TOZAN’S TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN 正法眼蔵 四十九

When you are asked
to climb to the top
of the mountain and look
in all directions
and report who you see,
if you see no one, how
will you respond?
Close your eyes
and tell me,
am I still here?

A reflection on case 49 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

GENSHA’S THREE VEHICLES 正法眼蔵 四十語

Describe this moment
without use of word or sound –
see where you are
with eyes pressed tightly closed,
hear a song with utter silence,
taste the pure mountain air
reach out and touch
that which has no shape
or form, no essence
and you sit
in the middle
of reality.

A reflection on case 45 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

STARING

She sits demurely on the step
staring off at something.
You want to know what but
her face isn’t saying, her eyes
soft, revealing nothing, her smile
enticing, teasing, and out of grasp.

You want to sit with her, see
what she looks at, what has captured
her thoughts, and there is room
on the step for you to join her,
but you have never met, you
cannot sit next to her, she
there half a century ago, and
you know she will only be
the stuff of dreams one night.

HELLO GOODBYE

When I saw you this morning
I knew instantly that I hadn’t seen you
in more than twenty years,
although it is quite possible we
have never met and today
was the first time my eyes
ever gazed at your face .

I suppose it is lucky that
you did not recognize me
although I don’t think I’ve changed
all that much in twenty years.

I was going to call out your name,
but decided against it in case
you have changed it or, possibly
because you wouldn’t answer
to the name I choose to give you.

It was good seeing you today,
let’s do again in a decade or so.

HOFUKU’s BLOCKING OF THE EYES

Do not pity the blind man
for he can see much,
and do not be sad for the deaf
for they can hear you.
Your eyes see nothing
your ears do not
discern the quietest sound.
Rest your mind and taste
the peace of blindness
and silence.

A reflection on Case 113 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye) Koans

THE WALL

The wall is black granite,

highly polished be an unseen hand

and the fingers of countless thousands

present but each unseen by the others.

At first glance you want to count

the names, but you lack fingers

enough for the task and others

are quickly withdrawn as are their eyes.

You know where the names are,

Willy, who they now call William,

Little Joey, who was so large in your

memory, climbing into the cockpit.

You wonder if things had been different,

if you hadn’t enlisted, chosen

the Air Force, if the Draft Board

anointed you cannon fodder, who

would trace their fingers along

the cold unfeeling stone that has

been washed by untold tears bidding

you farewell or thanks, rarely both.

We have grown so good at wars

we no longer need etched walls,

bronze statues, for before a design

is complete, the next must be begun.

First published in The Parliament Literary Magazine – Issue 5- Masks and Manes 

CHŌSHA’S RETURNING TO MOUNTAINS

When you see a mountain
why must you climb it
with your eyes.
When you hear
a mighty river why
must you ford it
with your ears,
when you feel the earth
why must you touch
it with your feet?
Are you
not the mountain
does the river run
through you, as you
run through it, are
you not the earth?

A reflection on Case 16 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) koans.

HISTORY

We only see the present as history,
by day history is a matter of minutes,
by night of seconds, years or centuries.

There is no future to be seen, only
imagined, the mind writing a story
that can never be read, never told.

It is only when we close the eyes
that the present truly exists,
independent of the past, free

and the past is merely waves
washing over and around us,
and the mind can find freedom.

A BUFFALO PASSES 無門關 三十八

Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.

Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.

A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

IN THE JUNGLE

If you close your eyes
you can imagine that this garden
was once a tropical jungle
as imagined by some clever
Floridian striving to separate
more tourists from their
dwindling travellers checks.

It has been carefully done over,
plants native and ornamental
replacing the vines and trees,
the alligators, real and imaginary
gone, now an exhibit of Lego animals,
the orchids in bloom, and
you wonder why anyone
once came here in the old days.