THE DAY AFTER*

Today we only speak silently
and know everyone hears.
Today we cry only dry tears,
and others gently wipe our eyes.
Today we mourn what we fear is lost
and together vow to retain it.
Today the sun shines less brightly
and we know the dark cloud
will eventually pass.
Today we hug, each
to all the others, though
we sit alone as a sangha.
This is but a single moment
and we sit with and within it,
breathing in and breathing out.


In this case, a Sangha meeting the day after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but as easily the day after any tragedy of which there are too many.

NOT

Today I will hope to master,
if only for a brief moment, not

not being attached to thoughts,
but recognizing them and letting them pass,
since the thought of recognition must
replace the thought that was recognized,

not trying for anything on the cushion
including not trying to not try
for anything for that is the only way
that you can find nothing, which
is what you were trying for in the first place,

not putting into words concepts
which must by their nature defy language
but rather assuming the position
and just let things

MU

If you ask me whether
a dog has buddha nature
I will stare back at you
in total silence.
If you ask again,
or implore an answer
I will smile at you,
offer gassho and a bow.
If you ask yet again,
I will turn away
and you will be left
with a box into which
you dare not look
lest you find
Schroedinger’s cat.


Musing on Case 1 of the Mumonkan

UNGAN’S SWEEPS THE GROUND

As you stoop
to pick up fallen leaves
are you cleaning spring,
summer or autumn?
What seasons are deep
within the winter branch?
How does your work
and that of the tree
truly differ, and
what leaves
do you shed?


A reflection on Case 83 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)

PAPAL EDICT

She said “now what they’ve taken away limbo”
sounding a bit depressed,
“not that you proceed express
to the ferry dock, but
that was a snap, all
you were carefully taught
is suddenly wrong or irrelevant.
“It would be like Isaac,”
I say, “climbing Mount Moriah
with Abraham finding a ram
tethered to a waiting altar.”
My mother wants to know
how I can claim to be once Jewish
as though the moyel
also took my freedom of religion.
“We have no hell” she reminds me
“at least after death.”
I silently respond
and try to tell her that
I still don’t have a hell,
at least not as she conceives it.
“But I read,” she says, “the Tibetan
Book of the Dead, and hell
is very, very real.”
I tell her my Buddhism is Chinese
through a fine Japanese filter
and it is the next life
in which I will pay for this one.
She says “I wouldn’t want
to come back again,” and
on that point we find
the beginnings of common ground.

DHARMA

In Tibet there are
more than 80 words
to describe states of consciousness,
several words to explain
the sound of prayer flags
rustling in a Himalayan breeze
that reaches up to the crest
of the peaks that lick
at the slowly gathering clouds,
all of these words never uttered.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the soft brush
of your lips across my cheek,
your hair pressed into my chest.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the faint bouquet
of soap and morning coffee
as she dries herself slowly
in the mirror that runs along the sinks.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the sound of her laugh
half giggle as we watch the kitten
roll on her back, paws up
reaching for the mote of dust
dancing on the heat rising
from the fireplace, pressed down
by the lazily spinning ceiling fan.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe her eyes as they dart
after the Monarch that flits above
the deep purple Sedum that stands
in silent prayer to the sun.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe how she cringes
at the sight of the buck
lying alongside the road
eviscerated by the fender
of the car, long gone, his horn
buried in the shallow dirt.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the ripples of her spine
as I run my finger down her back
while she curls, grasping
at the margins of sleep.
There are no words in Tibet
for all of these, no words
to fill the room, to blanket
the lumpy mattress on which I sit
staring at the blank screen
of the TV, reflecting the neon light
of the 24 hour diner that flashes
through the gauze curtains
of room 4218 of the Hyatt,
merely the echo of another plane
lifting out of the San Jose airport.

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?”