LINJI WAS(N’T) HERE

I very strongly doubt
that Linji ever walked
along this path, given
that it wasn’t even here
fifty years ago.
He never saw the egret
staring back across the pond,
or the flock of ibis doing
what seem like prostrations.
He did not see any of this,
which saddens me a great deal,
but taking careful steps,
and following my breath,
I walk gently
in his footsteps.

Q AND A: SOMEWHERE

Somewhere deep within
complete uncertainty
lies the answer to the question
we are reluctant or
unwilling to ask.
The only problem
is that in peeling back
the fear and trepidation
we risk reopening wounds
we have long forgotten,
that are scarred over.
Is it the answer we fear
or the question, or
the inability to decide which?

HYAKUJO’S SECOND VISIT 正法眼蔵 語十四

You may come asking questions,
and perhaps the teacher
will answer you with a discourse.
If you go deaf and hear nothing,
if the words flit
like so many mayflies
just as soon gone,
if no word finds purchase,
you will have grasped
the heart of the Dharma.


A reflection on case 54 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

THE MESSENGER TIRES

He says, in a quiet aside he hopes
no one will overhear, that he
has grown tired of being an angel.
And not for the reason we might think,
he adds with a wry smile.
The work is not all that difficult,
in fact there seems to be less of it
week by week, but he has grown patient.
The real problem is sleeping,
there’s too much time for it now,
but have you ever tried sleeping
with a set of wings on your back,
talk about shoulder pain, and don’t
think of rolling over, that
is always a bumpy ride to the floor.
I tried being birdlike, of course,
but even the saints had to laugh
as I kept falling out of the trees.

Basho’s Staff 無門關 四十四

Do you have old Basho
hidden away in your home?
If you do, I will gladly
give him to you, but if he
is not within your walls, you
should produce him immediately.

If you need to cross the river
walk carefully on his back
on a moonless night.
If there is a moon, walk
along a darkened road,
hand him your shippei
and he will light your path.
If there is a pouring rain
you will both be soaked.


A reflection on Case 44 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

LLANYSTUMDWY

The small church is tucked
alongside the narrow road,
its moss encrusted stones
bathed in the November sun.

The headstones in the churchyard
lean askew, sagging under
the weight of time.

The weeds sprout up
answering to a silent call.
We are here, they seem to say,
to reclaim our own,
and we shall do it
in our own time,
in our own way.

The sounds
of the rushing waters
of the bloated Dwyfor river
blanket those whose memories
fade from the stone monoliths.

The yew, trunk overgrown
with ivy, stands a sentinel
between those gone and the sheep
grazing the soccer field.
The church is silent, stolid
existing in that middle world
between indifference and ruin.

Back in the house, the cat
curls in the overstuffed chair
preening her paws and haunches.

VAIROCANA (NARA DAIBUTSU)

Daibutsu, you sit placidly
staring down at the throng
that slowly bows before you.
You can small the faint
essence of the joss sticks
wafting from the great cast iron pot
outside the massive doors.
“Do not act as if the world were real”
you whisper, or so it seems
to my chilled ears, “it is
all but an illusion.”
I see a faint smile
cross your lips, then fly off
on the early winter breeze.
“The path is Noble, but it is
no path, turn from it
and you will find it,
but seek it and it will be gone.”
I turn from you and feel
the touch of your hand
between my shoulders.
As I walk through the gate
a deer nuzzles up against my leg
“nothing in this world
can be enjoyed forever”
the deer says, “but would you
have a scrap of cake for me,
a tribute to our enlightened guide?”

PHILOSOPHER’S STONE

The philosopher
sits on a rock
overlooking a pond
with a single water lily.
To defeat your enemy,
you must have his mind.
To have his mind,
you must be him.
To be him, you must
cast off self-loathing
When there is no loathing,
he is not your enemy.
If you have no enemies,
you may sit on a rock
and look over a pond,
but only if there is
but a single water lily.