Wednesday, August 31, 2022

you'd like to stay


Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love on another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
what ever happens.
This is the time you'd like to stay
Not a leaf stirs. There is no sound.
The fireflies lift light from the ground.
You've shed the vanities of when
And how and why, for now. And then
The phone rings. You are called away.
~ Wendell Berry
from Given Poems

no one home

No one home
Fallen pine needles
scattered at the door.

~ Ryokan
from Sky Above, Great Wind
by Kazuaki Tanahashi

before listening

Before listening to the way, do not fail to wash your ears.
Otherwise it will be impossible to listen clearly.

What is washing your ears?

Do not hold on to your view.
If you cling to it even a little bit,
you will lose your way.

What is similar to you but wrong, you regard as right.

What is different from you but right, you regard as wrong.

You begin with ideas of right and wrong.
But the way is not so.

Seeking answers with closed ears is
like trying to touch the ocean bottom with a pole.

~ Ryokan

Monday, August 29, 2022

The past above, the future below


"The past above, the future below
and the present pouring down..."
wrote Dr. Williams. Is that
correct? Or is the future above
and the past below?

The stream
that is departing from itself as
it was is above and is the past.
The stream that is coming to itself
as it will be is below and is
the future. Or:

The stream yet
to come is above and is the future.
The stream that has gone by
is below and is the past.

In its riddles in the world
in the mind in the world
the stream is the stream
beyond words, beginning nowhere
ending nowhere.

It falls as rain.
It flows in all its length. It enters
finally the sea. It rises into the air.
It falls as rain. To the watcher
on the shore, it comes and it

The immeasurable, untestable,
irrecoverable moment of its passing
is the present, always already
past before we can say that it is
present, that it was the future
flowing into the past or is
the past flowing into the future

or both at once into the present
that is ever-passing and eternal,
the instantaneous, abounding life.

~ Wendell Berry

Sunday, August 28, 2022

I knew

Although from the beginning
I knew
the world is impermanent,
not a moment passes
when my sleeves are dry.

~ Ryokan
from Sky Above, Great Wind

more firmly to the grindstone



I watch people in the world 
Throw away their lives lusting after things, 
Never able to satisfy their desires, 
Falling into deeper despair 
And torturing themselves. 
Even if they get what they want 
How long will they be able to enjoy it? 
For one heavenly pleasure 
They suffer ten torments of hell, 
Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone. 
Such people are like monkeys 
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water 
And then falling into a whirlpool. 
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer. 
Despite myself, I fret over them all night 
And cannot staunch my flow of tears.

~ Ryokan
Born as Eizō Yamamoto  in the village of Izumozaki Japan,
 his poetry is often very simple and inspired by nature.
 He loved children, and sometimes forgot to beg for food
 because he was playing with the children of the nearby village. 
He refused to accept any position as a priest or even as a poet.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

untouched and untasted


We usually do not look into what is really there in front of us. 
We see life through a screen of thoughts and concepts, and we mistake 
those mental objects for reality. 
We get so caught up 
in this endless thought-stream that reality flows by unnoticed. 
We spend our time engrossed in activity, caught up 
in an eternal flight from pain and unpleasantness. 
We spend our energies trying to make ourselves feel better,
 trying to bury our fears.
 We are endlessly seeking security. 
Meanwhile, the world of real experience flows by 
untouched and untasted.

~ Henepola Gunaratana, 
from Mindfulness In Plain English

this only


A valley and above it forests in autumn colors.
A voyager arrives, a map leads him there.
Or perhaps memory. Once long ago in the sun,
When snow first fell, riding this way
He felt joy, strong, without reason,
Joy of the eyes. Everything was the rhythm
Of shifting trees, of a bird in flight,
Of a train on the viaduct, a feast in motion.
He returns years later, has no demands.
He wants only one, most precious thing:
To see, purely and simply, without name,
Without expectations, fears, or hopes,
At the edge where there is no I or not-I.

~ Czeslaw Milosz
(The Collected Poems,
 1931-1987, trans. by Robert Hass)

Friday, August 19, 2022



And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.
And he answered saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.

And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

~ Kahlil Gibran
from The Prophet
art by Picasso

why scurry about looking for the truth?

Why scurry about looking for the truth? 
It vibrates in every thing and every not-thing, right off the tip of your nose. 
Can you be still and see it in the mountain? the pine tree? yourself? 
Don't imagine that you'll discover it by accumulating more knowledge. 
Knowledge creates doubt, and doubt makes you ravenous for more knowledge. 
You can't get full eating this way. 
The wise person dines on something more subtle: 
He eats the understanding that the named was born from the unnamed, 
that all being flows from non- being,
 that the describable world emanates from an indescribable source. 
He finds this subtle truth inside his own self, 
and becomes completely content. 
So who can be still and watch the chess game of the world?
 The foolish are always making impulsive moves,
 but the wise know that victory and defeat are decided by something more subtle.
 They see that something perfect exists before any move is made. 
This subtle perfection deteriorates when artificial actions are taken, 
so be content not to disturb the peace.
 Remain quiet. 
Discover the harmony in your own being. 
Embrace it. 
If you can do this, you will gain everything, 
and the world will become healthy again.
 If you can't, you will be lost in the shadows forever.

~  Lao Tzu
from Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu
by Brian Walker



I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, 
and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, 
by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and 
I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally.

Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable 
by any path whatsoever, cannot be organised; 
nor should any organisation be formed to lead or coerce people 
along any particular path.

If you first understand that, then you will see 
how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, 
and you cannot and must not organize it.

If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; 
it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, 
to be imposed on others.

~ J. Krishnamurti
art by zahra darvisharian

truth and partisanship

We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all. Nothing strange about this. 
It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth.
 (I still dare to speak of man as 'an intelligent being'!')
 But actually, what we desire is not 'the truth' so much as 'to be in the right.'
 To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act
 always in this respect according to our nature. What we seek is not the pure truth,
 but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. 
This is not 'the truth.' It is only an argument strong enough to prove us 'right.'
 And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that 
somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong? Because we need them to be wrong.
 For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: 
our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned.
 We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as 'truth.' 
What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved 'right,' 
and our iniquity be vindicated as 'just.' 
This is what we have done to pervert our natural, instinctive appetite for truth.

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent.
 No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war! 
And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, 
that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us. Our own lie provides the foundation
 of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

~ Thomas Merton
from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
art by Picasso

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

breaking open and letting go



We are always experiencing births and deaths. 
We feel the death of loved ones most acutely—there is something radical about the change in our reality.
 We are not given options, there is no room for negotiation, and the situation cannot be rationalized
 away or covered up by pretense. There is a total rupture in our who-I-am-ness, 
and we are forced to undergo a great and difficult transformation.

In bereavement, we come to appreciate at the deepest, most felt level exactly what it means to die
 while we are still alive.   These are moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity
 that we otherwise project onto our lives. In American culture, we sometimes refer to this
 as having the rug pulled out from under us, or feeling ungrounded. 
These interruptions in our normal sense of certainty 
are that state in which we have lost our old reality
 and it is no longer available to us.

Anyone who has experienced this kind of loss knows what it means to be disrupted, 
to be entombed between death and rebirth. We often label that a state of shock.
 In those moments, we lose our grip on the old reality and yet have no sense what a new one might be like.
 There is no ground, no certainty, and no reference point—there is, in a sense, no rest. 
This has always been the entry point in our lives for religion, because in that radical state of unreality
 we need profound reasoning—not just logic, but something beyond logic,
 something that speaks to us in a timeless, nonconceptual way.

 The more we learn to recognize this sense of disruption, the more willing and able we will be
 to let go of this notion of an inherent reality and allow that which is precious to slip out of our hands. 
Rupture is taking place all the time, day to day and moment to moment; in fact,
 as soon as we see our life in terms of these successive changes, we dissolve the very idea 
of a solid self grasping onto an inherently real life. We start to see how conditional who-I-am-ness
 really is, how even that does not provide reliable ground upon which to stand.

At times like this, if we can gain freedom from the eternal grasping onto who I am and how things are—
our default mode—then we can get to the business of being. Until now, we have been holding on
 to the idea of an inherent continuity in our lives, creating a false sense of comfort for ourselves
 on artificial ground. By doing so, we have been missing the very flavor of what we are.

The cause of all suffering can be boiled down to grasping onto a fictional, contrived existence. 
But what does that mean? If we really come to understand, then there is no longer even a container
 to hold together our normal concepts, to make them coherent. The precious pot shatters,
 and all our valuables roll away like marbles on a table. Reality as we thought we knew it
 is disrupted; the game of contriving an ideal self is suddenly irrelevant.

When we suffer disruption, we find we just can’t play that game anymore. 
The teachings are really about recognizing the value of giving up the game,
 which we play without even giving it a second thought. But when we are severely ill
 or in hospice, and we have to cede control over our own bodily functions to strangers, 
holding it all together is not an option.

There are times like these in our lives—such as facing death or even giving birth —
when we are no longer able to manage our outer image, no longer able to suspend ourselves
 in pursuit of the ideal self. It’s just how it is—we’re only human beings, and in these times
 of crisis we just don’t have the energy to hold it all together. When things fall apart,
 we can only be as we are. Pretense and striving fall away, and life becomes starkly simple.
 The value of such moments is this: we are shown that the game can be given up 
and that when it is, the emptiness that we feared, emptiness of the void, is not what is there.
 What is there is the bare fact of being. Simple presence remains—breathing in and out, 
waking up and going to sleep. The inevitability of the circumstances at hand is 
compelling enough that for the moment, our complexity ceases. Our compulsive manufacturing
 of contrived existence stops. Perhaps in that ungrounded space, we are not even comforting ourselves,
 not even telling ourselves everything is okay; we may be too tired to do even that. 
It’s just total capitulation—we’re forced into non-grasping of inherent reality. 
The contrived self has been emptied out along with contrived existence and the tiring treadmill
 of image maintenance that goes along with it. What remains is a new moment 
spontaneously meeting us again and again.

There is an incredible reality that opens up to us in those gaps 
if we just do not reject rupture. In fact, if we have some reliable idea of what is happening
 in that intermediate, groundless space, rupture can become rapture.
Pema Khandro Rinpoche
excerpts from Breaking Open in the Bardo
with thanks to Lion's Roar


Tuesday, August 16, 2022



It is foolish
to let a young redwood 
grow next to a house.
Even in this 
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window. 
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life...

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Given Sugar, Given Salt


Sunday, August 14, 2022

poetry and the mind of concentration


Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections—language that hears itself and what is around it, sees itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and knows more perhaps even than we do about who are, what we are. It begins, that is, in the mind and body of concentration. 

By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open. This quality of consciousness, though not easily put into words, is instantly recognizable. Aldous Huxley described it as the moment the doors or perception open; James Joyce called in epiphany. The experience of concentration may be quietly physical—a simple, unexpected sense of deep accord between yourself and everything. It may come as the harvest of long looking and leave us, as it did Wordsworth, a mind thought "too deep for tears." Within action, it is felt as a grace state: time slows and extends, and a person's every movement and decision seem to partake of perfection. Concentration can also be place into things—it radiates undimmed from Vermeer's paintings, form the small marble figure of a lyre-player from ancient Greece, from a Chinese three-footed bowl—and into musical notes, words, ideas. In the whole-heartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done. 

A request for concentration isn't always answered, but people engaged in many disciplines have found ways to invite it in. A ninth-century Zen monk, Zuigan, could be heard talking to himself rather sternly each morning: "Master Zuigan!" he would call out. "Yes?" “Are you here?" “Yes!" Violinists practicing scales and dancers repeating the same movements over decades are not simply warming up or mechanically training their muscles. They are learning how to attend unswervingly, moment by moment, to themselves and their art; learning to come into steady presence, free from the distractions of interest and boredom. 

Writers, too, must find a path into concentration. Some keep a fixed time of day for writing, or engage in small rituals of preparation and invitation. One may lay out exactly six freshly sharpened pencils, another may darken the room, a third may develop as add a routine as Flaubert, who began each workday by sniffing a drawer of aging apples. Immersion in art itself can be the place of entry, as Adam Zagajewski points out in "A River": "Poems from poems, songs / from songs, paintings from paintings." Yet however it is brought into being, true concentration appears—paradoxically—at the moment willed effort drops away. It is then that a person enters what scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described as "flow" and Zen calls "effortless effort." At such moments, there may be some strong emotion present—a feeling of joy, or even grief—but as often, in deep concentration, the self disappears. We seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself. 

This may explain why the creative is so often described as impersonal and beyond self, as if inspiration were literally what its etymology implies, something "breathed in." We refer, however metaphorically, to the Muse, and speak of profound artistic discovery as revelation. And however much we may come to believe that "the real" is subjective and constructed, we still feel art is a path not just to beauty, but to truth: if "truth" is a chosen narrative, then new stories, new aesthetics, are also new truths.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Nine Gates, Entering the Mind of Poetry

every step my home

Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
Without looking for the traces I may have left;
A cuckoo's song beckons me to return home,
Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
Who has told me to turn back;
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.

~ Dogen
from the Zen Poetry of Dogen
art by Vladimir Kostetsky

the myth


So the myth in our society is that people are competitive by nature
 and that they are individualistic and that they're selfish. 
The real reality is quite the opposite. We have certain human needs. 
The only way that you can talk about human nature concretely is by recognizing
 that there are certain human needs. We have a human need for companionship
 and for close contact, to be loved, to be attached to, to be accepted, 
to be seen, to be received for who we are. 
If those needs are met, we develop into people who are compassionate and cooperative
 and who have empathy for other people. So . . . the opposite,
that we often see in our society, is in fact, a distortion of human nature
 precisely because so few people have their needs met.
 ~ Gabor Maté
 with thanks to whiskey river

the sympathies of the long married


Oh well, let's go on eating the grains of eternity.
What do we care about improvements in travel?
Angels sometimes cross the river on old turtles.

Shall we worry about who gets left behind?
That one bird flying through the clouds is enough.
Your sweet face at the door of the house is enough.

The two farm horses stubbornly pull the wagon.
The mad crows carry away the tablecloth.
Most of the time, we live through the night.

Let's not drive the wild angels from our door.
Maybe the mad fields of grain will move.
Maybe the troubled rocks will learn to walk.

It's all right if we're troubled by the night.
It's all right if we can't recall our own name.
It's all right if this rough music keeps on playing.

I've given up worrying about men living alone.
I do worry about the couple who live next door.
Some words heard through the screen door are enough.
 ~  Robert Bly
from Talking into the ear of a Donkey
with thanks to whiskey river

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

where the battle did not happen

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

~  William Stafford

wildly in love



They are always kissing, they can't
control themselves.

It is not possible
that any creature can have greater instincts
and perceptions than the
mature human

ripened me.
So I see it is true:
all objects in existence are
wildly in

~ Meister Eckhart