You claim to seek sanctity –
will you know it
if you find it along the way?
What if it sneaks up on you
when you are lost in reverie,
what if it reaches you
in a strike of the teacher’s stick,
will you jump in fear
and frighten it away,
or sit with it
in endless zazen?
A reflection on case 37 of the Iron Flute Koans
I’ve been searching for a teacher
for such a long time but despite
every effort, the goal eludes me
They say that when the student is ready
the teacher appears, but i know
in my heart I am truly ready.
I looked in all of the likely
and a number of unlikely places,
to the point i now look everywhere.
I saw man stoop to pet a random dog
this morning and wondered, hoped, he
could be the teacher i am seeking
but then he attached the leash
and pulled the reluctant dog
into the waiting van, inpatient.
I thought that the barista
in my favorite coffee shop
might be the one, her smile
always gentle, inviting, and
clearly a yogini, but she had
too much goth skin art for my needs.
I’ll continue the search for I know
the teacher is there if only I wouldn’t run
into mirrors whenever I was getting close.
Today was perfectly ordinary
which is how I would have my days
and how they so seldom agreed to be.
I did pause and look at the Yamaha keyboard
and remembered that when the Court
of the Empress Theresa rejected Mozart,
he attended the symphonies of Haydn
as a form of consolation.
That reminds me that I, once,
played the piano not particularly well,
but with what my teacher said
was a great depth of feeling.
Haydn, who I love to this day,
had nothing to do with my quitting,
it was Handel and his Largo
from his opera Xerxes that was
my undoing, a burden to large
for my smallish hands to bear.
I did find a recording of the Largo
and listening, gazed at my hands,
and for a moment I wondered
if they might just have finally
grown sufficiently large.
If I come before the teacher
he will give me thirty blows.
If I do not come before the teacher
he will give me thirty blows.
It is the same for everyone,
his arms never grow tired
but if I never see my teacher,
I give him thirty blows
and my arms are suddenly heavy.
A reflection on case 31 of The True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo)
When you are puzzled by
the words of old masters
you may seek answers
from your teachers.
Will this one or that one know?
The answer cannot come
from the tongue of your teacher,
a shelved book cannot speak
words have no magic.
But all is not lost
for the question
always contains its answer
when the searching stops.
A reflection on Case 22 of the Iron Flute Koans
The greatest teacher
is one who offers nothing
and shouts it silently
once the student has departed.
You cannot know
what the blind man sees
for you cannot see
through his eyes
and the deaf woman
may hear a symphony
in a flower.
When asked what is
do you answer: life?
A reflection on case 71 of the Iron Flute Koans
When I was twelve, I think,
maybe in the last days of eleven,
and in my third year of piano lessons
my teacher, Mrs. Schwarting, she
of no first name, and a steady hand
that could squeeze the muscle
of my shoulder, a taloned metronome,
gave me a small plastic bust
of Beethoven, told me to place it
on the piano, so that he could watch
my daily practice and insure
my eyes were on him, not the keys.
Ludwig is long gone, lost
in one of our moves, one less
gatherer of the dust of other activities.
Now, sitting on the bench,
flexing fingers demanding independence
I realize that his smile was one
of age, thankful for his deafness.
Previously published in Fox Cry Review, Vol. 23, 1997 and in PIF Magazine, Vol. 20, 1999.