TOZAN’S TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN 正法眼蔵 四十九

When you are asked
to climb to the top
of the mountain and look
in all directions
and report who you see,
if you see no one, how
will you respond?
Close your eyes
and tell me,
am I still here?

A reflection on case 49 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

ACUITY

Acuity is such a strange word,
sharp on the tongue and
in meaning, but also a mark
of what once was, what will
never be again, replaced perhaps
by a visual vacuity, comfortable
word, no sharp edges, vague
images floating behind a gauze
seeping slowly into a scrim,
knowing the stage will soon
enough go dark, despite
the ever brighter lighting.
But replaced perhaps by
ever greater auditory acuity,
all edges, cutting sounds
unmuted, fine shades
of gradation, hearing clearly
what you will soon
stumble over yet again.

FUKE’S BELL SONG 正法眼蔵 二十二

Follow the old fellow
walking over there, he
who cannot see
because it is too bright,
who cannot see
because it is too dark
who cannot see
above himself, below
behind or beside,
but traverses the path
with an unerring foot.

A reflection on Case 22 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

AMD ODE

You didn’t have to go, you know
I did enjoy having you around,
and I am sorely missing you now.

They said the odds of you
leaving, of even planning a departure
were small, but what did they know.

They didn’t know that I
had traits that would make
your departure more likely.

They didn’t say that once
the word was uttered, a departure
was no doubt inevitable, a when not if.

I’d like to think you’ll come back
but everyone agrees you cannot
absent some sort of miracle.

But at least, for now, I still
have your twin, and I will treasure
him as long as I can see to do so.

CHURCHES

I have already visited
countless churches

basilicas, shrines
and admired the art,

the simple beauty,
free of liturgy and belief.

I did not stop
to pray, to implead,

merely to see,
to listen, to absorb.

for I was a Jew.
a nonbeliever

in a Christian world
silently tolerated.

Now, I have learned
I was only half Jewish,

half, hidden a polyglot
of Christianity,

a descendant of saints,
and now churches

have a heavy weight
I find hard to bear.

A LITTLE DRUMMER

It seems less than fair that as a child
I was Jewish to the core, adopted, yes,
but certainly fully Jewish and not merely
by maternal lineage which would suffice.

Christmas was alien to me then, even
when I left Judaism behind, a shadow
that would follow me closely into
my Buddhist practice and life.

But DNA made a liar of so many,
my birth mother, the adoption agency
and my adoptive parents, for I know
my Judaism was only half of me.

So now I can enjoy Christmas
and other holidays, listen anew
to “The Little Drummer Boy”
and relish the irony of my new life.

For I have aged, as has my wife,
and when they sing “Do you hear
what I hear?” she sadly says
“not any longer I don’t” and then,

“Do you see what I see?” and I
must admit I do so only barely
and the doctors assure me that
soon enough I may say no as well.

RINZAI’S REAL EYE 鐵笛倒吹 九十語



You say there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?
I respond there are
a thousand ways
of seeing this moment
but which is the real way?

You may take my place,
you may look
through my eyes,
but you will still
be blind
to this moment
or that.

A reflection on Case 95 of the Iron Flute Koans

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.

SHE

She surely should have known better. Selling sea shells by the sea shore is a short sighted career path. Anyone can pick up the shells on the seashore, selling shells is simply silly, and she should see that. But each day she sets up her stand, sets out the shells, and sits waiting to see who will shop for her sea shells. No one does, of course, but she is certain she will sell some soon if only to sailors shortly setting sail. So sad, really, but she certainly does not seem to mind.