DUSK

There is nothing like, no
words to adequately describe,
that moment when a cloud-
hazed sun lingers wishfully
just above the horizon, grasping
the sky with brilliant talons
of light, fearing becoming
lost in a darkness that will,
on this night of the new moon,
engulf us all in its inky shroud.

We know, or pray, the sun
will return in hours, just
as the sun knows its work
is never done so long as it
has light to give, hoping
that final collapse is eons away.

As it finally settles beyond
sight, we smile, retreat
to the table and consume
our dinner and wine, our
daily companion forgotten
until its dawning return.

LOOKING FOR WORDS

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps so, but many pictures don’t travel in verbose company, and there are pictures worth far, far less, although some will search until the magic thousand are found. In Japan a story can be told in seventeen syllables, a picture painted with a single brushstroke. In the zendo the whole of dharma can be heard in the silence if you stop and listen.

A VISION

He loved the simple irony of it all. His vision was failing in one eye, likely might in the other, from macular degeneration. There was a hole in his vision thanks to his macula and geographic atrophy. And being a man of words he knew the best way to describe that spot, that hole, was to say his vision was maculate. It was just the most immaculate description he could imagine.

UMMON’S TWO SICKNESSES

As you wander
your path, what is it
that you search for?

When you seek
instruction from a master
what is it you expect
him to provide you?

When you sit
still on the cushion
you may find a moment
of kensho, but
labeling that moment
destroys it.

Enlightenment cannot
be described
for attaching words
brings it to the ground
as rubble around
your feet.

A reflection on Case 11 of the Book of Equanimity (SHôYôROKU 従容錄)

A WELL REHEARSED SILENCE

Of course there is something I ought
to say, moments like this require it,
it goes without saying, painfully.

I practiced lines for hours, rehearsed
in my dreams for weeks, knew
for years I’d be rendered mute.

My tongue swells, threatening
to escape my mouth or take refuge
deep within my esophagus.

Your silence is only compounding
my anxiety, how can I, a man
of words, be rendered silent

by the thought of speaking to you,
of telling you that I finally now
joyously have what I feared I wouldn’t ever.

A wife and lover deserves
better than this.

LUNA’S SONG

Tonight, when the sun
has finally conceded the day
to its distant but ever larger kin,
the moon will again sing
her ever waning song
hoping we will join
in a chorus we have
so long forgotten,
bound to the earth
in body and in waxing thought.

We will stop and listen
perhaps, over the din
of the city, the traffic,
the animals conversing
with the sky, our thoughts,
but the words will now
be an alien language
for which we have
no dictionary, only
the faint memory
of the place from which
both we and the moon
share cosmic ancestry.

XIANGYAN’S GREAT ENLIGHTENMENT

Tell me, the master said
what did you know
of the world
before you first
had words.
If this perplexes you
ask the infant, newborn
in his tears and smiles
all of Dharma
is laid out
before you.

A reflection on Case 10 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

QINGYUAN’S “COME CLOSER”

Walk slowly
through this bramble of words.
Do not allow yourself
to become tangled in them
though they will certainly try.
Tear out this page
burn it for faint warmth
or steep it into tea,
reduce it to simple fibers.
Then it will be
a poem
of some small worth.

A reflection on Case 10 of the Shobogenzo Koans (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)

UNGAN’s NOT ANY SINGLE WORD

The youngest child,
her mind uncluttered,
can answer any question
unburdened by words,
her answers rebound
across the universe.
If you stop struggling
to hear her, let
the silence surround
you both, you cannot
escape the answers

A reflection on case 84 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo Koans (True Dharma Eye)

Nansen’s Reason Is Not the Way 無門關 三十四 

If you see the Buddha
you have certainly gone blind,
if you hear his words
you demonstrate your deafness.

Nansen will grow old,
hearing and vision will fade
and he will sit and shout
in a sun warmed rain.

A reflection on Case 34 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) Koans