There was a time, still within memory’s ever more tenuous grasp that I imagined myself, at this age, as a monk in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, that I had assumed a silence imposed by lack of language, not faith.
I am certain that the Japanese are pleased that I let that dream pass unfulfilled, that I confine my practice to that American form of Zen, softened and gently bleached from its shogun watered roots.
I recall my visits to Senso-ji, Todaii-ji and countless other small temples where I would often find a zafu and sit, but only the youngest monks I met could understand that it was there, among them, that I felt spiritually at home.
She asks innocently, listening to the wind whispering through the bare branches of the oak, “How long have you lived in this poem,” pointing to the page of marked and remarked typescript. He looks at her as if discovering she’d grown another head, peeking out from between her well-polished teeth. “I have no idea what you mean,” he says, “I write the poems— it is up to you to furnish them.” She grimaces, “That’s so wrong,” a third head appeared, grinning, “if you build poems on spec they are sterile little boxes that you foist off on the unwary. Plant all the flowers you want around it, it will still have the antiseptic smell should we dare step into it. That’s just the difference between us,” she adds, “I can see the song of the wind played by the trees, but you, you see only the blankness of the unadorned walls.”
I spend considerable time thinking about what it is that I am, what is I, whether Descartes’ God or Spinoza’s could possibly exist, or must if I can have meaning beyond self-reflection, needing a godly mirror, and image reflected. Cogito, on what basis can I draw that conclusion what logical proof, carefully constructed will not fall under the weight of the axiom, cogito cogito but of what? Keys that spit words that fade under a misplaced finger, she caught in the web twisting, unable to pull free, staring at an approaching holiday of praying forgiveness Vidui, as though to posit God is to validate emotions, control impulses which leap synapses and flit and fade, I have sinned and transgressed I have violated laws and statutes and I beg forgiveness that I might live, this I, this cogito who has no external reference save God which makes all things real, all illusion. It is comforting knowing in death the soul is carried on, thought lingers, or does it cease such that I am not for I think not, yet why should I fear, for when it is done, I will not have been save as a reference point, a linchpin from which may hang ornaments of a life, a tidy sum.
If you wish to find the Way follow the signs that read “This Is Not the Path” or at least some of them. If you ask me directions I will hand you a blank sheet and ask you what does it contain. You may say it is void and you would be correct, or you may say it is a thousand dharma texts and you would be correct.
A reflection on Case 48 of The True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo)