The usual dim 5 a.m. kitchen light of my weekly shift as a.m. breakfast cook had a brighter cast to it this morning that gave the strange an air of the routine.
Usually, only a few people quietly pass through the kitchen at that time, but this morning it was unusually active. For one thing, it was Bodhidharma’s birthday, so there was a service, complete with a birthday cake, so Gretchen, the head Chiden, who attends to matters of caring for altars, came through and prepared an altar offering with a carrot cake on the red lacquer platform. The service includes a performance, a pageant, really, bringing to mind Medieval Passion plays, with costumes and props, bringing to life at 6:45 a.m. in the Buddha Hall of the SFZC the famous meeting of Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu.
I had taken down the blackboard to write the morning’s menu on it: Kokuho rice, miso soup, and daikon pickles. It lay there on the table, still displaying in large letters, Throne of Blood, from last night when someone showed the Kurosawa film in the dining room. Caren paused before the board and, in that way people speak when they’re in silence, with her eyebrows exaggerating the mouthed words, asked, Throne of Blood, Is this what’s for breakfast?
It would have been fitting, after all it was Bodhidharma’s birthday, and he’s the one who saw fit to let his student Huike stand in the snow all night outside his door. Eventually, in a hearty display of flexibility with form, Huike cut off his own arm, but not without a bit of struggle first. “When he saw his frozen tears, he cried more tears,” we read in Dogen’s account of the Zen Ancestors, Gyoji, or Continuous Practice.
Caren was taking the supplies for bag lunch out of the large refrigerator and found a plate of frosted gingerbread cupcakes, leftover from a tea yesterday. She asked about these cupcakes, somewhat more festive than the regular bag lunch fare, just as the person who was playing Emperor Wu happened to walk through the kitchen, with a completely matter-of-fact expression on her face, probably to ask the tenzo about some totally unrelated thing. Caren stood before the Throne of Blood menu board holding the cupcake and mouthed, What is going on here this morning?
I want to include here a photo of the menu board. It’s been erased three times already today.
I want to include a picture of Anna as The Emperor. She’s long since passed through several changes of clothes.
The cupcakes? Gone. Nothing stays the same. Nothing frosted stays the same.
Happy Birthday, Bodhidharma!