Wants – A Zen Koan

Kenjirosan watched as the bee sipped water collected in the pockets of moss. It’s frail wings reined in a caravan of colours above the shimmering film of moisture. Kenjirosan preferred to sit by the lake before his evening tea ritual and he already knew the taste that would swathe his tongue today. As he watched the gentle breeze teeter the little one, Kenjirosan smiled at the determination with which it sipped. Kenjirosan opened his palm into a flower-like gesture with his index finger pointing towards the bee and the little finger towards his heart.
“What you (index finger) want is what the trees (middle finger) want. The heaven (ring finger) and earth (thumb) lie between me (the little finger) and you, but how different are we, when we all meet at the centre of the Divine palm?”

Makoto ran up to Kenjirosan and knelt before him.
“Permission to speak Kenjiro sensei.”
The bee had flown away and could be property to any one of A natural thirstthe waves that unfolded like colourless silk scented by the trees that directed them.
Kenjirosan looked at the little boy whose earnestness would eventually silence all masters including himself. How much the prostrating boy, with his robe fluttering in the pre-winter breeze, resembled the bee!
“I beg your pardon Kenjiro sensei.”
Kenjirosan smiled and said, “You appear breathless. Wouldn’t you want a sip of water to drink before we started our discussion?”
Makoto shook his head and waited.
“Speak, Makoto, else you would stay thirsty for longer than its due.”
“Master, Emperor Yukio was in the town while we were gathering alms.”
“He is a powerful king, isn’t he, Makoto?”
Hmm. He was addressing the people and talking to them about the taxes that he plans to levy. He also elaborated on his plans for the kingdom.”
Hmm. And his plans disturb you, Makoto?”
“No, Master. May the Buddha be with him. It is something else.”
“The presence of His Highness outside the palace walls, disturbs you, perhaps?”
“No, Master. I am not sure what troubled me, but something about his speech made me wonder.”
“It is different from how you speak Master.”
“I am no Emperor.”
“I didn’t mean it in that sense. Forgive me, I wasn’t comparing you to anyone.”
“Not an issue at all. Go on. Tell me all that troubles you.”
“The Emperor knows what he wants. He is clear about what he wishes to have and what he wishes to see happen during his rule. Why! He also knows what should happen in the kingdom a hundred years from now. But kings are defeated in battles, aren’t they? While I was returning to the monastery, I met a cowherd. I asked him whether he knew what he wanted. He wanted more milk from his cows and no taxes on that. But livestock is the whim of famine and plague, isn’t it? Botan who was sitting in the tree shade writing love poems was certain that he wanted the love of the landlord’s second daughter and nothing else in the world would matter to him. But isn’t all love the fancy of a mechanically beating heart and an earnestly recollecting brain?”
Makoto waited for his Master to clarify without him having to bare his naivete. He swallowed before continuing.
“Master, it amazes me that people know what they want. Not all, but most people know what they want.”
“People shouldn’t want?”
“No, Master. I am sure it is ok to want, but my confusion arises from a simple question that took form as I watched a hummingbird bounce on the stamen of a flower. How does one know what he wants? And as my feet rushed to your presence, this question became: How does one know what to want? I am silly and inarticulate, so I hope Master forgives me in case I am not clear. There are million things on this earth and each to tickle a bevy of our senses. Some cater not directly to our senses but go beyond them to create an individual other than our ordinary self. In this array of valuables, how does one shine more to a particular pair of eyes?”
Kenjirosan smiled before he asked, “How many wants does a new born babe have?”
“The scriptures mention three.”
“And how many plague the young lad on the street?”
“As many as the boy next door, possesses.”
“How many threads does a man need to braid his rope of samsara?”
“As many as shall keep his wife speaking in firm tones when she joins others in preparing the evening meal.”
“How many wants strengthen the bones of a man whose teeth are preserved by not consuming anything harder than mashed rice porridge?”
“The scriptures mention nothing about the wants of the elderly.”
“Because it recommends giving up wants.”
“Which itself is a want.”
Makoto smiled and wished he could open himself wide to the Master’s warm wisdom.
“The nearly dead have three wants: to attain the highest position in the heavens, to be remembered and to live longer to watch other people praise them for attaining the first two wants. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes, Master.”
“So, do you now see why the little babe is given the longest time to attain its simplest wants?”
“Yes, Master.”
“And how his want is different from all others’?”
“Yes, Master.”
Kenjirosan smiled and extended his hand forward. The tips of his fingers were brought together and as he watched Makoto’s eyes fixed on them, he unfurled them into a flower, with the index finger pointing towards Makoto and the little finger towards his soul.
Makoto slowly nodded his head and his eyes shimmered with what had quenched his thirst.


3 thoughts on “Wants – A Zen Koan

  1. Perfect. Living the Truth precludes need for questions like “What should I want?” One just is and lives the Truth and does what needs to be done while doing so.#Beautiful – the way you have spoken of the lotus shaped hand where the bee, the man, the trees all need the water that heaven takes from the Earth and gives back to the Earth, clearly speaking of the oneness of all beings in the Divine’s palm, is exquisite.# As always your Zen Koans are exquisite. Very difficult to get the hang of it at first reading or the second for that matter. But once one does, it is sheer bliss and wisdom.Lovely.

  2. lovely, lovely, lovely. just loved it. the delicate perch of life on everything transient, the eternal struggle to find meanings out of it.. this moved me deeply.

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