The Emperor asked his teacher, “After you die, what will you need?”
His teacher replied, “Build me a seamless tomb.”
The Emperor asked, “Please tell me teacher, what it will look like.”
His teacher sat silently for a time, and then asked, “Do you understand?”
The Emperor said, “No, I don’t understand.”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, case 18
In Zen, we come to know that our lives, and in fact all things, are bound together in a seamless-ness that is like a web of interdependence. So, in helping one thing, we help all things; and in hurting one, we hurt all. And by honoring one, we honor all.
Last Saturday, through a memorial we held at his home, I buried my first Zen teacher. Bob “Señor” King, was our Spanish teacher in high school and hosted us at his house two early mornings a week. Born in the United States, his mother, a medical doctor, took him home to her native Philippines just before the start of World War II, where he spent the war under the hard Japanese occupation. It was there that he contracted poliomyelitis, and lived his whole life as a paraplegic, walking with the aid of braces and a cane. He lived alone, but with regard to his condition, not once in 46 years did I hear him complain, even though in later years he was confined to bed.
Señor King was known by all of us to be brilliant, fierce, quirky and warmhearted. Sometimes as we gathered, he would break into a huge fit of laughter, for no apparent reason; we could not help but join in. His physical disability did not diminish his towering spirit and boundless joy for life. In the early 1970s, a small group of high school friends became interested in Zen, and he invited us to his house to meditate with him twice a week at 5:30 in the morning. The Zen he taught was energetic, at times wacky ~ we were encouraged to emulate Linji by yelling katz! whenever the spirit moved us ~ but also true and heartfelt. It was the real thing. I remember once, while on a break during a weekend retreat at Señor’s house, I was looking out onto the freeway far below and each car at each moment was in exactly the right place: not one thing out of place.
Señor King considered himself a Taoist, and told us that when he meditated, he breathed through the soles of his feet. He was also deeply interested in the I Ching and Nordic runes. We all felt that he had some esoteric and magical personal powers. When returning home from visiting him, I would drive down the hill and come to a major 4-way stop light. Though theoretically random, I noticed the light always turned green as I approached, and I began to keep score. In all, the light turned green for me 16 times in a row. Then, as he became ill, the lights were always red. Last Saturday, once again, approaching the intersection, once again the light for me turned green. Señor King is still building his seamless tomb.