NAMASTE

There was a time, still within
memory’s ever more tenuous grasp
that I imagined myself, at this age,
as a monk in a Buddhist temple
in Kyoto, that I had assumed a silence
imposed by lack of language, not faith.

I am certain that the Japanese
are pleased that I let that dream
pass unfulfilled, that I confine
my practice to that American form
of Zen, softened and gently bleached
from its shogun watered roots.

I recall my visits to Senso-ji, Todaii-ji
and countless other small temples
where I would often find a zafu and sit,
but only the youngest monks I met
could understand that it was there,
among them, that I felt spiritually at home.

3 TANKA

Antphonal songs
Mockingbirds greet the morning
Great Blue Herons stare
imagining their voices
night sweetly welcome the dawn
The great temple bell
awaits the morning, the monk,
its daily purpose
cast deep within the metal
always verging on release

Smoke of incense too
prostrates itself to Buddha
soon a morning breeze
promises enlightenment
or the freedom of the sky

HOFUKU’S TEMPLE 鐵笛倒吹 語十一

Standing outside the Temple
there is much to see.
Enter the Temple zendo
prostrate three times before
the golden Buddha
what do you see?
Can you see nothing?
Outside the Temple, Buddha
inside the Temple, Buddha
but only when you see nothing.
Outside the mind, nothing,
inside the mind, nothing.
All Buddha.


A reflection on case 51 of the Iron Flute Koans.

URBANITY

Walking down this road
I would like to see a rice field
golden in the morning sun
with a great mountain rising behind it
just around the next bend.
I would settle for a town
its lone Temple quiet, awaiting
the morning bell, the call to sit,
with maybe a cat at the base
of a statue the Bodhisattva.
I am ready to bow deeply
to the first monk I see this day,
but my reverie is broken
by the barely dodged wave
thrown up by  city bus
running late and fast
down the crowded street of
this upstate New York city.

TAKING FLIGHT

Origami cranes lumber into flight
and lift into the sky
over the small, back street Temple
somewhere on the periphery of Shinjuku.
They know their flight will be
only temporary, that their wings
will grow quickly tired, that
the rustling sound
of two thousand wings
will soon fall silent
as the breeze bids them
a peaceful night,
and the Temple bell
announces the evening zazen.

CORSO

When my back was turned,
Corso slipped away
somewhere in Wisconsin
silently, without protest
carried off by Charon
across a gasoline river.
There was no bomb
to announce his departure,
no Queens orphanage stopped
frozen in a silent moment.
In the small park
at the north end
of Salt Lake City
no one lifted a jug
of bad wine to toast him,
the magic bus
just rolled by.
In the City Lights bookstore
Ferlinghetti shed a tear
that dried on the old wood floor
and from above a brief howl
pierced the morning calm.
Outside the small temple
on a back street in Tokyo
a Buddhist monk bowed
before the statue, read
the wooden prayer card
and whispered
Toodle-oo.

LEILA

At the left click of the mouse
my granddaughter appears
barely a week old
and with a right-click
she is frozen into the hard drive.
I remember sitting outside
the Buddha Hall of Todai-Ji Temple
in the mid-morning August sun the
smiling at a baby waiting in her stroller
for her mother to bow
to the giant golden Buddha.
I recall the soft touch
of the young monk on my shoulder,
his gentle smile, and
in halting English, his saying,
“All babies have the face
of the old man Buddha.”
In the photos, the smile
of my granddaughter is the smile
on the face of Thay,
the suppressed giggle that always
lies below the face of Tenzin Gyatso.
There is much I want to ask her,
my little Buddha, there is much
she could offer, but I know
that like all with Buddha mind
she will respond with her own Mu
and set me back on my path.