DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen.
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.

A reflection on Case 66 of the Iron Flute Koans

ENSO WHAT

Today I again took up the brush,
carefully mixed the sumi-e ink
and with hand poised over a sheet
of anticipating rice paper waited,

knowing that the moment for a stroke
was imminent but not yet at hand,
and I dare not force it for brush
painting is a practice that cannot

be compelled, a gentle merger
of idea, brush, ink and paper,
and if any are missing, a sadness
that can only be irreversible.

Today the brush considered the ink
and decided it was not a good day
and so I cleaned it carefully, set it
aside with the block of ink,

and rolling the rice paper, promised
it, myself, that we would repeat
this exercise until the moment was
right and the image was ready to appear.

JOSHU MEASURE THE WATER

When your mind is raging
thoughts flowing, eddying
when you enter the zendo
what do you do in sitting?

Do you take your stick
and measure the water
to insure a safe fording,
or do you sit amid the stream
and let the flood
wash over and around you
dry and silent within?

A reflection on case 47 of the Iron Flute Koans

BLOSSOM

I remember the cherry trees
along the reflecting pool, though
except in April they mostly reflected
a partially clouded sky promising rain.

Their pinkness was a tone I have
searched for since, and came
closest in Tokyo, jealous of the emperor
and his gardens so carefully tended.

It is that time again, and this year
as in so many past, I will not see
my reflection in the city of my birth,
nor the pink rain that falls slowly

in April’s first strong breeze, I
will not scoop up a handful of pink
and cast it into the sky, only to fall
yet again, to the joy of a nearby child.

I will dream of Tokyo, of the two trees
In a corner of Senso-ji, alight in pink
under the always watchful eye
of Buddha and the smiling jizos.

IDEOGRAPHING MIND 鐵笛倒吹 四十六

If you will mark your gate
what word will you use,
what for the door, what
for the window?
The gate knows quite well
what it is, as to door and window
and need no marking.

Even the fool knows
through each you
may enter the house,
but even the wise man
cannot tell you
how the house may enter you.

A reflection on case 46 of the Iron Flute Koans

CAT (PSYCH)OLOGY

It wasn’t until I hit
middle age, which on my scale
will allow me to live past 100,
that I discovered that cats
are Celtic deep in their hearts.
Our cat, she who adopted me
and forced her then owner
to marry me, like it or not,
was in love with the tin whistle
and the uilleann pipes playing
had her in my lap, unmoving.
But she had her Buddhist side
as well, sitting zazen for hours,
longer if accompanied by
shakuhachi flutes. She said
that cats were discerning,
were connoisseurs of music
loved cello, viola and violin
but barely tolerated the bass.
It was why, she said, all
the great composers wrote
for the higher strings.
And, she would add,
as for dogs, well they
loved country music most,
reason enough for pity.

ISAN’S SUMMONS 鐵笛倒吹 三十一

When the master
calls for a novice
do you answer?
When the inkin
bell is struck
do you begin
or end zazen?
As you follow your breath
when do you leave
your body, and who
returns when you next inhale?

Search instead
for an answer
that has no question.
Who is the novice now?

A reflection on case 31 of the Iron Flute Koans