FINITE LOOP

As it turns out, life
is an ongoing process of accretion
and deconstruction, of growth
and eventual shrinkage.

I started with 20 teeth
I am told, and got to 32,
only to fall back to 23
thanks to orthodontia and wear.

We start with 270 or more
bones, but we knit that number
down to 206, or in my case under
200, the orthopaedist’s handiwork.

And with time we progress
from diapers and being pushed
around to walking, running,
driving ourselves in many ways,

but in the end, for many of us,
we revert to childhood, but one
where the future is behind us,
and the past is that to which we cling.

MINDFUL(L)

The Buddha said that any task you do
if done mindfully is a sort of meditation.
We assume he said it, we’ve been told
he did, but no one I know was anywhere
near that bodhi tree, so we take it on faith.
When it comes to things like chopping
large quantities of onions, or roasting
coffee beans I totally get it, it does
seem like meditation, and deep at that.
Walking the dog makes the list, and
perhaps convincing the cat to do anything
she didn’t think of by out waiting her.
I can even accept washing the car
or the dishes, but washing the dog
is only so on rare occasions and only
if I medicate her first, and the cat, forget it.
But even Buddha would have to concede
that no matter how totally mindful
you are, driving anywhere in either
Broward or Miami-Dade counties is
as far from meditative as opting
to commit sepuku with a butter knife.

RETIREMENT

He would arrive as I was still struggling
to convince the dog that he didn’t need
to drag me around the neighborhood,
that he knew the backyard well enough.

I’d lose the argument in the end, that
was a given, but he’d concede me
enough time to wolf down breakfast,
and I’d hear the small door in the wall
open and then the clatter of bottles
that the milkman deposited there.

Now it’s paper cartons from the grocery,
the dog and several successors are now
in whatever Valhalla is set aside for canines,
and I suspect I may be getting
lactose intolerant, which has nothing
at all to do with how I now spend
my mornings, with toast and a cortado
on the patio, deep into my New York Times,
trying to remember my long-gone youth.

YOKUSAN’S LECTURE 鐵笛倒吹 六十三

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

MEDITATION

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.

VICTIM OF TECHNOSTANCE

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.”

WALKING

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.

 

BODHIDHARMA’S VAST EMPTINESS

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)

TEACHING AND NOT TEACHING

We walk forwards
to try to see
where we are going,
always wanting
but never seeing
where we have been.
Is it better to
walk backward
seeing clearly
where we will not go
without idea
of a destination.
Look down and decide.


A reflection on Case 92 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

 

STAR WALKER

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.