JOSHU’S DOG

My teacher once asked me
“what do you have
to say for yourself,” and I
answered “absolutely nothing,”
or did I smile and remain silent?

You assume the teacher would
be upset with the silent student
and in most cases you would
be perfectly correct.

But if this occurred
in a zendo, having nothing
to say is a step toward no-self
and you can be
in that moment,
Joshu’s dog.

A reflection on Case 18 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

UMMON’S MOUNT SUMERU

When you ask your teacher
what happens when you
stop thinking, allow
no new thoughts
what you expect him
to tell you?

The dead have no thoughts
but that is not the door
to Nirvana.

But if thoughts abandon you
without your effort, without
being asked to do so,
then the door you seek
will open before you.

A reflection on Case 19 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

ABYSMAL

At the edge of the abyss,
teetering on the precipice
you need not tell us not
to jump, need not tell us
the horrid details that
would befall us if we did,
blood and gore in
infinitesimal detail.

It is more than enough
that you point out to us
the sheer height at which
we stand, the cragged
floor of the canyon
awaiting those who
imagine they can fly.

We will walk away calmly,
never considering flight
into the too well known,
and leave you to ponder
why you are again alone.

MAYOKU THUMPS HIS STAFF

If as you walk
along the way
you come across
a small bird’s nest
fallen to the ground
its eggs intact,
you place it
back on the branch
without a thought.

If as you walk on
and come across
another small bird’s nest
fallen to the ground
its eggs intact
you place it
back on the branch
because it pleases you.

One right thought
and right action,
one wrong thought
and wrong action,
how can you
tell them apart?

A reflection on Case 15 of the Book of Equanimity SHôYôROKU 従容錄

SIX FEET UNDER

I remember the afternoon
was cold and damp, with a persistent
drizzle that escaped
the clustered umbrellas,
the sky a blanket slowly shedding
the water that soaked it
as it sat out on the clothesline.

I suspect you would have
liked it this way, everyone in attendance,
everyone shuffling their feet,
wanting to look skyward,
knowing they would see only
a dome of black umbrella domes.

I recited the necessary prayers,
kept a reasonable pacing
despite the looks of many urging
me to abridge the service, but
the rain didn’t care about their wishes
and I knew you wouldn’t
so I carried on to the conclusion.

As they lowered your coffin
into the puddled grave, I imagined
you laughing, knowing in the end
you had this day gotten the last one.

First Published in The Poet Magazine – Featured Poetry
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/august-2022

SIN

A poet suggested that sin
was created by the Christians,
wrong, of course, but perhaps
just being politically correct
in not naming the Jews as
its creator, or at least
giving it a name and rulebook.

And on the point of accuracy
the poet might have noted
that the Jews created
the Christians, for Jesus
was one of them, a reformer
before Judaism would allow
anything beyond orthodoxy.

All of which is a long way
of explaining why I am
now a practicing Buddhist.

MORNING SKY

The morning sky
maculate with tiny clouds
scattered about the endless blue,
denied the promised rain.

The wind grew angry
having nothing to propel
through the azure emptiness
and rifled the trees seeking music.

There is nothing to know
on such mornings, no language
needed or permitted, there is only
the sky awaiting the sun’s arrival.

We are invited to watch,
asked to gaze deeply into the void
for great beauty lies within
just beyond the pale of vision.

RINZAI’S BLIND DONKEY

When your teacher
hands you the dharma
what do you find in your hands?

What will you do
with the dharma you are given,
where will you keep it,
or will you give it away
in silence, and in such
giving have it with you
at all times and places.

A reflection on Case 13 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

JIZO PLANTS THE FIELD

As you search
through the Dharma
what is it you hope to find?

When you ask your teacher
to explain the Dharma, what
do you expect him to tell you?

Do you cling to Dharma
because it is there, unchanging,
a guide to the end of your search?

Better to live the precepts
fully, present in every moment,
waking, working, eating
and even sleeping for then
the path rolls out before you.

A reflection on Case 12 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)