If you go to a lecture
and listen carefully
will you become wise?
If you go to a hundred lectures
are you a hundred times wiser?
Where did the teacher find wisdom,
did he sit in endless lectures.
Watch him most carefully
is he not wise with sleeping,
and when eating, when he walks
to the lectern and from it?
Watch in silence
and find his wisdom.
A reflection on case 63 of the Iron Flute Koans
A wise Buddhist teacher
once told me that anything you do,
if you do it mindfully, can be
a form of meditation, and I have
taken this into my practice,
albeit with mixed success, but that
is one reason they call it practice.
Walking silently, following
your breath in and out, aware
of your feet, the earth, the sky
is definitely meditative.
Chopping onions, carefully drawing
the knife thorough the layers
creating neatly incised bits
is certainly meditative.
Sitting by a pond watching
the sun slowly set it ablaze
as the breeze ruffles the surface
is absolutely meditative.
But folding laundry, no matter
how mindfully I approach the task
always and quickly morphs into
a mindless search for the missing sock.
He says, “it’s like learning to walk again
after you’ve had a stroke, you know you can
but nothing seems to work quite right when you try.”
She says, “you just upgrading from one model iPhone
to the newer model, so don’t overplay it,
it isn’t a matter of life itself you know.
And if you didn’t need the newest and latest
you wouldn’t have this problem would you?”
He says, “You’re right to that extent, but think
if I didn’t need the newest and latest
I’d hardly be a male of my species, so
be thankful i’m having these problems.
Anyway, i think i have it now, finally.”
She says, “why didn’t you answer when I called?
You said you had the phone figure out,
so turn around and go get the milk and butter,
Sorry about the rain, it was sunny when I called
as you are leaving the office for here.”
He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
If you go walking one day
and meet a person you think
may be the Buddha, ask him
what is the heart of all of the sutras.
If he answers you with Dharma
will you be certain this person
is not the Buddha?
If, on the other hand,
he says nothing at all,
and merely holds up a mirror,
will you be certain you
are seeing the Buddha?
Decide before he crosses
the river and is gone from sight.
A reflection on Case 1 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (Koans)
We walk forwards
to try to see
where we are going,
but never seeing
where we have been.
Is it better to
where we will not go
of a destination.
Look down and decide.
A reflection on Case 92 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)
His brother said that if you left
the windows open at night, the ghosts
would come in and might steal your soul.
He didn’t care, he wanted to hear
the song the stars sang every night,
to see them come down and move
in pairs across the mesa, for stars,
he knew turned orange when they
left their celestial perch, and would
certainly keep the ghosts away,
for ghosts were like rabbits and hid
when the stars came near, and
once in a while, if a ghost moved
too slowly he would hear its cry
as it was captured by a star.
And, he was certain, ghosts
preferred doors, and they kept theirs
tightly locked, for you never knew
what you’d find out on the mesa.
You should walk slowly,
measure each step, insure
your foot is in deep contact
with the earth before
giving its partner freedom,
only to fall victim,
in turn, to gravity.
Steady your pace
until it merges
into your breath
and the silence
of this practice
is to learn
with a lightness,
so that you
contact the earth,
not tread on it,
so that the earth
and the grass
caress your feet
and not try
to push them away,
and all the while
there must be
a gentleness of breath,
so the sky
can fill your lungs,
If you ask me who I am,
I will have you close your eyes
and walk behind you,
or I may step to your left
and take your right hand.
If you are perplexed,
I will ask you: do the four
gates open into the city
or out to the world beyond,
and if I stand still under a gate
in which direction
am I headed?
A reflection on Case 46 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)