HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

WRITERS

I was born the same day, in
a much later year as Thornton Wilder,
a fact that had no impact at all
on my life, since I discovered our
common birthday long after
my life’s path was half tread.

I read him in my youth, and must
admit I can recall nothing of what
I read, which I attribute to all
that I have read since, and not
as any criticism of Wilder’s writing,
for his talent is beyond question.

But what was disconcerting
was to learn that Nick Hornby
was born five years to the day after me
and has penned works that I love
but cannot hope to equal
despite my having lived longer
if not more fully than he has.

POSTDICTIONS

In the beginning there was
a void, stasis, dimensionless.
I am a point, without size
taking form only in motion,
so too the seat on which
I sit on United flight 951
not going from point A
to point B for neither
can exist in motion
transcending time.

Each decision sets
one me on a path, into
a dimension, dimensions
while I tread a different path
and I a third, yet I have seen
the step ahead before
having been on its path
as all random walks
must cross endlessly.
The universe grows crowded
with exponential me’s
creating paths, and so
must expand, until we cross
and in some minuscule
amount contract the cosmos.

Often I seek pain to slow
the pace, or pleasure
to quicken it, always immutable.
I have learned all of this
in my endless search
for my paradoxical twin
who prefers the accelerated
pace, moving as quickly
as possible, who looks
younger at each intersection.
Good night Albert.

First Appeared in Afterthoughts (Canada), Vol. 2, No. 4, Autumn 1995.

KOTEI STRIKES A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 八十一

Bow before a king
and you may be rewarded
but bow before a teacher
and expect to be shunned.
Which has something to offer?
Ask the teacher why he shuns you
and he will turn you away.

One offers a bit of gold,
one offers a priceless gem.
Gold can buy you many things
but the gem is worthless
to all but he to who it is given.
Pick carefully, for here
the fool and wise man
walk separate paths.

A reflection on Case 81 of the Iron Flute Koans

KYOSEI’S STICK 鐵笛倒吹 六十四

If Kyosei asks
from where I have come
how will I answer him?
If he asks where
my teacher lives
what will I tell him?

Such a fool I am
to wander from there to here
from here to another place
seeking a path
on which I
am always standing still.
Thirty blows is
the least I deserve.
But Kyosei withdraws
the stick.

A reflection on Case 64 of the Iron Flute Koans

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans

FROM THERE

The middle, she said, is what
is all important, for everything
extends from that precise point.

It’s something we learned
as children, a lesson sitting
in every good playground.

Buddhists know it certainly,
it is the way we want to find,
the route to peace and compassion.

And let’s face it, when it comes
to everything, we all know
that’s the place you want to be.