Buddhism teaches that you can never step into the same river twice. I have not stepped in a river since I was eleven. That day I stepped, my foot found a momentary purchase on a mossy rock. The outcome was predictable. I slipped, cut my thighs, broke my tibia, bruised my elbow. I did heal, but ever so slowly, and the cast on my leg did get me sympathy. Despite those upsides, I have looked askance at rivers ever since. Ponds are no problem, and I go into my favorite one with regularity. So I will have to take the Buddhist teachers on faith, for if you don’t step in a river the first time, there’s no chance of a repeat performance.
Between Scylla and Charybdis they cower amidst the ruins fearful to look skyward lest they encourage the rains of hell.
Now and then they visit the corpses, hastily buried grief drowned by the sound of the laugh of the gunner peering down from the hills. It is always night for the soul and lookout must be kept for Charon, who rides silently along the rivers of blood, that flow through her streets.
In the great halls, far removed from the horror, self-professed wise men exchange maps lines randomly drawn, scythes slicing a people. They trade in lives as chattel, reaping a bitter harvest, praying there may only be but seven lean years.
They offer a sop to Cerberus, three villages straddling the river, but the army of the hills knows they will take that and more and waits patiently for the winter when the odor of sanctity no longer arises out of the city to assail their nostrils and Shadrach is no more than a ghost.
First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.
In entering, do you arrive or are you leaving. In departing do you leave or are you arriving. Can the gate answer or does it choose to remain silent. The mountain shouts the answer but only the river can hear it.
A reflection on case 30 of the Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)
Consider them very carefully for you will have only this chance and you don’t want to add those which ought not be included or be forever burdened by those you overlooked or misassumed you wanted to retain. When you are quite certain you are finished, that your list is exactly as you wish it, that all your dislikes and regrets are properly delineated, then walk slowly to the river, pen at the ready, and write them with a precise hand upon the water.
It should be the stories behind the stories that get told. We have to blame the songwriters I suppose, telling only the part of the story they choose, leaving us to sit and wonder, no answers, forthcoming. We all know what happened to Billie Joe and the damned Talahatchee Bridge, but how did Becky Thompson snare the brother and for that matter, why Tupelo? And Mr. Jones, how does he know what’s happening and not know what it is, and why in the hell is he so thin? But Suzanne, she was a real piece of work, always with the river, but ask all you want and she won’t say what river it is and Jesus says, simply, come back later, you’re not a sailor yet.