UNANSWERED

As strange as it seems, I can
spend hours in a used bookstore
lost in the marginalia, and textbooks,

particularly those in psych and sociology
are generally the most fertile,
for those students, though they would

never admit it, pursued those fields
hoping to find answers to their own
problems without having to ask.

Yesterday’s visit was particularly fertile,
but it was a college introductory text
in biology that grabbed and held me.

In the margin of a short chapter mentioning
thoracic anatomy was a question
for which I have no possible answer:

Does the diseased heart in the metal
operating room basin curse the body
on the gurney who was supposed

to join it in the ground, and what of the
donor who goes back to the soil
heartless and utterly and eternally alone?

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

SEPPO REJECTS A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 七十三

If you find the answer
and rush to tell your teacher
why are you surprised
when he turns away from you,
saying that is yesterday’s answer.

If you want to impress your teacher
paint the answer
on the surface
of the raging river
or accept scorn
with equanimity.


A reflection on case 73 of the Iron Flute Koans

RINZAI’S ENLIGHTENMENT 正法眼蔵 二十七

If you ask your question
you will find an answer
but ask another and the stick
will respond each time.
If you seek another teacher
will you change the question
or the answer, and does it matter.
Take up the stick, who
will you strike, your teacher
or yourself, and is there
any real difference?


A reflection on Case 27 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

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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 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.

The question of the day is
would you rather be a turtle
or a snail, not to be sung
to any melody by Paul Simon.
Think carefully, for one day
the question will have real impact
and you will get your answer
with a permanence that merits
the most careful consideration.
Today may or may not be that day.
And please note, your choice is snail
or turtle, not a land tortoise, so longevity
shouldn’t come into play at all.
So, yes, it all comes down to this,
some child may try and grab you
and put you in a glass terrarium
and try to make a vegetarian of you
or people will moan, seeing your tail
and imagine you served with shallots
In a small pond of melted butter.

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.