Pierre Dauriac was a captain in the French police and his mother was very proud of him until he took up Zen. She said nothing, because she understood that men often drifted away from the church of their fathers. She knew that on his deathbed he would be blessed with holy oil and sent onwards to heaven. Now nobody could remember anything ever happening to change Pierre’s routines. His stability was reassuring in a changing world. He worked away six days a week and then was back in Banios for the weekend. He dug his vegetables on Sunday morning, played football in the afternoon and went to the café for a drink until six when he went home. People only ever saw him in uniform when he left and returned from duty except for the time the Minister of Agriculture visited. Then Pierre stood by him, looking like thunder when everyone shouted and yelled about the level of their corn subsidies. As far as we knew Pierre was a confirmed bachelor, although someone once said they had seen him in town with an African woman and an Albino child. As no one had ever seen an Albino child, no one believed the story.
One Saturday morning, Pierre started digging up the front garden. First he made a little stream run through it, which everyone thought stupid since we lived by one of the greatest rivers in the mountains. Then he made a bridge in the left corner of the garden. This puzzled people because it did not go over the stream. Next he made seven plots of flowers; each plot contained a different coloured flower. When asked what kind of garden he was making. He said it was a Zen Garden, explaining this was a place where you went to meditate. Guilliaume Bosquet frowned and said, “Why not go to the church? No digging or weeding there.”
When the garden was finished and the flowers bloomed, everyone agreed it was very nice and accepted that Pierre liked to sit in it for hours at a time, his eyes closed with his mouth wide open. Madame Delong said if you got close you could hear him panting. “They’ll kick him out of the police if they find he has heart trouble”, declared Gilles Moutel. When his mother heard this she started going to Mass every Sunday.
One day Pierre brought home a monkey. We all went to look at it. The monkey rattled its cage, screamed at us and bared his little white teeth. “He has a great smile doesn’t he?” Pierre said proudly.
Emmanuel Ferrari asked the question we all wanted to ask “Why did you get this monkey?”
Pierre looked very serious as he had on the day the Minister of Agriculture visited. When he spoke his voice was strangely low and his words full of reverence. This is what he told us:
“This monkey is called Sun Hou-Tzu. Although he eats and drinks and looks just like a monkey, he is not a monkey! “ The monkey screamed and Pierre’s mother gave a great sigh. “Before a person studies Zen,” Pierre continued, “the river is the river and water is water and the mountains are mountains. But with Zen, rivers and waters and mountains are no longer just rivers and waters and mountains. Finally, when you become mindfully aware, you become the river, the water and the mountain!” He smiled, “All is one. So this monkey is not just a monkey!”
Gisèle de Saint Phalle took her cigaretto out of her mouth and asked in a commanding voice, “So tell us, Captain Dauriac, just what then is this hairy thing with a tail?”
“Look within, thou art Buddha!” he answered.
“I am a Catholic and you know it, Pierre Dauriac!” she said and clamped the cigaretto back in her mouth.
He pointed at the monkey. “This is an enlightened creature. This is a Buddha Monkey!” We all turned and looked at the monkey who stared back and bared its teeth. Pierre’s mother looked at the monkey and then at her son. “Starting this week”, she told him, “you are coming with me to church every Sunday.”
Everyone was silent. No one dare contradict Pierre, because he was the captain of police. Even the mayor who was standing with us, did not say word. Pierre put his finger through the cage. “Sun Hou-Tzu”, he said softly, “Sun Hou-Tzu!” The monkey sunk its teeth into his finger. He yelled and pulled it away. “All wisdom comes at a price”, he announced as his mother ran for the iodine. Everyone returned home in silence, thinking about monkeys. Guilliaume muttered something about how much stress the police have these days.
By the next spring, the monkey whom everyone now called Sunny sat on Pierre’s shoulder as he worked in his Zen Garden. The monkey chattered away. If it smiled at us, we carefully hid our hands. Pierre’s mother made a handkerchief in the colours of the French Republic which she tied around Sunny’s neck. Pierre put up little signs around the garden, which explained that it was a reflection of life. There was The Bridge of Sighs. “ Just like in life, you walk over it one way with sighs of sadness and back with sighs of joy” he told us. “What the bridge shows us is that both states of mind are equal. Where we cry, we will soon laugh and visa-versa. Everything is change. Nothing is permanent. That is wisdom.” No one said anything, because he was still a police captain no matter what he talked about.
Then there was an arch covered in roses which was The Passage of Birth. “To be born is rebirth. Who are you?” asked this sign. When he read this, Marcel Fonton, who was twenty and just down from the mountain with his flock, frowned. “I am having enough trouble finding out who I am in this life never mind the next time around.” he said. In the centre of the garden was a pile of small stones. A sign read: “The stones of life were thrown at me, but when I picked one up, it was a jewel.”
“Well, my grandfather told me that there was once gold among the river stones.” said Madame Delong, studying the pile. “Did he give you any?”, demanded her nephew Henri, who was looking forward to his inheritance.
“When you go to the stones, pick one up, let it become one of your worries, then throw it away. You will feel lighter!” Pierre instructed, but no one wanted to do it. We had enough stone picking and throwing to do in our own gardens. Besides everyone in Banios already knew their stones were not just ordinary stones. They were stones of history. The Devil’s stones.
It was Jose-Marie who discovered Pierre’s mother’s contribution to his Zen Garden. She had secretly scratched Jesus is Love on the bridge posts and the arch. One day she arranged a cross among the pile of stones. Then she put two carp in the pond. Abbé Capdevielle, the village priest, declared this a good thing. “Very monastic”, he assured us. “Monks always kept fish.”
As the number of summer visitors to Banios continued to grow, they would include the Zen Garden on their tour. Many of them would look serious and walk back and forth over the bridge sighing heavily. Pierre had to replenish the pile of stones, so many were thrown away, but that was easy because Banios had an endless supply. Mesdames Buison and Delong sold lots of coffee and croissants by the garden’s gate.
All would have stayed in what Pierre called The Balanced State of the Universe if Sunny had not fallen in love with the Virgin Mary. This definitely upset the Universe and especially Abbé Capdevielle.
“It’s all the Abbé’s fault”, Auguste Pontico told me. “He should not have taken those mangos from that American tourist. “In any case, the monkey got one whiff of mango and a memory flashed through his mind of forgotten native lands. In a moment, he was out of the garden, across the village and into the presbytery where Abbé Capdevielle sat eating his lunch. Sunny snatched the mango he was holding and scampered into the church.
We found him sitting at the feet of the statue of the Virgin, munching the mango and licking his lips. He would not come down. “Try some more mangos”, suggested Pierre.
“There aren’t any more. I ate them” said the Abbé.” He sat down in a pew. “You have got to get him down, Pierre! The Bishop is coming this afternoon and he is bound to go into the church.”
“I’ll go to the supermarket in Bigorre”, Guillaume said. Two hours later everyone gathered in the church. Sunny was still there, only now he was curled up in the Virgin’s hands which were folded over a rosary. “He looks very comfortable”, said Gilles Moutel. Abbé Capdevielle snorted. “The Bishop arrives at four o’clock. That monkey better be out of this church by then!”, and he stormed away to the presbytery for his afternoon nap.
The mangos did not work. He would not come down from the statue but went to sleep. “ Perhaps when he gets hungry again he’ll come down?” suggested Guilliaume. Pierre sighed, “He won’t be hungry until tonight and that’s too late.” Then, old Monsieur Riendebat had an idea. “Cover the whole thing up with a sheet” he said. “He’ll sleep while the Bishop is here and the Abbé can say the statue is being repaired.” This was thought a grand idea, but Pierre muttered that chickens put in the dark slept but he was not sure about monkeys. Madame Delong brought a bed sheet and Henri Guede climbed up the statue. The sheet was draped over the statue and the sleeping monkey and everyone tip-toed out of the church.
Bishop Bruno Fouriscot was clever at politics, which everybody knew was the main reason he was made a bishop. He was also very pious which was a great bonus in a part of the world where God was taken for granted like the weather, sometimes blowing fierce and knocking peoples lives about and at other times full of nice days. So, as expected, Bishop Bruno went to pray after several glasses of wine with the Abbé.
Sitting himself down in the front pew, Bishop Bruno reflected upon his worries. The major one was his being called to Paris to see the Cardinal. He had no idea why the Cardinal wanted to see him. What had he done wrong? What had he overlooked? It was true that the number of candidates for the priesthood was down but it was so over the whole country. It was true that finances were not good but at least there had been no scandal recently. He crossed himself. It was true, he thought, I have been neglecting developing our Interfaith Programme and the Cardinal is very hot on that one. Settling down to his prayers, Bishop Bruno addressed himself to the Virgin Mary. “Oh, dear Mother of Our Lord, he pleaded, “I need some help. How can I increase my work for God? I do want to do more Interfaith stuff but all we have in this poor diocese is Pierre’s Zen Garden and one bachelor Muslim from Tangier. I can’t build with just sand. I need some cement too! Give me a sign, dear Mother!” The monkey pulled apart the sheet covering him, looked down at the Bishop and screamed.
Abbé Capdevielle rang the bell and called everyone to the presbytery. The bishop sat very upright at the table and moved his great amethyst ring back and forth on his finger. All Banios knew then that God was displeased. Pierre Dauriac explained that Sunny was a Buddha Monkey, a true spiritual force of Zen who normally kept to his garden. Bishop Bruno’s eyes narrowed. “He really is a very nice monkey. A lot of visitors stop to see the Zen Garden.” Pierre added.
Bishop Bruno studied him for a moment. “Are these visitors Catholics?” he asked.
Everyone looked at each other. “Oh, yes, they are all Catholics.” Guilliaume finally said.
The bishop smiled, “So we have an interfaith project going here! Now that is forward thinking and just what we need.”
In the end it was the bishop’s ring that got Sunny down from the Virgin Mary and finally back in his garden. He was fascinated by the reflections of the gold and the purple.Sunny formed the habit of going back and forth to the church where he took his naps curled up in the hands of the statue. Visitors thought it delightful and added a visit to the church to their sightseeing in our village. One day a Japanese Buddhist nun with a shaved head and wearing a saffron robe arrived and walked slowly around the village ringing a brass bell. The newspapers put her picture in the paper holding Sunny and standing with Bishop Bruno in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary. It was then that the monkey stole the Bishop’s ring right off his finger and put it in the pile of Zen stones. Banios was declared Interfaith Village of the Year and Marcel Fontan took his sheep back up to the mountains and refused to come home until it snowed.