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)

0 OR +1?

The real question,
the true heart of the matter,
is whether this is the first
day of a new year,
as she believes, or merely
the day after the last day
of the year,
as he would have it.
They have this discussion
once each year,
and they never resolve it
for eventually they grow tired,
and the day is gone
before they do.
They promise to conclude
the next time around,
but by then they will
have forgotten most
of their history
and will grasp
the novelty
of the old argument anew.

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.

THE QUESTION

If my mother was here
she would ask me what
I have to say for myself.
Just this once, I
would remain silent,
for there is nothing
that needs saying
and she would be certain
that if there were
she should be the one
to say it, but silence
would drive her mad.
So perhaps it is good
that she is not here,
that she did not ask,
though if there is a heaven
and hell, God or the devil
will need to tell her what
they have to say for themselves,
or they will never, ever
hope to hear the end of it.

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

MASTER CRAFTSMAN

He waited patiently in the queue
until, after two and one half hours
he approached the battered metal counter.
The young, bored woman, chewing at her gum
asked the usual question, have you
looked hard for work this last week?
I stood in many lines, for hours on end
in my battered old shoes, that is
more work than you can imagine.
Each night I would soak my feet
for hours in the small sink
hoping the swelling would go down.
Each morning I would find another line
or two, if they moved quickly, but
at the end of each they would ask
the same question, what skills do you have
and I would tell them there are
few better than I at standing in lines,
and they would sheepishly smile
and thank me for my patience
and that is why, again this week,
I ask that you stamp my book
so I can stand in the other line
and wait patiently for my check
which I can take to the small bodega
waiting calmly in line to cash it
to buy what canned goods are on sale.
Then I will take my cans
and carefully line them up
on the kitchen counter, and marvel
at how patiently they stand in the queue.


First published in Pearl, Vol. 31, 2002

ANSWERS EVERYWHERE

You assume you know the answer,
and wait patiently for the question
which is not forthcoming.
This becomes your dilemma.
You have acquired a catalog
of answers, all awaiting questions
that never come forth.
Of course it isn’t fair, you
know that full well,
but that, too, is an answer that must
await a question for which
there is no questioner, so you must
ask yourself why
you accumulate answers,
and that is one question
for which you have found
absolutely no answers.