JIZO’S NOT KNOWING IS THE MOST INTIMATE

When you come
before your teacher
and he asks you
what is it exactly
that you are looking for,
what is it that you
expect finally to attain,
how will you answer him?
If you say you are seeking
enlightenment, he will laugh
and send you away,
but if you answer
that you do not know,
he will hand you
an empty bowl
and tell you to go fill it.

A reflection on Case 20 of the Book of Equanimity ( 従容錄, Shōyōroku)

MY RABBI (PART 2)

I tell him I am thinking of becoming
a rabbi, someone just like him,
a man who saw so many through
all manner of crises, joyous events.

He sits back in his unsteady chair,
one he refuses to replace, this one
finally broken in, he says with that
gentle smile that melts anger, anxiety.

You would do well at it, I know, he says,
and I will gladly write you a recommendation
but think about this carefully, it is
not the life you might imagine it to be.

But before you decide, he adds,
reaching among a stack of books,
read these, handing me two volumes
that I did not imagine would change my life.

And somewhere, I have my own copies
of Alan Watt’s “Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen”
and “The Book:On the Taboo Against
Knowing Who You Are?”, and I then knew.

MY RABBI (PART 1)

If you ask why I am a Buddhist
I will tell you there are a myriad
of possible reasons, choose one,
or take this one, it fits nicely.

I am in college, pulling my grades
up to mediocre, thoughts of medicine
gone, law only faint on a distant horizon
a master’s degree away.

I visit my childhood rabbi, a man
who has been my guide through much.
I peer into his office, his door removed,
and he bids me to come in and sit.

I do, slowly, carefully negotiating
around stacks of books piled
on every possible flat surface,
the walls covered in bookcases

straining to hold their loads, I
knowing a too loud sound, a jostle
and the avalanche would be
impossible to stop, disastrous.

PURPOSES

Life, she said, is all about
finding purpose not things.

It was hard to argue with her,
as she overwhelmed with examples.

Rice filling a small bowl
holds an incense stick up

and catches the ashes
as they fall quietly down..

A cracked plate can sit
under a plant, catching

any overflow from its
careful daily watering.

And old fleece jacket can
be desleeved and become

the cat’s new favorite bed,
moved around for novelty.

He always wondered how
she would repurpose him

when the time came.

FAMILIES USE IT DAILY

If I ask you a
where you are standing
what will you answer?
If I ask you
where I am standing
what will you answer?
If I ask you a
if we are standing
in the same place
and you answer yes
a blow from the stick,
if you answer no
a blow from the stick,
if you answer nothing
a blow from the stick.

A reflection on Case 69 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Charma Eye)

ARRHYTHMIA

Life ought be little more than
arrhythmic motion, a path
we only want to straighten,
to smooth, its natural, necessary
twists and bumps somehow,
for we always see them as
impediments not moments
of joyous indecision where
there are no wrong choices
for each choice unfolds
a new path never trodden,
never imagined or foreseen.

A bird flies to where it needs
to be, but for most that are
not migrating, that place
isn’t known until arrival and
even then, save for nesting,
it is the right place only for
a day, a week, a month
or perhaps only a moment,
for a bird knows only this
moment and this until
there are no more moments.

EN ROUTE

We spend so much of our lives
imagining we are en route,
always on the way to somewhere
if often not certain where that
somewhere might be.

It seems we intensely dislike
not being in motion, not focused
on the future, the destination,
never wanting to be, seeming
to dread being static.

Yet the irony is that we,
at any given moment, are
never en route anywhere
for we are, in each moment
if we are in that moment,
exactly where we are,
en route to nowhere.