If you ask the teacher
where you can find the key
to enlightenment, what
do you do when the teacher
stares back at you in silence.

If the teacher asks you
where he can find the key
to enlightenment, do you
tell him that he possesses it,
and if you do, will he
simply stare back in silence.

Stop and consider,
have you both answered correctly,
or is the silence the key?

A reflection on case 164 of The True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo)

THREE CALLS 鐵笛倒吹 三十九

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.



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.
Welcome to
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)