WASH YOUR BOWL 無門關 七

There is no stick, no shout
we go uninstructed
on a full stomach.

We do not see water
in the midst of an ocean.

We are given a sink
full of breakfast bowls, plates,
cups and spoons.

Handlessly we perform
our task and sit
to lunch with Joshu.

A reflection on Case 4 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

A BUFFALO PASSES 無門關 三十八

Staring out, watch the bull
walk slowly past
along the old road.
Marvel at his horns,
the flare of his nostrils
in his massive head,
his breath hanging
in the early morning chill.

Mark each leg, its
muscles rippling, as it passes.
You feel you know the beast
but only if you close your eyes
can you grasp its tail.

A reflection on Case 38 of the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate Koans)

SOTO

If you are able to speak
maintain silence,
If you can bear the silence,
listen to the song the sea sings.
If you can sing with the sea
count the grains of sand
that wash in on the next wave.
If you lose count, begin again
before the wave recedes.
If the wave recedes before
you finish counting, bid it farewell.
After you bid farewell
return to your cushion
and listen to the silence
which is the body of the dharma.

First Published in The Poet: Faith Vol. 1, Spring 2021
https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/spring-2021—faith

TOKUSAN’S ULTIMATE TEACHING 鐵笛倒吹 七十九

If the student asks the teacher
for greater knowledge
he will be met
with a blow from the stick.
If he asks again
the teacher will respond
I have nothing to give you.

Will you recognize
the greatest gift
when it is offered to you
or will you continue
to pursue its shadow.

A reflection on Case 79 of the Iron Flute koans.

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.

HOGEN’S DRIP OF WATER 鐵笛倒吹 九十一

What are words
of wisdom
from the mouth
of the ancient ones.
I tell you
these are such words.
You may accept
or reject them
as you will.
Better still, tear
this page from its binding
crumple it
and cast it
to the four winds.
Let it be carried
off in ten directions.

A reflection on case 91 of the Iron Flute Koans

DOGO’S GREATEST DEPTH 鐵笛倒吹 六十六

If you walk into the room
and many are meditating
how will you know which
is the teacher, which the students?

If one sits on a higher platform
will you assume him teacher
and ask the depth of his Zen.
If he comes down to you
and says he has no depth to offer
do not think him a fool.
When you sit at the bottom
of the ocean and look down
the water beneath you is shallow
but the surface of the sea
cannot be seen.

A reflection on Case 66 of the Iron Flute Koans