JIZO’S NOT KNOWING IS THE MOST INTIMATE

When you come
before your teacher
and he asks you
what is it exactly
that you are looking for,
what is it that you
expect finally to attain,
how will you answer him?
If you say you are seeking
enlightenment, he will laugh
and send you away,
but if you answer
that you do not know,
he will hand you
an empty bowl
and tell you to go fill it.

A reflection on Case 20 of the Book of Equanimity ( 従容錄, Shōyōroku)

POSER

For unknown reasons I
was told I was going to
sit for a portrait by a well
known local artist.

It was a gift, so I had
little choice but to accept,
and so I sat on a chair
frozen in place.

I asked how long it
would take and he replied
“Not more than four sittings
and then I can go to work.”

I pointed out that like
a Buddhist river, I could
never pose the same way
twice, each time would be different.

He smiled and said
the painting would be
a Post-modernist
so my pose hardly mattered.

MY RABBI (PART 2)

I tell him I am thinking of becoming
a rabbi, someone just like him,
a man who saw so many through
all manner of crises, joyous events.

He sits back in his unsteady chair,
one he refuses to replace, this one
finally broken in, he says with that
gentle smile that melts anger, anxiety.

You would do well at it, I know, he says,
and I will gladly write you a recommendation
but think about this carefully, it is
not the life you might imagine it to be.

But before you decide, he adds,
reaching among a stack of books,
read these, handing me two volumes
that I did not imagine would change my life.

And somewhere, I have my own copies
of Alan Watt’s “Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen”
and “The Book:On the Taboo Against
Knowing Who You Are?”, and I then knew.

MY RABBI (PART 1)

If you ask why I am a Buddhist
I will tell you there are a myriad
of possible reasons, choose one,
or take this one, it fits nicely.

I am in college, pulling my grades
up to mediocre, thoughts of medicine
gone, law only faint on a distant horizon
a master’s degree away.

I visit my childhood rabbi, a man
who has been my guide through much.
I peer into his office, his door removed,
and he bids me to come in and sit.

I do, slowly, carefully negotiating
around stacks of books piled
on every possible flat surface,
the walls covered in bookcases

straining to hold their loads, I
knowing a too loud sound, a jostle
and the avalanche would be
impossible to stop, disastrous.

FAMILIES USE IT DAILY

If I ask you a
where you are standing
what will you answer?
If I ask you
where I am standing
what will you answer?
If I ask you a
if we are standing
in the same place
and you answer yes
a blow from the stick,
if you answer no
a blow from the stick,
if you answer nothing
a blow from the stick.

A reflection on Case 69 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Charma Eye)

CIRCLING

This morning as the bell
signaled the end of morning zazen
the whistling ducks took up
their song, circling the wetland
as if inviting me to photograph them.

They quickly grew bored waiting
and flew off to a place
I do not know, can not imagine.

Perhaps they will return
this afternoon, circle
in a duck like pose as I capture
them with the long lens, and this
will satisfy them for another day,
but perhaps they will not return
and punish me again
for my morning absence.