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Lions Roar : July 2016
HOT OFF THE PRESS broom when sweeping the garden path, his several speeds and styles of “walk- ing meditation” that made all yield to him silent control of the meditation hall—even when he was no longer head monk—are more beautiful to me, more crucial, than any painting or dancer I have ever seen. Later, in Tokyo, Sylvie Guillem dancing Maurice Béjart’s La Luna floored me. Tremendous as she was, great as Bach is, I could step around them. Try stepping past the Thief and you are struck down, and exhilarated. Aldous Huxley writes: “There comes a time when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven—is that all?” The Thief snatches this question as he ambles past and stuffs it back into your gaping mouth. How he steals it is a ques- tion without answer. For it’s not simply something he does. It’s what life does through him. D. T. Suzuki writes: “When a finger is lifted, the lifting means, from the viewpoint of satori, far more than the act of lift- ing. Satori is the knowledge of the individual object and also that of Reality which is, ifImayso,atthebackofit.” The Thief moves; his body seems a transparent chassis through which the power of the universe surges. Each action, each glance of the eye, sings— cosmically charged. And as a movement dissolves, the surging power that infuses it with life does not dissolve but infuses his next movement, and his next, shoot- ing him full of vibrancy even as he cleans his teeth. I used to trail behind him like an amazed five-year-old, trying to compre- hend how gestures so insignificant could be The Absolute. If he felt my presence, he would turn and look at me as if I were nuts. Yet his actions said what the headless torso of the statue of Apollo demanded of Rilke: “You must change your life.” That he could negate another’s exis- tence while brushing his teeth would not have entered his mind. I watched his mop ballet along the monastery corridor, one mop per hand. I watched him veer round and with total nonchalance ax one log after another immaculately down the center, though I later learned he had bad eyes. I watched him in one seamless thrust slip out of his sandals, hoist him- self onto the sitting platform, form his legs into the full lotus position without using his hands, and with one flick of his fingers crease his robe and kimono under his knees and descend into meditation. The other monks in the monastery, as they headed toward the daily interview with the master, leaked sub- servience, doubt. When he struck the mallet against the epicenter of the gong and strode toward the master’s chamber, his movements alone said: “I’m coming! Be warned!” I have never got- ten over his moving, or his stillness. He made visible, casual as a tossed peel, what I have sought the entirety of my adult life: an act that disclosed, as his did, the beginningless, endless life- death force that is infinity. THE THIEF IS WILD about meditation. This is a problem each evening when I enter the meditation hall. All the other medita- tion hall chiefs I have known arrive last, a minute before they are obliged to ring the bell that begins the evening sittings. The Thief arrives first, sitting alone in the empty hall long before any of the monks enter. There are rules in the meditation hall—lots of rules—and there are cus- toms. That the hall chief is entitled to arrive last, after all the other monks are settled on their cushions, is one of the customs. That everyone who enters the hall, before proceeding to his own REPORTS FROM THE ZEN WARS The Impossible Rigor of a Questioning Life by Steve Antinoff Counterpoint Press; 288 pp., $16.95 (paperback) LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 76