The World-Honored One’s Intimate Speech 正法眼蔵 三十四

The wise one delivers
most knowledge
without opening his mouth.
The sagacious student
does not hide the wisdom
he inherits but offers it
in utter silence.
What is it
you wished to say
for I am ready
not to listen.

A reflection on Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans Case 34 (True Dharma Eye)

TOKUSANS’S THIRTY BLOWS 正法眼蔵 三十一

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 Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT

I am there, a classroom,
elementary or middle school,
Charleston, West Virginia
1930’s, girls in proper skirts,
saddle shoes, the old woman
at the front of the room,
first day of a new year.

“Jones”, a hand goes up,
“Murphy”, another rises slowly,
“Padlibsky, what kind
of name is that, Jew, or
some kind or Ruskie maybe?”
A small voice answers
Lithuanian, ma’am.

A scene that never
happened, a name changed
so that day the teacher
called out “Wells”
and she smiled and
quickly raised her hand.

First Published in Culture & Identity, Vol. 2, The Poet (2022)

HEY TEACH

She is long departed I imagine,
and she would have had no
memory of me given the number
who passed through her room
in the decades she stood imparting
the sort of knowledge that was
somehow tucked away, not
forgotten, for it bubbled forth
years later, the aha moment.

I could not forget her, why
perhaps she was a key 
to my passwords, the first
question you have to answer
to reset a site, to reset your life,
“Who was your most memorable
teacher?” and it was she among
all the others without doubt.

WHEN WE STOPPED

It was probably that moment
just after we sat down
at our new, huge or so
they seemed, desks
and the large person
in the front of the room
smiled at us and said
“I will teach you all
that you need to learn
this year so pay attention.”

Perhaps we stopped
thinking the year before
during kindergarten,
but I do think the first
day of first grade
truly marked the moment
of our mental subjugation.

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