Joshu Sees the Hermits 無門關 十一

Joshu’s single question
asked twice the same

two answers, two
raised fists
each time the same

Joshu responds to each fist
each response different
each the same
a single light

both seen and unseen
both blessed curse
and cursed blessing.


A reflection on Case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate)

LIVES

I have lived many lives,
too many to count, and I
remember bits and pieces
of each, but not necessarily
to which life this bit
or that bit should attach.

It is why I run them
together, view them
as a singularity, easier
to cope even when I
know it is a nice delusion.

I do wonder, at the moment
of death if each life will
flash by in turn, countless
short films, or if the gods
will go along with my
delusion, or maybe just
say time’s up, lights off.

BETWEEN

Between now and then,
between yesterday to and today,
between night and day,
between birth and death,
between good and evil,
between heaven and hell,
between light and dark,
between joy and sadness,
our lives occur
and we are so
seldom there
to see it happen,
lost in dreams
of what never will be,
never was.

ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

It’s the little things,
she says, that bite you,
and while he truly
doesn’t want to believe this,
for it ought to be the big things
that cause the problems,
he knows she is right.
He recalls that a simple thing
like an address everyone
knows is 123 3 X Street is true
for all save the power company
which says it is still 98 Y Street,
although they cannot hope
to explain why this is so.
How many other addresses
for this place are there,
how many things go wrong
because someone wants it
to be this while everyone else assumes that.
So you sit and wait for the power company
to bring light into your world
and warmth into your life
with winter closing in rapidly.

A 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 (Gateless Gate)

The snail oozes slowly
across the gravel floor of the aquarium.
He would have you believe
his slow progression is normal, for
snails have cultivated people
to this view for millennia, the easier
to go ignored through life.
He is comfortable with my staring,
turns his back to me and meanders away
hoping I will grow weary of his glacial pace.
I finally nod and turn away,
allowing him to return to his breakfast
and say to him, “I’m sure the doctor
enjoys your algae cleaning almost
as much as you enjoy your vegetarian buffet.”
Turning back to him moments later
he is scurrying up the wall of the tank
thinking he is unseen, headed
for his morning nap under the warm
light of the long fluorescent
sun that is carefully anchored overhead.