JOSHU’S DOG

My teacher once asked me
“what do you have
to say for yourself,” and I
answered “absolutely nothing,”
or did I smile and remain silent?

You assume the teacher would
be upset with the silent student
and in most cases you would
be perfectly correct.

But if this occurred
in a zendo, having nothing
to say is a step toward no-self
and you can be
in that moment,
Joshu’s dog.

A reflection on Case 18 of the Book of Equanimity (従容錄, Shōyōroku)

MAGIC MIRROR ON THE WALL

The face in the mirror this morning
was not mine, perhaps it was
that of my grandparents, all
I never met, having only
old and faded pictures that vaguely
resemble the mirror’s face.

It might be my parents, both
dead before I found them only
yearbook pictures and just possible
a vague similarity to the face
that i see in the mirror each day.

I tried to ask the mirror who
it was hiding in the glass, but
like most mirrors it was silent,
a sad reflection of its ilk, so
the old man peering out will
continue to be someone
that I have never met.

A WELL REHEARSED SILENCE

Of course there is something I ought
to say, moments like this require it,
it goes without saying, painfully.

I practiced lines for hours, rehearsed
in my dreams for weeks, knew
for years I’d be rendered mute.

My tongue swells, threatening
to escape my mouth or take refuge
deep within my esophagus.

Your silence is only compounding
my anxiety, how can I, a man
of words, be rendered silent

by the thought of speaking to you,
of telling you that I finally now
joyously have what I feared I wouldn’t ever.

A wife and lover deserves
better than this.

JOSHU SEES THROUGH THE OLD WOMAN

When, on the path,
you com across a problem
you cannot solve
you may turn
to your teacher
and ask for
the solution.

Do not expect
an answer
for your teacher
has none, but
if you listen carefully
to his silent breath
in and out,
he will lead you
to the answer.

A reflection on Casew 10 of the Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU 従容錄)

CALLING

In the dark heart of night
time is suddenly frozen,
the clock’s hands stalactites
and stalagmites, unyielding
denying the approach of morning,
leaving the sun imprisoned
under the watchful gaze
of its celestial wardens.

It is then you appear,
call out to me, beg me
be silent, not asking
the lifetime of questions
I have accreted, providing
my own hopes and
imagination for answers,
but you have faces, not
those of that weekend
but of other days, she
younger, in college, he
in a college yearbook
at a school he never attended
save as part of the ROTC
contingent of the Air Force.

I bid you farewell, finally,
and time again takes motion
and morning welcomes the sun.

RETURNING

The Great Egrets swoop low,
make a slow banking turn
and alight in the leafless tree.

They sit imagining water,
the wetland they knew
a month or so ago, now
more a mud flat all waiting
for the rainy season’s arrival.

They leave as night approaches,
the once wetland suddenly
again silent, and we are
left to dream of the flocks
of ibis, herons and egrets
as they dream of again
soon returning to their home.

ZOOM ZEN

In the middle of a rouund of zazen
I hear the bells of a nearby church,
although I am nearby no church.

Zen teaches you to be present
in each moment, to be immersed
in and not witnessing life around you.

The bells break my struggle
to not think, they introduce time
again where there should be none.

Just as soon, the bells are silent,
and the silence of 1300 miles away
pervades our small zendo,

so just perhaps Zoom, or the ability
to control its transmission, is
after all, a mindful Buddhist tool.

GYOZAN CAN’T SAY IT

The true artist,
when asked
to draw a perfect tree
will lead you to the garden
and have you sit
under the great maple.
The true master
asked to speak of Dharma
will silently
face the wall
in zazen.

A reflection on case 118 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

BOKUSHU’S BLOCKHEAD 鐵笛倒吹 語十語

Seeing your teacher on the road
if he says to you
Honorable Sir, what do you do?
You may turn, bow, and act the fool
or pass, eyes averted
without acknowledgement, silent
equally the fool.

Speak in silence,
face, bow without moving
greet him as you do yourself
in the morning mirror
and once past, offer gassho
and the fool is left on the path
dragging your shadow.

A reflection on Case 55 of the Iron Flute Koans