Chu Gives Three Calls 無門關 十七

Three times the master’s question

three times the student’s response

each time, the same answer

each time the master shrinks

as answer surpasses question.

There is no master

there is no student

there is only the lamp

in two sets of hands.

A reflection on case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

YAKUSAN’S DISCOURSE

When the master takes his seat
what do you expect of him?
Do you watch his posture
or how his hands are set.
Do you stare at his lips
and what do you hear
when they move, but no sound
comes from his throat.
Listen carefully, for here
the dharma unfolds
like the first chrysanthemum.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

AMERICAN IDOL

He was well on his way
to achieving his dream
of being a musical idol.

He had long since mastered
the air guitar, could shred
with the best, Hendrix,
Clapton, and he had conquered
the piano fingerings of most
of the Billy Joel Songbook,
his paper keyboard worn flat.

Clarence Clemons was proving
a serious challenge, the air sax
was by reputation the most
difficult of all the instruments.

He could taste success, and all
he now needed to do was
convince his parents to buy
an instrument and pay for lessons.

GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

GICHU PREACHES 鐵笛倒吹 語十

If called before the Master
will you walk from east to west
to the Master’s Smile, or 
west to east, to a sudden frown.
Will you approach the Master
bowing with words of gratitude
only to receive a blow of the stick
or seeking instruction in your failure
to an equal blow of the stick.

Ponder this carefully:
what is the answer?
I leave you the stick
to reach a conclusion.

A reflection on Case 50 of the Iron Flute Koans

SEPPO SEES HIS NATURE 鐵笛倒吹 三十四

Do not imagine yourself
Shravaka or Boddhisatva
nor ask the Master
if his reflection is
the fullest moon or bright sun.

Both stick and slap
awaken you
and clear your sight.

The Master’s eyes
are blind to you
and your reflection
can only be seen
by looking within.

A reflection on case 34 of the Iron Flute Koans.

ISAN’S SUMMONS 鐵笛倒吹 三十一

When the master
calls for a novice
do you answer?
When the inkin
bell is struck
do you begin
or end zazen?
As you follow your breath
when do you leave
your body, and who
returns when you next inhale?

Search instead
for an answer
that has no question.
Who is the novice now?

A reflection on case 31 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)

JOSHU ANSWERS

Yesterday a small dog, walking its master down the block stopped and stared
at you, as you stood on your porch. You stared back at the dog, eyes locked
on each other, while the master fidgeted on the sidewalk, afraid or too bored
to look at either of you. You realized this was just the dog’s way of teaching
his master patience, or perhaps of simply delaying you from what it was
that brought you to your porch that you forgot in engaging the dog. Eventually
the dog dragged its master on, and you returned to the house, having done
nothing but stare at a dog. It was clear in that moment that a dog must
have Buddha nature but yours was deeply in question.