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Showing posts from 2015

Drawing at the Zoo

The koan: "Who's a pretty bird?"

Long ago, when I was raising young kids, I took a class. The class was just for me, a whole morning every week, drawing. It was called Zoo Drawing and it involved going to the zoo and, well, drawing.

Drawing animals at the zoo is unusual and challenging. For one thing, the animals rarely ever hold still. What you draw has to be rendered quickly, or filed away in memory, things like where the of the grey crowned crane's beak goes in relation to its eye. It's a little like drawing people on the subway, but not really, because the people on the subway aren't aware of you drawing them. The most unexpected thing was the relationship that happened when the animals started to notice me looking at them.

Most people at the zoo move quickly from animal to animal. They often do this funny thing: To their children, or even if they lack children, they make an observation about how they think the animals are related to each other. "The…

The Tea Lady and the Fox

Women who ran tea houses in China appear often in Zen koans and stories. The tea lady often holds the role of the trickster, cleverly disguised as not-a-teacher, magically making certainty disappear.

There was a woman who ran a tea shop near where the Zen master Hakuin lived. She knew a lot about tea, he told his students, and her understanding of Zen was very good too. Many of them wondered about this and went to the village to see for themselves. Whenever the woman saw them coming, she could tell immediately whether they had come for the tea or for the Zen. Those wanting tea she served graciously. For the others, she hid until they came to her door and then she attacked them with a fire poker. Only one in ten managed to escape the beating.

I used to live in Seattle and one of my favorite places to go hang around was the International District. That’s what other cities call “Chinatown”. One day, some years ago, I wandered into a tea shop with some of my family on Chinese New Year’s D…

A Goose in a Bottle

Koan: A woman raised a goose in a bottle. When the goose had grown, she wanted to get it out, without harming the goose or breaking the bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle?

Once I bought a little tree at the store. It was the first tree I ever planted, at a new house when I had just started living something like an adult life. The tree was folded in half with the roots up next to the branches so it was short enough to fit, wrapped in plastic, in a basket with other little trees. The whole thing was about 2 feet long. I brought it home and dug a hole and planted it in the tiny front lawn in front of my house. Somebody told me I planted it too close to... something, maybe the fence or the window, but I didn't believe them. How can you anticipate that something will grow if you've never seen it? But it did, and it was too close, although it took a few years for me to see it.

When I was a kid we got a puppy, a bullmastiff puppy. He was really cute. Someone told me, …