Short Play #52: The Zen Mistake

The play takes place in a meadow near the ancient house of Zen Master, Kenzo Shigemori.  There is an archery target set up in the middle of the meadow, and, as the play opens, the Master is restating certain Zen precepts to his student, a young Canadian named Hugh Stalwart.  Stalwart has just now directed his bamboo bow at the target and has loosed  his arrow (with its eagle tailfeathers)—but has missed the bulls-eye.

MASTER:  You cannot do it because you do not breathe right.  Press your breath down gently after breathing in….

HUGH:  I don’t know how to press my breath down, gently or otherwise.

MASTER: You must draw strength from the ground.

HUGH: From the ground?

[The Master walks up to Hugh and, bending low, presses on clearly sensitive spot on the young man’s right leg muscle]

HUGH:  Oww!

MASTER: You feel no pain.  The pain is an illusion.

HUGH:  Is that so?

MASTER: Yes.  Now try again.  This time, draw the bow spiritually.

[The Master now walks to the target to adjust its position. Just at that moment, Hugh attains enough of the gist of spiritual bow-drawing to let fly his arrow—which, though he has been dutifully paying no special attention to it (archery is “an artless art, in which the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects”), nevertheless pierces the Master through the heart.  The Master falls heavily to the ground.

HUGH:  This cannot have happened.  All this is illusion too.  It is simply a test.  I must remain detached from what has happened.

[He walks across the grass to where the Master has fallen.  He then stoops to pull his arrow from the Master’s chest.  He examines the arrow closely]

HUGH: This is no ordinary arrow.  The Master has told me my own arrows do not carry because they do not reach far enough spiritually.  But this one HAS reached far enough.
I have learned the Master’s lessons!   That is unalterable.  I am now my own Master!


HUGH’S VOICE FROM BEHIND THE CURTAIN:  No curtain has dropped.  That too is illusion.