A BUFFALO PASSES 無門關 三十八

Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.

Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.

A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

TODAY

Today we want very much to pray
but words fail us yet again, and we doubt
God would hear our entreaty anyway,
since this is a disaster of our own making.

This is the problem of free will, as so many
discovered across Europe during the second
of the wars to end all wars, as did the people
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well.

If God listened we would hear a reply:
“You made this mess, it is up to you to fix it
so get on with it, but do wait until
the pandemic subsides a bit more if you would.”

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST AND VOID

You want holy teachings
boiled down, synthesized
digestible in bites

so dine on the holes
nothing, emptiness
is sustenance
enough

look at me, at a window
as you do a mirror
no knowing,
a familiar face
but whose

the face will depart
yours or his
you will awaken
to endless absence

learn no
thingness
overflowing void

A reflection on Case 1 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

SNAKE, PRAY FOR US

In a time set aside for mourning
we easily remember those, loved
or despised, taken by age, disease,
war or poverty and neglect.

But trapped in our isolation
we should also pause and recall
the snake, condemned for offering
knowledge for which we were ill-equipped.

Let us not forget the ram,
whose only sin was to be
in the wrong place at the wrong time,
traded for Isaac without remorse.

And let us share a moment’s silence
for those left behind as God’s waters rose,
wondering as they drowned, how Noah decided,
God hearing no appeals in His pique.

Who will mourn for us, when we
make our departure, or will we
be like the snake, ram and Noah’s overlooked,
awaiting for eternity a poetic moment.

First appeared in Song Between Our Stars, Issue 1, Spring 2021

https://thesongbetweenourstars.com/v1n1

NANSEN’S NOTHING SPECIAL

Her greeting
is met with silence.
His greeting
is met with silence.
Your touch
is met with greeting.
You want to fly,
curse the Earth
for holding you,
while it is your mind
that is your
only anchor.

A reflection on case 87 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

APSE SOLUTION

One downside of growing up
Jewish is that you never meet
an angel or a church mouse

I have met angels, although they
were in the guise of Bodhisattvas,
and there are a surprising number
if you look carefully enough.

As to church mice, I do have
to wonder why they are symbolic,
for they have vast homes,
direct access to God, or
the Bishop or synod, and if
they aren’t tapping into
the collection plate,
they aren’t real mice, and as
for starving, do they keep
the communion supplies
in a safe, for if not, the mice
are certainly never go hungry.

RINZAI’S REAL EYE 鐵笛倒吹 九十語



You say there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?
I respond there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?

You may take my place,
you may look
through my eyes,
but you will still
be blind
to this moment
or that.

A reflection on Case 95 of the Iron Flute Koans

A PRAYER UNANSWERED

When I was a child, a Rabbi told me
that I did have the ability,
to be used sparingly always,
to petition God for some good.

I filed this away with other stories
from the Torah, pillars of salt,
stone tablets, a flood worse than
the one that filled our basement.

At some point I needed something,
recollections are fortunately vague
now, and petitioned God in the most
humble terms I could imagine.

Nothing, happened, of course,
and when I asked the Rabbi, he said
either you didn’t need it, or perhaps
God was busy meting out justice.

I hope whoever was meted out
justice that day really deserved it,
because all the stories said God’s
justice was the end all of you.

ZENGETSU SNAPS HIS FINGERS 鐵笛倒吹 八十七


When two students meet
along the road, each
acknowledges the other
with the snap of fingers.
When a student walks the Way
to who does he snap his fingers
and who passes with a small bow?

If you happen across a teacher
and ask him the meaning of this
will you bow or snap
and how will you respond
to the silence
that enfolds his answer.

A reflection on Case 87 of the Iron Flute Koans