If I receive warm under robes
to ease my winter meditation
I will refuse them.
If you ask me why, I will say
I was born with such robes as I need.
If you ask what I wore before birth
I shall remain silent.
In the deepest winter
there is no chill
that can reach
the empty mind
for it is full of a warmth
that cannot be replaced
and one needs no shelter,
for ashes know no temperature.
A reflection on Case 78 of the Iron Flute Koans
There is a statue of William Penn
atop the city hall in Philadelphia
seeming to stare down over the city
with bronze eyes incapable of seeing.
Hagar wandered the wilderness
after she was evicted by Abraham
at Sarah’s urging, the price
of jealousy, with bread and water
and the promise of a great nation.
It is pure speculation whether
Hagar was enslaved and freed
or, as we would claim it today,
employed by the family. In the end
the distinction matters little.
Penn remains blind atop the building
Hagar and Ishmael are long dead,
and Jefferson likely had children
with one of his slaves, or so
the DNA evidence indicates.
I am of Norwegian and Scottish
patrilineal heritage it appears
though my great nation is
a six year old girl and
almost three year old boy.
If you want an answer
do not ask a question –
your answer cannot be mine
nor can mine be yours.
Instead, ask the stone wall,
it has nothing to say
and in its perfect silence
all questions are asked
and all answers are found.
A reflection on Case 41 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye
There comes a moment
at which both memory and history
become blurred at the edges,
where the bedrock on which belief
has been so carefully erected
seems more magma, shifting
threatening to bring down the superstructure
of desire and assumption.
It is the fading that is at once
both fear inducing and exhilarating
for faith is tested and will most likely fail
leaving uncertainty in place of illusion.
This is the joy and treat of aging
where your own life has former lives
that you cannot be certain you lived,
which seem familiar enough but
never with the crystalline clarity
you imaged memory must have.
Memory is a Buddhist river
and so much of the fun
is continually getting
your feet wet once again.
A man may own
may volumes of great knowledge
and never have time to read.
An illiterate may take such books
and fashion a stool
on which to sit in meditation.
Which of these is truly wise
which the greatest fool.
Wipe your mouth
with this page
at the conclusion
of the meal.
A reflection on Case 75 of the Iron Flute Koans.
Faith is something, she says,
that everyone has, it is just
that some don’t recognize it,
even while the coin is flipping
through the air and the desired
outcome is whispered in the mind.
She believes that life is a joy,
but that it is also
heaven’s waiting room, and while
there may be a trap door out,
she knows where it is and can avoid it.
She says she’s enjoying the show
but this is just the opening act
and it’s the headliner she came to see.
He smiles, imaging his next life
certain this is just one life in
and eternal groundhog day of existence.
He only wants to live
forever, or if not, at least
until a week from Thursday.
Important things always happen
on Wednesdays, he is convinced.
He has no logical reason
for his belief, but it is his
and he will not be shaken from it.
“It is a matter of faith,” he says
“and you can borrow it or leave it,
but it’s mine.” He does like
to own things, and ideas are
the greatest things in his world.
He is certain he will die
on a Wednesday, not that his death
will be all that important, though
he wouldn’t mind it so,
but he wants to be cremated,
wants some of his ashes left
in a church, any church, just
to let them know we are all
created in God’s image
and this Wednesday will
for him, Ash Wednesday.