If your name is called
how do you answer?
If it is called again
and then again, will
your answer always
be exactly the same,
or will you grow angry
and deny even yourself?
Surely your teacher
knows who you are
but knowing yourself,
that is the highest mountain
you will be asked to climb.
A reflection on case 39 of the Iron Flute Koans
“Be in the moment,” he says
repeatedly, imagining this
is what the teacher should say.
I want to tell him there is
no other possible moment
I could be in, but having to try
to find the words
instantly takes me out of this
and every other possible moment.
It is said that when the student
is ready, the teacher will appear.
I now seriously hope
the inverse is true, so I can
return to simply being in the moment
free of seeking what I know
cannot be found.
The Buddha said
when the student is ready
the teacher appears.
My Rabbi used to say
when you are ready
the Lord will appear.
But you may not recognize
God, that’s okay.
Both Buddha and my Rabbi
might have said
that when you are ready
you will appear
and it is then
you will no longer
As you approach
the teacher, close the gate
ahead of you,
for an open one
is no gate at all.
If you ask,
he will open it,
but when he asks
who wishes entry
what do you say,
you are a mere cub.
If you bow to him
expect a gentle blow
from his stick.
your first lesson.
A reflection on Case 93 of the Iron Flute.
I spent much of yesterday
trying to draw perfect enso.
You would think it easy to draw
the simple circle, one easy stroke,
but my efforts suggest otherwise.
It is my Western mind, my teacher
once suggested, always linear, this
moment next to that, and then
the one that must naturally follow.
If not a straight line, a line nonetheless.
I tried to tell him that was not it,
I am not as linear as he imagines,
but all he said was “mu,” rang
his bell and called for the next student.
Anyway, he said as I departed, “keep trying,
giving up your monkey mind can occur
in that moment, in every moment,”
and I want to believe him, certainly,
but my ill drawn circle calls him a liar.
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)
Mrs. Schwarting lived in a small cottage.
Mrs. Schwarting taught piano in her living room.
Mrs. Schwarting had no first name, even
checks were to be made payable to “Mrs. Schwarting.”
Mrs. Schwarting grew suddenly old, some said,
to fully fit into her name, no one could
remember her ever being young.
Mrs. Schwarting said I must always find Middle C,
that everything starts there.
Mrs. Schwarting was not pleased when I said
that Middle C was key number 40 on my piano
of the 88 that I carefully counted,
and there was no middle key, only
a gap between E4 and F4.
Mrs. Schwarting looked at me sternly
and ended my lesson early that day.
Mrs. Schwarting was a great teacher.
I think of her each time I sit down
and place the djembe between my knees.