Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fair Warning!

Every day we see beloved flowers fall,

With each passing year we watch

While hated weeds grow taller,

Still we continue to cut the cake

On each new birthday that we meet.

Fair warning!

Celebrate enough birthdays without

Learning to let go and you'll end up

Writing somber poems just like this!

Yep, another birthday come and gone and no, I'm not feeling particularly somber. In fact, I had a rather nice birthday this year as it happened to fall on the day before Thanksgiving Day. The two occasions seemed to fuse into one with a small but very pleasant feast with friends.

This poem came up as a reminder to myself about the impermanence of things. This reminder was probably triggered by the loss of a molar tooth, the first tooth loss I've experienced since the last of my milk teeth departed many years ago. I understand that with the passing years our bodies age and losing teeth is part of the deal. Okay. But my mouth suddenly feels different and I'm not all that happy about the difference.

I'm seeing an oral surgeon next week about having a dental implant, so perhaps this time I can get back to pretty much the mouth I'm used to. But a milestone in life like this can be a good teacher if one is willing to be a good student. I always thought of that tooth as being part of me and now it's gone. How many parts of me make up "me"? As parts fall away, as they surely will, am I still me? When every part has fallen away, what remains? Who was this "me" I thought I was and who was it doing this thinking?

That lost tooth has given me quite a bit to chew on.

Today's image of a fire-hazzard cake comes from:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thinking to Take Tiger Mountain

Step by step I went when young, 

Thinking to take Tiger Mountain 

By strategy or storming Heaven

Just for laughs.

Trying hard to push the river,

I carried myself forward,

Quite lost through my own effort.

Just seeing this and 

Doing that,

Now I'm seated in my garden,

Listening to the small birds sing,

Quite content to watch all things 

Come forth, and let the world

Just turn itself.

"To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. 
That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening."
- Dogen Zenji, Genjo-koan

What a relief it is to know that our constant effort is not required to keep this big world turning, the great river flows on quite nicely all on its own. Our effort is best spent in being aware of the turning and the flowing and in listening to the small bird's songs.

Today's image is of the author at 19 years of age, in the mountains of Vietnam.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Filling Seven Senses

There is a cactus by my doorstep,

I call it eloquent.

Blooming only once a year,

Saying all it has to say

In just one day.

While men may speak

In shouts and whispers,

And mountains hold forth

With thunder and falling rain,

This cactus catches the world

With petals of pure white,

And a piercing perfume

That fills seven senses,

All at once.

"All of nature talks to me. If I could just figure out 
what it was trying to tell me." 
- Laurie Anderson

Today's image is an original photograph. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lakavatara Sutra - A Poem

At Buddha's Deli Meats

The Tathagata is behind the counter,

The Dharma loaf is in the slicer.

The World-Honored One cuts it Lanka style,

Each slice thinner

Than the one before,

So thin that at last,

You'd swear it was non-existent!

In the end, he'll tell you

Not to eat meat at all.

Earlier this year, tipped off by Wild Fox Zen's Dosho Port, I was pleased to get a release day copy of Red Pine's new translation of The Lankavatra Sutra. This Buddhist text played an important role in the foundation and development of the Ch'an/Zen tradition in China, having been taught by the First Patriarch Bodhidharma and passed on by him to his first successor, Hui-k'o.

Previously available in English only in a dense and immensely difficult translation by Japanese scholar D.T. Suzuki, Red Pine (Bill Porter) has done the Western Zen world an immense service by providing a clearly written text with generous and illuminating facing-page notes on many terms and ideas that might otherwise be difficult for all but a scholar.

I see that a number of on-line Buddhist bloggers and reviewers have covered the book's publication, discussing its' history and significance and what each writer felt were its' merits and shortcomings. Not being a scholar, but instead a lazy poet and given only to short outbursts, I have confined my commentary to the poem above, a poem which it is largely necessary for one to have already read the book to understand. How useful is that?

I found the Lankavatra to be a total gem! It is filled with pithy explications of the mind-only view and the fundamental underpinnings of Zen thought, like the following;

"Assertions and denials
don't exist where there is only mind
as for the body, the world and possessions
unable to see these are mind
and bereft of any wisdom
fools assert and deny."
~ Mahamati's Questions, XXV

"4. In truth nothing arises from causes
nor does anything cease
regard conditioned things
like flowers in the sky
let go deluded views
the grasping and the grasped

5. Nothing has arisen or ever will
nor do causes or conditions exist
nothing exists at all
and these are nothing but words."
~ Mahamati's Questions, XXXI

The above poem and text was written several months ago, but not posted at the time and left unfinished due to illness. I'm undergoing a treatment that has a number of debilitating side-effects which have largely caused me to lose the energy for blogging. Rather than further developing these thoughts, I'm posting what I have written here now. I'm doing so mostly because I want to recommend this exciting text and translation to anyone who is interested in Zen and its' intellectual, scriptural roots.

For more information or to order a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra, go to

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Fool Again

Writing poems again?

Old fool!

Catching thoughts in words

Is like collecting butterflies

Made of smoke.

When I'm in the act of writing, it seems like the work at hand is the greatest thing ever written. When I'm done, the act of of reading what I've written can be terribly humbling! Those flighty thoughts just don't let themselves be pinned down on the paper. Before the ink is dry (actually, I write first-draft with a mechanical pencil) the sense of the thing has flown, leaving only dry husks fixed on the page.

Ah well, we do what we can...

I've been going through a rather demanding medical therapy these last couple of months and it has been a bit of a struggle. I'm way behind posting to this blog, among other things. I have not been idle, however, and I have quite a few new or recent poems to share. I hope to get some up here over the next couple of weeks, but I have learned through experience not to make promises when medical issues are involved.

Smoke butterfly image from:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Don't Be Deceived!

Don't be deceived by the world around you,

Don't be deceived by yourself.

When you look out the window just now,

Don't confuse the curtains for a landscape.

Don't mistake a pane of glass for

Blue sky and white clouds.

Todays image is a key scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail.