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.

HARMONY

Lao Tse, venerable one
you would be pleased
as I sit here
drawing closer
to the center
quested for my Buddhahood
be not seeking it
amid the rain of fire
from the hills
above the blood
congealing in the streets.
I know not to ask
and am unseen
by the child and mother
running through the street
and untouched by
the hail of ammunition
biting at their heels.
I smell the lotus
mixed with the cordite
giving scent to the morning
and in the clouds
see the approach
of understanding.

A MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)