‘Why is Tu Fu sad?’ asks the master.
A Poem About Radiance
‘It is obvious,’ replies the first pupil. ‘It is, as Tu Fu says: the longest bough has been broken.’ A second pupil differs: ‘The world is unjust: the violent and strong will always crack and break the weak and frail. Had we not better stay in the hermitage and meditate?’ A third believes he sees the light: ‘Do not you see? Because everything, including the willow tree, is impermanent.’
The master says, ‘No, you have all missed the point. Have you forgotten the young girl? She moves gracefully and, when the breeze was gentle, the willow had moved gracefully in step with it. Tu Fu is sad because without its longest bough the willow will no longer be able to dance so well with the breeze.’
‘But this is just old age, just the approach of death,’ replies the third.
‘No,’ he replies. ‘It is worse. It is the final loss of graceful movement. The tree is not dead; hereafter, it will only be less beautiful in its rhythms, its swayings. The tree is trachled. For this reason, Tu Fu is sad.’