A TURN

He is never certain what to do on days
like this one, when the winter takes
a particularly nasty turn, the temperature
hovers at utter emptiness, and the wind
elects to try to enfold everything it can reach
in a coat of frost, that bleaches life away.
He walks each day, through the nearby park
if the weather is the least bit cooperative,
through the neighborhood when not, where
at least he can take a small shelter from the wind
in the shadow of houses closed up tightly,
life walled away within, smarter, he imagines
than he is, his fingers ill-gloved, slowly losing
all feeling, but this is his practice, something
he does because it requires doing, heeding
an edict from an unspoken voice. And later
emerging from a hot shower, feeling limbs
restored, he glances at the weather in hopes
the next day will be kinder, and slow in coming.

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

WEB

It has far less to do
with the casting of the net,
far more to do
with the reeling it in.
The spider wishes
to work in peace weaving
her web, does not desire
to be seen.
For her this is work
and it is not until done,
or as done as she chooses,
that she can sit at its hub.
Spiders are patient,
much like fishermen,
knowing time is not
the enemy but
merely a construct
to mark the space
between now and
the catch,
from which both
spider and fisherman
derive life.

ETERNITY OR A WEEK

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.

WAITING FOR

It was lying there,
on the ground, waiting to be noticed,
unsure of why everyone walked by,
some glancing, most lost in thought.
It hadn’t been there long, but
certainly long enough to be seen,
of that it was certain, yet
there it lay staring crimson
at the sun overhead, and even
the one passing cloud
seemed to ignore it
as it meandered by.
It wanted to shout out,
to demand attention, but
it knew that wouldn’t change anything.
And so it lay there, waiting,
frustrated, until a sudden breeze
lifted it up and a small child
shouted to his mother, “Mommy,
look at the pretty red leaf.”

TUNG SHAN’S NO COLD OR HEAT

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)