One very cloudy afternoon Gizamu came to the court to play. Nobody was there except the Karasu. Having nothing better to do, he started shooting from the Realistic Range. But he kept missing. One shot hit the ring and scattered, another barely reached the ring, yet another hit the backboard and missed. Shot after shot he missed and he felt angry, frustrated and miserable. It felt as if the basket was mocking him. At last he said, ‚Sensei, I don’t understand why I feel so bad when I cannot score after so many shots. This happens only when I play alone, and no one is watching me. When I play with others, I don’t get angry when I miss shots.’ And the Master replied to him, ‚It is because when you play with others and miss shots, you feel rejected by the basket, but you continue playing. Your team-mates and opponents still accept you, you have other goals, you are still in the game. But when you play alone, and shoot, you have only one aim; to score. Thus when you miss, the rejection you feel is absolute.’ Then Gizamu asked, ‚But I know it is my inability which causes me to miss.’ And the Master replied, ‚Knowing is one thing, believing is another. You must learn to see through the illusions. Then you won’t feel bad when you miss a shot. And after that, you won’t miss at all.’
As Gizamu shot off the dribble, he jumped as high as he could, letting the ball drop into the ring after a short flight. When he landed he said, ‚The ring is so high. Some friends of mine say that it would be better to lower the ring so it will be more fair to women, children and short people in general.’ The Master asked ‚What do you think about that proposal?’ ‚Well, maybe it would be better to have two different heights as in voleyball. The standard height, and another one some 20 centimetres lower. Since I am short, it would have been easier for me to score at the latter. Maybe I could even have dunked!’ Gizamu replied enthusiastically. The Master paused for a second and then said, ‚Would scoring feel as good if it were easier to score?’
One cloudy afternoon at the court, with the Karasu watching as usual, Gizamu shot the ball and missed. Then he sprinted and jumped to catch it as it fell, to throw it back into the basket before he touched the ground. He shot it in air, but he missed again. The Master saw this and said ‚You must not be an obstacle between the ball and the basket. You must help the ball on its journey to the basket.’ Gizamu pondered this and asked, ‚Will I ever play as good as you do, Sensei?’ To this the Master replied ‚You already do’. As Gizamu pondered this, a Hototogisu sang.
Gizamu aimed the ball and shot. He scored. He picked up the ball where it fell, dribbled into the Realistic Range, and shot again. He scored again. He shot once more and once more after that and scored with both. Than he shot again. He scored yet again. Gizamu was pleased with himself. He said ‚Look, Sensei, I have improved. I just scored five times in a row from the Realistic Range.’ The Master replied ‚I saw it. But it does not mean that you have improved.’ Gizamu asked ‚Why not?’ ‚You score once every three times. If each shot is a discrete event, what is the probability for scoring five times in a row?’ said the Master. Gizamu paused and said ‚Once out of 243 times for each five-shot sequence.’ The Master said ‚Yes. That makes once every 1215 shots. Since you shoot 100 times per day on average, statistically you should score 5 times in a row once every 12 days or so, even if you cannot score any better than once out of three.’ Gizamu was disappointed, but he said ‚You are right, Sensei.’ Then the Master said‚ ‚Shoot once more, Semi.’ Gizamu moved on to the Realistic Range and shot again. The ball hit the backboard and went through the ring. And the Master said ‚Indeed, you have improved.’
One late afternoon, Gizamu was talking to the Master after shooting and running around the court, ‚Sensei, a friend of mine claims that basketball symbolises sex, with holes and scoring and all. Do you think that is the case?’ To this the Master replied ‚No, it does not symbolise anything. It is a game, a world, self sufficient, self referring, perfect. Like a watermelon, it is a closed system.’ ‚But surely sex is fundamental for humans, so it could be represented somehow in the game features. You once said basketball is a simulation, maybe it simulates sex too. Maybe my own sex drive has something to do with my play!’ objected Gizamu. The Master replied ‚Simulation is not necessarily presentation. And play is even more fundamental than sex. You started playing Basuketubaru as a child. You had no sex drive back then, yet you played with vigour and intensity. ’
Many sunny summers passed in Orudenburugu, but Gizamu did not play basketball. But one sunny day Gizamu found a ball and went to the court to play with whomever may be there. But nobody was there except the Karasu. Not knowing what to do, Gizamu decided to practice shooting. As he lifted the ball above his head to shoot, he heard the Master speak. ‚Welcome back little Semi!’ the Master said.
On another hot afternoon on the court, Gizamu said sweating, ‚Master, I like to play basketball. It relaxes, it makes me forget my daily concerns. It improves my health. It makes me happy, I secrete more endorphin.’ The Master said, ‚That’s why you play so badly.’ Gizamu was surprised ‚You mean because of my daily concerns?’ ‚No’ said the Master, ‚because you play to relax and to improve your health. You should play only to play.’ ‚By the way,’ added the Master, ‚call me Sensei.’
Gizamu dribbled and reversed suddenly, jumped high and shot the ball without pausing to aim. The ball defined a graceful arc and passed through the ring without touching the rim. Gizamu was pleased with himself and the world. He said, ‚Such a beautiful basket! It is reminds me of music.’ The Master nodded and said ‚Indeed it was beautiful.’ Then Gizamu said, ‚But Sensei, I wonder who makes the necessary calculations when I shoot? Who compensates for the momentum when I shoot while I am moving? Surely I don’t do calculate anything consciously, yet it is my hands that shoot the ball, my eyes that aim it. And I don’t understand how sometimes I can shoot better when I am moving than when I stop and aim carefully.’ The Master nodded approvingly, ‚Well said, Semi. Indeed this is one of the Eight Mysteries of the Way. The Ancients named it the „Player Within“. The Player Within never misses a shot, the way the sun never misses a morning.’ Gizamu had a moment of enlightenment, ‚Totsu! When I score a perfect basket it is the Player Within who directs my hand. Then I should learn to let him shoot more. How can I do this?’ And the Master replied ‚Indeed, the more you let him play, the better you play. When you stop wanting to score, when you are beyond scoring, shooting, when you are one with the ball and the court and the basket, than surely it is not you who’s playing any longer. It is the Player Within. When you shot this last time, for a moment you were one with everything and you forgot yourself. Forgetting yourself, The Player Within took over.’
One leaf green afternoon, Gizamu asked, ‚Master, where should I pactice shooting from?’ And the Master said „‚Shoot where you would shoot if you were playing with others. it is what the Ancients call the ‚Realistic Range’“. Gizamu shot the ball but he missed. He shot again and missed again. He picked up the ball and shot for a third time, and later for a fourth time and he missed both shots. He was frustrated with his inability. Then the Master said ‚Try shooting off the dribble’. Gizamu dribbled in, shot the ball when he was under the basket, the way he learned as a child, and scored. Then the Master said ‚Try the realistic range again’. Gizamu moved out to the realistic range and shot again. He scored. Then the Master said ‚Seeing is believing. Seeing you can score, you believe you can score.’
Once upon an afternoon dreary, after shooting many times with little success, Gizamu said, ‚Sensei, I wonder one thing. Some people say that the ball and the basket have personality. And chance is a lady who favours the player sometimes. Many things depend on the player’s luck that day, the ball must love you and you must love the ball to score, they say. Is this true?’ The Master said ‚Of course not. Chance is blind, and the ball has no personality.’ Gizamu asked ‚How do you know it, O Sensei?’ And the Master replied ‚The ball told me.’ Then they heard the Hototogisu sing.
On a gray afternoon in summer, Gizamu came to the court to play. He looked around for people to play with, but saw no one except the Karasu. So he decided to practice shooting. He asked, ’Sensei, I want to know my scoring percentage, could you tell me that?’ The Master replied ‚Shoot 100 times and I shall tell you.’ After 100 shots, the Master said ‚You scored 31 times.’ On the next day, Gizamu scored 24 times out of 100 and on the third day 26 times and on the fourth day 19 times only. The Master did not say anything other than the percentages. Gizamu was frustrated with his performance. He said ‚ I can score once every four times only. And this is without defence. I have absolutely no talent.’ And the Master said ‚Numbers are irrelevant for your game, Semi. I won’t count your percentage again since this seems to be a source of frustration for you. You have much concern for statistics, but here you don’t need them.’ So Gizamu did not learn his percentage in the next three days. On the fourth day the Master told him ‚You score once every three attempts.’ Gizamu was pleased and said ‚I thought you were not counting, Sensei.’ And the Master replied ‚I am not counting, but I can see.’
Gizamu stood under the ring and looked up, thinking. The Master looked at him and said ‚You suspect that you are too short to play.’ Gizamu was embarrassed ‚Well, people are surprised to hear that I like playing basketball, and it makes me think… But surely I am too short to be a good player, am I not, O Sensei? Maybe I should be playing football instead.’ The Master said ‚You are tall enough. There are Masters shorter than you, who can dunk.’ Gizamu was unconvinced ‚But surely they are exceptional. I am but a normal person in terms of athletic ability.’ To this the Master replied, ‚Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you are too tall to play.’ Gizamu was surprised ‚Too tall, Sensei?’ The Master nodded, ‚When you played for the first time, you were a child, no taller than a monkey. But playing as a child, you never complained. Maybe that was the correct height for you, Semi.’
One day Gizamu was playing alone and the Karasu were watching him. After shooting from far for a while, he became tired and decided to shoot right under the basket, like a centre. So he got closer to the basket and shot the ball, but he missed. He tried again and he missed again. When he failed to score for the third time, he was very frustrated, so he said ‚This is unbelievable, I can’t score from one metre!’ To this the Master replied ‚Even Sabonisu-san jumps.’ Hearing this, Gizamu picked up the ball and jumped as he shot it the next time. He scored.
One humid day, after shooting practice, Gizamu decided to try to touch the ring. He pulled back, started running and jumped as hard as he could when he was under the ring. He rose higher and higher but his fingers failed to touch it at the apogee. When he landed the Master said, ‚Nobody succeeds in the first try.’
One day Gizamu came to the court, carrying a ball in his hands, but nobody was there except the Karasu. So he decided to practice shooting. He moved to the Realistic Range and shot. He missed. He picked up the ball where it fell and entered the Realistic Range and shot again. He missed again. He shot once more and missed again. He became angry. Then the Master said ‚Once a monk in Nijusangendo temple scored ten thousand times in three hours.’ To this Gizamu replied ‚That’s impossible, Master. He must have scored once per second.’ And the Master said ‚Don’t let the numbers tell you what’s possible or impossible. Besides it takes even you under one second to shoot.’ Gizamu was not convinced; ‚Only when I have the ball ready, besides, one would surely miss some shots.’ The Master said, ‚The men of old were wiser than today’s men. And when they shot, they shot the ball with their will, not with their hands. They reached out with their inner self all the way to the basket. They bridged the gap between the hand and the basket with a perfect, invisible arc of their will. So they did not abandon the ball as it left their hand, but flew with it to the basket. It was as if they picked the ball up and dropped it into the basket without letting it go in the meanwhile.’ Gizamu pondered this. Then he picked up the ball, thinking that he was flying with it to the basket as he shot it. He missed. The Master shrugged ‚The men of old practiced a lot.’
Gizamu aimed the ball carefully and shot- it hit the ring and fell outside. He picked the ball up and aimed and shot again. The ball hit the ring again and missed. This happened two more times. And Gizamu was frustrated. He said ‚Sensei, I don’t understand this. I aim carefully, so it should be good enough. But I hit the ring all the time. It must be my arms failing to throw the ball where I aim it.’ The Master replied ‚Then throw it as you would throw it when you were a child, with both arms.’ Gizamu aimed the ball and threw as he used to do when he was a child. It hit the ring, another miss. To this the Master said, ‚Maybe you should not be so sure about your aim.’ Gizamu objected, ‚But I am wearing contact lenses, so I can see the ring clearly.’ The Master shook his head and said, ‚The ring is irrelevant in scoring. You see the ring so you aim at the ring. Ergo you hit the ring. You should not aim at the ring.’ Gizamu was perplexed, ‚Then what should I aim at?’ The Master replied ‚At nothing.’ Gizamu was very much confused, but the Master was patient as the giant statue of Buddha in Nara, ‚Inside the ring is a hole- nothing. It is invisible- there is nothing to see! The eye sees the ring only, yet you must not aim at the ring. You must aim at nothing to score… Thus the Ancients said that the eyes are irrelevant in scoring. Once there was an old master in Arashiyama who was blind. He saw nothing, he aimed at nothing. Because of this his aim was perfect, he scored with every shot.’ Gizamu understood. He raised the ball and aimed at nothing. He scored.
On a partially cloudy day the Master asked Gizamu, ‚Tell me Semi, who’s your favourite player?’ Gizamu replied, ‚That’s a difficult question. Let me think. I think it is Petar Naumoski.’ Master nodded slowly, ‚Why?’ ‚Because I trusted him a lot, when he played for the team I supported. He had courage and spirit, and he did everything well, dribbling, shooting, passing.’ Gizamu said. The Master nodded approvingly. Then Gizamu asked ‚Who’s your favourite player, Sensei?’ The Master replied ‚Arubidasu Sabonisu-san.’ Now it was Gizamu’s turn to ask ‚Why?’ And the Master replied ‚Once, during the Edo era, a Zen Master took a 2 metre 10 centimetres tall apprentice to train. He was a car mechanic until then, and never played basketball before. When they critised him for taking an apprentice who has no fundamental, the Zen Master replied „I can teach someone how to play, but I cannot teach 2.10“’ Gizamu was not expecting this answer, so he said ‚Do you like Sabonis because he’s 2.20? But there are others who are even taller than he is?’ And the Master replied, ‚You missed the point of the story. When one is 2.10 like the ex-mechanic or 2.20 like Sabonisu-san, it is easy to play Basuketubaru, even professionally. One does not need to do much. But Sabonisu-san can do everything. He can shoot 3 pointers, he assists, leads his fellow players in the game. He is wise and intelligent. He is like a one-man team. Even the best players respect him as an opponent. He is a hero in his homeland. He would have been great even if he were shorter. So he is perfect, like a plum tree in spring bloom.’ Gizamu nodded, ‚I see your point now, Sensei. But another thing bothers me. If I am not mistaken, you just mentioned that this 2.10 apprentice was a car mechanic…’ ‚Yes.’ agreed the Master. ‚But you also said it was the Edo era, which was long before the invention of the automobile’ said Gizamu, confused. And the Master replied ‚As Sensei Gibuson said, the future was already there but it was not evenly distributed.’ ‚I don’t understand’ said Gizamu. ‚You don’t have to’ said the Master.
On one eternal afternoon of an endless summer, Gizamu came to the court to play basketball, but no one was there except the Karasu. Not knowing what to do, he started to dribble and reverse by himself, and turned to shoot. The ball hit the ring and scattered away, into the bushes, but Gizamu did not go to retrieve it. Instead he said ‚Sensei, I have a question for you. Everyday I come here and play alone. No one is here with me, no one plays with me, no one watches me. Except the birds. Yet you are here and you see me and you call me Grasshopper and talk to me. How is this possible? Is this not a paradox?’ The Master smiled at his apprentice, and said ‚This you must never forget, Semi: I- your Sensei, this court, the ball, the ring, the backboard, your shoes, your lenses and even the Karasu and the Hototogisu… All of this, what you experience when you are here, is not subject to your logic. You cannot impose your rationality on this, and your knowledge of arts and sciences, serve you well as they may on the outside, cannot help you once you are here.’ Gizamu was perplexed by this answer, so he asked ,But what is this that I am experiencing, then, O Sensei?’ ‚This’ the Master said smiling, ‚is the Zen no Basuketubaru.’ Quoth the Hototogisu: ‚cuc-koo, cuc-koo, cuc-koo!’
On one flower-scented day Gizamu finished shooting practice, and felt a little tired. He asked the Master, ‚Sensei, is basketball a good sport? I like it, but my friends don’t like to play it. They prefer running, swimming, cycling, baseball or even underwater rugby to basketball.’ The Master replied thus; ‚As Sensei Daruwin said, the monkeys of old were wiser than today’s monkeys. So they evolved, and became the men of old. And the men of old did not run on flat surfaces for a long while with the same tempo, neither did they swim. And surely had they no bicycles to ride on the savannah. So sometimes they walked, sometimes they sprinted and at other times they jogged or simply stood and waited. They pushed each other and other animals. They jumped to clear obstacles and to reach the branches of trees. As they hunted they moved in teams, communicated complex strategies and implemented them quickly. They threw rocks and spears at their game. So you evolved for these activities, which are simulated with perfection in Basuketubaru. Let the fish swim, and the horse run, and cycle when you must get somewhere.’ Gizamu thought about this and said, ‚There’s much wisdom in your words, Sensei. Yet when I play alone I don’t run so much, and I don’t get tired since I shoot most of the time. I feel that I need more exercise.’ And the Master said, ‚Then run ten times around the court after you’re done shooting. Five times clockwise and five times counter-clockwise. Sprint along one of the longer sides, and jump when you get closer to the baskets, trying to reach them. Go!’ Gizamu started running.
One day Gizamu went to the court to play. But when he arrived there it started to rain, the ground was wet, and the Karasu went hiding. Gizamu said ‚Maybe I shouldn’t play today.’ To this the Master replied, ‚10 summers ago you used to play in rain, even without proper clothing, proper shoes, nor lenses. Why not play now when you have all of these?’ Gizamu objected, ‚But then I played with my friends.’ And the Master said, ‚Did they hold the ball when you shot back then? Did they help you dribble it? Did they throw you in the air to make you jump higher? One always plays alone.’ Gizamu was not convinced, ‚In fact they did throw me in the air to make me dunk, but anyway, it’s not the same, and I was much younger then.’ The Master then shrugged and said, ‚Everyone plays when the sun is shining.’ Thus Gizamu was persuaded to play in rain, and the Hototogisu sang.
One windy afternoon Gizamu shot off the dribble, jumping as high as he could. He scored, but he was not satisfied. He said ‚I wish I were taller. I know I am tall enough to play, but if I were taller I could have played much better, I could have dunked.’ ‚Why do you need to play better?’ queried the Master. ‚Why not? If I were 2 metres tall maybe I could even have played in a big team.’ Replied Gizamu. The Master then said ‚You know people that tall who can’t tell a basketball from a watermelon. Still, even if you could, would you rather become a professional basketball player than what you are now?’ Gizamu thought about this and said ‚No, sensei.’ ‚Then you are tall enough and play good enough. Besides, as Sensei Chesuteruton once said anything worth doing is worth doing badly.’ But Gizamu was not convinced ‚Still, I’d have liked to improve my ability.’ The Master sighed ‚You are too concerned with improvement, Semi.’ ‚But won’t self-improvement lead me to enlightenment and perfection?’ insisted Gizamu. ‚Self improvement is mast…[ohheo oehheo! coughed the Master suddenly] …ery, mastery, yes!’ said he. ‚But real mastery comes to the player like the spring comes to the land. To achieve it, the you must stop seeking it. Running after it, you can never catch it. You must be patient, and only than it will come to you.’
Zen no Basuketubaru,
by Nazim Gizem Forta,
Copyright July 2003, Oldenburg,
thanks to Ziyi Li for the photos.
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