THE HALF TRUTH

As a Jewish kid in a small city
I suppose I had it pretty good, enough
of us that I didn’t totally stand out,
and it helped living a single block
from the Jewish funeral home, some
just didn’t want to travel all that far
when the inevitable time came.

But we soon moved to the suburbs,
the shtetl neighborhood was gone,
and I was a Jewboy to more than a few,
so the Temple felt like a safe place,
setting aside all the OT stories
which were wholly unblievable.

I took a fair number of lumps
for killing Christ and all other
imaginary sins freely attributed.

I wish I knew then that as an adoptee
I was really only half Jewish,
and that the other half among
my distant kin were kings and saints
as well as a fair number of sinners.

TODAI-JI

The snow capped mountain
stares at the December sky
shredding laughing clouds.
I sit by the fire dreaming
of the slow approach of spring.

There is a moment
when all is only silence
the zendo in stillness.
In that moment I can hear
the entirety of Dharma

The temple bell tolls,
the deer assume their posture,
afternoon zazen,
I walk around Todai-ji
in futile search of Buddha.

KENSHO

Tonight, if all goes well, I will be
a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple.
I am hoping it will be in Nara,
at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa
at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere
in Kyoto, although it might well be
in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere
deep within the Laotian highlands.

One problem with that world is
that I have no control over it, which,
come to think of it, leaves it
like the waking world which
has never hewn to my direction.

I’ve had this desire for weeks
on end, and I suspect tonight
will be no different, and I will spend
eight hours sorting files, writing
cease and desist letters and trying
to convince myself that even that
is a form of mindful meditation
and abiding kensho will arrive
in the next rapid eye movement.

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.