I’ll never forget a winter retreat at a Soto Zen temple in the northern prefecture of Niigata, both because of the participants and the circumstances. The abbot was a huge dragon-like monk with the hairline on the forehead forming a sharp peak at the center who said to me that getting into a small glass container was an easy feat. One of his brothers was an extremely candid plump deity-like guy. The only occupation of his son, [1] and equally dragon look-like guy, was waiting to inherit the temple, and to introduce large amounts of food in his skinny body.

My meditation mates were a titan-like karate fighter whose mouth looked like an unhealed stab wound, a heavenly general-like man of very short stature who monopolized all conversations with authoritative voice and a fuss of arms that lacked the elbows, a student of simian movements, a very fat ghost-like guy who the last night got drunk and would not let sleep anyone with his yelling, and two dark men of evil faces who, during the ten minutes between each break between the meditation periods, they dashed into the only heated room to smoke, drink sake, and to laugh maliciously.

At the conclusion of the one week meditation retreat, it would be held a celebration with all kind of foods, specially generous in sushi and beer. At the height of the grotesque, we were joined by a witch-like woman of an age somewhere in between fifteen and seventy years old, who danced around and ended up cuddling with the titan.

I suspect the only reason I participated in such a zoo did not go beyond the need for a human specimen to complete the album of all possible forms of existence (gods, dragons, titans, harpies, humans, animals, ghosts and hell beings).

The only “normal being” was a slender and diligent boy whose duties ranged from preparing the meals to cleaning up, or to appease the ghost. Moreover, he provided me with a separate room so I could avoid the atmosphere full of smoke and noise, and took good care that I had enough vegetarian food or an extra blanket in my unheated room. Would he be the specimen of the bodhisattva?

[1] In the late nineteenth century, during the imperial period known as Meiji, for the sake of the “country’s modernization,” celibacy was banned in Japan by decree, as a result of which, today, Japanese monks are mostly married.