Posts Tagged wisdom

Second Daughter, 11

Bright stars and chill winds,
shaking loose peach blossoms
Where do the seeds fall?

Saplings prepare to flower,
As nearby trees prepare fruit.

Kaori had carefully folded the reply into a small flower, and gone to her box of curious and chosen a pressed, preserved peach blossom. She sent it with the messenger when he departed before dawn. She burned the mound of failed poems as offerings to the household. She thought of every brush stroke, was that one too light, or this one too heavy? In fact, thinking about the poem to the Governor ate up most of her time, while thinking about Tsubasa ate up the rest. She found herself so easily distracted that the act of working around the house or even on her artwork had become tedious. She could no longer find her center, no longer could she dissolve into the task at hand.
Mikan draws aside the door and steps into the room to gather Kaori’s clothes. Kaori sighs and Mikan speaks. “I did not see you were meditating, little miss.” She turns to leave.
“Its fine, Mikan. I’m not doing it very well anyways. Ever since this nonsense with the Governor and the marriage and Tsubasa I haven’t been… calm.”
“I would say you’ve been very calm. Distracted even.”
“Well that’s the problem. ‘A distracted mind is unaware. The wise man seeks to see all things, to know every inch of the world around him, but to be removed, without judgment or interference. He who does nothing, accomplishes everything.’”
“I hear the words of the Sages from you, little miss, but I do not hear the wisdom of their meaning.”
Kaori cocks her head, staring at the old woman. Another commoner would have been reprimanded for such a statement. Kaori speaks slowly. “The words of the Sages are wisdom in themselves.”
“’Life is true Wisdom. Wisdom which can be taught is not wisdom, it is dogma.’” Karoi turns brilliant red. She should know better than to engage Mikan by now, but something in her won’t let her back down.
“It is the Emperor’s will that we all come to know the words of the Sages for their advice and importance to right action and civilized society. Are you say-” Kaori stops herself. By using that question she would imply sedition or blasphemy in Mikan, she rephrases quickly and continues, “You are not saying that his advice is ill-considered.”
“I am saying that we are all only human, though we strive for the greatness of Sages. We must know the wisdom of the Sages to know how to react, but the lives we live must always be the greatest teachers, and also the greatest tests.”
Kaori nods, her face turning out the window. Mikan continues around the room, picking up Kaori’s discarded clothing for washing. She is at the door when Kaori speaks again.
“Mikan…” Mikan turns. “What did you mean when you said you didn’t hear the wisdom in my quoting.”
“Exactly what I have said, little miss. We must live in order to learn. Of course you’ve lost your center. Nothing had really challenged it before, and now your parents have decided that you are ready for the world. And about time too. Now you must learn what it really means to dissolve into your work, to meditate and find peace.” She turns and walks out the door, leaving Kaori with her own thoughts, sitting on the bed still in her nightclothes, sheets and clothes pooling around her with her hair.
The room smells of sandalwood from the incense Kaori burns to help her meditate, but she is not at peace, her mind flits from topic to topic, a disturbed songbird continuously chirping into the silence. Disruptions like the ripples from fish wave across her concentration. The conversations yet to come with Hideki Hensei becomes a reminiscence of Tsubasa’s appearance, as well the concern that she may be romanticizing. This then becomes a wonder as to who Kimiyasu is marrying, and what he’s like and how he’ll treat her and what if it secretly is Tsubasa? And how dare Mikan tell her she didn’t know the meaning of the words. Very clearly she knew the quote by heart and could tell her what those words meant in that order.
But at the same time, Mikan is right. Now Kaori must handle things that previously she could so easily ask her mother what to do and how to do it, or her father if it dealt with art or swords. Now though… now her family has trusted her to make her own decision and carve as much of her own fate as she can. And still she is at her brother’s mercy, in the sense that his idea has landed her in this jumbled mess. She breathes deeply of the incense, trying to achieve, to rediscover, that balance where nothing in the world matters except her breathing and the feeling of emptiness. She pushes through the distractions, focusing in on the feeling of emptiness, the non-beng of getting sucked into her work, or the work of the day, or any work really. Having lived it for so long she must be able to recall it, wisdom dictates; except states change. Kaori knows from her lessons that things change all the time, even when one is not an alchemist. It’s one of Kaori’s favorite things, watching the seasons change, and she has seen how even between two summers things are… different. It brings her restless mind to bigger questions beyond comprehension: are things different between two summers, or do I notice the two summers differently because I have changed? The words grow within her thoughts until they’ve overrun Kaori’s other distractions and Kaori vigorously shakes her head to loosen them from their perch. That way is not the road to balance, to peace. And yet, Kaori is uncertain she truly knows the road to balance. Does one know how to return home, if they’ve never left it?
It does not take much before the enormity of the questions now rumbling through Kaori’s mind are exhaustingly unanswerable, and so she gets dressed, and goes to help around the house, for the sake of motion and busyness.

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Second Daughter, 8

Kaori and Kimiyasu bounce along in the cart in the rising light of the day. Trying to keep her sister’s mind engaged in things other than the recent news, Kimiyasu asks her for details about Hensei’s guests, their father and the poetry, she asks her for her verse from the poem; whether or not Kaori remembers it, which she does.
“I can’t help notice but an outpouring of description about this Tsubusu.”
“Tsubasa.” Kaori corrects her sister without thinking; her fan moving quickly. “And its nothing… or I should say, in a field of barren grass, its easy to focus on the singular flower.”
“You don’t say…” Kimiyasu’s arched eyebrows on the other hand… Kaori looks forward down the road. “He’s just someone I met.”
“Someone our father introduced you to.”
“I don’t see why that should matter. At any rate, Tsubasa is a foreigner, from some unknown land, I doubt we’ll see him again.”
Kimiyasu watches her sister closely. “Mother tells me Uncle came from a distant province.” Kaori does not move her head, but her eyes flick to the corner towards her sister.
The two of them arrive at the red-painted wooden gate along the road to town. The songbirds, having wintered here in the valley, are quiet in the overcast light of the early afternoon. Kaori and Kimiyasu get off the cart and proceed through the gateway and into the temple grounds. The diffuse sunlight dampens the vibrant colors of their clothes, as the cracked, dry air seeps through their layers.
The path towards the temple is lined with chestnut trees, bare at this time of year, their seeds long since taken by the birds. White stone paving lines the small avenue towards the main building, visible only barely from the gateway as a small, single-story construction made of wood and rice paper. Kaori and Kimiyasu walk slowly. The gravity of the place demands silence, even if the monks do not necessarily require it.
“Look Kaori,” Kimiyasu whispers. Kimiyasu points towards a line of prayer papers strung over the path between too trees. On top of the prayer’s white papers and black ink, a small songbird sits. Even though the songbird is dusty yellow-brown, the sky behind it is a pale, almost-white gray, the thread is a simple twine darkened to almost black from the wetness of the air. Kaori smiles. “’Even the darkest winter day holds many colors for those who wish to see them.’”
Kimiyasu nods. “Its a good omen Kaori, you should pray for guidance. Maybe this songbird will sing your sorrows to the Heaven and bring you wisdom.”
Kaori also whispers back, “A clear answer would be nice, but Father always taught us to depend on our judgment. That if we remained pure of heart and noble of character and virtue we would always know the answer, no matter how confusing the road may be.”
A monk, dressed in the orange robes of his order, appears from between the chestnut trees that line the path. The girls stop. He bows to them and they bow back.
“Forgive me if I startled you, young ladies. I was tending to the landscape on the other side of the trees, and everything is so quiet that I could not help but hear you. Your Father sounds like a wise man, and yet here you find yourselves.”
Kaori and Kimiyasu look at each other. As if to punctuate the strange, almost magical air quickly settling around them, the songbird chirps out a few notes. When the eyes of Heaven lie upon one, the only acceptable answers are to laugh or to cry, so the two girls laugh. Their fans come out simultaneously, in the same motions, as they take the opportunity to giggle soundlessly behind them. When they have composed themselves they turn back to the monk who addressed them.
“Would you deign, honored monk, to lead us to the well, where we might purify ourselves before meditating in the shrine?” Kimiyasu asks the monk.
“Of course, right this way.” He turns, his motions fluid, trained in the disciplines of temple life.
The monk leads them to a well just outside what can now be seen as a main building for the shrine. The two sisters wash their hands, drawing back their sleeves, washing first one hand and then the other, letting the water drip down to purify the ladle between hand-washings and before replacing it into the well. The monk watches, his attentions both present and distant, contemplative even during such simple acts. When they are done and they turn back to him, he speaks again. His lack of whispers helps to ease through the seriousness of place affecting the two girls.
“Where would you like to meditate?”
Kimiyasu quirks her head to one side delicately. “Do you have an opinion, honored brother?”
“I think wisdom is found in peace.”
“So anywhere?”
“If peace is found within, then yes. Otherwise you must find the peace that will tame the wild soul.”
“And where does a soul go when it must be tamed?”
“’Soul and mind must flow like water, there they find peace.’ A troubled soul finds peace among the trees. A troubled family finds peace within the past.”
Kaori inserts herself into the conversation with a small nod. “And a soul troubled by family?”
The monk smiles. “A soul troubled by family finds peace in the lands of its ancestors. You are the Inaba children, are you not?”
Kimiyasu straightens. “We are…” her statement still implies a question.
“I was born to the Akimura family. Though I may be a monk, I have lived in this valley all my life. What seems like a lifetime ago, I played often with your brother in these very hills. There is a place, not far from here, that is still part of the temple. I would be happy to show it to you?”
Kaori nods. “You have been much help, but we would not wish to keep you from your duties.”
“The greatest of our duties is in service to our fellows, I would be honored.”
Kimiyasu bows. “If you insist, honorable brother, we would be happy to see your wisdom.” Kaori nods, and the monk leads the two of them around the side of the main building.

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