TERMINAL

Birth, he said, is the first and only real terminal disease. You only realize that, of course, when it is far too late and there is nothing at all you can do about it. Cancer and all manner of diseases merely shift the timeline, but once you’re on the path, there is only one way off, and that is a step few are willing to take. For some, this is a source of terror, for others it is no more than a slow walk around the block, with the promise you’ll eventually arrive back at the place you began, although it is no longer the place you began but one from which you begin, not again but anew. Again. This is what the Buddha said 3000 years ago, more or less. He confirmed that the just the other day, outside the soup kitchen. “Hey,” Buddha said, “even the once or twice enlightened need to eat from time to time. Join me?”

A MONK IN MEDITATION 鐵笛倒吹 七十語

A man may own
may volumes of great knowledge
and never have time to read.
An illiterate may take such books
and fashion a stool
on which to sit in meditation.

Which of these is truly wise
which the greatest fool.
Wipe your mouth
with this page
at the conclusion
of the meal.


A reflection on Case 75 of the Iron Flute.

THE LAWS OF DREAMING

 

Then, in a moment, it stopped
without warning or obvious cause
and it was suddenly dark.
I thought of prying open
the doors, stepping out
into the tunnel, proceeding slowly
down the narrow walkway
eventually into morning.
In the dark, the few bulbs
remaining cast a faint glow.
It was easy, I knew,
to slip from the path
onto the rails where
a misstep is fatal.
When I told her all of this
she clucked and said
I have these problems
because I dreamed
only in English with
its minefield grammar,
where a misstep would
blow up the ghosts of the day
which had waited
so patiently for the
exorcism of sleep.
She said she could dream
in five languages, but
to avoid confusion
limited herself to English
and Mandarin so when
she sensed she was drifting
toward the dam, she could
take up pictograms
and ride them across
the river of night.

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

SATORI

The empty wine bottle
nestling the foot
of the postal box
wants nothing more
that to speak its mind
but it is forsworn
to silence, and stares
into the old Maytag box
tucked in the alley
next to the dumpster.
The bedraggled man
sits against the wall
and debates the meaning
of knowledge with
the Buddha lying
in a fetal ball
on the soggy asphalt.