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)
It was inside Nara
that it finally slipped away.
Its tether had grown
ever weaker, the first slip
was decades before, a book,
an answerless question.
It stretched further
in Tokyo, basin incense
under the watchful
and hung perilously
by fewer and fewer threads
until, with the monks’
gentle bow, it broke
and I found home.
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.
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
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
Musing on Case 1 of the Mumonkan
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
do you shed?
A reflection on Case 83 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)
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.