In demonstrating the technique "breathing while
the abbot found himself confusing his students about
a small point concerning impermanence, a point
having to do with a letting go of the breath which otherwise
might have gone unnoticed. Falling into a trance
a few of his students mistook for the climax of his lecture,
he realized there was nothing he could do to rescue them
from the folly he, himself, had created. He sat frozen
in samadhi, legs crossed, eyes downcast, while
outside the pagoda the street swarmed with refugees from
a nearby province. The clatter of hooves, the smoke of
their campfires & the odor of their spices filled the courtyard.
The temple bell rang. His students trotted off to
join the older monks, and the abbot, following his breath
and seated in full lotus, fought each fleeting thought
as though it were his last: category one had to do with suffering;
the second concerned itself with forgiveness;
while categories three and four covered personal
and administrative matters.
He noticed his mind lit on category two.
Whom would he like to forgive? At mid-afternoon
he awoke the students from their torpor and watched
the disheveled crowd mill before the temple gates.
The cypress wept, the hills rose into a fleece of cloud:
as his gaze lit on a family huddled around glowing embers
above which sizzled a cat's scrawny carcass,
the abbot's stomach churned. He returned to his students
playing a word game based on the dialectics of the Diamond Sutra:
all these molecules are not really such,"
one of the students—a middle-aged eunuch—
said, and the others grinned behind their scrolls.
Late afternoon. He listened to the hub-bub of fresh refugees
while above the tea-garden—where the prayer flags rippled—
vultures circled. Peering out the gate, he again surveyed the crowd
whose smudged faces & barbarian ornaments
appeared to him both exotic and familiar,
a shimmering projection of the mind's chaos
that in moments would be swept away.
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