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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STATELESS

I suppose it is oddly fitting that
I was born in the continental U.S.
but can claim no state as home.

I was a Federal child, and that
meant nothing at all to me, a child who
left town at two after a father’s death,

a sister reclaimed by the government,
which was no State, just a Federal
enclave, and we all know how bad

things are inside the Beltway, those
trapped there are denied even the small
joy of self governing, waiting for Congress.

But I was an adoptee, stateless
in heritage from birth, so that was
a familiar condition, until the moment

my DNA took voice, and I suddenly
had two heritages, fully mine and
my mother’s cherished Mountain State to boot

FINDING

Even when I was briefly in Edinburgh
I dreamed of walking the streets of Lisbon
or Porto looking into the faces of older men
and wondering if this one was my father.
the father I had never seen, never known.
Was the one my Jewish mother described
in detail to the social worker who took me
from her shortly after she gave me life.
It is many years later, now, my mother
has a face, discovered in the twisting path
of a double helix, good West Virginia
Jewish stock, Lithuania left far behind.
I may someday visit Lisbon, I hear
it is a lovely city, but the faces will all
be alien to me, and there I will dream
of my day touring the Highlands
of Scotland, the Isle of Skye, and which
of the McDonald’s and McAllister’s might
be kin and which Tartan I can now
rightfully claim is my own.

MORNING READING

You read the obituaries every day
not only for the affirmation that you
are not listed among them
The key five words there are
not only for the affirmation, particularly
upon hearing the gentle man you liked,
that you valued as a friend and craftsman
is gone, but you didn’t say goodbye,
that you thought “better him than me,”
that you hated that thought,
that you hated yourself for thinking it,
that nonetheless you are glad
it wasn’t you, was someone else
just not him, just not someone you knew.
You weren’t in the obituaries today
and when you are gone, you won’t
be here to read it anyway, and you won’t
think “better him than me,”
and you promise you
will forgive those that think it.

APART-IAL EXPLANATION

It is all to often debated
what sets humans apart
the other species, and that
will not be agreed any time soon
(which a cynic would note
is one such thing itself).

Freud would claim it is only
our ego, our sense of self,
which may explain why people
are so capable of being self-
ish, and I suspect he was
certain he was wholly correct
but I would give him only partial credit.

It is far simpler than that: record
your voice, record a Sandhill
crane and play them back
and I assure you that you
will say you sound nothing
like what the recorder heard
while the crane will nervously
look all around for his unseen kin.

IN SEARCH

He’d been searching for ever,
or so often seemed, for no-self,
and he couldn’t fathom why it was so difficult
to attain simple absence, nothing
must be less than something, after all.
He knew, like Sisyphus, he would continue
to search until he succeeded, the gods
of his soul decreed it and you don’t fuck with them.
It was difficult recalling how much time
had been wasted in the search for mirrors
and when he found one, looked, there he was
selfsame, self-filled, and he imagined, selfish.
He took to always carrying a hand mirror
and when he thought he might have found it
he glanced at the polished surface in his hand
and there he’d still be, his endless self
older now, but there, very much still there.
One day, frustration getting the better of him
he wandered deep into a massive forest, hours later
sitting on a fallen trunk, he reached for his mirror, gone.
There was tree and sky and earth, that was all,
as night enveloped everything, even his no-self.