KYOSEI’S STICK 鐵笛倒吹 六十四

If Kyosei asks
from where I have come
how will I answer him?
If he asks where
my teacher lives
what will I tell him?

Such a fool I am
to wander from there to here
from here to another place
seeking a path
on which I
am always standing still.
Thirty blows is
the least I deserve.
But Kyosei withdraws
the stick.

A reflection on Case 64 of the Iron Flute Koans

DIALOGUE

S:         What are you doing, for heaven sake?
H:        Isn’t it obvious, I’m searching
for Nirvana, for enlightenment.
S:         You silly fool, it’s right behind you!
H:        (turning suddenly) It is not,
I would certainly see it.
S:         You might think so, but
it is still right behind you!

H:        But why, tell me, can’t I see it?
S:         Because you’re looking for it
always peering outward,
but if you look inward
behind your eyes, you
won’t be able to miss it.

RUSHING IN

Step right up, don’t hang back,
come and watch the fool perform for you.
You know me, bedecked in motley emotions
worn like so many colorful rags,
a suit of too many shades and hues,
all displayed for your entertainment.
See if you can find ten shades of anger
as I prance around in front of you.
Count the five flavors of tears
that start and stop like a passing storm.
Laugh at me as I pirouette, a dervish
who loved blindly long after
the love of my patron had died.
See me in my fool’s cap, the bells
of rage and guilt dangling from its points.
If that isn’t enough to bring out a laugh,
watch as I rip out my heart
and lay it at your feet, still beating
to the rhythm of the song
to which she grew deaf so long ago.
Rain your scorn on me as I stumble
across the stage, for though they ring hollow,
it is them that I most crave, a redemption
that no monarch could hope to offer.
Step right up, don’t hang back,
come and watch the fool perform for you
and do not pause to think
that you could as easily be here,
on this stage, and I out there marveling
at you, wondering what you did
to ever deserve such a fate.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans

MAY DAY

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.

First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020

DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen.
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.

A reflection on Case 66 of the Iron Flute Koans

FAITH FULL

It’s a question of faith.
You have to have some
even if you doubt it, in fact
your doubt is proof you have faith
if only in doubt, for you know
you cannot prove doubt,
you just cling to it
as a matter of faith.
Your faith need not be religious
though much of faith is,
it can be philosophical
or whimsical if you prefer.
It can be most anything unless
you are certain of everything
in which case you are immortal,
on death’s doorstep
or simply a fool.

ON A SIDE NOTE, TWO OF MY POEMS WERE JUST PUBLISHED AT GRAND LITTLE THINGS. YOU CAN FIND THEM HERE: https://grand-little-things.com/2020/07/21/two-poems-by-louis-faber/

IDEOGRAPHING MIND 鐵笛倒吹 四十六

If you will mark your gate
what word will you use,
what for the door, what
for the window?
The gate knows quite well
what it is, as to door and window
and need no marking.

Even the fool knows
through each you
may enter the house,
but even the wise man
cannot tell you
how the house may enter you.

A reflection on case 46 of the Iron Flute Koans

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on case 44 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on Case 44 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Mind)