ZAZEN

He likes the sitting, at least at first. It does calm him, as it is supposed to, and he knows he needs calm in his life. Even his knees accept the stillness for a while. Soon enough they begin to question the wisdom of this practice. Good for him, maybe, but hell for them, regardless of the position, lotus, seiza, chair. Hurt a bit less, hurt a bit more, but hurt certainly. He can ignore his knees longer and longer each time, but he knows that sooner or later he will give up, when the silence becomes deafening.

FELINE BUDDHA NATURE

The cat is curled
on my zabuton,
and stares up at me
only long enough
to say, “now
would be a good day
to test Buddha’s advice –
that you can sit almost anywhere
and still your mind.
So look around
I have left you
the rest of the room
and your sitting bench,
and if that isn’t nirvana
I don’t know what is,
but do be quiet
for its time
for another nap.”

GATE GATE

The hardest thing of all
is that there is no one to entreat,
no one who has to sort the infinite
voices, note who requested what
so that delivery of the prayers, the few
that warrant granting, go
to the correct person, particularly
given that there is no system in place
to track the whims of the grantor.
Still, you take to the mat,
fold your legs, or tuck them
under the sitting bench, and unfocus
hoping those wishes will slip away
on a sea of intervening thoughts,
and there will be, just for a moment,
nothing at all, and that, you know,
would be as close as you get to everything.

BODHI VILLANELLE

Sitting beneath the Bodhi tree
I wrestle with passing thoughts
in an unending struggle with me.

The true face of the pain I see
results from what I have wrought
sitting beneath the Bodhi tree.

I grow tired, wish to flee–
above all, to avoid being caught
in an unending struggle with me

for a single moment. I can be
something greater than I thought
sitting beneath the Bodhi tree.

That will be my apogee
until overcome by the battle fought
in an unending struggle with me.

For that brief moment I and we
will be one, as the Buddha taught
sitting beneath the Bodhi tree
in an unending struggle with me.

ULTIMATE TRUTH 鐵笛倒吹 四十三

When the stick is raised
a truth hovers nearby,
will you accept it?

When the student is struck
does truth leave
the polished wood, sinking
into the student’s shoulder
or does it rise up
within the student
to meet the falling stick?

Sitting zazen do you ask
directions to the zendo?


A reflection on Case 43 of The Iron Flute (Tetteki tōsui)

THE WORLD HONORED ONE ASCENDS

The student may comment,
“Hillel was asked to sum up all
of the teaching while standing
on one foot and did so.”
If this student asks
the teacher to provide
the essential nature of Dharma
in one sitting, what
choice does the teacher have
but to rise and leave the room.
The teacher may comment,
“Can you see the treasure
I have left for you,
and what will you do with it?”
Hillel, hearing this,
bows to the teacher
and both smile over a cup of tea.

PRACTICING NOTHING

We assume our seats, listen for the bell and then do nothing. Doing nothing is far more difficult that doing something. Doing nothing is something that takes great practice. You can practice doing something, but eventually, with sufficient practice, you may master that something. You never master doing nothing, for nothing is infinitely broad, something definably narrow. When the bell next rings we arise slowly, bow one to all of the others, and try and figure out something to do. Nothing usually comes to mind.