FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

GANTO’S MEAL 鐵笛倒吹 語十四

When you visit a teacher
inquire what he needs
and freely offer him a meal,
but ask nothing in return,
if you pester him
he will greet you
with a blow of the stick.

Come to him silently
with an open heart
and with empty hands
and the Dharma
will be transmitted.

A reflection on case 54 of the Iron Flute Koans

NAMASTE

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.

SEPPO SEES HIS NATURE 鐵笛倒吹 三十四

Do not imagine yourself
Shravaka or Boddhisatva
nor ask the Master
if his reflection is
the fullest moon or bright sun.

Both stick and slap
awaken you
and clear your sight.

The Master’s eyes
are blind to you
and your reflection
can only be seen
by looking within.

A reflection on case 34 of the Iron Flute Koans.

INSIDE THE PAGE

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.”

Published in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

I SPEND THE EMPTY HOURS

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.

Publsihed in These Lines, Fall 2020
https://theselines.org/these-lines-1.1-fall-2020.pdf

GENSHA’S BLANK LETTER 正法眼蔵 四十八

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)

THE GIRL COMES OUT 無門關 四十二

She sits undisturbed
Shakyamuni by her side.
You can wave at her, she
will pay you no mind.

You cannot grasp her mind
and maintain a hold
on your own, you will grow
deaf from the chatter
but a child can curl
at her feet and she
will stroke his forehead
in perfect Samadhi.

A reflection on case 42 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

MIRROR IMAGE

Each morning when I look
into the mirror I imagine
I see me, but of course that
is impossible, for in that moment
only the mirror sees me
and I see the mirror.

How deluded I must be
to assume that I look at all
like the mirror, but it is,
I know, just such delusions
that enable my sense of self,
and that is the grandest illusion.

A morning will come when I
look into the glass and nothing
is there or a face I have never
before seen and the mirror
will laugh, as will I, at this
game we have played for years.