The mountain reaches up grasping clouds. The river no longer runs red down its flanks now traversed by a black ribbon twisting upward. The Hertz rental has a warning taped on the glove box driving above 5,000 feet is prohibited, and at the driver’s risk. The Minolta sits in the trunk as I deny the siren’s call.
FirstAppeared in Raconteur, Issue 3, January 1996.
When you see a mountain why must you climb it with your eyes. When you hear a mighty river why must you ford it with your ears, when you feel the earth why must you touch it with your feet? Are you not the mountain does the river run through you, as you run through it, are you not the earth?
A reflection on Case 16 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye) koans.
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)