UMMON’S TWO SICKNESSES

As you wander
your path, what is it
that you search for?

When you seek
instruction from a master
what is it you expect
him to provide you?

When you sit
still on the cushion
you may find a moment
of kensho, but
labeling that moment
destroys it.

Enlightenment cannot
be described
for attaching words
brings it to the ground
as rubble around
your feet.

A reflection on Case 11 of the Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU 従容錄)

OR CUT BAIT

They sit or stand patiently
on the jetty, a concrete path
jutting out into the ocean.

The old timers have two
lines out, bait bucket
sitting in the bicycle-wheeled
cart parked on the edge
of the jetty’s bouldered margin.

You don’t ask what they’ve
caught, that would be obvious,
and you know they are here for
the act of fishing, and the catch
is that there never is
the expectation of one.

GOZO AND THE FOURTH ANCESTOR 正法眼蔵 語十一

If you sit
I will bring you a flower
but it will fall.
If you walk
weeds will grow up
between your toes.
Flower, weed and you
are born and die
each feeding
all of the others.

A reflection on case 51 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

THE WORLD-HONORED ONE POINTS TO THE EARTH

As you wander around
looking for a place
to build a temple,
looking for eden,
looking for nirvana,
stop and simply sit,
listen to the breeze
teaching you the Dharma,
the clouds chanting
the sutras in a harmony
beyond your hearing.
Look down for you
are in your temple,
sitting in eden
nirvana at your feet.

A reflection on case 4 of the Book of Equanimity Koans

Nansen’s Reason Is Not the Way 無門關 三十四 

If you see the Buddha
you have certainly gone blind,
if you hear his words
you demonstrate your deafness.

Nansen will grow old,
hearing and vision will fade
and he will sit and shout
in a sun warmed rain.

A reflection on Case 34 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans

THE LETTER

Today I should receive the letter
that I sent to myself twenty years ago,
telling me what I should be, where I
should be, who I should be, for the me
of twenty years ago was, by his own
admission, far smarter than I am, although
I am here and he is nowhere to be found.

If the letter does not come, I will sit down
and write to myself twenty years ago,
expressing my disappointment with him,
with his lackadaisical manner, ignoring
his epistolary obligations, content with
what, who and where he was without
though for where he was going, who
he would be, what he would do in life.

Ultimately, I will forgive him of course,
much as he did twenty years ago when,
on the day he expected to receive
a letter from me, the me who is
he twenty years hence, the letter
did not arrive for I have more
important things to do today than
to sit down and write to him, he would
not appreciate what I have to say,
so, it is time to get on with my life.

First Published in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Issue 3, 2021

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

GENTO’S AXE 鐵笛倒吹 八十二

You sit before him
an axe in his hand.
He asks a question and says
if you answer I will cut off
your right hand,
if you do not respond
I will sever your left.

There is no sound
from the clock in the corner
as you silently grab his axe
and he smiles
in deeply shared knowledge.

A reflection on Case 82 of the Iron Flute Koans

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.