ISAN’S DO NOT BETRAY OTHERS 正法眼蔵 四十七

If you fall, 20,000 arms
will lift you up,
when you sit
10,000 join the Sangha.
If you walk barefoot
in the snow
I will put socks
on my feet for you.
If you hunger, I
will give you an empty bowl
and this will be
our shared dharma.

A reflection on Case 47 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

WASH YOUR BOWL 無門關 七

There is no stick, no shout
we go uninstructed
on a full stomach.

We do not see water
in the midst of an ocean.

We are given a sink
full of breakfast bowls, plates,
cups and spoons.

Handlessly we perform
our task and sit
to lunch with Joshu.

A reflection on Case 4 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)

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.

IF ONLY A BULL

In our family Murphy was a god, and his law was the eleventh commandment. I often wanted to ask at what moment my childhood ended. Had to be before my twelfth birthday, before the day on which I went from greeter at one of my father’s business parties in our oversized family room, to bartender, with no increase in pay. But I did develop a taste for Southern Comfort, so that was something of benefit. Once I did talk mom into letting me take the terror kids for an ice cream while she carried on her endless quest to replace the one small plate from her Royal Worcester china, never mind that she’d only once used eight place-settings which marked her personal best. But if you had twelve of every other piece, you could hardly have only eleven small plates. She did, I was told years later, finally give up the quest when, reaching for what she thought was the plate of her desires, she knocked over a Wedgewood platter, three large Belleek Vases and a Royal Daulton soup tureen. I had two sons, never saw the need to go to china shops, and the terror kids never married or had families.

YAKUSAN SOLVES A PROBLEM 鐵笛倒吹 三十三

If you want to ask
of the path, do so,
only without breaking
the silence of the zendo.
Seek the answer
in a library without books,
take sustenance
from an empty bowl.

Bodhi is a glittering gem
that cannot be seen
that cannot be held—
do not stumble over it.


A reflection on Case 33 of the Iron Flute Koans