One practitioner, the head-teacher of a Zen temple, was trying to make a sign for the temple’s gate.
Calligraphy is Dō. More accurately it’s a Dō called Shodō. I think it’s interesting that calligraphy is Dō not only in Japan but in many places, From the Benedictine monks in the middle-ages, through the beautiful Arab calligraphy and to the ancient Jewish profession of hand writing the whole Bible – Sofer Stam. Maybe that is how Dō develops, out of the need to write down a grocery list, out of the duty to write in your tax form, out of the wish to preserve the scriptures.
I firmly believe that these are the precursors for Dō: when the necessary allows itself to become a matter of choice, and the will attends a repetition of that choice, morning after morning, day after day, decade after decade, Then the alchemy happens. The respect, the awareness and the repetition transform the mundane deed into gold.
These ingredients are known to every calligrapher, every Zen monk, every pianist and every Sofer Stam: repeat, attend, respect. But there is something else, I have to use a Hebrew word for this because I know of no other equivalent, I’ll use the term “Kefitzat Haderech”.
I’ve read this story somewhere – Kossan dipped a huge brush into the ink.
The temple’s head student was there to assist and hand the big sheets of paper that were on the meditation room’s floor.
Kossan wrote down the words: “The first principle”.
The student watched and said: “Not bad, but it can be a bit better”, and handed a new sheet of paper.
Kossan concentrated, and wrote down the words: “The first principle”.
The student watched and said: “this was not as good. I think the lines are a bit forced. The first one was better”.
Kossan helped move away the paper and prepared the brush for another attempt.
Kossan, again, wrote down the words: “The first principle”.
“Terrible” said the student, who probably had some Israeli hutzpa genes.
Kossan wrote forty-eight first principles.
Then the student had enough of his teacher’s failures. “Excuse me, teacher”, he must have said, “I need to take a pee”, and left.
The teacher took this opportunity and with a worry-free mind he quickly wrote: “The first principle”.
“Wonderful!” exclaimed the student upon his return. “Masterpiece”.
And it’s there, to this day to remind me: “There are no shortcuts”, but there is a Kefitzat Haderech.
To the Kefitzat Haderech!