When the Sunday morning service ended at a Buddhist temple on the north side of Chicago, two men walked to the basement where a table had been set up beneath three strings of brightly lit colored balls. Ben was the younger of the two men; Arthur the older. They each poured themself a mug of coffee from a thermos on the table.
“When can I begin?” Ben asked.
“I can get you started right now,” Arthur said.
Ben leaned slightly closer to Arthur and said, “Are you going to give me a koan?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Arthur said.
“I thought my training started with a koan,” Ben said. “I thought you posed an unanswerable question that I spent years pondering, and then I came back to you defeated and frustrated. Then you’d give me another koan.”
“We don’t do koans anymore. There isn’t time. As I understand it, you have a new job in the Loop; and I spend two hours a day on I-88, going to and from my office, so we have to expedite matters more than they would in the mountains of Tibet.”
“But there must be training if I’m to be your student.”
“There is, but rather than posing a riddle for you to fail at, I will give you a topic to reflect upon; then, after your thinking on the topic has had time to mature, we’ll get back together to talk.”
Ben nodded his head and sipped from his coffee mug. “I read,” he said, “about a master who sent his student off for five years. When the student came back without having gained insight, the master sent him away for another five years.”
“I don’t think we’ll need to wait five years; in fact, I think we can talk again next Sunday. In the meantime, let me suggest a topic.”
“Instead of a koan?”
“Right. I’d like you to reflect on the idea that nothing ever changes.”
“Yes. It would be helpful if you picked the same spot every day to reflect–perhaps rent a boat at Grant Park, and row a few hundred feet onto the lake.”
“And we’ll talk next week?”
“We’ll discuss the path your thinking has taken over the week,” Arthur said, and sipped from his mug. “The coffee’s good, don’t you think?”
“I do. Hopefully, that doesn’t change,” Ben said, smiling.
Arthur smiled back, nodded his head at the joke, and continued to sip from his coffee.