A great fraud has been perpetrated on an unsuspecting West. We are supposed to believe that a person sitting in a Japanese sand garden or in an empty rice-paper room is enjoying a peaceful respite from the cares of life. Don’t be misled. The man in the silk bathrobe is not serene; he has been very heavily sedated.
If he were not drugged the Zen Master would spend a couple of minutes thinking about what a fine job the fellow did raking the dirt and how three rocks is enough for anyone. Then, because he is human, he would soon wonder how long he is going to be expected to hold still and watch the dirt. His left ankle would begin to itch and his mind would go back to the strange soup his wife served for his breakfast and he would wonder if she were as inscrutable as she thinks she is, or if she were not putting something over on him while he was watching the dirt.
Soon he would break down and scratch his ankle. It would feel a little hot and swollen from inaction and the scratching would only make it worse. He might be relieved to note that his weight had cut off the circulation through one of his buttocks and that he could no longer communicate with his left leg. He would reflect that he was not always a Zen Master. Once he had had a good job with Sony. He had been able to get up and jangle around every now and then.
On the other side of the world however, the true Zen Master is experiencing the absolute liberation of the mind and spirit which can only be enjoyed amid the baroque clutter of one’s own workshop. Everywhere one looks, there are shelves salvaged from defunct clothing stores, cobbled out of scraps of plywood, lifted out of neighbors’ yards on Big Trash Day.
Every shelf sags with the weight of tools or with coffee cans full of pole-barn nails or doorknobs. Drill bits bristle from blocks of wood drilled full of holes. Every vertical surface has something hanging on it from every imaginable nail and screw. The corners of the room are softened by thick cobwebs which support the fine sawdust and small dead bugs which give the place an atmosphere at once restful and exotic. Old band saw blades hang in tangles from the rafters. The rusty pot-bellied stove waits for winter.
The eye surveys the piles of maple and mahogany, the crumbling boxes of casters, and the yellowed plans for a violin. The mind is at ease, knowing that a thousand diversions wait in timeless patience. A hundred unfinished projects sit stacked or boxed. Nothing needs to be done, but anything is possible. Possibilities are everywhere.
The hand reaches softly and turns on the television. The Packers and Bears are about to kick off at Soldier Field. The ear is caressed by the soft sigh of a beer can. The spirit rises free above the cares of the earth. Among the clutter, there is true peace.