GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

NEVER TWICE

Buddhism teaches that you can never step into the same river twice. I have not stepped in a river since I was eleven. That day I stepped, my foot found a momentary purchase on a mossy rock. The outcome was predictable. I slipped, cut my thighs, broke my tibia, bruised my elbow. I did heal, but ever so slowly, and the cast on my leg did get me sympathy. Despite those upsides, I have looked askance at rivers ever since. Ponds are no problem, and I go into my favorite one with regularity. So I will have to take the Buddhist teachers on faith, for if you don’t step in a river the first time, there’s no chance of a repeat performance.

RINZAI’S REAL EYE 鐵笛倒吹 九十語



You say there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?
I respond there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?

You may take my place,
you may look
through my eyes,
but you will still
be blind
to this moment
or that.

A reflection on Case 95 of the Iron Flute Koans

ZENGETSU SNAPS HIS FINGERS 鐵笛倒吹 八十七


When two students meet
along the road, each
acknowledges the other
with the snap of fingers.
When a student walks the Way
to who does he snap his fingers
and who passes with a small bow?

If you happen across a teacher
and ask him the meaning of this
will you bow or snap
and how will you respond
to the silence
that enfolds his answer.

A reflection on Case 87 of the Iron Flute Koans

FOUR VOWS

I can’t recall how many times
I’ve recited the four vows, how
I strive to follow the eightfold path,
and yet I do wander off
but never, I would add, intentionally.

Just yesterday after morning sitting
and the Gratitude ceremony,
we gathered on in our 
ever more important Zoom world
trying to tighten the threads of Sangha.

It was light, joyous, and I
without thought added this:
What is the sound of one hand
clapping? Trump’s inauguration,
to great laughter from all.

I thought about right speech,
about the Four Vows, but took
some solace in that they apply
only to sentient beings, and there
has been no evidence in him.

TODAY’S PRAYER

Today’s prayer
shall be recited in silence,
total, not even the breath
indicating a longing for action.
Nor will it invoke
a holy spirit without us
for it is we who
we must inveigh
to attain the desired
actions for which we seek
holy intervention, casting off
free will, an accrediting
poor decisions, a goat
where we seek escape
and atonement
for the sins of all the others.
Today’s prayer
shall not be recited at all,
but it is this prayer
in which we find absolution.

First appeared in The Poet: Faith, Spring 2021

KOTEI STRIKES A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 八十一

Bow before a king
and you may be rewarded
but bow before a teacher
and expect to be shunned.
Which has something to offer?
Ask the teacher why he shuns you
and he will turn you away.

One offers a bit of gold,
one offers a priceless gem.
Gold can buy you many things
but the gem is worthless
to all but he to who it is given.
Pick carefully, for here
the fool and wise man
walk separate paths.

A reflection on Case 81 of the Iron Flute Koans

SOTO

If you are able to speak
maintain silence,
If you can bear the silence,
listen to the song the sea sings.
If you can sing with the sea
count the grains of sand
that wash in on the next wave.
If you lose count, begin again
before the wave recedes.
If the wave recedes before
you finish counting, bid it farewell.
After you bid farewell
return to your cushion
and listen to the silence
which is the body of the dharma.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

ABOVE IT ALL

The cat likes nothing better
than to sit atop the kitchen cabinets
within easy reach of the ceiling.

We thought at first it was
a place of safety, less to fear
in a new home, new people.

We know better now, for she
goes to high places, cabinets
bookcases, when the meditation bell rings.,

She’ll climb down after
the ending bell rings, when we
emerge from our home Zendo, look

at us to see how our sitting went,
toss her head to indicate that she
came this close to kensho

or perhaps, she notes quickly
it was merely a brief nap, for we
cats are given to both in equal measure.