Regret and Hope ~ The Lost Apprentice
Please Play this as you read
The scent of peach blossoms mingles with the gentle breeze as it plays among the bright green leaves. Shafts of sunlight dance through the branches as the apprentice arrives at the master's garden. His eyes crinkle at the beauty around him but a lone furrow worries his forehead. He rubs his freshly shaven scalp as he walks on the path decorated with leaves and petals. It is his first day.
The master sits in the stone seat near the stream, watching. His face a weathered relief map where a thousand thoughts have ploughed their lines. The face is impassive, but the eyes that shine through the wrinkles are as piercing as the sunlight shafts.
The apprentice is young, yet his posture is hunched over with the burden of what he has left behind. Even when empty, he seems to carry his shoulders like a merchant carrying his laden wares on a bamboo stick. He walks up to the master.
The master smiles as the apprentice bows low. There is a pot of tea and two cups on a wooden tray. The apprentice lifts his head and speaks. 'Thank you for having me here, oh venerable Rōshi, My heart is full with joy."
The Master waves the apprentice to sit down beside him and lifts the pot of tea and pours it into the cup. The apprentice watches reverently as the stream of tea first flows, fills and then gradually overflows from the cup spilling over into the tray.
The Master is smiling at the apprentice and the latter hesitates for a moment. Has the old man not realised the cup was full? Do I say something? would he be offended?
The apprentice clears his throat and says hesitantly, "Rōshi, er... the cup is full"
The Master's eyes glint. "That it is, Oshō , That it is."
The apprentice is tasked with filling pottery with pebbles across the garden. He quietly set about his work in the morning after prayers. The sky was a clear blue with wispy clouds floating by like a steady procession of ceremonial boats. The apprentice drifts through the haze of morning light like a feather and thinks about his family. His house. His mother's cooking. His girl. His hands hesitate over the pot as he rolls the pebble tenderly in his fingers, meditating on what once was.
The master appears from behind the overgrown trellis leaning on his stick. He tents his palms over the stick and rests his chin, watching the apprentice dream.
He walks over to a pot already full of pebbles.
He taps loudly on the rim with his stick. The apprentice snaps from his dream back into the garden. He bows deep as the Master gazes down at him.
"Is this full, young Oshō?"
"Yes, my kind Rōshi. I filled it just a moment ago."
"Is this full?" the master repeats.
The apprentice frowns. The old furrow on his smooth forehead reappears. "Yes, Oh Rōshi. I did it myself. As you can see the pebbles are up to the brim, I couldn't fit another one."
The master leaned over to the ground and cups a handful of fine sand. He pours it into the mouth of the pot.
"It appears it wasn't full after all" . The Master smiles as the sand disappeared into the nooks and crannies within the pot.
The apprentice sees the girl looking up at the cherry blossom tree outside the rock wall of the Master's garden. He rubs his scalp as if to chase away thoughts. He tries to recall that morning's prayer, but his brain refuses to cooperate. He pretends to look at the bubbling stream that flows among the black pebbles while from the corner of the eye he adores the bright, flowery Kimono, the dark hair in a bunch and the curious eyes.
His heart flows like the stream around the pebbles - rebellious and reverberant.
The Master comes down the path- he had the habit of appearing silently out of nowhere despite his slow gait and the clack clack of the walking stick. He smiles at the apprentice and goes to the pot now full of pebbles and sand. He strikes his stick on the rim.
The apprentice blushes. " I think so, oh Rōshi. You made sure it was."
The Master grabs an empty cup from the bench and leans over onto the stream. He pours the sparkling water into the pot and watches it disappear in between the sand and the pebbles.
"It appears not." He grins, showing old, crooked teeth that nevertheless sparkle in joy.
The apprentice sits to meditate on the garden bench. His inner thoughts ripple through his face. There is no peace on his demeanour. He scrunches his eyes shut, attempting to close things out.
The Master watches. Kind, considerate, free. He sings a strange song:
The roof does not help
If it rains and pours inside
Embrace the water.
Regret and Hope
The apprentice rubs his tear stained eyes.
"Has Buddha abandoned me, Oh Rōshi?"
He kneels before the Master. The sky is cloudy with a distant rumble announcing an imminent storm.
"No my child."
"Why could I not stay?"
"Why should you stay?"
"I came to become like you, a sensei"
"You still can."
"I gave up everything for Buddha"
"Buddha doesn't need anything." The Master smiles."It is better to think of Buddha when you are following your destiny than to think of your lost destiny while following Buddha"
"Am I not good enough?"
"No my child, It is I and this garden and Buddha himself not good enough for you. The girl is still pretending to watch the blossoms. Go talk to her."
The Master watches as little eddies twirl on the surface of the stream. Leaves dance on the pebble path, unhindered, unburdened.
The apprentice is walking outside the wall, approaching the girl. The shoulders are square, strong, unbowed.
The Master plucks a hollow reed from the water and pushes one end into the flower pot full of pebble, sand and water.
He blows into the pot and listens to the air bubble through the slushy mixture of earth. The Earth that gives life to all.
"There's still room"
The Master's eyes shine through the garden as the clouds part and sun starts to shine again. The storm is only a distant memory.