SENSO-JI

They crowd the stalls, searching
amid what the Japanese would have to call
tchotchkes if they were Jewish.

Few bother to see the great Buddha
peereing out of the Buddha hall
questioning their judgment.

They could buy their fortunes
for a mere hundred yen coin, but they
believe it better spent here,

This the marketplace forms
a phalanx that makes a visit
to Senso-ji a forced march

through waves of humanity who
have no need of jizo, those are for
the cats and children who parade

through the gate, hand in hand,
and stare up at the statues of Kannon
still teaching and offering compassion.

Nansen’s Reason Is Not the Way 無門關 三十四 

If you see the Buddha
you have certainly gone blind,
if you hear his words
you demonstrate your deafness.

Nansen will grow old,
hearing and vision will fade
and he will sit and shout
in a sun warmed rain.

A reflection on Case 34 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans

TODAI-JI

The snow capped mountain
stares at the December sky
shredding laughing clouds.
I sit by the fire dreaming
of the slow approach of spring.

There is a moment
when all is only silence
the zendo in stillness.
In that moment I can hear
the entirety of Dharma

The temple bell tolls,
the deer assume their posture,
afternoon zazen,
I walk around Todai-ji
in futile search of Buddha.

NO BIALYS TODAY

No one looked up when the Buddha
walked into the deli and took a seat
at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and
lean, with mustard on the side, and two
slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”

As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream
Soda, the waitress smiled at him,
asked, “Are those robes comfortable,
winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”

Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm
said, “It all depends on what you wear
beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend,
but some I know want only organics.”

As he finished, a younger, swarthy
man entered, his robes bleached white
from the sun, his dark hair long,
sandals worn down, and came
over to Buddha, sat down with
a nod to the waitress, and instantly
a corned beef on pumpernickel
appeared, at which point Buddha
muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”

First published in Bengaluru Review: Spring, 2021
https://bengalurureview.com/bengaluru-review-spring-2021

KANNON’S STATUE 鐵笛倒吹 語十八

If you meet the Bodhisattva
you don’t ask someone
to carve the image from your mind.
To the carver, she weighs but an ounce
and can be carried
on his fingertip
but try and lift her
and you will not be able
to move her from her place.

All Buddhas
are one Buddha
but his Buddha
will never be
your Buddha.

A reflection on Case 58 of the Iron Flute Koans.

DAITSU CHISHO BUDDHA 無門關 九

Twenty thousand generations
a hundred
hundred lives
the briefest moment
in being, there is
no becoming, no leaving

and nothing is attained
for there is no need
of attainment, Seijo
whispered to
no one.

A reflection on Case 9 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate Koans)

BUDDHA AND HILLEL DINE TOGETHER

The meeting occurred by chance,
two old men sitting in the same park
staring at the same empty chess board
as the waves of the Stygian Sea
lapped against the break wall,
the ferryman now at the helm
of the great cargo ship.
“So,” said Hillel, “you come here often?”
Old, bent Buddha paused
“as far as I know, I have
always been here, or perhaps
I am not here now, never have been.”
“I know the feeling” the ancient Rabbi said
“I’ve been here so long, I too
have begun to doubt my very existence.”
Buddha rubbed his great girth
and smiled placidly as a black bird
alighted on his shoulder.
The Rabbi stroked his beard
the stood on one foot,
only to have two bluejays
land, one on each arm.
“Would you care to join me,”
he asked, “for a meal at Ming’s
or if you prefer, we can do take out
from the Dragon Palace,
whatever suits your mood,
in any event, my treat this time.”
The saffron robed old man
unfolded himself, and erect
and bowing, said
“It would honor me to dine with you
but if you wouldn’t mind
I’d much prefer a bowl
of chicken soup with kreplach
and a pastrami on rye.”

First appeared here April 24, 2016