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)

DIALOGUE

S:         What are you doing, for heaven sake?
H:        Isn’t it obvious, I’m searching
for Nirvana, for enlightenment.
S:         You silly fool, it’s right behind you!
H:        (turning suddenly) It is not,
I would certainly see it.
S:         You might think so, but
it is still right behind you!

H:        But why, tell me, can’t I see it?
S:         Because you’re looking for it
always peering outward,
but if you look inward
behind your eyes, you
won’t be able to miss it.

CHANGES

The finches are struggling
this morning, searching the lawn
for the odd clover seed that’s yet 
to be reduced to dust by a summer
where the rain has painted
our world with a palette 
of parchment, ochre, leaving us
wandering an increasingly sepia world. 

We know that the rains will come 
again, that nature’s green will 
return, however briefly, before
winter encases us all in its white
mantle that we pierce at our risk.

The finches and wrens know,
or simply care nothing of this
and go on with their search, until
the approach of the cat brings
their effort to a sudden end.The finches and wrens know,
or simply care nothing of this
and go on with their search, until
the approach of the cat brings
their effort to a sudden end.

MELODY

The melody arose from the most unexpected place.
They heard it deep within the woods
and even the birds fell silent
peering around, searching
for its unrevealed source.
It carried on for several verses
and then, as quickly as it came
it was gone, the final note
carried off by a spring wind.
No one entered, no one left
the woods that day
and though many searched
no instrument was found
and the trees of the woods
grew silent at the searchers’ approach.

JOSHU PLANS A VISIT 鐵笛倒吹 十九

If Joshu asks you
which is the true eye
will you climb to the top
of the mountain
in search for it?
There are a thousand mountains
where Manjushri may dwell
staring out at the world—
how will you know which one?
A cloud may
reflect your sight
simplifying all.

A reflection on case 19 of the Iron Flute Koans

YAKUSAN SOLVES A PROBLEM 鐵笛倒吹 三十三

If you want to ask
of the path, do so,
only without breaking
the silence of the zendo.
Seek the answer
in a library without books,
take sustenance
from an empty bowl.

Bodhi is a glittering gem
that cannot be seen
that cannot be held—
do not stumble over it.


A reflection on Case 33 of the Iron Flute Koans

A SONG FOR A LOVER

It is hard, looking back, to recall
just how many hours I spent searching
with a fair amount of diligence for just
the right song to express my love.
Most often I would find it,
but only after that love had been
replaced by another, demanding
a new song — you cannot use
the same song for two different loves,
that crosses well over into tacky.
I have to admit I’ve given up
totally on that quest, even as
the number of available songs
has grown exponentially, or so
the various streaming services suggest.
I have only a single lover now,
have for twenty years, and
as her hearing has slipped away
it is her lips that read mine,
and that is all the song we need.

BLIND SEARCH

She wants to know where to look
and thinks it must be either without or within,
she assumes a Christian looks outward,
a Buddhist within, and every other faith
either aligns with one or plumbs the middle.
She is searching for the answer
to the inevitable question, the question
that cannot be answered.
She asks where you find a teacher,
for teachers have answers.
I want to tell her there is no answer
and every answer is correct
and every answer is incorrect
and the only way to look is
to close your eyes, to stop looking
to stop seeking, and for once,
just once, to simply be.
She no doubt thinks me crazy
as she walks away continuing her search
for that which cannot be found.
because she is that and that
is everywhere and everything
she imagines she senses.

SEE COWS

The manatees hide just below
the surface sticking up their heads
every few minutes, for a breath
or to thrill the tourists who watch
intently, because it is a thing to do
in this part of Florida in winter.

The restaurants in the harbor
don’t mind, it draws a crowd and takes
pressure off the kitchen, for people
waiting for sea mammals do not
grow impatient like those waiting
for just burgers or an order
of fried clams with a side of fries.

The manatees will never understand
humans, why they queue up in the sun
to eat animals, when the sea
provides a free feast for herbivores
if you are only willing to immerse
yourself in the search for a meal.