SANSHU’S BLINDNESS 正法眼蔵 四十

If you come forward
and ask no question
the master will
give you an answer,
but if you approach
with a question,
the master will
strike you with the stick.
It is only when
your eyes are blinded
that you can take up
the master’s staff
and all is clearly seen.

A WINTER MEDITATION

I have given up on winter,
which is to say that I have
fled its iron grip, but
the memories I have
linger painfully in the rods
the surgeon carefully
screwed onto my spine.

It wasn’t the cold, though it
was far from pleasant,
but the snow that demanded
but also defied being shoveled.

I grudgingly face the job,
moving the snow from walk
and driveway to lawn and street,
and on occasion I’d heed
Buddha’s advice and treat
the exercise as a meditation.

But even then I’d recall
the tale of the monk told
to clear the garden of leaves
before a great master’s visit,
who completed the job
and proudly showed the abbot,
who agreed, but said
there was more thing
needed, and dumped all
of the collected leaves
back on the garden, then
said it perfect, and I knew
the wind and weather
would soon play the abbot’s role.

ROSO FACES THE WALL

Come before the Master.
If he turns from you
and faces the wall
he honors you.
If the Master enters your room
and you turn to the wall
you will deserve his stick.

As you cannot sit
in the Master’s seat
he may not sit in yours,
but all seats are one seat,
no wall is all walls
and neither of you
should give a damn.


A reflection on Case 56 of the Iron Flute Koans

A LEG UP

We agree we must
learn the rules, to master
the game, practice until
the moves are second nature.
We have three weeks
to do all of this, then
Place the game box
back on the shelf
to be discovered
and taken down, opened
spread out on the table,
impatience controlling.
Want to ensure
that one of us will win,
at least at first, though
we know that in time
she will handily best us
as she always does.
But just this once
we hope to get a leg up
on our eight-year-old granddaughter.

STARING

A crane stands placidly
staring through the window
as we earnestly attempt
to imitate him, hoping
he will honor the effort
if not the result.
The master is graceful
and we are far less so, and
out of the corner of my eye
I see on the crane what could be
a smile, or as easily derision,
and take comfort in the thought
that the root of the word
is shared with laughter,
and we can accept that
not as a mark of failure but effort.
The crane returns to the pond
the master to his neigong
and we imagine we are
all noble birds awaiting flight.

HARYO’S SECRET TRANSMISSION


When you are puzzled by
the words of old masters
you may seek answers
from your teachers.
Will this one or that one know?

The answer cannot come
from the tongue of your teacher,
a shelved book cannot speak
words have no magic.
But all is not lost
for the question
always contains its answer
when the searching stops.


A reflection on Case 22 of the Iron Flute Koans

TOKUSAN SPEAKS OF TEACHERS 鐵笛倒吹 二十

Why do you seek old Masters,
they have no special gift.
Your lineage is
the surface of the sea
never still, all waves.
Your teacher has no answers,
his silence instructs
close your ears and listen,
is that his breath you hear
or only your own?
In is out, out is in
depending on where you sit.


A reflection on case 20 of the Iron Flute Koans.