January 7, 2011
Xing Wei came before the Master, who refused, under any circumstances, to tell him his name.
His refusal was adamant, and it reached such depth that, after Xing Wei had stepped over the threshhold of the Master’s temple (itself lacking any name beyond Temple), he refused ever to call Xing Wei by his own name.
Thus Xing Wei became the Student.
This had by no means exhausted the Master’s abstemiousness. After refusing to greet the Student, he further refused to address him in any way at all, and the two sat in the Temple for about the length of the morning(/Morning?).
A parrakeet clung inelegantly and unaddressed to the robes on the Master’s shoulder. The Student watched it obsessively, unable to still his mind in harmony with the profound silence. For some reason he kept waiting for it to say something like “never more.” (It never did. This in no way lessened the expectation).
At the midday meal the Master abstained from any of the customary drinks, scooping a solitary cup from a bucket of water that had stood out in the rain the previous night. In fact, he came close to abstaining from the meal altogether, only deigning to eat (with apparent disdain) a meagre bowl of rice (modest and plain).
(Food was nevertheless provided in luxurious abundance; the Student gathered something of its function from the wave of nauseous humiliation that rushed over him when he reached for it).
By the end of the day the ritual had been repeated in still greater and greater variants of virtue, until, as a finalé to the performance, the Master abstained from telling either of them what they were Master and Student of…
The Master repeated the Student’s words aloud, wondering:
“The purpose is to still the thoughts.
The strategem to silence them.
The fortress is this edifice.
The keep is my authority.
It’s built from stones of ancient words
Carried in our minds like wheat
Upon our bent though idle backs
Unquestioned through eternity.
We bend to the way.”
The question was “what are you doing here?”
Whatever it was, they had been doing it for many months.
But the question had only one answer.
“Do you think that is the answer, Student?” snapped the Master. “Of course that is not the answer.”
Without a further word of explanation, he returned to his customary silence.
The Master had always been old, but he had never looked so small as when he was confined to breathing shallowly, lying on his back.
The Student kept a now well-adept vigil beside him. He expected nothing.
As the breathing grew shallower, the Student could not help keep his vigil a little more attentively, as though expecting nothing a little more acutely.
The last breath was marked by its slow elegance. In its final traces the Master’s eyes turned. The Student, in his and the Master’s last moment, looked into them, and did not learn a thing.