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

TOKUSAN’S ULTIMATE TEACHING 鐵笛倒吹 七十九

If the student asks the teacher
for greater knowledge
he will be met
with a blow from the stick.
If he asks again
the teacher will respond
I have nothing to give you.

Will you recognize
the greatest gift
when it is offered to you
or will you continue
to pursue its shadow.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Iron Flute koans.

GICHU PREACHES 鐵笛倒吹 語十

If called before the Master
will you walk from east to west
to the Master’s Smile, or 
west to east, to a sudden frown.
Will you approach the Master
bowing with words of gratitude
only to receive a blow of the stick
or seeking instruction in your failure
to an equal blow of the stick.

Ponder this carefully:
what is the answer?
I leave you the stick
to reach a conclusion.

A reflection on Case 50 of the Iron Flute Koans

HYAKUJO’S SECOND VISIT 正法眼蔵 語十四

You may come asking questions,
and perhaps the teacher
will answer you with a discourse.
If you go deaf and hear nothing,
if the words flit
like so many mayflies
just as soon gone,
if no word finds purchase
you will have a grasp
the heart of the Dharma.

A reflection on Case 54 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)

FINALS

It was approaching the end
of another too long semester
and the sign-up sheet for office hours
was getting fuller with names
I didn’t recognize, or did and not
in a way that would please the student.
It was always like this, the two weeks
after it was too late to do anything,
when the pleading would begin.
I remember being in that position
almost fifty years ago, making my
supplication for relief of some kind
to a professor I had ignored all term,
and he, genial and gentle, taking out
pictures of the rice paddies
and saying to me, you stand
a far better chance in the Air Force.
There are no wars now that I can offer,
and so I tell them the bad news,
but add that Starbucks can
be a career of sorts, with benefits.


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ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on case 44 of Dogen’s True Dharma Eye Koans

WAITING FOR TEACHER

It should come as no surprise, for both
Buddhism and Hinduism grew
out of the same fertile soil.
An older Hindu man said, “do not look
for your Guru. When you are ready,
your Guru will find you.” I knew
the Buddhist equivalent, and its corollary,
when the student is ready, the teacher
disappears. My poetry professor’s yin
couldn’t grasp my yang, and I am
still waiting patiently for my poetic Guru
but despite my growing age, he has yet
to appear, but my spirituality seems
on firm ground, so it may not really matter.
But during my weight, I have found
Oatley, Duval, Rose, Kirk, Cullen,
and though I have met none, and not
a one has found me, the Nirvana they place
in bottles at my disposal, that they willingly
a ship from Australia, makes me wonder
what other possible Guru I might need.

ISAN’S SUMMONS 鐵笛倒吹 三十一

When the master
calls for a novice
do you answer?
When the inkin
bell is struck
do you begin
or end zazen?
As you follow your breath
when do you leave
your body, and who
returns when you next inhale?

Search instead
for an answer
that has no question.
Who is the novice now?


A reflection on case 31 of the Iron Flute Koans

ISAN’S I HAVE EXHAUSTED MYSELF 正法眼蔵 四十四

Approach the master
sitting on his seat.
The fool will seek answers
having slept through the lesson
but the wise student will bow
silently and retreat
having learned all there is
and knowing absolutely nothing.


A reflection on Case 44 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Mind)

SANSHU’S BLINDNESS 正法眼蔵 四十

If you come forward
and ask no question
the master will
give you an answer,
but if you approach
with a question,
the master will
strike you with the stick.
It is only when
your eyes are blinded
that you can take up
the master’s staff
and all is clearly seen.