Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Author’s note (from Karmic Apple/Firewood, in Uncertainty Club Issue I): Deh Chun was a Chinese Zen master who retired to rural Tennessee in 1965 from New York City. He undoubtedly was the first Chinese person than many of the local residents had ever seen. His plan was to occupy his remaining days in a two-room house by meditating, painting Chinese landscapes, and growing vegetables. However, the ad in Farm Journal from which he learned of the land had neglected to mention its proximity to the University of the South, in Sewanee; and that, therefore, any living exemplar of the Tao should be prepared to entertain a steady stream of idle visitors seeking wisdom, most belonging to the subspecies homo fatuoso fatuoso—the college student. That is how I met him…


One May day, when the dogwoods were just a little past their peak and the bracts were falling, I was driving down the street in Monteagle and spied Deh Chun sitting on the stone wall in front of the Methodist Church, under a big oak tree. He had a small easel and his ink brushes and other parapernalia, and I guessed that he was painting a landscape from life.

It turns out that it was another one of his allegorical Chinese landscapes, with great mountains, cataracts, flowing streams and gnarled pines. About two-thirds of the way down from the top was a small clearing in the pine forest where a hermit, diminutive in the context of the grandeur of the landscape, was sweeping his hut. He had a smile on his face and a glow about his head.

I asked Deh Chun what it was about. He said, “This person just had enlightenment while sweeping his hut.”

“What happens next?”

“Keep sweeping.”



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