Friday, December 9, 2016

Illusion and Tea


The Master had surrounded himself with books and students, and yet Simplicity was the by-word for his school.

"The tree. Do you know it for its leaves? Or the snow?" the Master asked. When no one had said a word, he closed his eyes. After a minute, he finally said: "All is illusion."

"Especially if you put it like that," his Wife added, yelling from the kitchen. I am with her because I am a woman and supposedly incapable of philosophy.

“If he wanted simplicity, why did he marry me? His wife asks. She stands in the kitchen and knows a few things. She pours tea, the same tea, but into different cups. Hers is a tall, ceramic beaker the color of jade and yet it is chipped.

My tea is in a beautifully turned wooden bowl. But one there are bite marks on.

“The child will bite the cup from which it drinks.” I said this, looking at it.

“Yes, he’s famous for that one.” Together, we sat down and pulled feathers from a pair of old dead chickens who cannot lay eggs. I wonder if the act is metaphorically important: a point the woman means to bring home.

“But you know, there is only one bowl. That one you are drinking from. It’s made out of maple. I remember the tree when I was a little girl. It was cut down and the wood was full of such complexity that my father had it cut up and cured. Later, they made things out of it and sold much of it to rich bureaucrats and merchants. I only have a few pieces left. The ordinary things you see here.

“But you see,” she continued “it’s one of the only three, but my son, he was teething and used to bite on this bowl. The “master” out there then makes some sort of grand statement about it. He leaves out all the particulars. His students like that you know. It’s easier to think about rather than trying to imagine my son.

“But they don’t know how fast his hair grew. They don’t know his smell back then, or how he blew on his breakfast to cool it off. And each morning, the congee was different. So were the breaths he used. What he was thinking. Even my son can’t remember my son anymore. Not what he was.”

“But I do," she finally added with a touch of melancholy.

“This tea. We drink it from different cups, but it’s the same, isn’t it?” I ask.

“Careful. The Wise Monkey Turd out there will steal that one as well.”

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