Whose sandals are these? They are not lost. I know whose sandals they have been. What I don’t know is whose they are now. It is time I solved this problem. More than time. Maybe you can help me.
First, a story my Zen sensei liked to tell.
Do Not Think Good, Do Not Think Not-Good
When he became emancipated the sixth patriarch received from the fifth patriarch the bowl and robe given from the Buddha to his successors, generation after generation.
A monk named E-myo out of envy pursued the patriarch to take this great treasure away from him. The sixth patriarch placed the bowl and robe on a stone in the road and told E-myo: “These objects just symbolize the faith. There is no use fighting over them. If you desire to take them, take them now.”
When E-myo went to move the bowl and robe they were as heavy as mountains. He could not budge them. Trembling for shame he said: “I came wanting the teaching, not the material treasures. Please teach me.”
The sixth patriarch said: “When you do not think good and when you do not think not-good, what is your true self?”
At these words E-myo was illumined. Perspiration broke out all over his body. He cried and bowed, saying: “You have given me the secret words and meanings. Is there yet a deeper part of the teaching?”
The sixth patriacrh replied: “What I have told you is no secret at all. When you realize your own true self the secret belongs to you.”
E-myo said: “I was under the fifth patriarch many years but could not realize my true self until now. Through your teaching I find the source. A person drinks water and knows himself whether it is cold or warm. May I call you my teacher?”
The sixth patriarch replied: “We studied together under the fifth patriarch. Call him your teacher, but just treasure what you have attained.”
— from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps
The sandals were given to me by Jorge Rosner, of the Gestalt Institute of Toronto, who taught me Gestalt Therapy. (Mostly through his students Anna Bernet and Yaro Starak.) Jorge had been trained by Fritz Perls, who had invented Gestalt Therapy; or at any rate coined the term when gestalt perception was a fashionable topic in psychology. And Perls was himself trained by Wilhelm Reich, star student of Sigmund Freud, whose last home is a short walk from where I now live. (It’s not just Zen Buddhists who cherish apostolic succession.)
There was a certain sense of legacy when Jorge gave the sandals to me. He was staying with me in Australia and we had long conversations about how to run a Gestalt training centre, including practical matters such as how to handle double bookings. That wasn’t in my future, but neither of us knew that then.
The sandals are leather, size 11 and lightly worn. Made in India, according to the soles. They are too large for me and I have never worn them. I don’t know whether Jorge wore them, or whether the scuffing is from the feet of Lama Anagarika Govinda, author of The Way of the White Clouds, who gave them to Jorge.
It was obvious from the first that the sandals had to go to the right person. I don’t recall supposing that was me, but with the twin lines of Mahayana Buddhism and Gestalt, I expected sooner or later I would meet the man I should give them to. (I am assuming here that the size precludes a woman, but who knows?)
Thirty years have passed. He hasn’t shown up. Or he did show up, and I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe you have some ideas. You can reach me at sjt at 5jt dot com.
The way cannot be closed. It leads from any footstep home, and starts in the shift of gravel underneath your shoe. The heart calls you home. Weeds may grow, wolves come, your guide be near or distant, still the way cannot be closed.