I’d been so looking forward to Sunday. I had just sat down, my bottom on my cushion, my cushion on the floor, floor atop the mountain, mountain near Kyoto, Japan, and I was preparing for my first bout of zazen — the seated meditation — here at the monastery atop Mount Hiei. I scrunched into what I called a sort-of lotus position, which was as close as I could get to a half lotus, much less a full one, and exhaled. Soon I would be one with the cosmos. I was only awaiting the arrival Myogetsu Oshō. Myogetsu was his name, I think, and Oshō meant teacher, or some such.
It was then I heard the horrid approach of bare heels thumping on stone, the swish of athletic pants. The good-natured what ho, my hearties! echoing off walls, swirling about the confines to rattle my poor ear-bones. My heart sank. It was most certainly not Myogetsu. It was an oaf. This one:
Don’t let him see me, I whispered to the not-silence, cupping my hands over my eyes. I began to chant I am invisible, I am invisible.
But of course the bare feet stopped right in front of me, toes wiggling, sniffing me out.
I cursed them, both feet and all nine toes. I considered spitting on them, but that would have been uncouth for a first timer. For any timer, really. I’m sure monks don’t spit on feet much. Wouldn’t be very Zen, that.
I hid under the visor of my fingers, but his friendly face dropped down and peek-a-booed me. His meaty hand yanked mine away to confirm it was indeed me under the shadows. His high-pitched nasally voice stated simply, “Waltypants!”
“Why must I suffer?” I moaned in defeat. “How do you find me wherever I go?”
“It’s funny, buddy. When I was looking for ya in Africa, I couldn’t find ya. Now I’m not looking for ya in Japan, and here you are. Seems we only find what we seek when we stop seeking!”
A pair of monks nearby overheard this, and from them a collective ah arose. They nodded and smiled, seeming quite pleased with Dick’s wisdom. One of them pointed at Dick and said, “Myogetsu has right understanding of Zen. He will be good teacher for you.”
It took me a moment to register the magnitude of that statement. I looked up at Dick and said, “Dick? Tell me — right this moment — that what that man said is fake news.”
The other monk shook his head and smiled. “Not fake news. He is Dick Myogetsu Hercules Oshō.”
“He very good teacher,” said the first monk. “He teach you every Sunday.”
I sighed a heavy sigh, stood up, tucked my pillow under one arm, snapped my financials page under the other, and turned to go.
“Where you going, Waltypants?”
“Wait a minute,” said Dick. “I got something for ya.” And from his waistband he pulled the familiar, folded sheet of paper torn from a spiral-bound notebook on which he usually submitted to me his poetry, if it can even be called that (which it shouldn’t).
“And what is it this time, Dick?” I said, unfolding the sheet, which was damp with perspiration. “Something about waffles? A list of Carpenters’ song titles cobbled into verse?” I couldn’t recall the last time he’d submitted something original. I fished my monocle out of my breast pocket, popped it in, and read:
When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; what is the sound of one hand clapping?
I let my monocle dangle, looked him in the eye. “What is this nonsense?” I said.
“Homework,” said Dick, with a wink.
One of the monks said, “Myogetsu give you Zen kōan to ponder!”
I refolded the paper and slapped it against Dick’s meat-covered chest (it stuck there). “I came for Enlightenment, not homework.”
That was a mistake, in case you were wondering. That’s how you suck the air out of a Zen monastery, in case you were wondering more. The monks blinked at each other. Then they blinked at Dick. Dick gave them the curious eyeball, complete with upraised brow, then turned it on me.
The first monk shook his head and said, “Myogetsu is good teacher, but he require good student.”
”Not jackass,” added the other monk, jabbing his finger into me.
Dick cocked his head and said, “You a jackass, Waltyboy?”
I had a feeling it would be a very long walk back down the mountain.