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.
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
or the freedom of the sky
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.
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.
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.
They stood at the altar of the ancient temple and prayed for peace. They lit the joss bundle and placed it in the great cast iron burner. We all bathed in the smoke of a hundred bombs falling in perfect harmony.
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.
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.