Yes, I must confess I had a private tutor. That first tutor was himself uneducated. He was not teaching me, but trying to learn by teaching me. Perhaps he had heard the great saying, “The best way to learn is to teach,” but he was a good man, nice, not like a nasty schoolteacher. To be a school teacher one has to be nasty. That is part of the whole business world. He was nice – just butterlike, very soft. Let me confess, I used to hit him, but he would not hit me back. He would simply laugh and say, “You are a child, you can hit me. I am an old man, I cannot hit you back. When you are old you will understand.” That’s what he said to me, and yes, I understand.
He was a nice villager with great insight. Sometimes villagers have insight which civilized people lack. Just now I am reminded….
A beautiful woman comes to a beach. Seeing nobody around she undresses. Just before she steps into the ocean an old fellow stops her and says, “Lady, I am the village policeman. It is prohibited to swim in the ocean from this beach.” The woman looks puzzled and says, “Then why did you not prevent me from getting undressed?” The old man laughs and laughs, with tears in his eyes. He says, “Undressing is not prohibited, so I waited behind a tree!”
A beautiful villager…that type of people lived in the village – simple people. It was surrounded by small hills and there was a small pond. Nobody could describe that pond except Basho. Even he does not describe the pond, he simply says,
The ancient pond
Frog jumps in
Is this a description? The pond is only mentioned, the frog too. No description of the pond or the frog…and plop!
The village had an ancient pond, very ancient, and very ancient trees surrounding it; they were perhaps hundreds of years old. And beautiful rocks all around…and certainly the frogs jumped; day in and day out you could hear “plop,” again and again. The sound of frogs jumping really helped the prevailing silence. That sound made the silence richer, more meaningful.
This is the beauty of Basho; he could describe something without actually describing it. He could say something without even mentioning a word. “Plop!” Now, is this a word? No word could do justice to the sound of a frog jumping into the ancient pond, but Basho did it justice.
I am not a Basho, and that village needed a Basho. Perhaps he would have made beautiful sketches, paintings, and haikus…. I have not done anything about that village – you will wonder why. I have not even visited it again. Once is enough. I never go to a place twice. For me number two does not exist. I have left many villages, many towns, never to return again. Once gone, gone forever, that’s my way; so I have not returned to that village. The villagers have sent messages to me to come at least once more. I told them, through a messenger, “I have been there once already, twice is not my way.”
But the silence of that ancient pond stays with me – again I am reminded of the Himalayas…the snow – so beautiful, so pure, so innocent. You can only see it through the eyes of a Bodhidharma, a Jesus, or Basho. There is no other way to describe the snow; only the eyes of buddhas reflect it. Idiots can trample it, can make snowballs out of it, but only the eyes of the buddhas can reflect it, although…