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.