THE QUESTION

If my mother was here
she would ask me what
I have to say for myself.
Just this once, I
would remain silent,
for there is nothing
that needs saying
and she would be certain
that if there were
she should be the one
to say it, but silence
would drive her mad.
So perhaps it is good
that she is not here,
that she did not ask,
though if there is a heaven
and hell, God or the devil
will need to tell her what
they have to say for themselves,
or they will never, ever
hope to hear the end of it.

BLESSING

There is a blessing in silence
that we so often deny ourselves,
unaware that it lies just beyond
the noise of our minds and lives.
We crave it, beg for it, and
hearing the beggar, shun him
for the noise he carries
like the skin he cannot molt.
Beethoven understood silence
in his later years and
filled with a music
none of us will pause to hear.

D’ACCORD

There is a reason for this
as there is is a reason for most things
whether we like it or not, I tell my son.
He gives me that smile that says
“I do not agree at all with that,
but you are my father, and so
I won’t disagree,” but I know
he means this only as
a Japanese hai, yes, I understand,
but I will take it as hai, I agree.
I don’t speak Japanese,
neither does my son, but we
both know that if we
were right now in France
the one thing he wouldn’t
be saying is d’accord, father or no.

MISTAKE IN SPEAKING 無門關 三十九

When you speak the words
of the Buddha you are lost.
Light is everywhere in silence
but the tongue must hide
in the dark of the mouth.

Buddha’s words are flowers
unfolding in the dawn
by the side of the still pond,
the eyes hear the song
and respond in silent chorus.


A reflection on case 39 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)

UMMON’S FAMILY TRADITION 鐵笛倒吹 七十一

The greatest teacher
is one who offers nothing
and shouts it silently
once the student has departed.

You cannot know
what the blind man sees
for you cannot see
through his eyes
and the deaf woman
may hear a symphony
in a flower.

When asked what is
your practice
do you answer: life?


A reflection on case 71 of the Iron Flute Koans