PROBLEM

Stuck in traffic yet again
my mind wanders, unimpinged
by the need to pay careful attention
to the car on front also frozen in place.
I am back in school listening carefully
as the teacher explains the problem:
“You are at point B and I am at point A.
The points are 100 miles apart and we
each leave for the other point
at exactly the same time, 10:00 A.M., you
driving at a constant 40 mile per hour,
I at a constant 30 miles per hour.
At exactly what time will we
be able to wave to one another?”
The car in front begins to move,
ending my revery, so I cannot
tell the teacher that we’ll never
wave to each other because
I am far too young to drive.

TOKUSAN SPEAKS OF TEACHERS 鐵笛倒吹 二十

Why do you seek old Masters,
they have no special gift.
Your lineage is
the surface of the sea
never still, all waves.
Your teacher has no answers,
his silence instructs
close your ears and listen,
is that his breath you hear
or only your own?
In is out, out is in
depending on where you sit.


A reflection on case 20 of the Iron Flute Koans.

ORDINARY MIND IS THE WAY

If you are truly looking for the way
why do you insist on using your eyes.
Any teacher will tell you that your eyes
see nothing, they are only lenses through which
a delusion is created in the mind.
The mind has no eyes, but it is all
that enables you to see anything.
So abandon the eyes that see nothing,
and the mind that only thinks it sees.
Settle on the cushion until you
and the earth and the sky are one,
indistinguishable from each other,
and everything, which is nothing,
will appear before you if only
you refuse to acknowledge it.


A reflection on Case 4 of the Bring Me the Rhinoceros koans.

ENGLISH CLASS

He had planned
the exercise for weeks,
certain this one
would allow them
to break through the wall
that had imprisoned
the metaphors within them.
It was simple, and that
was its beauty, too many
attempts had become
bogged down, mired in
the fear that words
could do the greatest harm.
The exercise is simple,
he said, and they
put pens to paper.
Later, toward the end
of class, “would one of you
be kind enough
to read to the class
your description
of a young woman’s lips?”
One boy meekly rose
and through half clenched
teeth said, “Her lips
were precisely shaped
to barely cover her teeth.”


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

MIDDLE C

Mrs. Weiskopf lived in a small cottage
Mrs. Weiskopf taught piano in her living room.
Mrs. Weiskopf had no first name, even
checks were to be made payable to Mrs. Weiskopf.
Mrs. Weiskopf grew suddenly old, some said,
to full fit into her name, no one could
remember her ever being young.
Mrs. Weiskopf said I must always find Middle C,
that everything starts there.
Mrs. Wieskopf was not pleased when I said
that Middle C was key number 40 on my piano
and there was no middle key, only
a gap between E4 and F4.
Mrs. Weiskopf looked at me sternly
and ended my lesson early that day.
Mrs. Weiskopf was a great teacher.
I think of her each time I sit down
and place the doumbek on my lap.

GOING AND RETURNING 鐵笛倒吹 三十八

 

Only the fool
will wander
from teacher to teacher
seeking answers.
They will offer only questions.

The wise one returns
to the question again
and again for she may find
many answers within,
just as the apple tree
bears many ripe fruit
if carefully tended,
each with the seeds
of a new tree.
Pick carefully.


A reflection on case 38 of the Iron Flute Koans

SEPPO’S TURNING THE WHEEL 正法眼蔵 三十八

The wisest of men
when asked “at what time
it is best to pursue the Way,”
will answer when a thousand stars
have made their presence known.
The wisest student will say
“when cleaning myself
by bathing in the mud.”
This will become clear
when the frog
consumes the dragon.


A reflection on Case 38 of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye)