Published: June 30th 2010June 30th 2010
A backpacker visited a Zen master to have a cup of tea.
While the tourist was drinking the tea, the master was subjected to some questions about Zen.
“Master, what is Zen?
“Master, why is Zen?
“Master, can I have some milk for my tea?”
“Master, is Zen Zen?”
The Master got up and started fiddling with the visitors pack.
From within his robes the Master produced an uncommon cornucopia of unremarkable objects: incense sticks, little bundles of silk chillis, a luminous plastic buddha, a frog and a coin, a portrait of Mao, a cigarette lighter in the shape of a Glock, acrylic nails, a Hello Kitty dangly thing for a mobile phone, some squid jerky, a reversing alarm that plays Jingle Bells, firecrackers, a Ba Gua mirror, hundreds of overpriced packets of damp tissues, a clockwork bird that whistles when you clap you hands, “Dalai Lama picture”, red paper lanterns, Manchester United nail-clippers, handfuls of fake money, packets of instant noodles, mangosteen… and began to stuff it all inside the visitors pack.
As he did so, out-aspilling came the traveller’s Lonely Planet, hair conditioner, picture of mom, $300 ergonomically designed trekking sandals, mosquito repellent, money belt, pedometer, phrase book, space-age fibre wooly hat, copy of The Lost Symbol, three different factors of sun protection, Kotex, Durex, Xanax, diarrhea tablets, nose-hair clippers, malarial prophylactics, aluminium drinking water bottle, multi-tool, Maglite and GPS.
The visitor watched the overflowing bag until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the backpacker blurted out.
"You are like this bag," the master replied, "You are so full of unnecessary Western crap that there is no room for all this irrelevant Chinese shit."
I know a lot.
But I don’t understand a thing.
Well nothing about humans anyway, except myself and by all accounts I don’t seem to the runniest of the mill human. I don’t understand why people get up for work in morning; why they want a new car when the old one still works. I don’t understand why anyone would sit through a school concert in order to hear their ugly child warbling like an unoiled gate underwater. I don’t understand why anyone needs a flatter wider screen. I have no idea why some people won’t eat pork. I have no idea why anyone would sit on a train for four hours a day, in order to slave at a screen, in order to buy a $2,000 camera, in order to take a picture of their wife and kid, making V-signs in front of the tour bus. I don’t know how or why everyone suddenly got so fat. I understand what the government does, but I don’t know why anyone puts up with it. I know that men and women are radically different, but I don’t understand why we would want to be the same. I just don’t ‘get’ the pursuit of happiness. I have no idea why life is precious. If there is a bright side to look on, then there must be a dark side: what so great about bright that is so bad about dark? I just don’t get it. People like seeing things - movies, paintings, mountains, temples, castles, vibrant market places - but I have no idea why. There is nothing I want, and I don’t understand what ‘wanting’ is for.
Yes, my backpack is full of unnecessary Western crap, and indeed it is true that there is no room for irrelevant Chinese shit. But I am easy about it. Actually if truth be told, my backpack weighs less than ten kilos: two of them were made by IBM and another half is a cognac like substance that cost me more than a dollar. Lord only knows how much the bloody Bolaño weighs: about two thirds more than necessary, I guess. It’s a small bag, but it is still full, and there is still too much stuff. Whoever needed two pairs of shoes? I carry one pair while I wear the other. Why am I carrying shoes? What sense is there in that? Let the Master bestrew my crap on his lacquered floor; let him fill my cup with tat. I can dump all his tat in the nearest trash can and trip more lightly, but trip to where?
To where e’er the Ba Gua leads, I suppose: the craftsman enslaved by his tool.