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

KOTEI STRIKES A MONK 鐵笛倒吹 八十一

Bow before a king
and you may be rewarded
but bow before a teacher
and expect to be shunned.
Which has something to offer?
Ask the teacher why he shuns you
and he will turn you away.

One offers a bit of gold,
one offers a priceless gem.
Gold can buy you many things
but the gem is worthless
to all but he to who it is given.
Pick carefully, for here
the fool and wise man
walk separate paths.

A reflection on Case 81 of the Iron Flute Koans

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