MANDATORY, FOR NOW

They were not optional in our family,
once a week, half an hour, that and
at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest
got the choice of times.

He quit after a year, his sister
was three years in and went on another
and I was eight years staring
at the 88 keys, so many of which
would never get used, useless
as were the pedals I couldn’t reach
at first and rarely needed later.

It was upright, as I was supposed
to be, but only was in sight
of my teacher, and I thought
Bill Evans had it right, leaning
over the keys insuring that they
wouldn’t make an escape.

I stopped when my parents realized
how much they had spent
on what they would never enjoy
and I would as soon forget.

Chu Gives Three Calls 無門關 十七

Three times the master’s question

three times the student’s response

each time, the same answer

each time the master shrinks

as answer surpasses question.

There is no master

there is no student

there is only the lamp

in two sets of hands.

A reflection on case 11 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) koans.

CAREER CHOICES

We were certain then that we’d be
a success in life, that we’d drive
the kind of cars our fathers
only dreamed of as our mothers
chuckled about mid-life crises.

They spoke about sons and daughters
of friends who were doctors,
or at least lawyers, bemoaned
those who taught or held jobs
they called manual labor.

But we were going in a whole different
direction, we would eschew medicine,
reject law, for we would be titans
of retail, and one day we would have
too many lemonade stands to count.

An Invitation for the Patriarch

You may wrap yourself
with all of the sutras,
drink dharma with a straw,
look carefully for teachers.

You will drown in the conditions
your breath swallowed
but unending thoughts.

The answers are always within
teacher is student
student is teacher
this moment
only moment.

A reflection on Case 3 of the Book of Equanimity

Bodhidharma’s Vast Emptiness

When teacher and student
sit face to face,
mat to mat, looking deeply
one at the other,
which is the teacher
and which is the student?

You are wrong.
There is no teacher,
there is no student,
there is only the silence
of the moment
in which all dharma
is made obvious.

A reflection on Case 2 of the Book of Equanimity

WASH YOUR BOWL 無門關 七

There is no stick, no shout
we go uninstructed
on a full stomach.

We do not see water
in the midst of an ocean.

We are given a sink
full of breakfast bowls, plates,
cups and spoons.

Handlessly we perform
our task and sit
to lunch with Joshu.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

HUANG PO’S GOBBLERS OF DREGS

You have heard that when
the student is ready the teacher appears,
and you believe you are ready,
but no teacher has appeared.
I can tell you that you are ready,
that you will never be ready,
that I am not the teacher,
that the teacher is here,
and that the teacher will never appear.
But the path you seek to find
with a teacher is all around you,
that there is not path to find.
If I give you a small bowl and you
stand by a lake of fresh water
just how much water can you hope to drink?

A reflection on Case 11 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)

TE SHAN CARRYING HIS BUNDLE

Enter the room slowly and look carefully,
since you are here to find something.
There is much within this room, but you
can see nothing save the old man,
sitting calmly, staring at nothing, staring
through you at nothing in particular.
You know he is the teacher, the one
for whom you have been searching,
Still, he ignores you, staring at nothing.
You walk around the room, from end
to end to end to end and he does
not move or speak, and so you leave.

He has given a great lesson, do you
appreciate what he has taught you?
You walk away angrily, say that he
is no teacher at all, that you are no
closer to enlightenment leaving
than when you entered, for you
found nothing but yourself.
As you leave the old man bows
as teachers do to Buddhas.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Hekiganroku {BLue Cliff Record)

ZENGETSU SNAPS HIS FINGERS 鐵笛倒吹 八十七


When two students meet
along the road, each
acknowledges the other
with the snap of fingers.
When a student walks the Way
to who does he snap his fingers
and who passes with a small bow?

If you happen across a teacher
and ask him the meaning of this
will you bow or snap
and how will you respond
to the silence
that enfolds his answer.

A reflection on Case 87 of the Iron Flute Koans