this year, the guru was going to change that.
he was going to go out into the far forest and cut down the tallest tree he could find. then, he was going to bring it back into the village and put it in front of his school. everyone in the village would marvel at it, and they would all come to his feast.
so the next day, he set out for the far forest with an axe and nothing else. this turned out to be a mistake, as he was very hungry after only a few hours. so he turned around and headed back to his school to pick up some yellow curry sandwiches. by that time, it was pretty late, so he decided to postpone his trip until the morning.
the next next day, the guru journeyed longer than he had ever journeyed, until he reached the far forest. there he beheld the tallest tree he had ever seen. it was so tall, it stretched up almost as high as the tall mountain. it was twice as tall as the second tallest tree, and must have grown for a hundred years. with each season, it stretched its branches higher into the sky. with each year, it stood a little taller. through storms and fires and the ravages of time, it had withstood, growing stronger and more powerful each year.
the guru chopped it down.
when the tree fell, it crushed many lesser trees beneath its enormous mass. the guru then had a new problem: how could he carry this tree, bigger than any he had ever seen, all the way back through the far forest to his school?
if only he had brought a few students along on the trip. or a few hundred. but the guru’s students were never that dedicated, and if they wouldn’t even come to his #zenmas feast, so they probably wouldn’t jump at the chance to hike out into the far forest and do heavy labor for no compensation.
so the guru did what he always did when confronted with a ponderous dilemma: he ate a yellow curry sandwich. it was delicious, and it fueled his body, and he bent over and grabbed the tree and pulled, but he could not budge the tree.
to move this tree, he would need more than a strong body. he would need a strong mind, as well. so he sat on the ground and crossed his legs. he put his hands on his knees, and he closed his eyes. then, seventeen times, he repeated to himself, “i have the strength to move this tree. it will come easily to me. my #zen will set my free.”
he opened his eyes, grabbed the trunk of his tree with both hands, and pulled with all of his meditation-honed might.
the tree still did not budge. it was simply too heavy.
and so he sat cross-legged again and closed his eyes. this time, he did not wish for anything. he did not repeat a mantra. he simply focused on his breath, observing it pass through his nose and down through his throat and into his belly, and then he followed it out, warmed by his blood, wet as it passed back through his nose.
he did this for an hour, and then he opened his eyes.
he knew what he needed to do. such is #zen.
the guru picked his axe back up and felled a smaller tree, and then another, and then another. soon, he had cut down 77 smaller trees, trees he was actually capable of dragging. then, he took his axe, and he chopped each of the branches off each of the smaller trees. he rolled each of the smaller trees underneath the giant tree, one at a time, until the mighty #zenmas tree was supported entirely by the smaller trees.
he grabbed the trunk of the #zenmas tree and pulled. the tree rolled.
this was not an easy fix. every seven to seventeen meters, one of the logs would roll out from under the tree and the guru would have to roll it all the way to the other end of the of the #zenmas tree. each log took about an hour to drag, and the process was long and arduous.
but the guru did not give up. he kept the vision of the enormous #zenmas tree in his mind, towering over the village, acting as a beacon, calling all the villagers to come to his school for #zenmas. and this vision kept him going.
a few sunflowers saw what he was doing. they saw the enormous effort he was putting into this tree and how he was accomplishing something that others would have thought impossible, and they spread the word.
eventually, the word spread all the way to the village. when his students heard what he was doing, and they heard all of the acclaim he was getting, a few of his students journeyed from the village to the guru, and they helped him move the logs from the back of the tree to the front. this freed the guru to spend all of his time pulling. they also brought him yellow curry sandwiches. so as his fame grew, his workload diminished.
by the time he made it to the village, he was not even pulling anymore. his students were carrying him on their shoulders, and he was greeted by the villagers as a conquering hero, a man who had journeyed into the far forest and done the impossible. he was hailed as the greatest guru the village had ever known.
the guru did not bask in their adulation. instead, he dug a hole for the base of the tree. then, he took a long, long rope and tied one end to the top of the tree. he tied the other end to a balloon and a small anchor. then he let the balloon go.
the balloon rose up higher and higher, higher than the tall mountain, until it floated over the moon, where it popped into the void. the anchor fell over the moon and down to the guru’s school, where it landed next to the guru.
the guru’s students untied the anchor and pulled on the rope. they hefted the tree into an upright position. when the tree stood on its own, the villagers erupted into another round of cheers.
and then the guru did something that would cement his name into #zenmas history.
he walked into his school and emerged with a small brass star. he held the star above his head for the whole village to see, and then he climbed beneath the branches of the #zenmas tree.
some of his students rushed under the branches to help, but he leapt up into the tree, and no one was brave enough to follow. soon, he disappeared above the branches, and for a long time, no one saw the guru. they waited, and they waited, and they waited.
but no villager left or lost interest. this was, after all, the guru who had journeyed to the far forest and cut down the tallest tree and brought it back to the village by himself. they weren’t going to leave now and miss either his crowning glory or his plummet to the ground and his death.
but almost two #zen hours after he disappeared into the branches, keenly sighted villagers saw him emerge at the top of the tree, still holding the #zenmas star. they pointed and cheered, and soon everyone was cheering. the guru untied the rope from the top and placed the brass star in its place. his audience cheered in wonder, but that was nothing compared to their reaction when the guru grabbed the rope and leapt off the tree.
the anchor rose, and the guru slowly descended until his feet touched the ground. then, he gave a last tug on the rope, and the anchor fell off the moon and landed in the dirt beside him. then, he flashed a smile at his audience.
the villagers erupted into the loudest cheer that anyone had ever heard. every single one of them knew that they would never again witness something so great. and they wanted to be a part of it, so they ran and raided their closets for any small trinkets or useless heirlooms. everything from shiny ornaments to small toys to jewelry to ribbons. they gave them all to the guru, and he and his students climbed and hung the decorations.
while they decorated, the villagers brought gifts for the guru, wrapped in the finest paper. they stacked these gifts under the tree until they spilled out on all sides. and still, they kept coming. soon, his students had to push the presents aside to make a path through which new students could enter. and that was important, because the guru had more new students than ever before. they piled in by the sevens, then the seventy sevens. anyone who had taken even an introductory class in #zen showed up, and they all asked the guru the same question: was he going to have a #zenmas feast?
the next day, he made it official. he wrote out invitations and set out to deliver them to every single villager. this year, it wouldn’t just be the two tortoises at his feast. it would be everyone.
at the first few huts, the villagers enthusiastically accepted his invitation. they complimented him on his enormous #zenmas tree and the great feat that he had accomplished, all by himself. this particular compliment bothered the guru.
everyone kept congratulating him on his solitary efforts in bringing the tree home, yet many of his students had helped him. and the entire town and helped him pull it upright. sure, it had been his idea, but the idea was nothing without the effort.
but when he tried to correct them, they always said, “oh, and you’re so modest, too!”
the guru had always dreamt of the day that he would be revered and respected, but now that it had happened, he did not like it. it seemed wrong. the guru knew that he was not a great person. he had only cut down the tree to recruit more students and make more money, but he was being treated like a hero.
and as he passed out more invitations, his uneasiness grew.
at one hut, a mother told him that she had not purchased presents for her children, so that she could save up ducats to get one for him.
at another, a family of four told him that while they usually traveled to another village to celebrate #zenmas with their extended family, this year they would spend it at the guru’s feast.
at another, an old man tried to give the guru his food, so that the guru could serve it at his #zenmas feast. when the guru asked the old man what he would eat until then, the old man replied, “the Goddess will provide for me, i am sure.”
and he realized, through the day, that very few families had #zenmas trees of their own. when he asked, they all told him the same thing: they did not have time to cut down a tree of their own because they had to work hard at jobs that paid them too few ducats to be able to buy one.
“but that doesn’t matter,” they said, “your tree is good enough for all of us.”
but the guru wondered: why was it his tree? because he had cut it down, after it grew for a hundred years? because he had carried it back to the village? no, that did not make any sense. he had killed the tree, and stolen it, for his own selfish gain, and he should not be rewarded for that.
he knew what he had to do. he crept into his school while his students slept, and he retrieved his axe from the exhibit his students had built chronicling the miracle of the guru’s tree.
he took the axe outside, and he went to his tree.
the next morning, when the villagers awoke, each of them found a #zenmas tree propped up against their door. the guru had chopped off every branch from his tree, and it was so big that each branch was a normal sized tree on its own. next to each of the branches, the guru had left one of his presents. he had scratched out the “to” in front of his name and written “from,” so that each of them read “from the guru.” he also left individually handwritten notes on each doorstep, encouraging people to avoid his feast and instead celebrate #zenmas with their family and friends.
when the villagers awoke the next day and saw the trees and the presents and the handwritten cards, they were stunned. what was the guru’s intent by such a gesture? what was he implying?
in the first place, why had he returned their presents? everyone who had given him a present was insulted that he had regifted it. and most of them who received them were disappointed. since they were intended for the guru, they were mostly useless or unhelpful to the typical villager. for example, one was an engraved image of the guru atop his tree. this was a great gift to the guru, but a horrible gift from the guru.
and the trees, too. what was this? charity? they didn’t want a hand-me-down tree. fathers were embarrassed by their inability to provide, mothers by their lack of creativity in developing alternatives. but the worst part, everyone agreed, was the unvitation which the guru had tried to spin as generosity. was the guru too good for the average villager now? “i guess now that he’s so succesful, he doesn’t want a bunch of ordinary villagers showing up to his fancy feast.”
most of the villagers threw away their presents, and they burned their trees in a giant bonfire in the village square.
everyone agreed that not only would they not attend the guru’s #zenmas feast, but they were going to have a hard time ever celebrating #zenmas again. the guru had ruined it for everyone. #zenmas was dead.
so once more, the guru sat at his giant banquet table with his yellow curry sandwiches alone. he took a bite of one of the sandwiches, and though it was his favorite food in the entire world, he could not enjoy it. now, it tasted like a rock.
and then he heard a knock on the door.
he walked over and opened it.
standing on the front porch were the two tortoises. they smiled up at the guru as they walked inside, very slowly. one of them said, “hopefully you have some lettuce. but if not, we brought some.”
from then on, every winter, the guru celebrated the anniversary of the last #zenmas with his closest friends, who he knew would be there for him, no matter what he did.
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