TUNG SHAN’S NO COLD OR HEAT

You say all you seek is moderation,
simply finding a middle way, though
nothing at all would suffice for you,
no pleasure, no pain, no loss or gain,
you would willingly attach to nothing at all.
This is not the path the Buddha would tell you,
for the place you claim to seek
cannot ever exist, and if you wander
in search of it you will not find it,
but you most certainly will lose yourself.
Do not wish for death while you are living,
for the state of not living now is death
and it will find you without effort on your part.
And what is heat and cold, anyway?



A reflection on Case 48 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

WALKING

He has been walking
for hours, or, perhaps
for days, it doesn’t matter
since he is precisely
where he should be
at this moment.
He is tired, so he
sits in seiza and watches
a colony of ants
working away in a crack
in the path, each
doing his assigned task.
He knows ants have
Buddha nature for when
they walk, they just walk,
like he does, and when
they eat they just eat
and he has never seen
a solitary ant wobble.

SEPPO’S WOODEN BALL 鐵笛倒吹 八十九

The teacher rolls
a wooden ball
past the students seated
around his feet.
Will you pick it up
and return it to him?

The teacher rolls
a wooden ball
past the students seated
around his feet.
I sit still
and let it pass.

Which of us
deserves the stick,
which a silent smile.
Buddha is killed
by a student
along the road
as both are enlightened.


A reflection on Case 89 of The Iron Flute koans.

TERMINAL

Birth, he said, is the first and only real terminal disease. You only realize that, of course, when it is far too late and there is nothing at all you can do about it. Cancer and all manner of diseases merely shift the timeline, but once you’re on the path, there is only one way off, and that is a step few are willing to take. For some, this is a source of terror, for others it is no more than a slow walk around the block, with the promise you’ll eventually arrive back at the place you began, although it is no longer the place you began but one from which you begin, not again but anew. Again. This is what the Buddha said 3000 years ago, more or less. He confirmed that the just the other day, outside the soup kitchen. “Hey,” Buddha said, “even the once or twice enlightened need to eat from time to time. Join me?”

RAKUSU

The last stitch is sewn,
the loose threads trimmed,
the pincushioned fingers
are swaddled in bandages,
bits of brown thread plucked
from sofa, rug and shirt.
It is done, save for every
other stitch you now
want to pull and resew,
the mocking voice of the needle
convincing you otherwise.
All that is left is the turtle
sewn by another, and the inscription
of a name picked from a short list
that whispered to you
pick me, I’m yours, I’m you.
The robe of liberation is wondrous
but putting aside the pins
and the needle you lovingly
cursed so often is awe-inspiring.

PRACTICE

It always seems odd that the teacher
asks me to think about my practice
when the heart of my practice is learning
how not to always think about things.
But the heart of practice is exactly
these oddities, for nothing is exact.
In the fourth vow I strive to attain
the great way of Buddha, but I know,
as the Heart Sutra reminds me, that
there is “not even wisdom to attain,
attainment, too, is emptiness.”
And so I sit in confusion each day,
and bits of delusion fall away,
like the hair on my ever balding scalp.