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Lions Roar : July 2016
PHOTO©RUBY/ALAMYSTOCKPHOTO You couldn’t approach the old masters without fear of being struck by lightning. — HAKUIN (1686–1768) R ound One (1972) Down for the Count: Jewish mys- tical literature recounts how a Hasid called Lieb chose his spiritual master: “I came...not to listen to discourses, nor to learn from his wisdom; I came to watch him tie his shoelaces.” The man I have chosen as my teacher has refused my choice. Yet, through his own mag- nificence, he has forced me up against the meaning of Lieb’s words—though he owns no shoelaces and though a pair of high-laced shoes tinged with this magnificence has tripped me up for decades. I call this monk the Thief, in the Zen sense, for he has stolen the world. He stole it the first time I saw him, at 4 a.m. my opening HOT OFF THE PRESS morning in the monastery. He led the monks into the chanting hall; dropped into a sitting posture; chanted with the group of them for half an hour while I watched from the laymen’s side of the room; bowed a few times; led the monks back to the medita- tion hall; and while he was about it reduced the other monks to flat, two-dimensional cutouts by his mere presence. I’ve been try- ing to steal back the space about me and within me ever since. But it was stumbling upon him brushing his teeth that turned him into a living Zen koan. I had stepped out of the meditation hall to find him standing by the water pump, hand on hip gazing into the distance, brushing his teeth before the evening meditation. I thought: “This is ridiculous. What he’s doing is trivial. What he’s doing is the meaning of life!” I knew nothing of Zen. I did know whatever Zen is had something to do with this. His sublime stillness when sitting, the way he handled a The Thief Who Stole the World STEVE ANTINOFF remembers his first teacher, an intimidating Zen monk whose every gesture seemed charged with the Absolute. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 75