GICHU PREACHES 鐵笛倒吹 語十

If called before the Master
will you walk from east to west
to the Master’s Smile, or 
west to east, to a sudden frown.
Will you approach the Master
bowing with words of gratitude
only to receive a blow of the stick
or seeking instruction in your failure
to an equal blow of the stick.

Ponder this carefully:
what is the answer?
I leave you the stick
to reach a conclusion.

A reflection on Case 50 of the Iron Flute Koans

ON THE TENTH PLAGUE

Mark your doorpost with the blood
of the lamb for this may be the night
when God’s emissary arrives for the killing
of the first born. Will he be a night bird
half raven, half vulture or an aged man
concealing his weapon in shabby robes.

Mark your doorpost and check it
often for if your neighbor wipes
the blood away, you will be visited
and no amount of pleading will
deter him from his task. There
are no interim plagues remaining to buy
you time, if he chooses to come tonight.

Put your ear against the window
and listen for him. Will he come
on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs
slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle
in his pocket, to pay your fare
to the ferryman?

But if you do not believe,
perhaps he will forget to come.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans

JIZO’S BUDDHISM 鐵笛倒吹 四十八

In setting along the path
do you follow Hofuku
covering your eyes so as
not to see evil, ears so
as not to hear it
and close your mind
to wandering ideas
or is Jizo’s path
yours as well?

With eyes shut tight
the mind will still see,
with ears covered sound
will echo, growing louder
with no hope of escape.
With open eyes
light is reflected, with ears
open fully, sound passes
freely and flitters away
and the empty bowl
is filled with potential.

A reflection on Case 48 of the Iron Flute Koans.

DAIJI’S INNER CULTURE 鐵笛倒吹 十語

Eyes can look within
and discover a boundless universe
but the tongue alone
can speak only sounds
that go false
as they dance away unseen.

The silence of zazen
speaks the dharma,
the teisho is offered mutely.

The space between
eye and tongue
is but three inches
or an unbridgeable void.

A reflection on Case 15 of the Iron Flute Koans.

A DEAFENING SILENCE

Sitting in stillness, the silence
is at first shocking, deafening
in a way unimagined but there.

Within the lack of sound lies
a thousand sounds you had
never heard in the din of life.

You hear the young monk at Senso-ji
approach the great bell and pull
back on the log shu-moku, straining.

You hear the laugh of school aged
children hand in hand walking through
the temple grounds as pigeons gather.

You hear the cat, sitting at the foot
of Daibutsudan, staring out
and the deer waiting at the gate.

You hear your breath and that
of a million others as they sit
on their cushions sharing a moment.

HAKUUN’S BLACK AND WHITE 鐵笛倒吹 十四

Like Hakuun
shun the city,
flee the towns
and find a home
in the forest only
in the deepest part
of winter, but
do not shun people
in your solitude.

Write verses
of total silence
and dig deeply into
newly fallen snow.
Let it drift over you
until you black hair
is all that appears
on an endless field of white.

A reflection on case 14 of the Iron Flute Koans

AN AWAKENING

Take one part
Grand Marnier, one
Frangelico, a short cup
of coffee, whipped cream
only if you wish,
curl on the sofa
with your life’s
greatest love
and your first
real, truly your
first Christmas Eve
makes you wonder
why you waited
so long.

First published in The Poet: Christmas (2020 United Kingdom)

FROM THERE

The middle, she said, is what
is all important, for everything
extends from that precise point.

It’s something we learned
as children, a lesson sitting
in every good playground.

Buddhists know it certainly,
it is the way we want to find,
the route to peace and compassion.

And let’s face it, when it comes
to everything, we all know
that’s the place you want to be.