Monday, March 19, 2007

Elizabeth Street, NoLIta, March 2007

One day, Enkan called to his attendant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The attendant said, “The fan is broken.”
Enkan said, “If the fan is broken, then bring me back the rhinoceros!”
The attendant made no reply.
Shifuku drew a circle and wrote the word “rhino” inside it.

This is a koan, one of those perplexing Zen riddles that some practitioners work with during their meditation. This particular koan played a prominent role in a ceremony we held Sunday at the Zendo as we concluded our retreat.

I don’t have much personal experience with koans. As I understand it, they are not meant to be solved with linear thinking, like you would solve a standard puzzle. Instead, they’re meant to lead you to a place beyond the boundaries of your usual thought process - outside the box, as they say - and bring you a spark of illumination.

This is a beautiful koan - a poem, really. The broken fan, the powerful rhinoceros, the unending perfection of the circle: Terrific images.

I don’t really have any business trying to explain it - I would be out of my depth. To dramatically oversimplify the explanation I heard Sunday, our minds are the rhinoceros.

After I left the Zendo, I walked home beneath a sunny blue sky, through streets running with slushy meltwater. I shot the photo above through a fence, which surrounded a yard full of garden statuary and kept the snow inside clean, white and even.

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