Friday, December 3, 2010

Don't Go to Hinksville

Oh I don't want to move to Hinksville,

The life they lead there is no damn good,

They like to tell you God is love,

But they'd kill you if they could.

I love ride this old blue marble

As it spins its' way through space.

I'd much rather sit on a grassy hill

And stare at my own true face.

No, I'm not moving to Hinksville,

For it's just a state of mind.

Where we think our thoughts unkind

And the blind deceive the blind.

My friend Barry Briggs over at has been running a thoughtful and thought provoking series this week on the topic of Wrong Speech. So I post this poem today with more than a bit of trepidation. It's pretty much a grumble about the daily world of samsara, the unhappy realm where we all spend far too much time. You all know the place, where we say one thing and think or do another, and where we impose our expectations on others in a similar fashion. I hope I'm not bringing you down, dear reader, with this rather negative meditation on one of our more unfortunate states of mind.

It is the hope, however, of all who practice mindfulness, to escape the snares of samsaric mind and dwell instead in the reality of the present moment, free from the self-deceit that makes Hinksville such a pain in the butt! Free to enjoy the ride on this lovely blue marble.

Today's image is an uncredited work I found on:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Old Fool

Call me an old fool,

But while others may chatter

About a search for the soul

And all...

I hold this world lightly

In an open palm

And smile anew at each

Passing breeze.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sweet Drum

I left the many

And I took the one,

Now I dance to the beat

Of my own sweet drum,

And I don't have a care

For what may come,

Now I dance to the rhythm

Of my own sweet drum.

When you add the columns

And you read the sum,

You may gain the many

When you take the one.

And you won't be ruled

By the days to come,

When you dance to the beat

Of your own sweet drum.

This image of Shiva as Nataraja comes from the Exotic India site.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Son House - Death Letter Blues

Over on facebook James Ford posted a clip of the Max Fliesher animation of Cab Callaway's Saint James Infirmary, citing it as an example of Zen master endorsed ultra-cool. I agree with its' ultra-cool character and in a similar spirit offer up this clip of the amazing Son House. Here he performs his classic Death Letter Blues, an unblinking musical look into the face of death. Son House does not flinch or look away, but rather tells it like it is! Does it get cooler than this?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bodhisattva, Take My Blood!

Her ID card now so close

That even I can read it,

"Sandra C Espinosa - CPN

Certified Phlebotomy Tech"

So it reads,

But I don't believe it.

Surely this is Avalokiteshvara,

Bodhisattva of Compassion,

Fresh stepped from his/her Tusita Heaven

Or sprung to life from some far Ankor wall,

To plunge a painless needle

Into my pre-dawn arm,

Softer than a mosquito's kiss.

Bodhisattva, take my blood!

My latest operation at UCSD Hospital was a success! After a 9 day post-surgical stay, I am home and healing. I've actually been home for over a week, but have only now felt well enough to post here. I am delighted to report that the biliary drain I have had sticking out of my side for the last two years is now gone! Gone too are the 30 or so metal staples across my battle-scared abdomen, in their place a row of plastic tape strips which will drop off one by one over the next week or so.

The Biliary drain was a legacy of my liver transplant from two years ago, a blod clot in my new liver damaged the bile ducts. This leaking made me a very sick fellow and gave us all some rough moments. A trans-hepatic drain was installed to save my bacon and it did the job, but at a terrible cost. It had to be exchanged 17 times over a nearly two year period. Nearly every drain exchange (usually a out-patient procedure) landed me in the hospital for a couple of days with a variety of bacterial infections.

One positive thing I gained from my two year medical odyssey is a great deal of respect for all of the hardworking professionals at UCSD Hospital. Docs, nurses, techs of all sorts, even the folks in admissions who put the little wristbands on me. During this latest stay, I awoke one morning to find my blood being drawn by a young lady who bore a striking resemblance to the the amazing sculptured figures from the Ankor Wat temple in Cambodia. Sandra is Philippina by background, but she told me that one of here grandfathers has very classic "chinese" features. Whatever the specifics of her blood-line, she's a skilled phlebotomist and her needle indeed painless. Hurray!

Today's image comes from a very interesting blog recounting a Sabbatical trip to Ankor Wat, illustrated with many fine photographs. Check out Robert's Sabbatical at:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Two Poems and a Time Out

Though you cast your net

A thousand times and more,

A million shinning fishes

Live and wriggling on the sand,

You can never catch the Sea,

Or hold it in your hand.

As some readers of this blog may know, I was the recipient of a liver transplant a little over two years ago. It was, in fact, the transplant experience that first stimulated me to begin writing poetry on a regular basis. Within a few weeks of the transplant I developed a persistent bile leak that has been a constant source of trouble for me, causing constant pain and landing me in the hospital on a regular basis. The doctors placed a trans-hepatic drain through my new liver in an attempt to allow the leak to heal. It has failed to do so. As a result, I am having corrective surgery done on Wednesday morning, September 8th.

I'll be in hospital for a week or so and laid up for the better part of a month. Before I do so, I would like to thank my friends and readers for your encouragement and support through these last two years. I hope to be back soon and posting new work here.

I'm posting two poems today, the first above this text was written earlier today, inspired by something I was reading in the classic "Blue Cliff Record" , Case #38, where Feng Hsueh speaks of "... scouring the oceans fishing for whales, I regret to find instead a frog crawling in the muddy sand". The second, below, is one of those nagging little intruders that appear sometimes during meditation. I'm often not exactly clear on what they mean. What, for instance, is the handout that the self comes looking for so tenaciously? Any thoughts?

Who is this,

Tugging at my eyelids?

Just myself, again, I'll wager,

Come poking 'round

Between the breaths,

Looking for a handout!

The net-casting image was taken from:

Friday, August 20, 2010


Everywhere, it shines.

In its light, all things are bathed.

Every eye is set upon it,

And we cannot look away.

No matter which direction,

We face a radiance undimmed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Which Bird?

Look now, there in the garden!

Tell me what you see.

Is that the Blue Bird of Happiness,

Or just a gray bird of regret?

No matter either way,

Don't be concerned.

For no bird alights for long...

Gone on the next breeze!

We all know these birds. We see them in the garden of our mind, coming and going without end. No need to try to catch one, you're bound to see it again soon enough, with any luck at all. Find a comfortable spot to sit and simply watch them come and go, you'll find a great peace settling about you.
Now, that's a rare bird!

This saucy Scrub Jay is just like the one's who daily great me as I leave the house every morning. The above image was created by Sherlocdonatello.
You'll find it at: http: //

Friday, July 30, 2010

Imprisoned and Free

The warden's in his locked cell,

Crying out that he can't see.

When he learns he is the prison,

Then he'll know that he is free.

This little poem came to me today while sitting Zazen at the Vista Zen Center. Perhaps I should have not allowed myself to become so distracted, but these poems often force themselves on me and are most insistent!

Rembrandt's Peter in Prison from @;

Friday, July 16, 2010

Baizhang Was A Very Bad Man

That Baizhang was a very bad man.

Since I met his wild fox

My eyes are open day and night,

Fixed on the wheel

That follows the foot

Of the ox that draws the cart.

If you're fond of sleepy dreaming, beware!

One look at this red-tailed devil

And the Age of Miracles

Is at an end.

"Cause and effect are very clear, and not a personal matter."

"Baizhang's Fox" is Case #2 in the seminal koan collection Mumonkan. It has been widely studied and commented on by many Zenists through the ages, but no more thoroughly or cogently, I think, than by Master Dogen. In addition to the famous essay in his Shobogenzo, he spoke in reference to it on six occasions in the chronicle of his dharma talks, Eihei Koroku. This poem was born while reading one of these, Dharma Hall Discourse #94 (pg. 135, Dogen's Extensive Record, trans. Leighton & Okumura.) Cause and effect are indeed not a personal matter, the Universe plays no favorites. If this were not so, gods and demons would crowd the landscape, leaving nowhere to even put one's foot down!

The wheel that follows the foot of the ox that draws the famous cart is from the opening passage of the Dhammapada, the Pali text that was the very first Buddhist text I ever laid eyes on, an image that has stayed with me all my life.

This fine looking fox comes from the Flicker Hive Mind site. To see more of their great photo selection, check 'em out at:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Drop by Drop

There is a quiet

Mountain brook,

Running peacefully and


I put it in my mind,

Drop by


I awoke at 1:30 this morning with this poem fully composed in my dreaming mind, complete just as you read it here. To anticipate your question concerning this running water image, yes, I did have to go to the bathroom! But I went there only to turn on the light and write the poem down in my notebook, not wanting to wake my wife with the light. Once written, I went back to bed, only to get back up a few minutes later to write down the following lines, which popped into my head and would not leave me alone until also written down. My poetry-composing mind was simply racing and would not let me sleep until I did its' bidding and committed these lines to print!.

I can't predict,

It's true,

The midnight poem's

Sudden birth.

But well I know

The 5 AM alarm

That's coming with

The dawn.

A cloudburst

Followed by

A steady


The photo image above is the work of the very talented nature photographer B.K. Bishar, and is used with his kind permission. Thanks Bishar!

Friday, June 25, 2010

No Thorns in the Void

There are no thorns in the void,

Though you may pull

With all your might

You never can extract them.

There are no thrones in the void,

Though you may strive

All the days of your life,

You never will ascend them.

Mistaking one for the other

Will not make your task any easier,

For there are no thorns,

There are no thrones

In the void.

Now just answer me this,

Who is it that pulls?

Who is it that strains?

Who is it that puts their bloody

Shoulder to the wheel?

When there are no thrones,

You see,

No thorns,

In the Void.

I find myself these days spending far more time in the hospital than I would like. But I also have found the enforced quiet time of a three day stay to be quite conducive to study, reflection and especially to writing poetry. This poem had its' genesis in the reading of Thomas Cleary's translation of the Sui dynasty classic "Mo-ho Chih-kuan", or "Great Stopping and Seeing".

Written some time in the Sixth century, this work is a collection of lectures by the great T'ien-t'ai master Chih-i, and is a comprehensive course on the practices of Buddhist meditation. This work was one of the so-called Three Great Works of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism, but was also a source book for both Pure Land and Zen practitioners. Cleary's translation covers only the first quarter of the massive text, but it is a fascinating read.

It was rather late one night when I came across the line "There are no thorns in the void.", but my tired eyes at first saw "throne" instead of "thorn". I realized my error right away, but the thought took hold, a juxtaposition of these two words seemed to yield intriguing associations and a poem was born.

If you'd like to read "Stopping and Seeing" for yourself, it is available in the collection "Classics of Buddhism and Zen - Volume Five" by Thomas Cleary, from Shambala Publications.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Sunset flares,

Blue, crimson and white.

Vast dome of twilight

Stretches empty,

Full of light.

Birds take flight

Borne on chilly breeze.

Standing silent, we watch,

No words,

Save these.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Own Left Hand

Old friend, dread killer,

We met first so many years ago,

In a moonbeam stream

On a jungle floor.

When I saw your coiled power,

Your razor talons and bonecrack jaws,

Did I not gasp with fear?

Though your jagged stripes rippled

In the blue-beam light,

Though you crept ever toward me,

Your feet never touched the broken stones

And twisted roots of Mother Earth.

It was then I knew that you stood not

Amid those darkened tress,

But in the darker forest of my heart.

Now forty years have vanished

Like sooty smoke from a camp-fire,

Caught by a sudden breeze,

But still I know that you are with me.

My constant friend,

My own left hand.

I see your eyes in my own eyes reflected

In the still pool of night,

The full moon, silver, riding high

Above our shoulder in the sky.

I found this amazing tiger image by Getsu Tora at: electric-tiger/
This site has many very cool photos and graphics. Check it out!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Possibility

In this troubled time,

Dear brother,

Consider this possibility;

God may find our tears

As beautiful as

He does our smile.

It will come as no surprise when I say that this poem is the product of adversity. The dear brother I address is really no one other than myself. The tears are my own, as is the smile. All is not well in Transplant Land, and my medical situation grows slowly worse. But, strange to say, as my body becomes more problematic my spirit seems to grow brighter, or at least, clearer.

A view has been growing in me that no one moment that we experience is any more significant or special than the next. Loss and gain, victory or defeat, all pale when we live just in this present moment, taking it just as it is, thoroughly examining it and living it. What appears good one moment may look bad the next, one's latest misfortune may reveal itself as to be a lucky break. When we rush to judge the quality of one moment, we may miss the arc of the trajectory of time, the face of the whole. The one contains the whole, the whole contains the one. Be still, and watch this lovely petal unfold!

"The Way is not difficult for those who avoid picking and choosing."

The photo is one I took recently during a rainstorm in Utah, just south of St. George.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Buddhas of Gold and Jade

Buddhas of gold and jade

Come and go,

Arriving on the 15 th,

Departing on the 1st.

Thousands came to see the statue,

How many saw the Buddha?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

That Question

To that question

You could never

Ask me,

I still

Don't have

An Answer.

What are those questions that we can never ask? Too personal, too painful, too close to the answer we think we already know, to the answer we don't wish to hear? Is there knowledge we really don't want to have? Skeletons better left in closets? Loves that ought not speak their names? Dead better left buried and forgotten?

Questions hang unasked in the air, potentials not actualized, thresholds unpassed. How can we reply? Perhaps we feel that unformed question and strain to hear it. We lean into the moment to catch a hint. Do we dare to break the spell of silence and give voice to the question we feel is hanging between us? Can we tear away the veil?

To act in response to unasked questions, to projections of questions that really are our own gives rise to a world of shadow boxing, puppets dancing in thin air. What you think that unasked question is may be really nothing more than your own question to yourself. Do you have an answer now?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Scottish Zen?

I love this commercial. Here we see the teaching o' th' Dharma as done in my ancestral home, the Scottish Highlands. Notice the grandmotherly care our Scottish Master shows for his poor students! How fortunate indeed they are to have found such a kind teacher! Even Lin-Chi could not have been so diligent with the dip-stick. Lucky lads!

Mu Monday

Sitting very still, I go with the pain,

Following breath, in and out are the same.

Now I go to hang my hat on the wall,

But there is no hook on which to hang the hat,

There is no wall to hang the hook.

There is no hat to hang or fall.

There is no floor onto which to fall.

There is no one to hang this non-existent hat.

Has a dog Buddha nature?


Void of any and all characteristics,

This Buddha nature is.

There is no dog to have anything,

There is nothing to be had.

No ears, no eyes,

Not tail to wag this no dog.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mountain - Six Views

Mountains rise,

Rivers fall,

Cutting like knives,

Sand and wind,

Rain and cold,

The quaking Earth itself,

Great sculptor

Without hands.

This second batch of photos were taken in the Virgin River Gorge, in the extreme southwest corner of Utah state. All of these shots were taken out of the window of our car, going about sixty miles an hour. Every time we make the trip up there from San Diego my mind is blown by these astonishing rocks and the spectacular interplay with them and the sky, clouds and light. There is no shoulder on the road and only one place to pull over and park, so I am always frustrated by the many great potential photographs I see zooming by. Each trip I try to capture a few good ones. I hope you like these.

Note: Yesterday, looking at my photos on another computer than my own big imac, I noticed that the photos when clicked on were huge files, difficult to view. I have made these files today smaller, but on my computer they now look quite small when clicked on for enlargement. I would appreciate feed-back from you, dear readers, how do the expanded files look to you? Too big, too small or jussst right?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sky - Five Views

Yesterday, Brad Warner posted a blog on Hardcore Zen entitled "Utah is Psychedelic", based on his experience driving through Arizona and Utah on his way back east. I recently made the same journey when my wife and I went to visit family in Cedar City. I took about a jillion photos of the drive (thank you Diane for doing all the driving!). I agree with Brad. How did the sky get so huge out there? Here are five views.
Click on each photo to see full size.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thornton Hospital Poem #2 - Though

Though cruel be the wheel

That turns night and


Sweet be the


To fall beneath its'


My second night in the hospital was nearly sleepless. I had a drip line in my right arm and I was still running a fever. The pain medications, rather than making me sleepy, seemed to induce a serene but wakeful state. When rosy fingered dawn began to lighten my east facing window, I opened my notebook and began to write. This is the poem that came to me. While not quite automatic writing, this one came to me nearly complete as is. The funny spacing, drawing out the words, is meant to suggest a slow reading of each word.

This poem evokes a feeling I sometimes get when I'm in pain. Rather than feeling depressed, I feel a kind of joy in the experience of just living. It seems that the totality of life, the pleasures and the pains are all here to be experienced together. Being on the cutting edge, so to speak, of life, it all seems beautiful, even the painful parts! This is why we are alive, simply to experience it all, the whole thing!

Zhaozhou often quoted this saying by Sengcan:
The great way is not difficult
if you just don’t pick and choose.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thornton Hospital Poem #1

I'm really glad they

Built this hospital for me,

Its' worth getting sick just

To come here and see.

High on one wall

A black lacquer painting.

In gold,

A woman stands behind

A happy poet,


On both

Words and wine.

I was back in the hospital for the last few days, thanks to a nasty bacterial "shower" that developed in the course of the routine exchange of a billiary drain. It runs through my transplanted liver and into my small intestine (more information than I'm sure you wish to know). It isn't the first time this has happened and I'm pretty sure it won't be the last time.

What made this visit stand out, though, is that I got sick many hours after the procedure, at around 1 AM and so found myself in the emergency room of a different hospital, the much closer Thornton Hospital in La Jolla. After a quick examination, they admitted me to a private room on the second floor and started an aggressive course of IV antibiotics and antifungals.
After a day or so I started feeling a bit better and settled in and began taking a closer look at my surroundings, and lovely surroundings they were!

Thornton Hospital is part of the UCSD system, but was founded by the astonishing grants from many of San Diego's wealthiest families, chief among them the Thorntons, and may the blessings of the Lord be upon them evermore! It is simply the most beautiful hospital one could ever wish to find oneself admitted to. Built around a large open court, the angled glass ceiling rises four or five stories high, illuminating the large central space with daylight. The floors are of beautiful marble, with tasteful geometric inlays. Generously comfortable couches and chairs are arranged in carpeted areas and the walls are decorated with antique Chines art, with cabinets of lovely Chinese ceramics of the finest quality.

I established a daily routine of Zazen in my room followed by 20 minutes of walking the halls with classical music on my ipod. Then I would lie in bed for the next few hours (often with an IV drip in my arm) and read from my Kindle or from one of the books I had brought along. Along the way I was inspired to write a few poems, such as the one above. The photo is of one small panel in a much larger piece, one of my very favorites. In it we see the poet seated at his low table, books spread out before him, along with a wine jug. A lovely lady stands in attendance and behind, above, a full moon rises in the black lacquer night.

I felt just like this lucky fellow, my books spread out, my verses before me. In attendance, a wonderful staff of nurses to help me heal. True, there was no wine, but Thornton has a room service style food program. Simply dial up the desk and a short while later a very nice spa-type meal of ones own choosing was delivered by smiling kitchen servers.

I had a few medical adventures there, all was not skittles and beer. But my stay there was certainly memorable and I have a few pretty good new poems in my notebook. Now, really, it's not worth getting sick just to go there, so guard your health closely. But if fate does draw you there, I recommend the fish tacos, a true San Diego specialty.