Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Piece Of Stone Setter's Magic

Some of the stones were of an enormous size, great dark blocks of stone, greater than a full-grown man in length, they had probably been transported to the garden from some distant location on the island. Shigoto’s mind kept wandering back to how these stones had been brought into the garden. Even dragging the stones with teams of oxen they must have taken a great effort. Did the setters of these stones have access to some secret knowledge; did they really know and understand just what they were doing? Did they know about the power the stones held? Sensei’s words, or rather what he had intimated, in that all too brief conversation, had lit up Shigoto’s mind, and he had to keep reminding himself that Sensei had not actually revealed anything of what the secret teaching was, merely hinted at its existence. Though in doing so he had confirmed to Shigoto its very potential, and that was sufficient for the moment, now he could realise for himself that there was more to this whole business than simply the ‘hard work and nothing but hard work’.

For the rest of the day the gardeners under the close direction of Maguro Sensei worked on resetting stones which had been revealed by the clearing work; stones which Sensei decided had fallen over were lifted back upright, others were simply moved a little one way or another. Before they tackled a stone, Sensei would look intently at it for a few moments, sometimes running his hands over its surface, sometimes stepping back a few paces to look at the stone from a variety of positions, before finally seeming to come to a decision as to how the stone was to be positioned. He worked with the focussed, purposeful air of someone deep in concentration, straining all his being to make a profound connection with the materials he was working with. To find some certain space in which he could hear what the materials themselves demanded of him, and not just to impose his will, however formidable it may be on them. There was no conversation or banter between the gardeners as they worked, and it was as if Sensei’s approach had infected them all. If there was logic or system to what Sensei was doing or trying to achieve, then he revealed little or nothing of that to the rest of the crew. Shigoto became aware that they were expected to work to a degree of precision, the significance of which often passed him by. “Lift that corner a little more, by the height of four fingers,” he would say, and they would push a long wooden pole under the stone, and bear down on the end of the lever to force the stone upward a few degrees, then Sensei would step back, his eyes never straying one moment from the stone. Then having checked on the effect achieved, fresh instructions would come. “Lift a little more … no, too much, let it fall back again. Now twist it this way a little, no not quite so far… there, hold that position. Don’t let it move.” When the stone was in exactly the position Sensei required, then they would force earth under the stone, pounding it again and again with the blunt end of a shorter pole to pack it in tight and hard. Once this was done Sensei 

would step back again, moving his position this way and that, his eyes always fixed keenly on the object before him, his brow furrowed in fierce concentration, until finally he would let them know that he was satisfied. He would with a gesture of the hand or an approving grunt signal his approval, and then the earth would be smoothed and tidied around the stone. Then once he was satisfied that they had achieved the best they were able, they moved on to the next piece in his sights.  Occasionally once they had fixed a stone in its new position and had moved on to the next, Sensei reverted back to a stone they had shifted previously to make yet another fine adjustment to its setting, often 
these further corrections were barely perceptible even to the gardeners themselves.

 There was one boulder that seemed to resist any effort on behalf of the gardeners to move to Sensei’s satisfaction. No matter how they pushed, pulled, levered, or dug about it, the stone intractably resisted their best efforts. It was the large piece that Sensei had been sitting on earlier, it was a very large stone, probably weighing far more than the combined weight of all the gardeners together, and Sensei was intent on setting it upright. Despite the combined efforts of the gardeners to raise it, it seemed to be fixed to its resting place at the top of a rise in the ground, for over an hour they applied their labour to elevate the stone into a position that Sensei would be satisfied with. They pushed at it again and again, heaved, pulled on levers and ropes, but every time Sensei stepped back to look at the progress they had made, one glance at his expression was sufficient to convey that they had not yet succeeded.

“Stop lifting, Kamaboku, prop the stone where it is, don’t let it slip back any further. Keep it where it is.” The gardeners did as they were bidden, and fell back in a group, bruised, tired and beginning to feel that they were attempting something beyond their powers. Round and round Sensei prowled, looking at the stone first from one position then another. Shigoto could tell that Maguro Sensei was clearly dissatisfied. He could see that there was not too much wrong, after all they had finally managed to get the stone more or less upright, and to him a few degrees this way or that would have made not a jot of difference. After all, who will ever know that the stone was intended to be any other way? If, as Sensei had said himself, the stones had been placed here many years ago, perhaps the people who set them here may have been satisfied with what they had achieved. His arms ached terribly now, and there was a growing sense of weariness spreading throughout his whole body. He just wanted someone, Sensei in particular, to call the day to an end, so that they might gather up their tools and equipment which was scattered about, load up the handcart and head back to the House of Gardeners, so that he could sink into the comforting embrace of a tub of hot water. After all, there was always another day, and what did it really matter if it was not perfect? Would it really be so tragic a misfortune that the stone was a few degrees out of an alignment that only Sensei himself could see? Would that really condemn the house of the Saeko clan to some grievous misfortune? He was coming to doubt it, even if he wanted to believe otherwise.

The gardeners had gathered together watching Maguro Sensei making his continuous inspection, each one silently praying that an end to the day would be called. Even the normally irrepressible Kamaboku stood looking down at the ground, lost in his own thoughts and shuffling his feet. They had after all managed with a great effort to lift the stone into a position where it was more or less upright, the huge slab of stone now reared out of the ground, dominating the position it held.

“It is still not right,” Sensei spoke at last, finally letting out the fateful words that the gardeners dreaded to hear, even if they did expect them. The light was now beginning to fall, it had been a long day, and above their heads the birds were gathering to roost in the trees.

“Kamaboku, “ Sensei spoke in a firm voice, his eyes never leaving the stone before him, even though he was constantly shifting his position.

“Yes, Sensei.” Kamaboku looked towards where the others were standing, their eyes avoiding his.

“It is still not right yet, we need to do more with it. It cannot be left like this.” The words that Kamaboku and the others dreaded to hear fell on them like a hammer blow.

Kamaboku looked at the silent, unmoving group about him. “Perhaps tomorrow we can bring a few more people with us, Sensei, and more rope and more levers,” he said tentatively, more in hope than expectation.

Maguro Sensei pursed his lips and a frown scorched across his broad forehead, deepening in the gathering gloom. “No, it would be better to get things right now while we are here. Tomorrow there is enough work to be done to tidy up the area around the stones. You can bring a couple of the others, Shigoto and Konnyaku, and lift some of the moss from deeper in the woodland and replant it about the stones.”

“Yes, Sensei. We can do that tomorrow, as you wish.” Kamaboku’s voice betrayed a sense of resignation and weariness that they were all beginning to feel.

It then occurred to Shigoto that there were three separate and seemingly irreconcilable forces in opposition to one another other: Maguro Sensei, who was clearly unhappy with the finished effect; the group of gardeners under his command, all of whom who were more than willing to call an end to the day; and then there was the stone itself. Who, apart from maybe Maguro Sensei knew what the stone was thinking? If thinking was what a stone was capable of. A stalemate existed, how much more sensible to call a halt for the day, and then return the following morning, refreshed, and maybe reinforced by additional helpers, to make what ever fine adjustments that needed to be made, after all nothing would change before then. Shigoto was just coming to the conclusion, which seemed to him to be a sensible compromise, which would allow all parties a degree of satisfaction, when Maguro Sensei once more slowly circled the stone. Then, standing a few paces away from the stone, which reached higher than his head, he seemed to lean almost imperceptibly to one side, as if he himself was the stone, and he was indicating to it the direction in which he wanted it to move. He then took a half dozen steps backwards, all the while fixing his complete attention on the stone, as if his eyes were boring into the very rock itself, seemingly challenging the stone, pitting his will against that of several tons of stubborn, mute, rock. Then he loudly clapped his hands together three times, and closing his eyes, he extended one arm straight out, his finger pointing to a spot just off centre of the stone. There was a low groaning, grinding sound which seemed to spring from the earth itself. With that, the stone shifted on its axis, bringing the head of the stone precisely up to a vertical alignment. 

The effect of this on the onlookers was one of disbelief and complete astonishment. Kakugari san, who was holding a long wooden pole, which had been used to lever the stones, let go of it as he took a few involuntary steps backwards. The pole, as it fell, caught Ekichuu san a glancing blow on the shoulder, making him to stagger back in surprise and shock, and with a loud crash it fell to the ground causing several birds to take noisily to the air. In the silence that followed a thin shower of light grey feathers and a few leaves fluttered down to the ground. Kamaboku was the first of the gardeners to react once an uneasy peace settled again about them.

“But… but… Sensei, what happened there? The stone seemed to move of its own accord!” his voice, slightly high pitched, quivering in shock and astonishment, eyes wide and disbelieving of the evidence before him. They all turned toward the figure of Maguro Sensei, who had not moved an inch, except now his face had a serene and pleased expression.

“Pack the earth around the base of the stone, before it decides to move again. Now we have the stone as it should be we can finish our work for today,” his voice was barely audible as if drained of energy.

None of the gardeners moved, they were staring at Maguro Sensei searching for, expecting some kind of explanation for what they had apparently witnessed. But also disbelieving what their eyes were telling them. They were held motionless by their surprise and shock.

"Why the look of surprise on your faces? When the stone is as empty as the mind, then there is no hindrance in its passage from earth to heaven. Did you think that creating gardens is simply a matter of planting trees and placing stones here and there? When a tree is seen only as roots, branches and leaves, and the pruning of the tree as a work to be done simply before the next task, then you have understood nothing of what the garden has to offer. The garden has no beginning and no end. As for the gardener, even with his strength of arms and legs, he is no more than the sound of wind through the leaves of the tree. Do not waste your time on seeking after that which you are standing upon." 

With that he turned on his heels and set off between the trees leaving the astonished gardeners to complete the task at hand.

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