These few words
gathered neatly on a scrap
of simple paper,
what do you call it?
Answer carefully for you response
may carry the keys
to the doors of Mount Tai-i.
Better still, upend
the water bottle, watch
the ink and water form
a gentle pool into which
no pebble drops.
A reflection on Case 40 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)
The hardest prison to escape
is the one whose walls are built
by the mind in fear and trepidation.
It is like the open gate you dare
not enter fearing that you are leaving
and will not be allowed to return.
Atop a pole there are
an infinite number of directions
in which you can go and only one
is straight down, but you fear
selecting any, for gravity
is a fear as great as death,
yet you can feel neither.
The prison of the mind
is impregnable, for there
fear and pain live in conflict
and you are a small boat
on an angry sea staring
always at the roiling waves.
The sweep of the second-hand,
the minute hand is constant, each
moment as long as the last, none
longer, none shorter and yet I know
that Einstein was right in noting that
things unpleasant take forever, while
all that is joyful passes quickly
even when the elapsed time is the same.
What Albert didn’t say is that
the unpleasant leads us to look
for the future, keeping us
locked longer in the present moment.
That which is pleasant keeps us present
and the future seems to come
too quickly, the pleasure slipping away.
It is, in the end, merely perception
and I prefer to remain in the present
for it is all that I have, and
all that I choose to make it.
It is never if –
we have no control
over that, and if
we did, we wouldn’t
be able to control
the when and the how.
And if that weren’t
enough, if we need
if so badly, why
are we so often
what would happen
If you come before Master Nansen,
will you come holding the posture
of a monk or a lay person,
and when Nansen turns you away,
how will you exit the room?
and gassho hands –
both are so easily manacled –
why leave the room at all?
A reflection on case 44 of the Iron Flute (Tetteki tōsui 鐵笛倒吹)
The man liked to cry out into the night,
asking questions for which he knew
there could be no answers, or if
there were, they would be things
he would never wish to hear.
The coyotes in the hills would listen
to his pleas, his entreaties, his
moaning, and they would remember
the spirits of the old ones gone,
and yet back in their now-animal forms.
One night a trickster sat on the mesa,
and when the man began his questions,
the trickster, orange eyes aflame
spoke clearly, loudly, telling the man
that the answer to each of his questions
lay within himself, and he need only
look there, if he had the courage,
which the coyote knew, he lacked.
Now then, he says,
and at once he is again
victim of the confusion
that he spreads in his wake.
She takes him to task again,
but he protests that what
was now is clearly then, now,
and this now, too, is now then,
for each now is gone in the time
it takes to recognize it as now.
Now is always then, he says,
as he quickly walks off
in each of the ten directions.