ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on Case 44 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Mind)

THE REAL WAY 碧巌録 二

Heed Joshu’s words
the real way is not difficult
look within the mind
come across words, thoughts
and cast them over
the edge into the abyss.

Continue searching until
no words or thoughts remain
and you are left with mu.
Then carry mu to the precipice
and cast it, too, into the abyss
make your bows and retire.


A reflection on Case 2 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record).

WRISTING

I used to think
that the key to a great crepe
was all in the wrist.
That was before my wrist was fused
by a doctor who explained
that no motion was better
than endless pain where motion
ceased to practically matter.
Now I realize that the forearm
is capable of so much more
that that for which it is given
credit, that the elbow is a joint
underappreciated, and that when
the crepe slides off the pan
and onto the plate,
the forearm can take a silent bow,
giving a wink to the crepe pan
for its nominal contribution
to the effort lying on the plate.

NARA

It was inside Nara
that it finally slipped away.
Its tether had grown
ever weaker, the first slip
was decades before, a book,
brief meetings
an answerless question.
It stretched further
in Tokyo, basin incense
under the watchful
third eye
and hung perilously
by fewer and fewer threads
until, with the monks’
gentle bow, it broke
and I found home.

WHO IS HE? 無門關 四十語

Sitting with Shakya and Maitreya
in the utter stillness of early morning
you each strain to hear
the master’s voice.

Do not take up Shakya’s bow
or attempt to mount Maitreya’s horse
Do not engage Hoen in discussion
but look inward, hand
your bow to Maitreya,
the reins to Shakya.

There is only one horse, one bow
so see yourself sitting
peaceful and silent,
utterly alone.


A reflection on Case 45 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

VAIROCANA (NARA DAIBUTSU)

Daibutsu, you sit placidly
staring down at the throng
that slowly bows before you.
You can small the faint
essence of the joss sticks
wafting from the great cast iron pot
outside the massive doors.
“Do not act as if the world were real”
you whisper, or so it seems
to my chilled ears, “it is
all but an illusion.”
I see a faint smile
cross your lips, then fly off
on the early winter breeze.
“The path is Noble, but it is
no path, turn from it
and you will find it,
but seek it and it will be gone.”
I turn from you and feel
the touch of your hand
between my shoulders.
As I walk through the gate
a deer nuzzles up against my leg
“nothing in this world
can be enjoyed forever”
the deer says, “but would you
have a scrap of cake for me,
a tribute to our enlightened guide?”

TEINEI-SA 丁寧さ

He crawls out from under the blue tarp
strung between two trees and a park bench
with the first light of morning breaking
over Shinjuku Chuo park, slowly erasing
the shadows cast by the Metropolitan Government Building.
He neatens the surrounding concrete,
ready for the soon to be arriving crowd
that appear each morning for Tai Chi.
As the elderly men and women pass,
he bows slightly to each and each
gently returns the bow with a smile.
He goes off to visit friends by the
Kumano Shrine, knowing that when he returns
he will likely find the empty covered tin
that sits on the stone that marks his
blue plastic home replaced with another
with sticky rice and bits of dried fish
or pickled vegetables, for in this
always teeming city, there is
even a great civility to homelessness.