Zen Garden

“Excuse me sir. Are you all right?”

I turned from where I was sitting quietly on one of the park benches to see the Buddha lying on his back in the gravel of the Zen Garden. He turned his head to eye the two officers standing just outside the garden and scowled at them. He was wearing the same filthy gray tunic, which may have been a bath robe, that he’d been wearing since appearing a few days ago. The same gold lame belt was fastened around his middle. His wooden staff — or maybe it was a tree branch — woven with strips of colored cloth, lay beside him.

“Fuck off.”

I thought, huh oh. Town cops don’t like to be disrespected like that. I know of guys in the homeless community who’ve had their ribs or teeth cracked for lesser remarks.

“Excuse me?”

“Go fuck off. You deaf?”

The cop, who was sturdy but not tall, with thinning hair, glanced over at his partner. Like him, she was dressed in a sharply creased dark blue police uniform. She also looked sturdy, even bulky, but that may have been because both of them were wearing bullet-proof vests. Her hair was clipped at the back of her head. Both of them had their weight evenly balanced, feet apart, their hands on their belts, from which hung large automatic pistols. They exchanged looks, but their expressions were placid. Cops don’t like to give anything away when they’re confronting you. It’s part of their posture for being in control.

“What is your name, sir?” said the male cop.

After a moment’s hesitation, the Buddha answered, “I’m the Buddha.”

“Well, Mr. Buddha, could I get you to stand up so we can talk with you, sir?”

“My name’s not Mr. Buddha. I am the Buddha. And no, I’m not moving.”

“Are you able to stand, sir?”

“Yes I’m able to stand.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“No, I haven’t been drinking! Cops always asking if a person’s been drinking! Do I ask you if you’ve been drinking?”

“Well, sir, there is no sleeping allowed in city parks. We need to ask you to get up now and be on your way.”

“My way is right here. And I’m obviously not sleeping. And I’m not bothering anybody.”

“Someone has complained.”

“Complained about what?”

“They said someone is lying down in the Zen Garden, creating a disturbance. And here you are.”

“It’s obviously them who’s disturbed! Tell them to come down and try it! That’s what they need to do!”

“Lie on the rocks?”

“Try it!”

“I don’t think it would be too comfortable.”

The Buddha gave the cop a once over.

“Well, comfort’s obviously not your thing. You wearing all that metal and tight clothing. You look like Iron Man. Try relaxing. Wear something loose! Then you wouldn’t be so disturbed by somebody who’s just watching clouds and minding their own business.”

“I’m not disturbed.” The male cop looked at his partner. “You disturbed?”

“Nope. I’m not disturbed.”

“Well you’re disturbing me!”

I started to realize that they might have a little PR problem if they didn’t play it right. I could see the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper: Cops Rough Up Buddhist Monk in Zen Garden. I could see they had to be very careful.

The woman cop said a few things into her shoulder radio. I thought maybe I would get up and go before squad cars started showing up.

“I’m surprised, you being a Buddha, that you don’t give the garden its due.”

“What the hell you talking about?”

“Well. My understanding, the way to interact with a Japanese Zen garden is to contemplate it in a sitting position from the outside, which I think is why these benches are here.” He glanced at two nicely designed wooden benches outside of the low garden wall. “And that would, I think, allow you to, sort of, appreciate the feeling of order and the harmony in all the smooth parallel lines that someone carefully raked.” He looked over at his partner and smiled. “Except you’ve kind of messed it all up by wallowing around in it.”

Whoa, I thought, what’s he doing now? Trying to shame the Buddha — or was he trying to drive him into a rage so they would have an excuse to cuff him? I decided to wait and see.

“How would you know?”

“Hmm, I meditate, sometimes. And, well, I was once in Kyoto, which I believe is kind of the place where Zen rock gardens originate.”

The Buddha was silent now. He evidently didn’t know what to make of this. A cop who meditated? And who’d been to Japan?

“Have you tried raking the gravel?”

Still no answer. The Buddha had turned his head away now.

“You might give it try. The rake is right over there against the tree. Then you could come sit here and observe your work.”

That was it. After a minute the Buddha sat up. Then he stood and picked up his staff, turned his back on them, and walked out of the park. I never saw anything like it before, and I don’t expect to again. The cops looked at each other, the woman cop talked into the radio at her shoulder, and then they walked off. I decided I would go too.

The Buddha has not been seen since. Maybe they caught him alone somewhere with nobody watching. Or maybe he’ll show up again some time. Guys show up in town, and guys leave town. You never know. That cop though, I keep my eye out for him. Very unusual. Fewer cracked ribs with him around. Maybe. Hard to say.