OLD HOTEL, NARA

Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.

WEATHER KARMA

It never rained
when I visited Senso-ji
and Todai-ji Temples.
I attributed this to good
fortune, the Buddha
clearing the skies
for my visit.
The young monk
said the Buddha
cares nothing
for weather, so
I should thank
the Japan Meteorological
Agency although they
never seem to give
him the weather
he truly wants.

LEILA

At the left click of the mouse
my granddaughter appears
barely a week old
and with a right-click
she is frozen into the hard drive.
I remember sitting outside
the Buddha Hall of Todai-Ji Temple
in the mid-morning August sun the
smiling at a baby waiting in her stroller
for her mother to bow
to the giant golden Buddha.
I recall the soft touch
of the young monk on my shoulder,
his gentle smile, and
in halting English, his saying
“all babies have the face
of the old man Buddha.”
In the photos, the smile
of my son is the smile
on the face of Thay,
the suppressed giggle that always
lies below the surface of
the face of Tenzin Gyatso.
There is much I want to ask her,
my little Leila, there is much
she could offer, but I know
that like all Buddhas
she will respond with a smiling
silence and set me back on my path.

Published in As Above, So Below, Issue 9, August 2022
https://issuu.com/bethanyrivers77/docs/as_above_so_below_issue_9

JOSHU’S BUDDHA

If you go in search of Buddha
should you see him, do
not stop or speak but run away.
If you do not see the Buddha
run away from that place.
If you stop, to take water
from the edge of a still pond
look carefully, for
the Buddha is there
just above the water’s surface.

A reflection on case 80 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

IN SILENCE

Sitting in stillness, the silence
is at first shocking, deafening
in a way unimagined but there.
Within the lack of sound lies
a thousand sounds you
never heard in the din of life.
You hear the young monk at Senso-ji
approach the great bell and pull
back on the log shu-moku, straining.
You hear the laugh of school aged
children hand in hand walking through
the Temple grounds as pigeons gather.
You hear the cat, sitting at the foot
of Daibutsudan, staring out
and the deer waiting at the gate.
You hear your breath and that
of a million others as they sit
on their cushions sharing what is.

Publshed in As Above, So Below, Issue 9, August 2022
https://issuu.com/bethanyrivers77/docs/as_above_so_below_issue_9

ONLY A BUDDHA AND A BUDDHA

We walk forward
to try and see
where we are going,
always wanting
but never seeing
where we have been.
Is it better to
walk backward
seeing clearly
where we will not go
without idea
of a destination.
Look down and decide.

A reflection on Case 92 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

KYOZAN PLANTS HIS MATTOCK

In your endless search
for enlightenment,
the best course, the only course
is to stop looking.

It may strike you,
unexpected or it may
arise without your seeing
as you continue your practice.

You say there are many Buddhas
and you are correct, but I say
there is but one Buddha and I
am also correct, and you are
that one Buddha and I am
that one Buddha as well.

A reflection on case 14 of the Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU  従容錄)

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