Buddha’s shadow fell over the boy, blocking out the harsh morning sun.
Xing watched Peng carefully, readying the bucket for when he needed it. His teacher used a long-handled broom to scrub the giant marble statue, dipping the brush into the bucket as he went. It was a job he’d watched laoshi (teacher) do every day since he’d come to the Monastery.
“Teacher, why is it put to you to do this? You are an important member of the Monastery. Wouldn’t it be better to have one of us do this task instead of you?”
Peng stopped scrubbing, looked back at the boy and shook his head. “Why is it you think this job is any less important than any other, Xing?”
The boy shrugged, unsure of how to answer the question. Peng continued to scrub at the statue.
“Then, Teacher, wouldn’t it be easier if a roof was built over the statue so it wouldn’t get dirty?”
Again, Peng stopped and looked at the boy. “But if you put a roof over your head, how will you see the stars?”
Xing, thinking quickly, responded, “By simply walking outside, Teacher.”
Peng laughed in delight. “Well, young one, you are right. But a statue cannot walk, can it?”
“A statue cannot see either, Teacher.” Xing waited to be chastised for his impudence but the man only laughed.
“There are many ways to see, Xing.” The boy frowned as he thought about his Teacher’s response. He wanted to ask more but didn’t quite know what.
Later, when they went back down the steep stairs to the main house, Peng stopped the boy beside one of the ponds in the open courtyard off the kitchen. “Tell me Xing, what do you see in there?”
The boy peered into the water. He knew within its depths there were a number of large, lazy Koi. He also knew there were smaller catfish, tadpoles and frogs as well as lotus and rushes growing in it. He wasn’t sure how to answer.
“I see lots of things Teacher. I see the Koi and catfish. I see the frogs and plants. But what am I supposed to be looking for?”
“There is no right answer, my boy, but I question yours all the same. Did you really see those things you named, or did you answer knowing what you have previously seen?”
Xing looked at his feet. “I answered from what I know of the pond, Teacher.”
Peng smiled widely and patted the boy on his head. “Don’t look so chastened, Xing, I am not angry with you. However, I would like you to take the time to look in the pond every day and tell me what you really see.”
The next morning after breakfast, Xing followed Peng up the steep stairs to the statue. As he neared the top, Peng stopped and looked back down at him.
“What did you see in the pond this morning, Xing?”
“I did not stop to look, Teacher. But I don’t think my answer would be any different from yesterday.”
Peng shook his head. “Don’t look, Xing, see. Go back then come and tell me what you’ve seen.”
The boy walked back down the stairs to the pond. He stood beside it and really looked hard. He saw ripples in the surface, rising bubbles and a few leaves from a nearby tree. Satisfied he had an answer for his Teacher, he climbed back up the stairs.
“So, Xing, what did you see this time.”
“I saw ripples where the Koi moved below the water, bubbles rising to the surface and a few floating leaves.” He smiled widely but then stopped as he saw his Teacher shake his head.
“Again, you looked but you did not see, Xing. Stop there again tomorrow and tell me what you see.”
This went on for weeks, with Xing reporting everything he saw in the pond. Each time, Peng shook his head and told him to try again the next day.
One morning, having climbed the stairs only to be told to go back to the pond again, Xing sat down by the water, muttering angrily under his breath. As he sat there, clouds moved across the morning sky, darkening the waters. Xing glared at the surface, seeing the clouds and sky in reflection. He leaned over further and saw himself looking back. He grinned and rushed back up the stairs.
Peng asked his usual question when Xing approached. This time, the boy paused before he spoke, considering his answer. “Well, Teacher, this morning I saw the world reflected in the surface of the pond. I saw the clouds and the sky, the branches of the trees, the roof line of the courtyard and, as I looked closer, I saw myself.”
His Teacher stopped scrubbing the statue and looked down at the boy. “Finally, Xing, you look and you see. Now, does this answer your question about why I scrub this statue every day?”
Xing gave the man a look of utter confusion. “No, Teacher, I don’t understand.”
Peng beckoned the boy to come sit by him. He looked up at the shining statue then back to the boy. “Every day, I come up here, Xing, not because I have to clean the statue but because I want to see myself in Buddha. Go over to where I left the broom and look for yourself.”
The boy did as he was told. He could see where his Teacher had cleaned the great belly of the statue, where the water left streaks on the marbled surface and where he hadn’t cleaned yet. But then he saw something more. He saw himself, reflected, with the great world stretched out behind him. He turned back to his Teacher and smiled broadly.