If you meet the Bodhisattva
you don’t ask someone
to carve the image from your mind.
To the carver, she weighs but an ounce
and can be carried
on his fingertip
but try and lift her
and you will not be able
to move her from her place.
are one Buddha
but his Buddha
will never be
A reflection on Case 58 of the Iron Flute Koans.
He said the assignment is
an easy one for this class,
write a piece, poem or story,
your choice, but focused
on a single metaphor. Oh,
and to make it interesting,
that metaphor should be
the last pet you owned or
currently own, and if you’ve
never been blessed with a pet,
use an ocelot or a lynx.
How hard could it be, I thought,
I have a cat, she will be
my metaphor, and so I sat,
picked up pen and paper
and absolutely nothing came.
The cat watched me, heard me
mutter under, I thought,
my breath, then gently mewed:
“Cats cannot be metaphors,
you should know that, for we
are unique in nature, unless
of course you wish to write
about God, for we know that we
were created in his image.
Each morning when I look
into the mirror I imagine
I see me, but of course that
is impossible, for in that moment
only the mirror sees me
and I see the mirror.
How deluded I must be
to assume that I look at all
like the mirror, but it is,
I know, just such delusions
that enable my sense of self,
and that is the grandest illusion.
A morning will come when I
look into the glass and nothing
is there or a face I have never
before seen and the mirror
will laugh, as will I, at this
game we have played for years.
Today I again took up the brush,
carefully mixed the sumi-e ink
and with hand poised over a sheet
of anticipating rice paper waited,
knowing that the moment for a stroke
was imminent but not yet at hand,
and I dare not force it for brush
painting is a practice that cannot
be compelled, a gentle merger
of idea, brush, ink and paper,
and if any are missing, a sadness
that can only be irreversible.
Today the brush considered the ink
and decided it was not a good day
and so I cleaned it carefully, set it
aside with the block of ink,
and rolling the rice paper, promised
it, myself, that we would repeat
this exercise until the moment was
right and the image was ready to appear.
I would reach out
in touch you
but as it is
reach the keyboard.
I would take
the next time
I see you, but
it would appear
instantly, no waiting
for someone to tell me
as you were merely
a blurred image
appearing days later
pulled from an envelope.
Perhaps I’ll leave
a posting on your
and simply hope
you are still alive
out of reach.
She says if you could only
peel back the photograph, you could
read the entire story that lies beneath.
It is deeper than the image below which
it lies trapped, and wider, imbued with a meaning
the image could not capture, just as,
she says frowning, there are no words
for parts of the picture, a symbiosis
that we of unitary senses cannot unite.
This one, pointing to a crucifix, shows him
where he ought to be, the pain, his pain
apparent, but so much deeper than
any image or sculptor’s hand can fashion.
Undeserved pain, not by sacrileges, by rebellion
but he would understand it, he would
revel in it, for he was the greatest rebel
and he would easily peel back the picture
in step wholly into the story beneath.
He only wants to live
forever, or if not, at least
until a week from Thursday.
Important things always happen
on Wednesdays, he is convinced.
He has no logical reason
for his belief, but it is his
and he will not be shaken from it.
“It is a matter of faith,” he says
“and you can borrow it or leave it,
but it’s mine.” He does like
to own things, and ideas are
the greatest things in his world.
He is certain he will die
on a Wednesday, not that his death
will be all that important, though
he wouldn’t mind it so,
but he wants to be cremated,
wants some of his ashes left
in a church, any church, just
to let them know we are all
created in God’s image
and this Wednesday will
for him, Ash Wednesday.
He spends considerable time
looking in the mirror
trying hard to see what is there,
to see inside himself, to truly
see himself as he imagines others see him.
The mirror denies him a static image,
it is always shifting, and try
though he might to grasp one single image
he finds it impossible and always
gives up in frustration. Still
he tries again the next day,
and the next after that, never
attaining his desired objective.
Ask yourself, what is his failure?
If he would become the mirror,
then, and only then, he might see himself,
rather than a mere image on glass.
A reflection on case 125 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)
He walks into the room
hoping he won’t be seen
and if seen, won’t be recognized.
Not many know him,
none, he is certain, truly
know him, merely his image
and the idea they have of him.
It has been this way
for centuries, and he can barely
recall the acts done, the words
spoken in his name.
He has been here forever
but they wait, patiently,
expecting a return
he cannot make until
they let go of their dreams
and see the reality of him.
When someone says you are
not looking at all well,
who is it that is ailing?
When that person says you
looked better the last time
he saw you, which you did he see?
If you look in the mirror
do you see someone looking ill,
and if you do, who is that person,
for you are the one looking
and not the one looked at.
A reflection on case 98 of the Hekiganroku, True Dharma Eye