A student asked, “Why did Bodhidharma
Go to China instead of Japan?”
Old Risu answered, “No Japan.”
“Then why did he stay in China?”
Kneeling down Old Risu said, “No legs.”
From Old Risu’s Toenails, a Zen anthology
Esteemed Reader of our Magazine:
About a week ago my two-year-old woke up with a new word on his tongue: Why. It has become the constant and dependable refrain in our conversations.
“Please get in the car,” I ask. “Why?” “Because it’s time to go home.” “Why?” “Because that’s where we live?” “Why, daddy, why?!”
He even asks himself.
“I want to watch a train movie!” he announces, and then pauses as though to question himself. “Why?”
“Why?” has been called the Devil’s question. The word devil, of course, comes from the same root as double. And doubt. It is the question that hangs us on the horns of dilemma. It is inherently unanswerable. Despite all the efforts of theology, science, and etiology, there are only explanations—not answers.
“Why” is often used as fulcrum in contemplative practice. For instance a commonly used Zen koan (a question or concept to ponder in meditation) is “Why did Bodhidharma go to China?” (Bodhidharma is the patriarch of Zen, who is attributed with bringing Buddhism from India). One successful response simply states: “Hair grows on wide teeth.” What kind of answer is this? Obviously not one aimed at satisfying the questioner. But perhaps the questioner has been given something else. And perhaps this something else is what he wanted in the first place.
This is what I have discovered with my son. He doesn’t want an answer to “why.” He wants me to look at him, listen to him, engage with him, to reflect him to himself. If I get exasperated with the unanswerable question, I have missed the point.
With a sister July issue, we have launched a separate and distinct edition of Chronogram in the Capital Region. There is even an independent office with a seasoned and professional staff. Which of course begs the question: Why has Chronogram gone to the Capital Region?
Other than “hair grows on wide teeth” I will say that we have gone to pay attention.
As the magazine has done for 14 years in the Hudson Valley, our aim is to reflect the best of the Capital Region community to itself; to help create a fertile environment for all things conscious, creative, and community-building. As in the pages of this Hudson Valley edition readers will find within its pages articles, poetry, artwork, and reviews that are about the invisible something that arises in the space between. This is more than reporting about what people think, do, suffer, and say. It is a contribution to the ferment of a culture (not unlike yogurt) that gives rise to creativity, ingenuity, generosity, and brilliance. This is what we are here to pay attention to, amplify, and make real.
Which reminds me, there is a story from the East about a certain Mullah Nasruddin, the subject of many stories there, whose comic shenanigans are often cosmic in their significance:
One day people found Mullah Nasruddin pouring the remains of his yogurt into the lake.
“Mullah Nasruddin, what are you doing?” a man asked.
“I am turning the lake into yogurt,” Mullah Nasruddin replied.
“Can a little bit of yeast ferment the great river?” the man asked, while others laughed at Mullah Nasruddin.
“You never know, perhaps it might,” Mullah Nasruddin replied, “but what if it should!”
Chronogram is here to be that little bit of yeast.