divorce, but maybe that was one of the things he talked to his attorney about. They’ve been waiting for the Lucerne execs to return from Europe to question them. And as far as moving Spence’s body into the bathroom to wash the gun shot residue from his hands and arms, I might as well admit that Gregor is my candidate for the job.  He used to think that he had some sort of power over me… well… I might as well specify it… photos and videos.  But miraculously he seems to have lost the pictures.  He accused me of stealing them, but I didn’t do it.  I have a guardian angel someplace. I’m so sorry I started seeing that bastard.  Gregor thought that with Spencer out of the way, he’d have me to himself.”  Paige shuddered.  “Or even since I was in control of the money…” she hesitated and then sighed again.  “It’s not worth talking about.”

“All along I’ve thought that he must be taking photos or videos of you – whether or not you knew it. I don’t know why he’s sticking around unless he’s waiting for a payoff for helping one or more of the servants who got an inheritance.  He’s the type who would stoop to gaining control over someone no matter what it took.”

Paige began to cry.  “Yes,” she whispered, “he had many photos and videos of me.  Some of the photos I knew about, but not until he accused me of stealing them did I learn about the videos. He wasn’t above blackmailing me about them. How would my children ever have lived it down?  He won’t speak to me now.  I’m so alone.”  She began to sob.

Nola tried to redirect her emotions. “Then you better stop whining and start taking control of that house.  I’m willing to bet that the turret hasn’t been renovated.  Even if Hines doesn’t live in it, the house will belong to Roland and you might as well not incur his displeasure by leaving it in any shabby way.  People say it was once the pride of the estate.   And notice what your servants are doing.”

“All right!  All right! I know that Gladys has a crush on Gregor.  Ever since he first came here she looks at him with those kewpie-doll eyes.  I’ve seen her staring at him when he works in the patio or garden with his shirt off.  If the men are working outside in the heat and Mrs. E. makes a pitcher of lemonade for them, Gladys will squeeze an extra half lemon into the glass she hands him. She gets a thrill out of changing his bed linens and picking up his dirty clothing.  It’s sickening.  And Hines is the same way.  Any excuse to talk to Greg is a good excuse.”

Nola grinned. “That’s the kind of thing you need to notice… special friendships between any two of them. So toughen up!  Start running things properly; and if you find anything about Spencer’s future plans with ingrid, let Ellis or me know.  How he defends me will depend on all this little stuff that’s in his lawyer’s head.”

 

 

Ellis sat with Dave in the cafeteria.  “I expect that you’ll not be filing any charges against Nola. That house was a real snake pit. None of them appreciated the good work that Nola did nursing him.  I think everyone of them expected him to die within a matter of weeks or a few months at most.”  Before picking up his cup, he asked, “Have you looked into this Doctor Hesse?  Did anyone around her stand to gain or lose, financially or romantically, with Spencer Ghent in or out of the picture?”

“Yes, we looked.” Dave got out his notebook.  “We even ran her through Interpol.  She was forty, a widow of a poor poet who, for some reason, she stuck with for 16 years.  A hard worker.  No scandal whatsoever. She worked for the Lucerne people for five years.  The investigator over there said people wept when they found out she died.  Years ago she inherited some money from a patient, but she donated it all to the clinic.   The Minister of Health plus a bunch of other bigwigs attended her memorial.  She was related to Austrian aristocracy but didn’t acknowledge it. She liked to ski and ice skate.  Beyond that there was her job as an officer at the clinic.   Nothing… you will find nothing in her past.  After ten years doing hands-on medicine, she went to college at night or on the net, studying economics. She had a few office positions and then became Chief Financial Operator and you don’t deal in other people’s money in Switzerland but that you are vetted with a capital V.”

“Nola also reeks of competence.  If Paige didn’t like Spence’s improvement under her care, she’d have found a way to get rid of her.  She gave Paige complete control whenever she was out of the house.  She didn’t want him dead and I don’t think she killed him.”

“Ok,” Ellis finished half of his coffee.  “What about that Japanese kid who was released early?”

”He’s been in federal custody waiting to be deported but I don’t know when that will be. He was here on a Japanese student visa which expired when he was incarcerated.  I’ll have to check with Immigration.”

“The guy from India might have wanted to get Spence out of the way.  When Nola didn’t come up with the money, he faced fraud charges.  Spencer wouldn’t have given him a nickel but Paige might have saved him.  We need to find out if he crossed the border and returned to the U.S.”

“I still want Nola to look at those partially done crosswords.  Let’s go to your place and I’ll release her ankle bracelet and let the sergeant know.”

Nola was delighted to get the bracelet removed.  “When I walk I often bang it with my other ankle and I can’t get my skinny jeans over it.  What a relief!”

They left in Rowan’s unmarked police car.

Nola and Paige greeted each other as though they hadn’t seen each other in years.  They began to babble and Rowan had to step in and remind Nola that she had a job to do.  She and Paige went to the dining room where all of Spence’s loose papers had been boxed once Mrs. Eglington moved into his room.  Paige summoned Mrs. Eglington and told her to prepare an extra special afternoon tea for all her guests.

After tea, everyone attended to other chores or business.  Detective DeFazio and Jules went into the Four-car garage to inspect the vehicles; Rowan and Ellis were examining the windows in the study; Mrs. Eglington put the “good” tea service away in a special cabinet; Gladys put a clean apron on and went to build a fire in the living room fireplace; and Hines and Gregor were out of sight somewhere on the premises.  The presence of the pickup-truck and cars indicated that no one had left the area. It had begun to rain and low clouds shrouded the hilltop in mist.  The temperature had also dropped.  In the study, Rowan looked at his watch. It was after four o’clock. “I’ll call my wife and tell her I’m running late.  We have to check to see if Nola’s gotten anywhere.”

Paige and Nola had been in the dining room, but a member of Paige’s “Fun Lovers Club” (as it was unofficially called) called and was driving up to the house to pick her up for an “impromptu.”  Paige began the conversation with a solemn reticence but her caller seemed to be somewhat intoxicated and insisted that he was going to make her cease mourning; and rather than have him come to the house and encounter the police, she agreed to meet him down on the road at the base of the steep incline.  “I’ll try to get back within two hours,” she said to Nola and slipped out of the kitchen door.

Nola was working on a puzzle and read a clue that referred to a “Logo of farrier’s major equipment” and went to see if an old blacksmith’s anvil or hammer was stored in the farrier’s shed.

As Rowan and Ellis left the study, expecting to find Nola and Paige in the dining room, they saw that the room was empty but before they could even comment on the absence of the women, a shriek came from outside the house, a shriek that kept repeating.  The two men ran out of the house towards the source of the noise.  Hines was screaming.  Nola came out of the farrier’s shed to see what the commotion was about.  Gladys scrambled down from the attic where she had gone to get some personal things she had left there when she prepared to move into Nola’s room.

On the ground under the turret’s corner Gregor Nikolov’s body lay crushed from having fallen four storeys.  The back of his head had stuck an upright edging stone and had split his head almost into two parts.  The sight was hideous and the man who had seemed so sturdy and solid, now seemed like a bloody heap of blood and skin covered by a denim shirt and pants.

DeFazio was calling for additional police detail as he ran to the fallen man.  When he reached Rowan and Ellis, who could barely look at the body, he announced, “So Gregor Nikolov has just committed suicide. Think it was guilt?”

“Suicide?” Rowan asked with anger and incredulity.

“What else?” DeFazio answered.  “The roof of the turret is conical.  He wasn’t sun-bathing up there.”

“You stupid ass,” Rowan said, walking back towards the house as the other servants began to appear.

“What’s wrong with him?” DeFazio asked Ellis.

Ellis pointed up at the turret.  “Suicides do not usually stop to shut the windows after they’ve defenestrated.”

“Oh, Jesus,” DeFazio whispered.  “I didn’t notice that they were all shut.”

“Live and learn,” Ellis said and began to follow Rowan.  He turned and saw Nola standing in the doorway of the farrier’s shed.  “What are you doing out here?” he shouted.

“I’m trying to find a clue that Spence left in one of the puzzles.  ‘Name of smith’s important tool.’  I thought it might be the anvil.”  Her eyes immediately followed the direction of the screaming. “Is that Gregor on the ground?”

Ellis spoke harshly. “Yes. You were not supposed to leave the dining room.  Gregor’s been killed and you have no alibi.  What the hell is wrong with you?” Ellis pulled her from the shed and told her not to look at the bloody heap on the ground beside the main house.

“I’m sorry,” Nola whispered.

“Don’t go near the body,” Ellis hissed, “and just give yes and no answers. It looks like somebody pushed him out of a turret window. Where’s Paige?”

“She went out on one of her Fun Lovers prowls. She didn’t want to go, but he was drunk and on his way.  He apparently picked her up about half an hour ago. She’s supposed to be back within another hour and a half.”

“You shouldn’t have been left alone,” Ellis snapped. He looked at the clouds, “It’s going to rain.”

Inside the house, Rowan did a head-count.  “Where’s Paige Ghent?”

Ellis answered.  “Some friend picked her up about thirty minutes ago.  I didn’t see the car so she must have… I don’t know… is it possible to descend that steep hill.  She could have met them down there.”

“Let’s go see,” Rowan said, before the rain or other police vehicles destroy any tracks.  DeFazio!” he shouted, “call the coroner and forensics and when the uniforms come have them secure the scene… from down on the road all the way up here.  I’m gonna check the hill in back.”

Paige’s heel marks were clearly evident as she held the rope and descended the sharp decline. “Well, that’s how she left without us seeing her,” Rowan said.  There were fresh tire marks in the road.  He took off his trench coat and laid it over one set of tire prints.  Ellis did the same for another.

In a few minutes two police cars with flashing red and blue lights came up the road and were stopped by Rowan.  “Wait here until forensics can take tire impressions.”  In another minute the forensics van arrived and took the needed tire impressions.

Rowan herded everyone into the living room. “Am I missing anybody besides Mrs. Ghent?”

“Pierre,” Hines said meekly.

“Good Christ! I forgot about him.  Who’s the last person to have seen him?”

“You… probably,” Hines offered.

“Brilliant!  Where are the other two kids?”

“They went back to school.  Pierre was too upset to travel, he said,” Jules answered.

“Call him and Mrs. Ghent and tell them both to get the hell home now!  Does anybody know why Gregor was up there in the tower?”  He looked at Gladys whose red eyes and nose indicated that she had been crying.

“I know,” Mrs. Eglington said.  “Gladys said that he was going to tighten the leaded glass to the window frame.  The trim that held it came loose. I think Gregor must have tried to hold onto one window frame while he stood on the sill and worked on the upper frame. Upper or down, who knows?”

“Was Gladys there when he fell?” Dave asked her, ignoring Gladys.

“No.  As far as I know she was alone in the attic.  Gladys came scrambling down when she heard the shouting.  She started screaming, ‘Call 9-1-1!’ I was a bit confused because of the smoke I had just seen.  I didn’t know which way to turn.”  Mrs. Eglington tried to comfort Gladys.  “And in case you’re interested, Nola wasn’t here and neither was Mrs. Ghent.  Pierre was home but he drove away this morning to see you. I saw Hines on the stairs leading up to Gregor’s apartment.”

“That was early,” Hines snapped. “Then I thought that before I bothered him I ought to check the turret to see if it really would be fit to live in once the renovations were made. Gladys was with me and I approved of the changes. And then I went to my space in the Four-car apartment. I don’t know about anybody else. I was looking out the window and saw Gregor with a screwdriver standing on the sill outside the stained glass window he was trying to fix… tighten the screws that held the panel to the frame.”

“Was the clear glass window open or closed?”

“I don’t know.  He had to open one to get outside so I guess I just assumed the window he came through was open.  But then I saw him fall.”

“Describe his actions,” Rowan asked gently.

“He fell backwards… the way a person looks when he goes to sit on a chair and it isn’t there. Then his arms started flailing. So I screamed and ran down the side stairs and kept screaming.”

 

“Detective DeFazio and I were in the garage when we heard Hines shout,” Jules said and DeFazio nodded affirmatively.

Mrs. Eglington thought for a moment.  “I was in the kitchen and Gladys came down from the attic when we both heard the screams.”

“People around here like to die mysteriously,” Ellis said.

The forensics’ and the coroner’s van both arrived.  Dave Rowan looked at DeFazio.  “Stay with the uniforms and get statements from everybody.  Think you can do that?”

Ellis touched his arm.  “I could use a Jack Daniels along about now,” he said.

“I saw some in the study,” Rowan whispered.  “It’s after 5 p.m.  I’m off duty.  Let’s go.”

Dave Rowan poured a couple of inches in each glass.  “Every one of those sons-of-bitches, including the son and the widow, could have killed that man.”

As they stood in the study, a car pulled up to the portico and a sleepy, staggering Pierre got out His eyes were half closed and he had to hold onto the wall as he climbed up to the entrance.

“He’s wearing the same clothes he wore when he came to my office this morning,” Dave Rowan said.  “But he’s not feigning being swacked.  The kid is stoned… or loaded.”

“Maybe both,” Ellis said.

 

THE SOLUTION

 

Two new detectives appeared in the parking spaces beside the portico.  “Yeah,” Rowan said,

“I’m officially off.   I’ll go talk to one of them and tell them all that I know which ought to take me

about four seconds.”

DeFazio stayed to guard the servants in the living rooms.  “No talking!” he kept repeating.

Paige got out of a car and stomped up the portico steps.  She went directly into the living room and sat beside Pierre on a Victorian love-seat.  Until she and Pierre arrived, DeFazio did not want to start the interview process which proved to be as pointless as the previous one.  This time, however, the servants did not want to disrupt the probate process by finding Paige guilty.  If the Will was voided what would happen?  Would Pierre, Roland, and Samantha get the money as natural heirs and just discard the provision that gave them their bequest?  They didn’t know.

One after the other they gave their statements.  Everyone was someplace else and didn’t know anything about the incident.  Paige and Pierre, though embarrassed enough to try to be vague about their whereabouts, finally named names and their alibis were verified.  Pierre had been smoking marijuana and drinking with his friends and his clothing had carried the smell of marijuana and beer into the living room.

Dave Rowan, calmer and more disposed to be logical, re-entered the living room. He called Ellis Foyle aside and said, I’m trusting you to keep Nola in your house without the use of phones or visitors. We’ve got her driver’s license and passport but please, for Christ’s sake, don’t make things any more difficult.”   Ellis agreed and Nola left the house with them.

 

Before Dave Rowan left the scene he ordered the carriage house; the main house; the steep hill behind the house; the farrier shed; and the garage wrapped in yellow crime scene tape.  “I’d put you each in your goddamned rooms and put yellow tape on the door,” he hissed.  “Fucking death house. So you’ll stay incommunicado.  It’s either that or I’ll let you spend the next forty-eight hours at the police station writing your alibis in detail.”

Ellis was still angry with Nola.  “Why the hell didn’t you two stay put?  This is a murder investigation.  If you had to leave the dining room you should have called one of the uniforms who were on duty not that far from here… or called me or Dave.  Jesus, now you’re a suspect in two murders.”

All the cell phones in the house were collected and despite the protests the land lines were disconnected. Leading Detective Rowan was definitely disgusted.

Nola did not try to offer an explanation.  She remained silent and wondered when she would be able to speak to Paige again.

Ellis cancelled several appointments so that he could stay home and verify her movements.  He went so far as to ask Rowan for a spare set of handcuffs to secure her to a bed at night.  Rowan thought it was a great idea and gave him his own cuffs to use.  “Let’s see what the D.A. says,” Rowan responded. “He may want her back in a cell.”

Ellis kept Nola handcuffed during the day… re-securing her to the bed during the night.  “You brought this on yourself,” he said, still angry as he snapped the second cuff around a headboard post

“Ooh,” Nola teased, “bondage.”   Ellis was still smiling as he left the room.

 

Dave Rowan lent Paige his phone to make funeral arrangements for Gregor once the coroner had finished with the body. “You can do everything you need to do from home.  You’re not under arrest so you don’t need lawyers, but if you want one, now’s the time to call.  We have to straighten out some if this mess before one of you kills somebody else.”

Court was back in session and the District Attorney was no longer so friendly.  He said that he intended to order Nola to return to the county correction facility but, at Rowan’s request, he held off 24 hours before signing he order.

Ellis Foyle was depressed.  With Nola, her right wrist handcuffed to Ellis’s left, sitting silently beside them as if she were not there at all, Ellis and Dave Rowan sat in a cafeteria and grumbled about ungrateful people… people whose self-interest takes precedence over promises. “God damn it!” Ellis said. “All she had to do was stay put.  I put myself out for someone and get crapped on.”

Nola said nothing as she stirred her coffee with her left hand,

“People!” Rowan agreed as his cellphone rang.  He listened to the call and shook his head and smiled.  “Hold on,” he said to his caller, an expression of amazement on his face.  “You cannot guess just what happened,” he said to Ellis. Paige was asked to go to the coroner’s office and pick up Soencer’s unneeded personal effects… clothes, watch, chain he wore around his neck. But because she was so susceptible to hysterics, Gladys was asked to go with her.  Naturally, a uniform was with them.  They opened the paper bag and Gladys says, “This isn’t Mr. Ghent’s stuff.’

“The tech pulls out a shirt and looks at the identity tag and says,’Yes it is.’ Gladys says, ‘Mr. Ghent wouldn’t be caught dead in this shirt.  All his shirts had tails.  This is one of those casual shirts…and it’s an ugly shade of green. I know his preferences because I do his laundry.’  So the tech looks at the label again and it was purchased in France.” Rowan grinned mischievously.  “Do you know what this means?”

Ellis yelped and hit himself on the head to indicate that he had just realized his mistake. “Yes I do! Tell the uniform cop with them to tell Paige to sign for the stuff and for both of them to come back to the Ghent’s house immediately. We’ve just solved this stupid case… both deaths,” Ellis said. ”I’ve always wanted to do one of those ‘Get all the suspects in the parlor’ scenes.  While you call the coroner’s office, I’ve got to make a few phone calls.”  He unlocked Nola’s handcuffs with the warning that Nola was not to move or speak unless she had something valuable to contribute to him… in private.

 

With two uniformed officers guarding the exit, everyone gathered in the Ghent’s living room.  Ellis and Dave Rowan both leaned an elbow on the mantlepiece.

“This is just like Hercule Poirot,” Hines said. “Will you be using an accent?”

“Shut up and sit down,” Rowan snapped.

Ellis looked at everyone who sat in the room. “We’ve got a few questions and need a few answers. I’ll let Detective Rowan do the honors.”

Rowan opened the paper bag and withdrew the green shirt.  “First we’re going to consider Mr. Ghent’s death.  This paper bag contains his personal effects that were not needed as evidence.  His watch, underwear, jewelry and so on.  Who did Mr. Ghent’s laundry?”

“I did,” Gladys said.

“Is this his shirt?” Rowan asked.

“‘He wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a shirt like that… not even on vacation.”

“Whose shirt is it.. this shirt that was purchased in Marseilles?”

“Mine,” Hines said.  “It came from one of the best shops in Marseilles. I guess Mr. Ghent liked it so much that he borrowed it. I still have a few garments hanging in his closet.  He would know that I wouldn’t object.”

“No. No,” Ellis said.  “The reason it was on Spencer Ghent’s body is that the shirt he was wearing got wet when you washed the gun shot residue from his hand and arm. And you feared the GSR would also be on his shirt in the wrong place. So you exchanged shirts.”

“Ridiculous!” Hines sneered.

“I don’t know police procedures,” Gladys said, “but I do know Mr. Ghent’s wardrobe.  And there is nothing like that ugly shirt in his wardrobe; but there is one in yours.”

Rowan continued, directing his comments to Hines.  “My guess is that you and your accomplices intended to kill Spence and blame it on the Japanese kid. – as a home invasion or revenge.  We called the Immigration Service and learned that they had just taken the kid in custody on Tuesday.  So he had an alibi.  You had to find someone else to blame.  But then you saw that such plans were worthless.  You entered the study and found Spence loading that old 22 from the collection.  You knew how depressed he was so you quietly left and called Jules who called Gregor.  At any moment there would be a gunshot… which would have invalidated the insurance policies; so you called Jules to help you make the suicide look like a murder.  You knew that there would be gun shot residue on his hand, arm and shirt and you knew that to wash it off, he’d have to be taken to the bathroom  You couldn’t carry him and Jules has a bad back and can’t carry anything heavier than a food tray and you probably couldn’t even carry that.  So, since Jules thought he was going to collect a lot of money from the Will and needed Ghent dead sooner than later and knew that Gregor needed money, he offered to pay him well just to move a body back and forth to the bath room. Gregor never signed on for a murder even though he did involve himself in that letter business.”

Jules and Gregor protested the scenario Rowan had given, but Detective DeFazio silenced them.

“Nola,” Rowan continued, “was taking a shower and Mrs. Eglington was back in the kitchen with Gladys.  So you, Hines, ran out to where Jules and Gregor were doing yard work and told them of the change in plans and asked them to move closer to the study.  As soon as they heard the gunshot, Gregor was going to enter the study through a window. Jules would act as though he were continuing the yard work and maybe even say that he hadn’t heard any shot… while Gregor moved the body.  After you cleaned Spence’s hand and arm, you’d go back to your room and then come back running to investigate the shot. You entered through the foyer while Gregor left through the window.  Jules didn’t have anything to do but fix that letter of Nola’s in order to make her look guilty.  He changed the date and Gregor gave it to Detective DeFazio during his interview.”

Ellis picked up the charge. “Gregor carried Spence’s body into the bathroom and you and he washed his arms and hands and then you saw that Spence’s shirt was wet and so you exchanged shirts with him.  Mrs. Eglington and Gladys had already seen Jules that morning and knew what he was wearing. But no one had seen you. So you took Spencer’s shirt and put a little cold water on the blood stains, washing them out of the collar, and tucked Spence’s shirt into your jeans and maybe put a sweater on.  Nola walked in while you had Spence in the bathroom.  You answered, ‘Left.’ She took the wrong envelope to the newspaper and you two put Spencer’s body back and went your separate ways.

“Gregor probably disposed of the gun.  It will have to be here on the property.  The police will find it along with a few sets of fingerprints I hope.”

Rowan asked, “And why is Gregor hanging around?  Why was he suddenly in need of money? Why did our inspection of his apartment reveal so much camera equipment?  Why does the drug store in town comment on the old-fashioned film that they still keep in stock for him?  Who was he photographing that made him feel so secure?”  He looked at Paige.  “Whose photos were being developed in the farrier’s shed?”

“It’s true,” Paige admitted, wiping her eyes.  “He had some embarrassing photos of me and intended to blackmail me into marrying him.  He didn’t know that the house would belong to Roland or that Spence committed so much money to the new building.  And then somebody stole the photos and, I hope, destroyed them.”

“How did any of the servants find out about the photos?” Ellis asked rhetorically.  “No one really appreciated the view from the turret until Hines was slated to move into it.  Then Hines and Gladys got that unexpected view of the interior of the rear rooms of the carriage house and saw Gregor’s hiding place for the photos.  You all had seen his camera equipment and you all knew he wasn’t photographing goats or sunsets.  Maybe you also saw him developing photos in the farrier’s shed.  You all knew he was carrying on with Paige Ghent.  You all knew that Spence had a new woman in his life and that he was about to fund an extension of the clinic for her… a very expensive building project.  What you didn’t know were the terms in Spence’s last Will.  None of you knew whether he had dropped the old $15,000 bequest in favor of a more up-to-date life-insurance policy – one that wouldn’t be paid if he killed himself. Paige was incontrovertibly alibied by the hairdresser. Also, Spencer was so in love he might have given all that was available to Ingrid Hesse where it was stashed in some Swiss bank.  You didn’t know anything except it was better for you to have Spencer dead than alive,  sooner than later, and by someone else’s hand than his own.

“So while some of you knew about the secret cache of photos, those pictures were particularly valuable to only one of you, one who was in love with him… Gladys or Hines.  Who could get them first?  Hines tried but Paige was in the apartment.  So it was Gladys who got the photos and destroyed them and effectively severed Gregor’s connection to Paige.  The police found the ashes in the barbecue pit… Mrs. Eglington got a whiff of the smoke, but Gladys knew that ultimately Gregor would blame Hines.

“And Hines?” he turned to him, “You wanted Gregor and saw a way that you could kill Spencer, make the bond even stronger between you two since he’d then be able to blackmail Paige or marry her and you’d be able to force Gregor to pay you for your copies of the pictures. When he got enough out of her you’d plan a more private future with him. So you told Jules about those imaginary bequests, money that would not come if Spencer killed himself.  Jules believed your lies and more, he wanted Nola blamed so that she wouldn’t get such a large bequest from the will and jeopardize the money intended for him.  Hines knew how Spencer was carrying on with Ingrid.  Jules also knew about the phone traffic between Spence and his attorney.  Money was getting tight.  He didn’t want Spencer to short-change him or cut him out of the will completely.  The three of you made a suicide look like a murder.”

Detective Rowan moved on to the second death.  “Then we come to Gregor and the turret. It wouldn’t have taken long for Gregor to learn that Paige would never own the house and couldn’t live in it romantically with anyone.  But she would get money, but when he tried to check his photos, they were gone.  He probably looked up and could see that from the turret window it was possible to look down into the carriage house apartment.  Both Gladys and Hines could see what was in those empty rooms… the junk Gregor stored there, among them a mysterious box he hid there.  But Gregpr didn’t particularly like Hines, and he didn’t want him living with him. Yes, Gladys did have a crush on him and he knew it… but every woman he knew was vulnerable to him.  He didn’t take Gladys seriously.  She went to his apartment pretending to pick up his laundry, but she went right to the hidden box and took the contents and burned them. Now Paige was free of Gregor.  The small amount of smoke Mrs. Eglington had seen coming from behind the carriage house was what confused her when Gladys told her to call 9-1-1 when Gregor fell. Hines was still staying in Jules’s apartment and when Gregor hit the ground, Detective DeFazio could give him and Jules alibis.

But Gladys surely had no intention to kill Gregor.  When she asked him to tighten the screws that held the stained glass panel, he was happy to oblige because he was happy to remove any obstacle that prevented Hines from pressing him to move into the carriage house.

“But where was everybody when he fell? Paige and Pierre were away from the premises.  Nola was in the farrier’s shed. Hines was doing his chores in Jules’ place in the presence of Detective DeFazio. Mrs. Eglington was in the kitchen.  That leaves Gladys to be the one in the turret who foolishly closed the window.  No doubt Gregor was standing on the outside of the sill, tightening some screws, and the bottom window was up high enough for him to slide in and out of. Did Gladys proposition him?  Did she say that there now was no profit to be had from a relationship with Paige?  Did he tell her that she just wasn’t his type or laugh at her when she told him about how she’d share her inheritance with him which was peanuts to him? Or, go into the glamour shot business as partners?  He didn’t need her for that.  So it was all for nothing.  And maybe he laughed at her love.  And all she had to do was reach out and pull on his ankles and down he went.  And then she shut the window and ran down the circular staircase to the attic floor, came through to the staircase and scrambled down it as if she were responding to the screams.

Gladys sat there and stiffly said, “And none of that fantasy can you prove.  Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall and know what happened?”

“I’d like to know,” Rowan said,  “and it looks like we’ll have to take a trip to the station for a little interrogation.  I’m placing you under arrest.”

While he handcuffed Gladys, charged her with murder, and read her her rights, he asked, “Does anyone know what happened to the gun?”

Detective Martin DeFazio said, “If there’s a deal to be had, now’s the time to make it.”

“Cuff Mr. Whitman, charge him with obstruction of justice – we’ll add the rest later… and read him his rights.”  Again he asked, “The gun?”

Hines whimpered.  “If I tell you will I get a break with the D.A.?”

“All I can do is put a good word in for you,” Rowan replied. He turned to DeFazio. “Hook up Jules, too.  He’s part of the conspiracy.”

“It’s buried under one of the rocks on the steep slope behind the house,” Hines said.  “I saw Gregor put it there.  Just remember, I didn’t kill anyone!”

The police left and Pierre went to bed while Mrs. Eglington served more tea and pastry to Ellis, Nola, and Paige.

“This is the time for Church,” Mrs. Eglington said, as she began her return to the kitchen.

“Or to go to a Zen Center and have a talk with a qualified master.  We could always start a new group,” Ellis said.

Nora put down her tea and looked at him sternly.  “Maybe they need one in the outskirts of Anchorage.”

“Look,” Paige said, “I need religion… something significant in my life.  I’ve made a mess of things.  I want to get away from here… to get a job, maybe as a salesgirl.  I know shoes… clothes.   I could be a receptionist at a hair salon or a restaurant.  Roland will marry.  It’s only a question of time.  And then we’ll have family squabbles… historically it has happened that way with every generation.”  She began to cry.  “Pierre has turned on me and Samantha acts like she’s the only one who has a right to miss Spencer.  I’m an embarrassment to her and I don’t blame her.”  She sighed deeply.  “So while I do have enough cash to start a little mission someplace… I could also work as a receptionist or an assistant to a doctor.  Maybe the tropics.  Yes, maybe taking care of poor people or animals in some distant outpost of the Amazon.”

Nola sighed.  “Heaven and hell exist and they exist here and now and in your own head; and you can live in one place or the other.  But wherever you go, unless you’ve been decapitated, you carry your heaven and hell with you.  So if you’re truly inclined to ‘pick up the cloth’ even in a layman’s capacity, you can start right here in town.  In the outskirts, there are a few abandoned churches.  You can buy one of them cheaply and turn it into a little Buddhist temple. You’ll have to do a lot of studying and learning to love living the austere life.”

“I can do that,” Paige said without knowing what the austere life entailed.

“What about in Schuylkill County?” Ellis suggested.  As Spence’s widow, you may have a claim on the other sixty acres. Maybe Roland will see to it that you get clear title to them.  You’ve got a good case since they were obtained before the marriage.  He’ll be cooperative.  You can go ahead and build those retreats.

Nola interjected, “But the real thing, real Wabi Sabi and not this fashionable nonsense.  Elegant simplicity, loyal useage.  No more meretricious displays of wealth.   Spencer committed himself to half a dozen pre-fab cabins.  It could be a wonderful place to change attitudes and habits. Maybe people can conquer addictions there or just deepen their religious beliefs… some place that’s their own that they can get away to whenever life gets rough. Or just stay their forever, contented with his or her own self and the simple life.”

“Well,” Ellis said, “Paige has funeral arrangements to make.  Probably Gregor didn’t have any relatives who’d care to furnish a coffin or plot.  Cremation may be the answer after she looks for them.”

Rowan added, “And then Paige should pay back those depositors.  Vikram is a lost cause in my opinion. He’ll get in trouble in Mexico and get what’s coming to him.  But, hey… I’d like to have one of those cabins.  Put me down for one.”

Ellis asked, “Will you allow a wife and kids to visit?  Think about it.  It’ll be like going to camp for the kids.  It’ll be like going to prison for my wife… but what the hell…”

“You can give her a few conjugal visits and then let her escape, Rowan teased.  “Just please… none of her boyfriends.  You gals have a lot of work to do.  I’ll get the list of depositors from Patricia Mahoney.  Say… you could also make it a yoga retreat. My wife and I are both out of shape.”

“We could put in a weight room,” Paige contributed.

“So many choices,” Nola said.  “God works in mysterious ways… but I still like the thought of Alaska.

(solution to the “theme given only”) puzzle

Theme: Nothing…  nothing left at all.

 

O B L I T E R A T E
R N O N E
A A O
S B A G E L U
E L O R I G I N
A V H A
N E T D
B U P K I S A
Q
N U L L E
Z A X
E R A D I C A T E D T A P P E D
R I I
V O I D D N
E C D I C K
P D I L T Z
N I L E M P T Y O
E A H B E R E F T
T R E
B U S T E D T R
D H

The Crossword Puzzle (#6)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here

PART 6: A TOUCH OF JAIL

 

The Grand Jury had no choice but to indict Nola.  The D.A. convinced them that she was having a torrid love affair with Spencer Ghent and had gotten pregnant, as evidenced by the letter, and by her sister’s fury. Also, Nola had been cheated out of her share of the syndication money and wanted revenge. There was a relatively strong rumor that she was going to get a large Certificate of Deposit held in trust for her by Spencer.  He could, of course, had cashed that CD in himself if he had ever gotten short of money and she didn’t want to risk that because of his impending expenses on the new clinic addition.  A house employee, Hines Whitman, had seen her leave the scene of the crime moments after a gunshot had been heard.  Everyone else in the house had an unassailable alibi. Finally, she and another foreign lover had cheated local citizens out of $155,000 in a phony land deal.  She had betrayed every person who had ever shown her kindness.

On November 25th, Nola Harriman was arrested and placed in a county holding cell.   Ellis Foyle met with her.  “Unless they can find a hard-up magistrate, you’re not due to be formally arraigned until next Monday because of the Thanksgiving Day schedule.  I’m willing to pay your bail, but I just can’t get in touch with my broker. So sit tight for a day or a week and don’t worry. I’ll get you out.  Meanwhile, do not talk to anyone about anything.   Don’t make friends.  You have no friends in the joint.  I’m working on two separate cases with Graham, so my time isn’t exactly my own.  But I won’t let you down.  Meanwhile, try to figure out that goofy crossword puzzle.  He wrote, ‘There’s nothing left’ or something on the back and maybe the squares will amplify what could be a suicide note. And take care of yourself. Don’t let anybody get to you.”

“Don’t worry.  I can get into a Zen zone and nothing can touch me there.”

Ellis Foyle, looking around and startled by Nola’s casual yet indomitable attitude to jail, laughed.  “How did you get a power like that?”

Nola grinned. “Once I had an apartment in a building that burned down and idiot that I am, I didn’t have renter’s insurance.  I lost everything. I had no place to live so my master put me in a temple guest room and gave me a koan to meditate on. For a week I sat and worked on the Koan and I suddenly understood it.  It was like magic.  Everything was fine again.  Life was incredibly beautiful.”

“What was the Koan?”

Nola laughed.  “All things return to the One.  To where does the One return?”

“What was the answer?”

“You can’t be told the answer.  You have to find it for yourself.  And by the way, you look really nice in a business suit. Why don’t you wear one more often?”

“Is that a Koan?”

“Probably.”

Ellis was signing out of the facility when Nola suddenly remembered where Vikram’s letter was. She called to him, “Ellis!  I remember.  I put it inside a reference book in the study.“  Immediately Ellis reversed his logout and hurried back to the holding cell.  “I had picked the theme, ‘con men’ and was looking up the histories of some Ponzi scheme operators when I saw it was the time I was supposed to call the pension in Mexico City.  They don’t take calls 24/7.  The operator said that the person who could help me had to be called the next day. I had written a lot of Spanish stuff on the envelope and did call and learn Vik was no one they knew.  So I continued with the puzzle and stuck the letter inside that book about con men. I forget the name of the book, but it’s on the top shelf nearest the door to the foyer.  It’s a kind of yellow book.”

Ellis immediately called Rowan and together they went to the Ghent house.  They found the missing letter which left no doubt that Nola had nothing to do with the missing money.  Dave Rowan, who had thought the case against her was extremely weak, spoke to the District Attorney.  The decision was made to wait another week for arraignment which would give them more time to obtain more dispositive information.  Meanwhile, Nola having no “roots” in the community, would be moved into the county jail. By rights she could be held only 48 hours, but Ellis, afraid for her safety, waived the requirement and for the first time he saw a small candle lit in a very dark universe.

There is a certain deportment, a protocol one should follow in any specific environment.  Nola, unfortunately ignorant of holding-cell decorum, entered the strange room awkwardly. She took mincing steps to a metal slab that was held to the wall with chains.  Passively, she sat on the edge of the slab and waited for others to act. But they simply sat on the floor propped against the wall.  She could tell from the court proceedings that she had just experienced, that in the same room a murder suspect was sitting side by side with the wretched kind of citizen who doesn’t pay traffic fines on time; but what was lacked in security was compensated by brevity.  Of the dozen or so women who were with her in the cell, four of them, including the murder suspect, had their names called and the bailiff extracted them from confinement even as more women were added.  Nola could only wait in the holding cell for other unknown people to act.

The county’s holding cells were part of the police station and there were only a few such cells.  Two small ones for the mentally ill, and two large cells, one for men and the other for women who were mostly held for prostitution, shop lifting, and domestic abuse.  The women held as prostitutes waited for their pimps; those held for domestic abuse were oddly fragile and Nola wondered what kind of threat they posed to their husbands. Soon she tired of hearing all the chatter and decided that it was time to meditate. “I’ve been a life-long friend of adversity,” she told herself.  The surroundings, however, were not amenable to any friendly settling of her mind.  She continued to sit and merely listen.

Unnaturally nervous, the street-walkers were dressed in cheap provocative clothing.  Nola tried to guess their age: they looked older than they were, she thought.  They were just worn-out, distorted like over-played video tapes. Every other word they uttered was an obscene expletive in the vocabulary of a ten year old street urchin.  The only grammatically correct phrases she could associate with them were inked on their bodies.  One of the women watched Nola squint to read in full a line that had been tattooed on another woman’s back.  “Hey!” she cried out. “You gots a reader.”

The tattooed woman, in a kind of teasing dance, backed up to Nola to let her read the entire message. “Cowards die many time before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

“It’s Shakespeare,” the woman said.

“Yes. I know,” Nola replied. “Julius Caesar.  A great line. It’s a nice job of tattooing.  Well-centered and spaced.  Uniform lettering.  Beautiful work.”

“You ok.  I’m gonna remember that.”  With unaccustomed girlish pride she returned to the others.  “Didja’ hear that? Uniform letterin’! That’s why it cost so much.”

Nola lay back on the metal slab that was supposed to function as a bed.  She could not sleep and neither could the others who talked, cursed, and wept the entire night.

In the morning light, they were led into a courtroom over which a visiting magistrate presided.  The skimpy, garish garments the prostitutes wore seemed pathetic in the natural wood courtroom’s staid business atmosphere.  Graham Corbin, the lawyer Nola had never seen before, represented her in Ellis’s absence.  The judge, who was personally aware of Nola’s “miraculous” cure of Spencer Ghent was glad to accommodate the seeming indifference of the prosecutor. He asked Nola if she were released on bail would she have someone to live with – with an ankle bracelet of course so that she could not leave the immediate area.   He gave her an hour to locate someone.  Graham Corbin, who had neither money nor credit, handed her his phone and she immediately called Sri Bashumitsu and asked her if she would help both with the relatively small percentage to be paid on the bond if there were one, and also if she would let her use a closet-sized bedroom that had been considered too small to rent.  This would make the Norris-Giles House an official but temporary address. “I’ll pay you back the bond percentage as soon as this mess is resolved.”  Nola waited for an answer and then repeated the request.

Sri Bashumitsu chuckled.  “Were you under the impression that we’re a bank?  We don’t lend bail money; and as far as making this temple your home when we’re just now trying to repair the damage to our reputation that you… you and you alone… have done, all I can say is, ‘Forget it.’ You should have come to me when you suspected our Tenzo of stealing medicine.  You did it your way with him just as you did it your sleazy way with our Abbot.  There is no room for you here and please do not call again.”  She disconnected the call.

Stone-faced, Nola turned to Corbin.  “I’ve got no one to help me. I’ll have to wait for Ellis to get back.”

When informed of this, the magistrate said that he did not want her returned to the holding cell. “Very well then,” he said.  “Would you mind being a guest of the county at our new jail? The food is better and so are the beds… or so I’m told. On Monday they can drop the charges or file them.”

Nola nodded and said, “Yes. Thank you, Your Honor.”  The gavel struck. A bailiff came and handcuffed her, and she was led away to a van that waited outside.

Officially in limbo, Nola was placed into the custody of women guards who were inured to the awkwardness of strip searching.  They put gloved fingers into her vagina and rectum and made sure that there was nothing hidden in her hair.  Once they were certain that she had no contraband on her, they pushed her into a warm shower and gave her prison garb to wear, along with bed linens and blanket. She was now #28956 but she was still technically in a holding cell.  The jail, she learned, held both convicted prisoners and those who were awaiting trial.  She had been moved out of the big cell and placed in a two-person cell.  The other woman who occupied it seemed mentally deranged since all she did was brush her hair and sing repeatedly, Cow-Cow Boogie in its entirety.

Now ensconced in a cellblock, Nola’s prison life was different from her holding cell experience.  The other woman, Nora supposed, was losing hair due to stress, so much that it became impossible to eat the food that was delivered through a slot in the barred side of the small room. Long black hairs were on her slim pillow and in her shoes and blanket. When Nola found several hairs on her toothbrush, she gagged and literally got down on her knees and prayed that Monday would come quickly.

As disgusting as the loose hair and song that the woman endlessly sang were, it was night that was far worse to tolerate. The jail had several tiers. At night the lower lights were extinguished and only a few ceiling lights remained, their dim light creating a kind of smothering fog – not of mist, but rather of hopeless sighs that lay over the lower floors.  It gave her a disheartening sense of permanence that drifted down into the darkness; and it seemed necessary for every one of the inmates to let the others know that she was still alive there, hidden in the dense air by shouting a version of, “I’m here.  Don’t forget me!”  Curses hurled at betraying friends and lovers; excuses and reasons for doing what the police had caught them doing; charges of incompetent lawyers, jealous relatives, and racial hatred filled the large cellblock.  On and on it went stopped only briefly by the curiosity aroused by vomiting or by everyone’s exhaustion. Nola had listened to each intelligible yell.  Morning came and it was as if night had skipped its turn. She thought of the “Fasting Buddha” whose ribs showed the terrible effects of starvation and told herself that she had already lost so much that she would hold on to her religion.  Ingratitude, betrayal, lies, pain – both psychological and physical – all these “came with the territory.”  She chanted to herself as many chants as she could remember.

Almost as an afterthought, she remembered the blank page puzzle… those twenty x twenty blank squares that had to do with having nothing left that needed to be at least partially filled.  The theme had to have been given on the back flap.  The envelope was ready to be mailed.  She knew that from the way it had been inserted into the side fold of Spencer’s desk blotter. “How do you say, ‘nothing… there’s nothing left?’  She had a notepad and a pencil stub in the cell with her and she began to write down words that signified nothing. None; no; nada; naught; empty; bereft; cipher; tapped ; dearth; zip; zilch; bupkis; null; blank;  void; zero; extinct; deplete; busted; nil; eradicated; squat; dick; diddly; and from tennis not only ‘bagel’ but “love”; from math she got Origin; and then she couldn’t think of any more words that signified nothing.

A guard was watching her.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Writing down words that mean nothing.”  Nola read the list to her.

“You could add ‘zot,’” the guard suggested.  “It’s legal talk that means ‘It’s nothing significant.’”

Nola added “zot” to 0the list

While the guard stayed to watch, Nola explained, “There are only two words that contain ‘K’ – blank and bupkis.  They probably intersect.  I’ll start there.”  She began to fill the white boxes in.  That was it.  After three hours of trial and error, she completed the puzzle.

 

On Monday, before she had a chance to show Ellis Foyle the completed puzzle, he had managed to obtain her release and vouched personally for her presence.  At a formal arraignment proceeding, the judge, following the recommendation of the visiting magistrate, released her into Ellis’ care, pending a formal charge. The prosecution did not object since by then, they, too, were having doubts about the case. Ellis moved to have the non-specified charges dismissed, but the judge asked for patience in this convoluted matter.

The telephone company verified the numbers Nola had called and one of the detectives personally talked to the English speaking landlady who supported Nola’s version.  Also, Nola had not been cheated out of any syndication money since there was no contract whatsoever to syndicate the puzzles.  Dr. Boyle’s description of the state Spencer was in when Nola came to the house made it clear that the patient was hardly in a lovable condition.  And Paige regarded it as an insult that her husband would have preferred her sister to her. Forgetting her previous tirade, she announced,  “If I thought for one moment that there was anything between them, I would have sent her packing.  No, my husband was enamored with that Swiss doctor.  Check it out for yourselves.”  They did and witness testimony at the clinic verified the liaison. But in the normal fashion of pit bulls and assistant district attorneys Nola was still the number one candidate, the “prime suspect.”

Ellis took her to his house to live, explaining that his wife and children had once occupied the house and Nola had a whole section of it to herself.  He gave her a key to the front door and retrieved her Explorer from the police impound station.

She cleaned the house and washed and ironed his shirts and did everything she could do to pay him back for his kindness.  She also cooked dinner which, considering his restaurant ownership, she profusely apologized for.  Luckily, his wife, he alleged, was an even worse cook.  They had pleasant conversations over dinner and she told him about the woman who had Shakespeare’s line tattooed on her back.

Ellis repeated,‘Cowards die many times before their death.  The valiant never taste of death but once.’ It’s sort of appropriate for a whore.  She risks her life every night.”

His remark touched Nola and she felt an additional admiration for the man.  “It’s funny,” she said, “but people need a concise creed to live by.  It can be a phrase or a word that gives them some kind of comfort… like Masha in The Three Sisters.  They may not know exactly what it means, but it’s significant to them in a more important way.  It’s strange that it’s a complete distortion of the singing horse story.  It’s which song he sings or how well he sings it that’s important.  It’s not that he sings at all.  When I complimented the gal in the cell she was so proud of the uniformity of the script and its spacing that she changed for a moment into an innocent little girl… a girl who didn’t know anything about Julius Caesar or what the quotation meant. Religion works in the same way.  I learned a lot from studying Zen.”

“Is that where you got your special koan?”

She looked surprised.  “No. Not at all.  It’s true that I devoted my spiritual life to Zen Buddhism but it’s not the motto that I use whenever I’m in a worrisome situation.”

“Are you allowed to tell me what it is?”

She laughed.  “Sure.  Honi soit qui mal y pense.”

Ellis put his head back and laughed.  “That’s the Order of the Garter’s motto.  ‘Evil to him who evil thinks.’ The Queen allows special people to use it when she knights them.”

“Nobody knighted me but I learned that if a person has faith, adversity becomes an opportunity – within reason, of course. But the faith has to be real. And if you think harshly about someone you suppose is your enemy, you’re the one who ends up suffering.”

“I should adopt the motto for myself.   You can call me Sir Ellis.”

“Meanwhile, let’s change the subject. How am I going to exonerate myself?”

“First, tell me the extent to which you were involved with Spencer.  I need to know the truth if I’m going to counter it.”

“It’s so hard to explain.  I don’t understand it myself.  At first he was just a patient I liked and felt sorry for.  And then he began to get better under my regimen and I was proud of him… and myself, too, for the improvement.  We started to work on the puzzles and it gave us something besides sickness to think about. We’d laugh and laugh. But he was such a strange guy.  There were days in a row that we kept the same routine.  But then, with no explanation, he’d take his medicine and then ask me to leave and just lock me out of the room.   Same thing when he got better.  He’d take his medicine and then suddenly leave the house.  And never an explanation.  Like… it was none of my business. I’d sit and worry all day.  And I guess I began to really fall for him… but then we went to the cabin and – I admit it – I’d have had sex with him except I caught the expression on his face and I could see that there was no love there, no desire… no thought of me.  So I went out and slept in the truck.  That’s as far as it went.”

Ellis laughed.  “Have you ever heard of the Razzle Game?”

“Yes.  It’s a carnival game that’s been outlawed or something.”

“In its own extreme way, it’s based on the addictive principle.  Aside from getting money, if you played a game in which you won every time you played it, you’d soon lose interest. Even with money, it’s human nature to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by dispensing with common sense protocols.  In games of chance, drugs, love, or anything risky, something mysterious happens in the brain.  It’s the whole principle behind gambling.  To keep a person playing, you’ve got to make him lose – I don’t know what the ratio is… maybe you’ve got to lose two or three times to winning once.  But whatever it is, something snaps inside your brain and you fall victim to a euphoric optimism and keep thinking that you can beat the odds… that you can win.  Love works on the same addictive principle.  A man and woman meet and really get along. They happily date and then, to initiate that infatuated desire or need, one suddenly cools while remaining friendly. Control and ego become the driving force, not love. The intention of winning, or gaining control, keeps the union functioning. They reunite and then the same one cools again. The fear of loss and jealousy replaces true love.  But the union rarely ends well. It’s rigged by the brain. It ends in murder or divorce.

“But as things begin, the way that one person can get another person into that vulnerable zone is like the Razzle Game.  Let him win a little and think that he or she can easily master the challenge. But the game… like life… is rigged against the vulnerable player.  They’re addicted to the game and try even harder to win.

“I remember lending a kid in Spence’s frat some of my notes and I needed them back.  So as he separated my stuff from his, we sat in the living room and drank beer.  Spence was there and we began to talk about Razzle.  One of the Frats had a big fund raising carnival and they hired a professional outfit to run the games.  Small but crooked stuff… throwing unbalanced balls and shooting ducks with skewed gun-sights. But in a back room they included Razzle by a different name… a football scoring game.  They made big money from the suckers who played.  And our conversation turned to sex and I remember him saying how you could get any woman you wanted to love you if you applied the gaming addiction ploy.  Treat them nice for a certain period of time and then when they thought they had you, disappear or turn cold without explanation… and this would turn on that snapping mechanism in the woman’s brain.  ‘It never failed,’ he said.”

“Jesus.  Are you telling me that I fell for that?  Lao Tzu said, ‘If you want to attract someone, take a step back.’ I guess I ought to be proud of myself that I… or maybe Ingrid…  finally freed me from such a stupid manipulation – and I didn’t even have to change my environment.  You know, during the Viet Nam war the Viet Cong flooded the market with really cheap heroin.  Hospitals and police department in the U.S. prepared for a crime wave when these soldiers got home and couldn’t afford the expensive stuff here.  But it never happened.  The guys went back to the farm were without that jungle atmosphere and just had no desire.  The only ones who reverted to drug addiction were the ones who used and were from the mean streets before they went into the service.  They were given the choice between the Army and prison. When they got home, the mean street allurements were waiting for them.”

“So you’re saying you no longer have feelings for Spence because there’s a big difference in our houses,” he joked.

“Yes.  His has nicer furniture and a built-in cook.”

“Ok.  You win.  Alcoholics should avoid bar rooms and smokers should avoid stairwells.  I get it.”

Ellis leaned back in his chair. “That, however, is of no consequence.  We have two choices: Spence committed suicide and a person or persons took the gun.  Or, Spence was murdered by a person or persons unknown.”

“Paige has the only watertight alibi.  They can stretch the time of death, but not that far to accommodate her appointment with Andre.  The other servants alibi each other.”

“What about the kids?” Ellis asked.

“Mid-terms.  Samantha lost enough time shopping and on top of that they all lost time for the funeral.  No, the servants either made his suicide look like murder or they actually did kill him.”

“But not all the servants, surely.”

“No, Mrs. Eglington can be a bitch, but she’s quite above murder or conspiracy.”

“Gregor, Jules, Hines and Gladys.  Which ones?  I doubt that all four were involved,” Ellis mumbled.

“Look… the only reason Spence was in the bathroom was to wash GSR off his hands and arms.  Now, as a nurse I’ve had to lift bodies.  Dead weight is more than a figure of speech.  Hines could never lift Spencer two feet not the needed twenty.   And Jules either has a cervical spine problem or he’s gold-bricking.”

“He’s not gold-bricking.  I remember when he was injured.  He’s lucky to be able to use his right hand at all. And Gladys?  She weighs less than Hines.  Only Gregor could have moved the body to and from the bathroom. And the Coroner said that there were no bruises on the body.  If a couple of the lightweights tried to do it, they’d make a mess of it.”

“Let’s talk motive,” Nola said.  Gregor didn’t know about that primogeniture stipulation.  He no doubt thought that he could get Paige to marry him and then he’d be master of the house.   He also strikes me as the kind of man who would take obscene photos of Paige… with or without her knowledge.  That would be his insurance in case she refused to marry him. So the sooner she became a widow, the sooner he could ride those thoroughbreds in the stable.”

“Don’t forget the money angle.  Paige was convinced… or hoped at least… that the reason Spencer was talking to his attorney so much was because of the syndication contract.   And then it became the addition to the clinic.  The sooner he died, the less he’d be spending – especially on his new lady-love – and the more they’d all inherit. She knew that things were happening fast with the addition.  And the kids, except Roland, figured they’d inherit right away.  I talked to Spence’s attorney.  That clause about making her executrix until all his children were of age was not such an unusual provision.  In a way, an insecure man would kind of guarantee his own life against being murdered for his money by his offspring.  They’d have to bump off both parents and then they couldn’t be sure whether someone else was named as executor.  So we can forget Roland.  There was enough real estate for him to sell just one property and get more than enough money to keep him for years.  Or, looked at another way, he could make life easy or hard for Paige who any day now will be living in his house as a guest. So even if she had plenty of cash, he still held the trump cards.  Still, she could have talked Gregor into helping whoever it was who changed your letter.  To me, it looks like Hines and Gregor.”

 

 

Nola sighed. “They feared that he’d change his Will and leave everything to Ingrid; but now they know that the Will was unchanged except for the insurance policy to the Clinic.  All the other rumors were just so much nonsense. And separately, he had already signed contracts for doing a land survey, buying the land, doing the excavation, and with the architect and engineering firms plus, of course, the general contractor. The kids didn’t know that the contracts were executed, but they did think they’d all be richer if he died before he could execute the documents.   How long will it take for them to get their money?”

“Pierre will be eighteen before probate is concluded and then it’s still up to Paige.  Probate,” Ellis explained in layman’s terms, “is just the period where all the bills incurred by the deceased come in and get paid.  Spencer spent time in Europe and Japan.  If he ran up any debts in these places, they have to be paid.  Taxes, too, take time.  Throwing Ingrid into the mix didn’t help. Now they fear she squirreled away a huge chunk of their cash in some Swiss bank account where they will never get it.

“They all had to be worried about his appointments with his attorney. And not only that,” he added, “but then Gregor accused Hines of stealing something from him.  They had a terrible row Mrs. Eglington told me. Hines stuck around because he wanted a good reference from Jules and, I suppose, Paige. We need to find out what the argument was about.

“Meanwhile, we’ve added nothing to your defense.”  Emphatically, he said, “Your solution to the puzzle makes it seem like a weird kind of suicide note.  I got stuck with the word ‘bereft’ – bereavement.  It’s a suicide note, all right. Think about it!”

“I have been! This puzzle may have been intended for the Japanese guy he was teaching English to. The reason that the envelope had no address was probably that he photocopied his friend’s address which had been written in Kanji.  He would have taped the address to the envelope. He said he had been fooling around with some new ways to write a puzzle to teach this guy colloquial English.  If you wanted to teach someone the different ways we say something…  you could direct him to a thesaurus – which is no puzzle or game of any kind, or you could make the puzzle a learning exercise by fitting the words into the white squares.

“He always gave the puzzle’s theme,” Nola said, “so his line on the back flap makes sense. “Nothing… Nothing left at all.’  It’s the theme of the puzzle… and a suicide note.  Spence had hit bottom.  The kids were grown and all he had to look forward to was a life with Paige and those greedy kids. He found love and purpose with Ingrid, and that was worth an investment.  But he lost her and, therefore, the purpose of the investment.  He did feel as though he had nothing left.”

Ellis immediately called Dave Rowan and explained the solution to one puzzling part of Spencer’s death.  Rowan was impressed. “In his desk we found a bunch of small papers that had identical Japanese writing on them. An address in Akita. Could be this guy’s address.”

Ellis knew that Rowan would contact the man in Japan to verify the puzzle game.  “Let’s hope he can be located.”

“It still proves nothing,” Rowan said, “no pun intended.”

 

The Crossword Puzzle (#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here

PART 5: EMBEZZLEMENT, PHONY WABI SABI, AND LOSS

 

The Council had only to decide which of the ladies would escort the old man to the airport in Philadelphia, give him another tranquilizer, and continue on to Cairo.  The date and time were fixed and reservations made. They were delighted with the solution to their most pressing problem. Paige was happy, too, since Spence assured her he’d come home to live in Pennsylvania, not Lucerne.

Nola still was waiting for the syndication contracts to be produced and signed.  Yet, she feared that by making an issue of it, she’d antagonize Spencer and he’d end her employment in the house – which would not have helped Paige who was becoming increasingly nervous and insecure. Every day she made some kind of secret gesture or remark to Nola about needing her to stay.  The children had come home briefly for the summer.  Samantha and Pierre left immediately to vacation with friends in Canada and Roland took a long Asiatic cruise.

Spencer, despite his promise, did not return to Pennsylvania.  He reversed his route to Japan and in July stopped in Lucerne for an indefinite time.  Paige clicked off the phone and trembled.  She asked Nola to drive her to an attorney’s office in Morton and to wait in the car until she finished talking to him.  Although curious, Nola did not ask why she was seeing an attorney.  She sat in Paige’s new Jaguar and worked on the theme, “Breaking up.”

Since Paige was obviously taking steps to protect her own interests, Nola wrote another note to Spencer asking when she could expect the syndication documents and why he was showing so little interest in the hermitage land.  In a separate note she told him that despite his absence, people were visiting the site and giving her and Victoru Roshi deposits on the different plots of land and cabin construction.  She added that she deposited the few down-payments she had received directly into the Abbot’s account since he, in Spencer’s absence, had taken charge of the project.

Spencer did not respond to Nola’s notes; but he did call Paige and tell her he’d return when he felt better.  He told her he had had a minor relapse while he was in Japan.  “I’ll be seeing you soon,” he encouraged her.  “Keep the home fires burning!”

Paige told Nola about the call.  “If I didn’t know my own boy would be getting this place, I’d keep the home fires burning by burning this goddamned house down… antiques and all.”

 

Gregor, it seemed, had been spending an excessive amount of time driving the old pickup truck to feed stores to buy food for the goats and to various plant nurseries to buy potting soil, fertilizer, and rose bushes.  The few times he came face to face with Paige, he invented a chore he had to do.  She no longer cared and was beginning to wonder how she could get rid of him without any unpleasant repercussions.

 

Paige immediately began to attend services at the zendo and flirt with Vikram who was busy with the Schuylkill Buddhist Retreat – as he called it.  She praised his business acumen for selling so many plots and adding an “Indian touch” to the design of the rustic dwellings.  She had, herself, showed him the way to the site the first time he went, and let it be known through the town’s tangled grapevine that he was marvelous in bed.

The members of ZBA who gave deposits wanted to see progress of the buildings. August and September seemed the perfect time to show their relatives and friends at least the beginning of their charming getaways. Vikram began to take several trips a week to the land with a variety of prospective hermits – unmarried women mostly.  He’d sleep with them in the cabin and then he’d accept their building deposits, speak of love, and put the money in his own personal checking account.

One afternoon Paige remembered something about the wedding gift of the land and called the county recorder.  She had visions of Dr. Hesse living in Wabi Sabi splendor in Schuylkill County.  Sure enough, the county recorder told her that her sixty acres – transferred while she was still single – contained the trail that led from the highway. She decided that If Spencer had any ideas about leaving her to live in another county with Ingrid Hesse, he had better return from Switzerland without delay. Victoru Roshi was no businessman for the hermitages and the extension to the Lucerne Clinic required Spencer’s Wharton School background. Contracts needed to be signed.

In late August the Ghent family was united.  At Spencer’s suggestion they all piled into the Lexus and drove to the First Methodist Church for Sunday morning service.  They were all well-dressed which may have impressed others but did not seem to be noticed by the Pastor who was shocked to see the five of them appear at the entrance door. Dumbfounded, he shook hands with Spencer and said without thinking, “In Christ all things are possible.”

The big dinner that was prepared for them in the decorated dining room was a disaster.  The fancy ham that Mrs. Eglington had baked all morning, sat like a clove-decorated stone in the center of the table.  Paige and Samantha were on diets;  Nola and Roland were vegetarians; Spencer was angry when he learned that the hearts of palm the cook had taken such trouble to prepare were served with neufchatel cheese that had tried to disguise itself under parsley as it wormed its way into the innocent leaves.  He, having a Monday therapy session in Media, feared the inevitable results of the cheese and refused to eat anything.  Pierre had wolfed down two cheeseburgers and fries when he left the group after services to “see an old friend.”

Paige summoned Mrs. Eglington and told her to serve the 90% meal remains to the rest of the servants.  Then she went to her room and locked the door and cried into her pillow.

Paige and Nola had considered so many explanations to account for Spencer’s behavior in recent months that neither woman was surprised to read in the Sunday newspaper that there was a planned addition to the Lucerne Clinic addition in Media, Pennsylvania, that Spencer would be investing in it, and that Dr. Ingrid Hesse of Switzerland was slated to be its new CEO.  The two women were not even surprised when Spencer announced that since he’d be overseeing the construction, he’d probably be spending many nights there at the site in Media, Pennsylvania.  “I need a little more time to think about the hermitages,” he said, adding, “I’m tired and do not care to discuss anything further.”

 

At the Zen Assembly, which was now thriving, talk centered on the hermitage land.  Vikram’s natural charm enticed people of every age and sex to want to experience spiritual isolation with him, and he was able to collect $155,000.  Citing his “ecclesiastical position,” he held to secrecy every person who gave him a deposit. People began to collect rustic things… buckets, brooms, copper pots with handles that could be hung on the fireplace’s swing-out arms, Torii-gate toilet paper holders, pagoda shaped outhouses, and hand-made ceramic dishes.  Producing Wabi Sabi things became a nearly full-time occupation.

At home, Spencer’s charm returned.  In the morning, while Paige slept, he and Nola rode around the estate.  “It’s great exercise for my legs,” he said.  Then he added, “I owe you an apology for that first night in the cabin.  My only excuse is that I hadn’t had sex with a woman for so long that I wasn’t sure I’d go about it correctly.  It’s one thing when you’re a kid.  Then, anything goes.  But when you find yourself naked with a with a woman whose had all sorts of … well… respectable continental experience, you don’t want to come off as a clumsy ass. It wasn’t as though you and I were romantically involved.  I just needed re-assurance and went about it in all the wrong ways.  I’m sorry for that.”

Nola appreciated the apology even though it was somewhat “left-handed” since she was hardly the woman who had all that daunting continental experience.  She remembered that “practice” was one of the theories Paige considered to explain his sudden interest in having sex with her.   Paige, Nola concluded, was right on target. She decided not to tell her sister about the conversation since it would have only have humiliated her further.

 

On the Labor Day weekend, Spencer took Ingrid Hesse to the mountain for a day’s jaunt. Seeing an area that would have functioned well as a “beginning to Intermediate” ski slope, she suggested,“Instead of leasing the land to wanna-be recluses, why don’t we keep it as our own private hideaway? You have your own home in Morton and the clinic just won’t do as our own private place.”  Spencer gave the suggestion serious thought.

Paige knew that her land had been used to access the possible sites. When Spencer announced that he had decided on another use for the land, she laughed at him and said, “You and Ingrid can build your own road, and be prepared to make it a regular Champs de Elysee. what with the cost of getting grading equipment up there and meeting the new county specs for roadways.”  The Hermitage Project, as it was then called, met an untimely death.

Sri Bashumitsu, showed her omniscient bent when she learned that the project had suddenly been cancelled.  When Victoru Roshi quietly closed his bank account and left town, she suggested to The Council that she knew why Nola had been so eager to ingratiate herself with The Council.  “We were scammed by that phony land deal and her Wog lover.”  That Nola was still in town seemed to contradict her revelation; but it did add a new subject for conjecture.

Spencer, in a rare weekend interview, said that Nola committed a bit of pre-ejaculation by announcing to the Sangha the possibility of hermitages before he had the opportunity to discuss it with his wife and sign a proper joint-venture contract. And Paige, publicly at least, blamed Nola for inspiring Spencer’s interest in the land without consulting her first. “After all,” she said nervously, “if you hadn’t started him on that hermitage business, I wouldn’t have to visualize him roasting marshmallows with that femme fatale physician.”

Nola felt it pointless to protest to anyone except Ellis Foyle.  “The criticism I’m receiving is both harsh and confusing.  Yes, I encouraged Vikram to look at the land; but I felt sorry for him because he had been rejected by every hospital that cared to respond to his inquiry.  Where on earth did I get the idea that a gesture of mine could turn a loser into a winner?  Last week I got a letter from him from Mexico City asking me to pay back the deposits.  He said that he had gotten a position as a surgical resident and intended to reimburse me – with interest – on the installment plan, of course.  I tried to telephone him at the boarding house address on the envelope but the landlady, who did speak English, didn’t know who he was.  And where on earth did he get the idea that I’d simply pick up his $155,000 debt?”

Ellis offered a possible reason for the request.  “Between knowing that you had paid for the new roof and visiting you at the Ghent house, he probably assumed you had money… that maybe the house was yours.  You did introduce him to your sister and he put that together…”

Nola laughed at the idea, wondering how much farther her life’s spiral would go down before she hit bottom.

She decided to surrender to the cosmos and place her faith in her religion and let everything happen without any interference from herself.  She no longer danced, taught yoga, meditated in the ZBA room, or attended the book club.  Nearly every evening she would go to her bedroom and work on a koan or crossword.  She would go on as before in stolid Zen passivity. The world would turn without her help in any case.

 

Shortly after the summer vacation period had ended and the children returned to their schools, It was time for Hines to be given a permanent room. He had been sleeping on a cot in Jules’ apartment over the Four-car; and although, surprisingly, the two men became friends, this arrangement suited no one as a permanent solution.

Spencer ordered Hines to prepare to move into “the tower.”  He summoned Jules also and berated him for his tardiness in not ordering painting and carpeting for the new living space.  “There! This will be the last week you’re without your own space,” he said to Hines with commanding finality, “and you’ll be fine in the turret room.  Go get an idea of the kind of covering you want for the four clear window panes.  Jules will order whatever you want.  Give me a progress report.” he said.  “Right now I have to make a few calls.”

As Jules left the bedroom, Hines pretended that he wanted to get a book of his from the shelf and surreptitiously switched on Spence’s baby monitor.  He shut the bedroom door as he left. Then as Jules went down the rear servant’s stairs, Hines, knowing that Nola was riding with her sister and wouldn’t be back for at least another hour, went into Nola’s bedroom, and closed the door, switched on her monitor and listened to Spence’s side of his phone conversation. At first, he heard much incomprehensible talk about land and architects and a contract with Paige about rights-of-way, and then the subject changed to the household bequests in his will.  “To hell with my sister-in-law and Hines who is a royal pain in my ass. Increase Eglington, Gladys, and Jules by an additional $30,000.  They’ve been loyal and useful. Roland still gets all the Ghent real estate and since I’m divesting myself of much of my portfolio to pay for the new clinic, the rest of the money, assuming there’s any left over, will go to Paige and the kids. Roland is studying Economics at the university and after he gets his MBA he’ll be given a job I used to have.  It won’t be at the top, but he’ll make out well.  I’ve already laid the ground work for him.

“For a long time I considered replacing Paige as executrix, but she’s settled down now and say what you will, she’s still a good mother and does love those kids.  Frankly, they’re far more juvenile than I was at their age so the old stipulations remain. If I’ve got to trust somebody, I’d just as soon trust her.  It’s a modest proposal and as Swift says in defense of his strategy, “My wife is past the child-bearing age.” Get the papers ready and I’ll sign them next week.”

And that was it.  Hines heard himself described in such unflattering terms that he could barely move after he switched the monitor off.  There was no expression of appreciation for all the hard work he had done and all the nasty treatment he had had to put up with for the past half year. So, the truth came out, and he, the royal pain, knew what was in the Will.  Nobody else knew.  But what could he do with this precious information?  As he walked to the garage to meet with Jules, he mumbled, “I’m supposed to be the factotum, not the stupid chauffeur.  And I’m starting to forget all the French I knew.  Nobody in this madhouse has any refinement.” He thought about all the jobs the agency had listed as possibilities and each began to attain admirable properties in his mind.   There was nothing negative about what might have been just as there was nothing positive about what he had. A wave of contempt for Spencer Ghent rose up from his toes and he could not spit nor breathe it out.

 

Jules was in the midst of compounding Spencer’s Lexus and the car would not be ready for another couple of hours. Spencer had been to the garage earlier.  He had marched out in a foul mood.  He admonished Jules as though he were a child, calling him an incompetent ingrate.  Gruffly he called Paige and asked her if she minded if he borrowed her new Jaguar for the day.

Hines, serpent-like, spoke to Jules.  “I’ve got news,” he said.  “I know what’s in the Will.  You’re due to get a considerable amount.  You, Gladys, and Mrs. Egllington.”

Jules was in no mood to be toyed with.  “You’re full of crap,” he said. “Nobody knows what’s in that Will… not even Mrs. Ghent.”

For the second time in twenty minutes Hines had been insulted.  As a defensive instinct over which he had no control, he whispered that he had turned on the baby monitors and while in Nola’s room had heard Spencer’s conversation with his attorney.  Jules stopped rubbing the compound paste and started to take Hines seriously.  “Yes,” Hines said, “you, Gladys, and Mrs. Eglington are each going to be beneficiaries of a quarter million dollar life insurance policy… he’s already taken them out.  He took out policies for the same amount for each of the kids.   Your old bequest increased to $45,000.  Jules, happy to learn that he had not been removed from the Will and also that upon Spencer Ghent’s death he would become financially secure immediately revived his dream of soothing his cervical back problems by retiring in the tropics.

“Look,” said Hines, “I get nothing.  I’ve not been here long enough to count.  But I’ve got an employment contract.   So I get paid… in full… until next spring.  And it’s iron clad.  I get paid whether he dies tomorrow or lives another ten years. I like you, Jules. You’ve been decent to me.  I’ve heard his conversations with that woman he’s in love with. He intends to live another fifty years. Those treatments he supposedly gets are bullshit. The two of them make love like a couple of teenagers; and when they’re not in bed, they’re having lunch at some really posh restaurant. She’s smart and will get every nickel he’s got – and if he dies after dipping into his liquid assets, his accounts will be too short to cover the money allocated as bequests.  Are you getting my drift?”

“Sure I am.  And I know too that the hospital extension he’s planning to build will cost more money than he figures.  Builders bid low and then hit you with ‘change orders’ or ‘contract addenda’ and the final cost is double the original bid.  I know that.  So what you’re saying is that the servants named in the Will will find that the premiums on their policies weren’t paid and that their money has been spent on some spa for the rich.”

“Or as diamond rings for his new lady love.”

Jules, still angry at the way Spencer had chastised him, let his guard down. “He’s been a rotten boss.  I’ve worked here for thirty years.  For Christmas he gives us a $25.00 saving’s bond.  I loved his old man.  And his grandfather.  They were men.  He’s been a cheapskate roach since the day he became master of the place. And I’ve had to be his nursemaid for the last five years.  How much is he giving Nola?”

Hines lied again. “He plans to take out a $100,000 Certificate of Deposit and hold it in trust for her. He says, ‘After all, she saved my life.’  As if that wasn’t what she was paid to do.”

“The three of us have had to put up with him for years.  Always, he’s held that goddamned Will over our heads.”

“I sympathize with you. And don’t forget that if he stops paying those insurance premiums, you can kiss that $250K goodbye.  He’s talking about cutting back here and renting some space in Media. And he’ll be signing the documents in a week or so.”

“I know.  He’ll be back here only to see the kids when they’re home… after he squanders his money on that Swiss project.  And Mrs. E., Gladys and I can be terminated without cause or severance pay.  And we won’t get any inheritance until his other debts are paid.  I’ve been sick about it, so’s Mrs. E.  We’re too old to find other employment.”

“Please don’t let me shock you… and if I’m out of line, I apologize.  The only suggestion I can offer is the statistic about highway fatalities on the road to Media. The quick demise of Spencer Ghent doesn’t affect me financially, but it’s something for you to think about.” He had not realized how often servants think about fatal accidents.

“You’re the one who drives him to Media,” Jules huffed.  “And an accident in one of his high-end cars isn’t likely to kill anybody.  There isn’t even a river big enough to crash into.  You’ll have to come up with something better than that… something that won’t get yourself killed in the process.”

Hines suddenly felt like the puppet master.  Here he was, standing in the garage, and the butler was appealing to him.  His position in the conspiracy became the superior one.

Gladys called to Hines from the portico.  “I’ll be there in a minute,” Hines replied pleasantly.

Jules was worried. “One way or another I’m going to be let go once he moves down to the new clinic’s residence.  All my years of service won’t matter.  I’ll end up in Scranton living in one of my sister’s bedrooms.”

“He’d never give me a good reference – that’s how spiteful he is; but If you’d promise to give me good… really good references,” Hines said, trying to make his efforts seem more legitimate by getting something for himself.  “Ah,” he said with feigned disgust, “what’s the use. You know me.  All brains and no brawn.  I’d need a second person to help with any plan. He’s going to sign the documents soon, and then he’s going to start spending money like a drunken sailor. We don’t have weeks to make a plan and get the wrinkles out.  He may not come back here for months. A project like getting rid of him takes thought.”

Jules was impatient.  “Weeks? I just got word of a house in the tropics I could buy at a bargain price – cash only – and while a down payment would hold it, I’d need the money sooner than later.  We’ll have to think of a good way.  How about a home invasion of some kind?   In town recently there have been a few.  And did I tell you that the Japanese guy who stole Ghent’s medicine – the kid who’s been in prison – is going to be let out on good behavior.  The ZBA sangha in town is really worried that he’ll come to them to make them fulfill the contract obligation about letting him reside in the old Norris-Giles house they call their monastery.”

Paige and Nola could be seen coming towards the paddock.   “After I finish the car,” Jules said, “I’ll go into town and try to find out exactly when that kid is due to come back. Then we’ll work out the details.”

“Roger,” Hines nodded creating a military kind of precision, and left to join Gladys.  Hines could hardly believe that Jules had so easily become his ally.  It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps he was going to be set-up for the attempted crime. He decided to be extra careful.

Hines and Gladys entered the turret staircase from the study. Gladys lugged a bucket of water and a mop up the stairs. A net bag of cleaning supplies hung from her waist.  He did not offer to help her carry the water.  “You’ll need more than that pine smelling stuff and water to make this place livable,” he groused.  “Look at the windows.  Once they must have been beautiful… all that leaded-in stained glass in the top frames.   But now you can’t even tell what season the design is meant to convey.”

Gladys, delighted to learn that Hines would not be sleeping near Gregor, laughed at the thought that cleaning them would present a problem.  “It all depends on whether the sash cords still work well,” she explained as she unlocked one window and pulled down the top and then pulled up the bottom.   She tested all four windows.  “One needs some work, but the others are good as new,” she pronounced.  “As a matter of fact, I think Mrs. E. told me that Mr. Ghent’s father had the sash cords replaced.”

“We’re too high up for you to do the outside where the dirt has mostly collected,” Hines griped.

Gladys had already brought glass-cleaning liquid and paper towels to the turret.  “It’s old fashioned, I admit,” she said.  “You hardly ever see windows washed this way any more for some reason.”  With that she pulled up the lower clear window, sat herself on the sill with her behind sticking outside the structure, and lowered the upper window so that the stained glass window’s exterior was completely in her reach.  She sprayed the glass several times until it the paper towels gave no indication of dirt, and then she raised and lowered the windows until she had thoroughly cleaned the clear glass window.  She slipped back into the room and, standing on a small step ladder she cleaned the inside of both frames.  The effect was startling.

“My God!” Hines exclaimed.  “I never would have believed it possible.  It’s beautiful! Go ahead and do the others.  I’m amazed.”

She completed the others, saying that Gregor would have to bring a screw driver and tighten the screws on the fourth window. The trim that held the leaded-in glass to the frame was loose. But Hines barely heard her.  The colorful light that shone through the stained glass was mesmerizing him.

“It’s going to be lunch time soon,” Gladys said.  “You can get Gregor to help you bring your bed up here after the painting and carpet guys are finished.  You’ll be warmer with a good carpet under your feet.”

Hines thought he’d choose the cheapest window treatment to please Spencer and Paige.  “Those bamboo slatted windows shades will do nicely,” he said.

 

Hines drove Spencer into Media and on the return trip they saw Jules come out of a drug store.  Jules saw them and gave a quick thumb’s up sign to Hines.  Yes, Hines thought, the Japanese kid could be blamed for the crime. There would be no difficulty.

And so it was that Hines and Jules learned that the tenzo had already been released but that he might be deported to Japan shortly. But ‘shortly’ to the government did not mean swirt.  “It would probably take them another matter of weeks to type up the paperwork. We’ll have to act quickly nevertheless,” Jules said when he and Hines were finally able to speak.  “I’ve already called the agent in Antigua.  The house is still available.  I’ll forward the deposit as soon as we set our plan in motion.”

 

Except for the crossword puzzles, Spencer had ceased to speak to Nola or Paige or anyone else except Hines. He kept to himself so much that no one could tell the difference between “Spencer the indifferent” and “Spencer the depressed.”

The children, especially Samantha, worried about Spence’s strange absences from home.  She called regularly, wanting her father to take her to New York to buy her a new winter wardrobe.  (Her mother was not nearly so liberal a spender as her father.) Paige assured her that she’d talk Spencer into taking her to New York when her school had a long mid-term break.

Although Spencer was not at first agreeable, Paige casually mentioned how the girl could use some decent jewelry and that a trip to Tiffany’s was definitely in order.  She could see his pupils change as he imagined buying a few “trinkets” from Tiffany’s for his new girl friend.  Feigning reluctance, Spencer acquiesced and said he’d escort his daughter to New York the following week. “We’ll only be gone a few days – a week at most,” he said.  “You can lose a few days of school. We can visit your great aunt Helena in her house on the Hudson.”   Since Ingrid had several important meetings scheduled, he decided the time for her to get close to his daughter was propitious.  As they drove home from the trip, he’d introduce Samantha to Ingrid during a posh Friday lunch.

Spence left to pick up Samantha on a Monday, planning to return in five days.  Although he had promised his daughter that he would not give a “smidgeon” of his attention to anyone else, he did try to call Ingrid on Tuesday and left a voice mail message that she did not return.

Wednesday morning Paige read on Page 6 of the newspaper the uplifting news that Doctor Ingrid Hesse had been killed on Tuesday in a car accident when she hit a bridge support on a back road. Paige anonymously called the clinic and asked how long they expected Ingrid’s body to remain in the U.S.  She learned that the doctor’s remains were scheduled to be flown back to Switzerland on Thursday.  She did not know if Spence had tried to call the doctor again but if he had called, he could leave only a voice mail.

Wednesday Spence called home and asked, “What’s new?”

Paige answered, “Nothing. Everything’s under control.  We all miss you.” When she ended the call she confided to Nola, “With a little luck, Dr. Ingrid Hesse will be six feet under in Switzerland, pushing up Edelweiss, before Spence even knows about the accident.”

When he stopped at the clinic as they drove home on Friday, he learned about her death. He collapsed and could not drive.  The confusion was so great that Samantha, bewildered by this unknown facet of Ghent life, frantically called Paige who sent Jules and Hines down to Media to drive them home.

At the Ghent house, Spence locked himself in his bedroom and listened to a sequence of dirges.  Judging from his wet pillows, he wept constantly.  Nola finally succeeded in getting him to let her in so that she could make sure he took his medicine.  “You want to be in good condition if you decide to visit a certain grave in Lucerne,” she said.  He, holding her to privacy, wept in her arms and Saturday, at his suggestion, they worked on a puzzle that he themed, La Belle Dame Sans Merci.  He was not much help, but at least he was roused from his depression long enough to come down to his study to check references of a few individuals who had met an untimely death.  It was his habit to hand-address the envelopes to complete the illusion that he was the sole author of the work.

 

And this is what preceded Nola’s trouble that began on Wednesday, October 22nd, the day that she called out, “Is the envelope the one on the right side of the blotter or the left?”

The Crossword Puzzle (#4)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here

PART 4: THE NEW WOMAN AND THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

For several days Paige and Nola visited Spencer at the clinic; but he barely acknowledged their presence.  And then one day as they were leaving, a nurse told Paige that her visits upset him and it would be better if she let him rest and digest his meals without stress.  Paige, shocked but still in control of her ability to scheme, said she understood completely, but began to walk back to Spencer’s room, “to get my watch,” she explained.  “I left it there until I could get his repaired.”  She had a way of sliding past all opposition.

Paige saw that an attractive blonde doctor was taking his pulse and immediately sensed that something was going on between her husband and the Swiss doctor whose name, she learned, was Ingrid Hesse. “This Dr.Hesse has the hots for my husband,” she muttered to Nola.  “I can see it in her eyes.”

Nola tried to remove such thoughts from Paige’s mind, but she was not particularly convincing.  There was little concern for alarm, she insisted, since Dr. Boyer had assured her that Spencer would be home within the week.

Paige found the printed note on her vanity.  “Gregor intends to film you in the carriage house. Beware.”  She gasped and then made sure that In the several additional days that her husband was gone, she stayed away from Gregor. Nola had reclaimed her bedroom and aside from being annoyed by the little holes in the walls that Hines had made by hanging so many of his framed posters, she was able to resume her daily schedule with Spence when he returned. She refused, however, to be on call during evening hours since gossip made it impossible for her to remain in the house after hours.  Although Spence thought the nightly flights entirely unnecessary, he agreed.

Several days had passed and at every meal eaten in the servant’s kitchen, Gregor expected Hines to beg him to allow him to stay in the two back rooms. Mrs. Ellington persisted in presenting the case for such a purpose, but Hines claimed to be content with the turret room provided it was renovated as promised. Gregor was puzzled by Hines’ new enthusiasm for the tower chamber and when he discovered that his photos and tapes had been stolen, he believed he now knew why: Hines had taken the photos and would somehow, someway try to use them to get even with Gregor for refusing to allow him to live in the back rooms.

Gladys, meanwhile, began to wonder how Gregor had gotten the photographs developed.  They were too pornographic for him to take into town for processing.  Gregor had no friends in town – at least none that she knew of – so where were they processed?  The kids all had digital cameras and there were few places that still had dark-rooms.  On a hunch she went to the old farrier’s shed and even though the thick curtains were open, she found red bulbs in a string of sockets.  “So this is where he does it!” she said, and her admiration for the man she had regarded only as a stableman and groundskeeper grew.  She thought of glamorous movie star posters and imagined herself, hair styled and face made up, wearing sexy lingerie.  “Yes, he and I could go into business together doing glamor shots,” she murmured. Her inheritance would be enough to get the business started.

With Spence’s approval, Hines had an entertainment unit installed in the master bedroom along with two reclining chairs and a small refrigerator.  He used satellite feed to bring in all possible channels and In the evenings, he would build a fire in the fireplace and the two men would sit in the room and enjoy the “henless” evenings.

Nola’a new evening schedule began as dinner ended.  Forlornly, she’d watch Spencer as they ate and kept remembering the evenings they spent laughing and exchanging ideas; but she knew how volatile Paige was and that it was best for her to keep herself out of harm’s way. The relief she had experienced doing Zen meditation put visiting the Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton at the top of her list of things to do. She did not know that The Council had already decided to end their operation on the last day of July; yet when she entered their office in February and asked to become a member, they said nothing and simply charged her a full year’s membership.

It was a cold night when, carrying her own zafu (cushion) and zabuton (mat), she entered the shabby meditation room and was appalled by its condition – the scraped and blistered clashing paint schemes, the faulty hinges that prevented doors from being shut, the holes and stained areas of what was once a beautiful walnut floor – she nearly left without saying a word.  There were only eight shivering people sitting facing a dark or multicolored wall in the meditation room and yet a Council member walked around like a drill sergeant carrying a kyoasaku (hitting stock) ready to whack them on the shoulder should anyone slump into dreamland. Hypothermia and not lack of sleep, Nola thought, would soon have them all verging on unconsciousness.  She turned and looked at the fireplace. The room was so cold and so much cold draft came down the chimney that she again wanted to leave; but then she thought of Paige, who had expressed a desire to include religion in her life, and especially Spencer, who had actually expressed a desire to join the Assembly, and kept her place.

At the first fifty-minute break, she asked the woman sitting next to her, “Is it possible to close the flue?”

“No,” the woman replied, “it’s broken and they have no more money to repair the zillion things that are broken in his house.”  Then she added, “The roof leaks so bad that the snow turns the attic into a kind of mini-Alps.”

After services, Nola approached the council and offered to pay for the roof’s repair.  Over the years she had accumulated government saving bonds and she still had the Certificate of Deposit that Paige had given her.

The initial ecstatic response could hardly be put into words.  If or when, the ZBA sold the building, a good roof would raise the asking price.  But then, the intrusion of divinity into their dilemma occurred to them.  Nola was surely divinely sent and, accordingly, the council blessed her and wondered how, as Buddhists, they could properly thank her while still respecting the mandate of humility.  The roof, after all, would cost $20,000 to repair or replace.  And she was willing to pay this amount? Yes, she could just about afford it.  To her it was an investment in her social future.

But as the roofing contractor proceeded with the work, the ardor of the council cooled and the role of divinity lessened. They began to wonder why Nola was being so generous.  What was in it for her?

Roofers seize whatever opportunity the weather affords them, and in a matter of cold but dry and windless days, the work was completed. The repairs took all of Nola’s savings, but she did not regret the expense.  Fate or Faith had delivered her from alienation with her sister and the charges of scandalous behavior from which she might never recover.  She also did not want to be ashamed of the assembly that she expected both Spencer and Paige to join.  In its present state the building was an embarrassment.

In Mid-February, Nola stopped into the Council’s office to announce, “Since the roof is finished, I’d like to undertake an immediate renovation of the meditation room.  I’d like to make it suitable for two evening classes of yoga a week, which I, as a certified teacher, would conduct if you agree to it.  The Council would, of course, fix the fees, collect and keep the money. As you know, in Soto Zen the practitioners face the wall, so walls must be painted a very light color.”

“And why is that?” Sri Bashumitsu (Patrician Mahoney) the Council president obtusely asked.

Nola, who after all was going to do the work and spend her own money on the project, did not feel like a supplicant. In a tone that was somewhat less than obsequious, she said, “Because it all depends on the Ganzfeld principle.  When we stare into a bright, featureless space, the light bounces back from the space and has a salubrious effect on the eye.  Psychologically, it conduces to the meditative state.  As the wall is now, it is a dark jumble of color and stickers and some graffiti and is not anything that will induce the mind to relax.” Then she turned and added,

 “When the building’s repaired, you’ll attract more Zen people.  You could fix the bedrooms and rent out the rooms to paying guests.  Some of them may want to study to become lay-ordained monks or nuns.  You could even open a shop to sell home-make religious articles and garments!”

Someone murmured, “What excellent ideas!”  Eyes furtively glanced at other eyes as the council secretly smirked.  “Why didn’t we think of that?” one asked as she looked around at the others and snickered.

Sri Bashumitsu dismissed her with a tart, “Thank you so much.”

Undaunted, she paid a carpenter to repair the flue, windows, and doors, and hired a local painter to cover the ceiling and walls in a neutral cream-color paint. She rented a sanding machine and with a few male members spent evenings grinding away years of abuse from the parquet floors. A coating of spar-varnish was applied and the room began to hint of its former beauty.  Paige donated several brass candlesticks and an old wind-up clock for the mantlepiece and supplied a banzai tree and an ikebana floral piece for the plaster statue of the Buddha (the only one she could find) on an old walnut table she had to the room’s decoration.  The result of the renovation was startling and everyone marveled at the change.  More than a dozen new members joined the sangha. The Council decided to postpone ending their monastic venture.

Though the Council members felt renewed hope that they could create a monastic center, they still couldn’t understand Nola’s desire to help. The more renovation she did and was praised for, the more they resented her interference.  When she was present, they regarded her with polite distain, but when she was not present, they referred to her as “LB” which stood for Lady Bountiful, and, as beggars inevitably do, they assumed further entitlements.  In front of the congregation, Shi Bashumitsu pointedly asked, “Do you intend to use the same cream color paint for the bedrooms?”  Nola said that she regretted that she could not afford to pay for more than the meditation hall. The president expressed regret, and thus began in earnest the denigration of Nola and her gifts.  Yes, the Council conceded amongst themselves, it was nice to have a polished wood floor in the meditation hall for her to use for yoga classes; but it surely was not the salvific boon that Nola was undoubtedly boasting about.   What was she up to giving yoga classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings?  Was she trying to secure the good opinion of others in order to exploit them for some ulterior commercial purpose?  Who knew where she would take her yoga devotees once they helped to establish it?  Yes, Nola had to be up to something.  Despite many theories, they had not come close to guessing Nola’s motive.

At the Ghent house nothing had been done to the turret to accommodate Hines. Since Gregor adamantly refused to allow Hines to live in the two unused rooms – a decision Paige wholeheartedly supported, Hines still used Roland’s room – without the wall posters – and would have been content to make the arrangement permanent were it not for the upcoming Easter holiday when Roland was expected to return.  The few times that Roland called the house, he spoke to Jules who gave his uninhibited opinions about Hines.  Roland, a natural peacemaker, responded, “Let him stay with you. You have plenty of room and he can sleep on a cot.  It won’t kill either of you. Keep my bedroom locked.”

At the Zen Center, membership immediately increased; but news from the Ghent house was not nearly so encouraging. Spencer Ghent, secretly indulging in coconut cream candy, relapsed and needed to be taken to the clinic in Media.  After a few days he announced that he was transferring to the main clinic in Lucerne, Switzerland, for additional treatment which he said he needed.  Although he was able to use a computer for one hour a day to contact Nola about the puzzles, he still had no phone capability and could be reached otherwise only by mail. Isolation was considered part of the cure and Paige and all other family members and friends were not welcome in or near the sanatorium.  Ghent was to have a stressless period in which to recover from his dietary rule-breaking during the Easter holiday.

The children, who spent most of their home visit with their friends, returned to school, and life for Nola returned to its unusual normal.  Paige, at first, showed a kind of defiance and spent nights and even a several days at a time away from home.  She was jittery and uncommunicative; and when Nola pleaded with her to spend some time doing Zen meditation, she expressed a reluctance to join the Zen Assembly, saying that she needed a little more time to consider what such a move would do to her position in society.  She did attend yoga classes as did Ellis Foyle, a man Paige found strangely exciting.  She decided that she would attend at least until the kids and, she expected, Spencer, came home for the summer vacation in June. Meanwhile, having been told by one of the local dilettantes that she had a talent for art, she began to take lessons in town twice a week.

The time Spencer had spent in the clinic seemed to improve his health and good humor. He gained nearly ten pounds and although he still wore “safety” underpants, his libido benefitted greatly by the absence of unexpected bowel movements.  The Lucerne “spa” as he called it had an interfaith chapel and he had been able to meditate sitting on a cushion for an hour each week.  He had Jules mail to him his old Buddhist robes and were it not for his thick, wavy hair he would have looked like a true abbot and not one of the numerous candidates the Council was testing to replace the old man they were still stuck with.  Spencer’s executive poise returned to him and he began to give Dharma talks whenever other Buddhists were present in the Chapel.  He found in the sanatorium’s library several books on Buddhism that he regularly consulted.  That they were in both the Pali (old school) and Prajnaparamitra (reform school) Canons did not seem to matter much to him or to his audience.  There was an ego.  There was no such thing as an ego.  There was reincarnation.  There was no such thing as reincarnation.  In true professorial style he seemed to make sense no matter what he taught; and he naturally relied on the universal diversities of the Buddha’s Message to support any position he took.  Aside from all this, he had become more handsome, albeit in a more mature way.  He had sent photographs of himself; and while Paige showed them to anyone who would look, Nola spent hours alone in her bedroom praying to dislodge the man from her mind. Just before Memorial Day in May, he returned to his home in Morton, Pennsylvania.

The crossword puzzles continued to pour out of his and Nola’s bubbling imaginations, but this time Paige made no comment about their teamwork. Nola, determined to establish a “non-Spence” social life for herself, had joined a book club that met on Friday evenings.  On Saturday night she had joined the local Square Dance Society and learned old forms of folk dancing as well as modern Texas line dancing.  On Sunday, after riding horses around the estate with Paige, she’d return to her room to write her own diary, embellishing it with the intention to someday write a novel that would be at least as good as the books she reviewed at the club on Friday evenings. Unfortunately, she used fictitious names when referring to real people, and the servants who in secret regularly read the private pages all tended to assume that she had somehow learned about their more colorful histories.  Contempt for Nola rose concomitantly.

Paige, along with oil paint and charcoal, had found the solace of leather once again – but not with Gregor – and all seemed to be well at the Ghent house. When Gregor told her that he missed their sessions together, she explained that she and Spence had entered a new phase in their lives here and she could no longer be the cause of jealousy or embarrassment to her husband. Claiming that their insurance agent should clean out the two back rooms lest the debris there catch fire, she asked him to remove everything that he kept there and to record for insurance purposes the serial numbers of any equipment and to list all personal property he considered valuable. When he submitted only his television’s serial number to Jules.  She believed that she was no longer vulnerable to blackmail images of herself and never ascended the steps to his apartment again.

Spencer was a completely different man when he returned.  He spoke on the phone frequently with his children, but otherwise kept to himself and Hines. Since Mrs. Eglington was now thoroughly convinced about dietary matters, she kept his colitis under control.  He did require “maintenance” treatments and twice a week Hines drove him into Media to the Clinic’s branch for day-long hydrotherapy and massage sessions. Hines would go to the library or the movies while he waited.  Spencer would return from his treatment so enthusiastic about the procedures that he expressed a need to share the Lucerne’s methods with the world.  An architect was summoned and a large addition to the small clinic was planned.  The project took so much of his time that for many weeks Nola had to create one-hundred percent of the Chat R. Box puzzles.

Spencer did find time to attend a few evening meditation sessions at ZBA’s renovated “temple” and he and Hines practiced yoga at home in private, using the instructions offered on a DVD.  Whenever he went to the temple, he’d be asked to speak; and, invariably, he testified glowingly to everyman’s need to spend at least a few hours of his week in contemplation of the really important things in life.

He also accompanied the entire sangha when they went to the Masonic Temple’s auditorium to watch a showing of the film, Amongst White Clouds.

“You know,” Spence privately said to Nola as an appreciative comment on the film, “For twenty years we’ve had a hundred-twenty acres of reclaimed land in Schuylkill County.  I bet the trees have grown back in all that time.  It would make a great place to establish a colony of hermitages for folks who just want to get away from this irritating so-called civilized life. Let’s go up this weekend and have a look at it.  I want a woman’s opinion.”

Paige had made other plans and insisted that the two of them should go and report on the condition of the area.   Since the land had been given to them as wedding presents by an eccentric uncle of Spencer’s, the parcels were separate. Paige owned the sixty acre half of the property that contained the trail into the land; and Spencer owned the other half, the hilltop that contained an old cabin.  “There’s probably bears and mountain lions to contend with,” Paige warned, “and maybe a few snakes and spiders, but otherwise you might have good shelter there.  It should require only one night to decide whether or not the place is fit for hermitages.”

Nola, also enthusiastic about living in an isolated hermitage, agreed to go.  She discussed the possibilities with Ellis Foyle who, since his wife had not returned as planned, was also interested in joining the independent group of people who lived alone without distractions.

Also joining them in their expectation of the un-interfered with life, was the latest candidate for the abbacy, a handsome young man from Kerala, India, Vikram Chaudan, whose purpose in coming to the U.S. was actually to find a hospital to accept him as a surgical resident.  But he needed a permanent and respectable place to stay and a Zen monastery that charged him nothing was certainly that.  He read a few books about Soto Zen on the evening before he came to the ZBA to apply.

The Council found him to be an acceptable candidate and had even adjusted his name to sound more Japanese, calling him Victoru Roshi.  Vikram was a graduate of a third rate medical school in India in which he had finished at the bottom of his class.  Nevertheless, his good looks and charm carried him along the waters of social refinement, “like Shiva’s seed on the leaf,” as The Council ladies put it, and delivered him to them. When Vikram learned that Nola was a registered nurse who could also type, he asked her to help him to write to the various medical institutions – of which there were hundreds – in the United States and Canada to ask to be considered for a position as a surgical resident.  Included in his resumé was a copy of his academic record which, Nola thought but did not express, should have resulted in paroxysms of laughter in the various Admission’s offices. The photograph he chose to submit with the requests failed to convey his good looks.  To Nola, he looked rather sleepy in the photos. To Paige, it was providential that most of the work they did was done in the Ghent house.  Seeing him banished the ugly thoughts she had about her own husband and gave Gregor some needed competition.

Spencer decided, “We can go to the land this weekend. We’ll go in our old Ford truck that Gregor uses. “It’s a great idea for a puzzle theme.  We can call it Roughing It.  What do you think?”

Nola did not know what to think. Without approaching erotomania, there is a state in which lonely people tend to magnify or even transmute the meaning of a simple statement or gesture made by someone whom the lonely person considers a potential lover. “Nice jacket!” said casually by someone passing, is examined for all possible meanings, none of which has anything to do with garments.  “You look really nice today,” is practically a proposal of marriage. At the very least, the conclusion will be reached that not only were such statements an overture to an affair, but that an overt admiration of the figure wearing the garment was a public announcement of romantic interest.  People in a normal love affair hear many such remarks. They tend to smile automatically in response and forget the compliment.  But lonely people are like starving beggars – though they do not realize this.  A crumb thrown to them is devoured with desperate hopes for more. Another response to such a remark may be had by more sober persons.  The compliment then flits around the mind like a mayfly, titillating it briefly with possibilities.

Knowing this did not prevent Nola from giggling to herself about Spencer Ghent’s frequent shows of sexual desire and his intended week-end jaunt.  Perhaps some kind of priapic medicine had been prescribed for him in Switzerland.  “What if?” began to play its tantalizing game in her mind as she got into bed that night and pulled the covers up.

Nola looked forward anxiously to spending a night in an isolated cabin with Spence. How would he react to her when they were alone?  She remembered what Ellis Foyle had said about Razzle games and wondered how Spence was responding to her absences from home in the evening.  One night at dinner he had said to her in a joking manner, “Go ahead and go do your vampire things or whatever you do when the sun goes down.  I only know it gets pretty lonely around here.”  Paige immediately changed the subject.

Perhaps it was those unproductive years that gave him such a proprietary attitude toward the puzzles, but, increasingly he realized that he no longer needed an in-home registered nurse and that that the larger salary Paige had given Nola could justifiably be considered payment for her contribution to the puzzles. Though he had promised that the syndication would be in their names jointly, he now decided that Nola had already been paid for her part of the work.  “Oh,” he responded when she mentioned the syndication of the puzzles, “my attorney’s working on it.  It’s more complicated than we thought.”  He went to his gun collection and selected a revolver and a rifle. “Who knows what we’ll find, on the land,” he said. “Gregor can do without the truck for a few days.  If bears bother us in the cabin, we can always move and sleep in the truck bed.” He found an old tarp and two of the kids new sleeping bags and tossed them it in the back of the truck.

As they drove to Schuylkill County, Nola decided against bringing up the issue of syndication in fear that she’d start some kind of argument.  She knew that Spencer had been talking to his lawyer quite frequently in recent days, and she was content to believe that the subject of their conversation was, as Spencer had said, the syndication problem.

It began to rain, and having been told that the cabin was old and run-down, she noticed on the map that there was a motel and gas station just before the turn-off to the land.  “According to your map,” she said, “this is the last point of civilization for miles.  Why don’t we check in here?  There’s a cafeteria of some sort attached to the station.  They’re open and maybe the owner can give us some news about the place.”

Spencer responded harshly.  “Whose investigation is this?  Yours or mine? Our one chance to sleep together in privacy and you want to check into a motel.  What do we get? Two rooms?” he asked sarcastically.  “One for smokers and one on the other end of the place for non-smokers?Or were you planning to register as my wife?  Proof? Is that what you’re looking for? Some kind of sexual harassment?” He drove past the station and made a sharp left onto the dirt trail that led onto the land.

Nola, stunned by his outburst, said nothing.

The land was beautiful.  The deciduous trees were still bright green and the pines stood like sentries every fifty feet or so.  “I’m sorry,” Spence said.  “I don’t know what’s gotten under my skin. I know the bears have stopped hibernating and anything with fur on it is protecting its young.  But Nola! I’ve missed you so much at night.  And this is my first big outing.  I was really looking forward to being alone with you.”  He reached across and mussed her hair.  “Please forgive me.  I’m an old crank who’s nuts about a beautiful young thing.  It’s hell sitting home alone watching Tv.  Hines gets on my nerves.  A little of him goes a long way, indispensable as he has become.”

 “There are times I just don’t understand you,” Nola forced herself to reply.  She changed the subject to the land.  “The place looks perfect for hermitages.”  Someone had planted fruit trees as part of the reclamation project after strip mining had all but destroyed the land. “I see peach trees and apple… and cherry, too; but the fruit’s tiny and hardly ripe enough to pick.  And there are blackberry bushes all over the place.”

The trail led up to the cabin.  “Well, lookie here!” Spence said affecting delight.  “Hunters or visitors of some kind have repaired the cabin, or so a real estate agent in the county has told me.”  This was a lie, of course. Spencer had ordered immediate repairs.  “Bully for them that they’ve made the cabin more livable.  A key to the front door is supposed to be in a geranium pot on the left side of the door.”

Nola looked around and said, “There doesn’t seem to be another thing that needs doing to this place.  It will furnish a great headquarters while the smaller hermitages are being built.”  Spencer agreed. He even tested the water from a nearby stream and found it to be pure and delicious.  There were chamberpots under the beds and an outhouse, but these, he allowed, were part of rustic living.

As Nola unassembled the camping gear she had brought, Spencer suddenly said, “Zip the two sleeping bags together.  We’ll need each other to keep warm.  It gets cold as hell up here at night.” There was an odd subtlety in the way he made the request that made her hesitate.  Clearly, his intention was to make love to her, but his request lacked even a hint of romance.  Yet, she acquiesced and joined the two sleeping bags.  Regardless of his crude approach, she had wanted to make love to him for a long time.  And that time had come.

After dinner they sat before the fireplace and talked about the rustic life and then he simply said, “It’s bedtime now. Let’s have at it.”

He followed her into the sleeping bag and roughly tried to remove her nightgown.  In the flickering light of the fireplace, she could see the expression on his face.  He did not try to kiss her or make even a tender gesture.  He rubbed himself a few times against her thigh, and then lifting himself up he shifted his weight until he was on top of her.  Nola suddenly pushed him away and began to scramble out of the sleeping bag. “If this is your idea of love making, buy yourself one of those plastic blow-up dolls.”  She finally got free of the bag and began to change into her outdoor clothing.

Nola did not even try to make sense of his performance.  She began to unzip her half of the sleeping bag while he cursed her for being a “cock teaser.”

“Is the truck locked?” she asked.  “I’ll go sleep in it.”  She saw the keys on the table and quickly picked them up.  “I’ll see you in the morning when maybe your sanity has returned.”  She retreated to the truck still hearing Spencer curse her for having deceived him.  The truck was old and did not have bucket seats.  “Thank God!” she said as she wiggled into the sleeping bag and curled up on the seat.  “A blow up doll!” she whined; and then she began to cry.

In the morning, Spencer took the truck to check the property for more streams that could be used by the hermitages.  The smell of coffee and bacon filled the hill top as Nola made breakfast; but an hour passed and Spencer did not return.  Fearing that he had had an accident with the truck, she took the rifle and some extra rounds and went to look for him.  There were the usual bird sounds as she trudged down the trail and suddenly she detected the sound of laughter.  She stepped carefully to get closer and saw Spencer speaking on a cell phone to someone in an excited voice.  She listened and could tell he was speaking to a woman.  She retreated, walking up the trail until she came to the cabin.   She drank some coffee and ate a few pieces of “fireside toast.”  Then she walked outside the cabin in a circle some hundred feet in diameter.  From what she could see, the lower land looked fit for vegetable gardens.  To be sure, they’d need a geologist’s opinion.

Spencer’s opinion differed.  He returned ebullient, “I’ve given the place a good going over,” he said, and I figure we can charge $30,000 per leased unit.  Everything’s pre-fab and it wouldn’t be Wabi Sabi unless the floor was dirt.The walls have to be strong because of the bears.  And they will all need fresh water. We’ll build cisterns and outhouses. Some may want hothouses attached.  We’ll have to get prices for those.”

After they had eaten he announced that regardless of what he had promised Paige, they’d have to stay another night.  “We need to experience life here on the mountain before we subject greenhorns to the dangers of the wild.”  Knowing how Paige would react, Nola objected.  Spence silenced her by telling her that he was still her boss.  “My wife is my responsibility,” he said.  “You can miss square dancing or whatever it is you do with those farmers.”

There was a small waterfall near the cabin. Nola, trying to be conciliatory, suggested, “After we clean up the kitchen let’s take some photographs of it.”

Spencer grunted and said simply, “Maybe. First I want to bathe there.” Nola cleaned the breakfast and lunch dishes while Spencer went to the falls to bathe and dress. Feeling that she was being punished for not capitulating to him the previous night, she was awkward and confused.  The guilt for hoping to use the weekend as a romantic getaway mixed with the anger she felt at his behavior towards her.  Nothing was happening the way she assumed it would; and she didn’t know how to approach him to regain some semblance of the friendship or teamwork that they had for so long enjoyed.  They were antagonists in the cabin and she was hurt and bewildered by the situation.

After Spencer dressed he checked the truck.  Nola came out of the cabin and joined him, using the excuse that she wanted to make sure she had removed all of her things. “Listen,” he said, I saw some interesting rocks – colorful ones – throughout the upper areas of the site. They’ll make a nice fireplace or entrance adornment.  I’ll recheck and photograph the waterfall while you gather the stones.”

Nola said that she would and then added, hoping to continue the conversation, “I don’t know how the others feel about killing deer, but I did see deer scat all over the place.”

“Hmm,” he said as he checked his watch and got into the truck.  “You keep looking for rocks but make sure you take the rifle with you… not for the deer, but for the bears.  I don’t think you’ll see any snakes.”

He drove away, but she could see in the damp clearing that the truck had not taken the trail to the falls, and his distinctive hiking boots had left no marks on the damp ground, either.  Suspicion spurred her to clarify the confusion.  She walked down to the lower part of the hill that was more level and with a long hundred-foot measuring tape she did mark with orange tags good places for cabins and gardens to be built.  She wrote a number on each tag and recorded it in a notebook.  She saw no colored rocks anywhere and continued to go down the trail.

Noon had come and he had not returned and she could hear no sound of an engine.  She continued to follow his tire tracks to the road and the motel came into view.  His truck was parked outside one of the rooms and beside the truck was a new Volvo that had a sticker bearing a medical insignia of some kind on the windshield.  Staying as far back as she could, she recorded the Volvo’s license plate’s number. Slowly, and letting her suspicions fill in all the gaps that had been blank, she returned to the cabin.  She marked a few more hermitage sites and then went into the cabin and found a tattered book on camping in a cabinet and, tucked inside her sleeping bag, tried to read it, but she was crying and could not concentrate on anything except her overwhelming disappointment and childishness. Soon darkness fell and the light from a single kerosene lamp was the only light in the cabin.  Finally, she fell asleep.

It was late in the morning when Spencer returned. She had remained in bed, trying to read. “Come on!” he said gruffly.  “Let’s go!  Paige is gonna have a fit.”

Nola dressed quickly and got into the truck.  She did not ask him where he had been all night, but he volunteered that he had gotten stuck in a ditch and had to go down to the motel to ask some men there if they’d help him.  Naturally, they couldn’t do anything until morning.  Nola pretended that she believed him and asked routinely curious questions. “How deep in the mud were you?”  “Did they pull you back out with a chain?”  “I guess that we ought to stay on the trail until we can lay gravel down.”

After thirty minutes of silence, he began to talk about Paige’s sexual preferences. “What does she say Gregor does to her?” he asked in the most innocent voice he could create. Nola refused to comment about Paige, saying that she didn’t know and wouldn’t discuss it if she did.  Spencer revealed in sordid detail what the last groundsman had told him.  “Yes, rough.  My lady likes the rough stuff.”

Nola wondered, “How did I ever let myself get romantically involved with him?” She repeatedly asked herself this as she tried to forget how witty and charming he usually was.  She thought about the car parked next to his at the motel.  It probably belonged to that blonde Swiss physician.  It had to be a torrid love affair for him to get her to drive an hour and a half all the way up there.

They drove in silence, stopping only to get gas.  Nola felt both the tension of fearing what Paige would say about their being a day late in returning and more, she felt the bewildering disappointment that is created by realistic expectations that somehow go awry.  She had every reason to assume that it would be a romantic weekend or, at least, a “fun” weekend; what she did not take into consideration was what Spencer was anticipating. Projecting thoughts and desires onto someone else and then making assumptions about results is invariably a mistake. Nola knew that – a fact which made her feel even worse. Now she was sure to be admonished for having taken an extra day with Spencer. Oh yes, she thought, it would be her fault.  She prepared for the inevitable scene as they pulled up to the portico at two o’clock.

Paige did not disappoint.  “I guess you two love birds had quite a nice time nesting in that broken down cabin.”

Spencer answered.  “I drove the truck into a ditch and needed help to get out.  The muscles between my shoulder blades are in some kind of spasm.  Instead of making things worse by your ridiculous imagination, could you try to get the knots out of my back?”  With that Paige followed him into the master’s bedroom; and after hearing maudlin pleas that Nola could not quite understand, she heard the bed begin to thump.  For an hour she watched the illuminated hands of her clock measure out the grunts and groans and yelps of an old ritual before she finally took a shower and prepared for dinner.

At dinner, without explanation, Spencer announced that he intended to return to Switzerland to complete his therapy.  “Also,” he casually added, “I just got an email from a man I forgot to mention – a fellow patient I made friends with in the Clinic who runs a home in Akita on the Sea of Japan side of the island.  He had said that the home had been created to care for the homeless people who lost everything after the Fukushima disaster.  Little by little the home’s population had dwindled as the people found residences closer to their work places or went to live with relatives.  He has room, he assures me, to accommodate the old Abbot at ZBA. My friend’s term of therapy is expiring In Lucerne, and if we want to bring the old demented Abbot to him, he’ll happily accept him. Caring for the sick, he explained to me, was his way of expressing gratitude for having been spared in the nuclear catastrophe.  What do you think?”

Nola, surprised that this was the first she was hearing about such a plan, thought that The Council would be delighted.

“I’ve been teaching my friend – his name is Yoshi – colloquial English.   As one of my teaching tools I’ve gotten him interested in crossword puzzles.  I’ve developed variations on the puzzle theme which have proven to be very instructive to him.  I’ve promised to continue the exercises – much like people used to play chess.  I’m speaking, of course, before the electronic age.”

“How is the Abbot supposed to get there?” Paige asked.

“If all goes well, someone from the council has to bring the old man to meet me and him at the Cairo Airport and then I’ll personally escort him to his new home in Akita.  I’ve already checked with the Japanese authorities and there should be no problem.”

That evening, as Nola was sorting the garments she’d ask to be laundered, Paige came to her room.  “Is it true that he had car trouble?” she whispered.

“That’s what he told me.  I didn’t see it, myself.”  Nola did not tell her about the Volvo and the motel. “And for the record, this is the first I’ve heard about returning to Lucerne or going to Japan.”

“I could tell you were surprised. Did you have sex with my husband?”

“No.”

“I believe you.  I checked your two sleeping bags.  Yours was absolutely clean and his was full of semen.  He’s too lazy to get up and clean himself.”

“It was so cold up there at night.  I can’t fault him for not wanting to get up and clean himself in icy water.”

“He tried so many new positions with me this afternoon.  Why is he so interested in sex lately? I have the feeling that he’s practicing on me.”

“Maybe somebody is inspiring him.”

“That doctor from the clinic?”

“I don’t know.  As you can tell from the important things he “forgot” to tell us, I don’t know too much about his private life.  I do know that I think it’s time that we considered him to be as cured as he’s ever going to be of colitis.  Really, Paige… I’m no longer needed around here.  We can compose the crossword puzzles by email, text, or phone.”

“No! I don’t want you here for him.  I need you.”  She began to cry.  “My life is falling apart.  Things that I was so sure of have not come to pass; and things I never expected are deluging me. Things are so upside-down that I don’t want Spence to know that I’m personally asking you to stay.  If he thinks that, he’ll fire you for sure. He’s been seeing his attorney lately and I hope and pray it’s about your puzzle stuff.”

All Nola could say was, “I know exactly how you feel about the upside-down business.  But I’ll stay awhile longer if you think you really need me.”