Lanterns Floating Down Stream: Seventeen Syllable Zen
"But with a little more familiarity you realize that haiku poetry excels in one of the rarest artistic virtues, the virtue of knowing when to stop." -Alan Watts
"Brevity is the soul of wit." -Shakespeare
Master Shogun, the Abbot of Zuigan Temple, loved teaching haiku to his monks. "Haiku," he lectured, "is the ideal poetry form. It captures the thing-in-itself and nothing more. There is nothing extraneous. Haiku measures both the amount of Zen in the writer and in the reader." Shogun, a lifetime devotee, read one haiku per day and rarely wrote more than five in a year. "Why is it you only read one haiku each day, Master?" asked Daitsu, one of his most promising students.
"Because reading one per day is sublime," replied the old Zen Master, "reading two is tedious."
2. Seventeen Syllable Zen
Two of the most wildly misused words in any language are Zen and haiku. Zen is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism focusing on meditation, taming the mind, and the direct perception of reality. Haiku is its poetic expression. Haiku forms a natural land bridge over the deep gorge separating the absolute and relative realms. A haiku conveys those moments when nirvana is glimpsed directly within everyday samsara. This is not a poetry of the imagination. This is the poetry of mindfulness taken from direct experience.
There are ten thousand opportunities to write a haiku each day, and every one of them benefits a Buddhist practice. A haiku is subtle and slender. It does not employ rhyming, metaphors, similes, and other conceits common to other forms of poetry. The poet isolates imagery in an understated way that reflects his understanding, however deep or shallow, of the Dharma.
Originating in Japan, the form consists of three segments, or lines, and 17 syllables, structured by a 5-7-5 syllable count. This structure is preferable, and makes the purest, classical presentation. There are natural inconsistencies between the Japanese and English grammars and vocabularies, and the correct format can seldom be achieved in translations.
Traditionally, there is a seasonal referent. The reference may be direct, a mention of a migratory bird, or some other phenomena associated with a particular season. Many anthologies, notably the R.H. Blyth series, are sorted by season, and then subdivided by subject. In the haiku below, the extreme low tide and the heat identify the season.
Stench of dead plankton,
Reeks from the lagoon's low tide:
The barrier island.
If Kevin Says It...
it's only because he is on an old path for a new crusade!
3. Black Widow Spiders
Black widow spiders, a highly venomous Arachnid, are ubiquitous across the temperate zones and the tropics. The female has a red hourglass on its abdomen. There are 31 recognized species in this genus, and the hourglass may range from a bright red to a barely distinct orange. A sturdily built spider, the female devours the male after mating.
Spikey egg cases,
In a dirty, twisted web:
Black widow crawling.
Sean Yeats asked Master Bankei, Abbot of The Clear Bell Monastery, "How can I most directly experience the Dharma?" A kindly old man who had, himself, been awakened many years ago, Bankei reached into the folds of his robes and pulled out three female black widow spiders on the palm of his extended left palm. "Put one of these in your mouth," replied the Master.
Note: The historical Master Bankei experienced a Zen experience with three spiders.
The kireji is a cutting word, a powerful element of the haiku that divides the verse into two parts, parts that can either be compared or contrasted. Frequently, the cutting word separates the poem into two independent halves: in other poems, it may form a correspondence between two images. The Kireji may also be a word that provides a dignified ending to the haiku. Kireji are missing from most modern haiku, or missing and difficult to detect in haiku's classical period. Most writers of haiku are familiar with the 5-7-5 syllable format. Few poets are mindful of the kireji. The intended kireji may be so subtle that it is missed entirely. Even in the Blyth haiku volumes, there is little attention paid to the cutting word, the word that is frequently merely a pleasant statement about nature and the crafting of a poem reflecting the acuity of the poet's Zen eye.
Before the Sun rises,
Peacocks in tree roosts crying:
Faint stars in the east.
Crying is the kireji. It changes the focus from the peacock's cries to the stars fading in the eastern sky. It separates the poem into two halves while still allowing the third line to modify the first two lines.
5. Lanterns Floating Downstream
Preface: Suffering results from pain and dissatisfaction, desires, and attachments formed in a world characterized by impermanence. Each micro-second brings changes. We possess mind-streams, not minds. And we are like lanterns floating downstream. Attempting to live as if there were a reified, unchanging reality only increases our suffering.
As each second passes by:
Lanterns floating downstream.
Prince Shakyamuni, despite his father's efforts, discovered this world's round of birth, sickness, age old and death. His union with his wife Yashodhara resulted in the birth of a son, Rahula, a word that translates into "fetters." When Siddhartha Gautama looked down upon his sleeping wife's seductive geometry, he saw the endless cycle of birth and death, and the snare of Mara's daughters. Earlier in the evening, in their love making, he'd prolonged the pleasure of their joining to the best of his physical capabilities, and known one last time the breath extinguishing bliss buried within her lap. With a bodhisattva's perfect compassion and absolute non-attachment, the Omniscient One disengaged from his beloved Yashodhara and their infant son, departed Kapilavstu, and entered the homeless life.
Preface: Seasonal references are a mark of the natural world best displayed in the world's temperate zones such as Japan. Much of the planet, such as the tropics and the arctic regions, do not easily produce an image identifying the season. Even in the classical period, the poets used to frequently satisfy this requirement via a blatant naming of the season in the verse's
Bone freezing nights,
Thick icicle dislodges,
Piercing the snow's crust.
Dislodges is the cutting word, setting up the satisfying sound of the icicle crunching through the crust.
Preface: Photons, massless light particles, are inherently without any specific color.
The shower subsides,
Light flows through water droplets:
Our brains see rainbows.
The cutting word is droplets. Abbot Seizi tired of teaching the Dharma. When asked by a monk why he was leaving the monastery, the Abbot replied, "There is not much really much
involved with teaching Zen. After a while, all the teacher does is repeat himself. And there is no point to that."
8. Ants and their Mounds
Preface: Dead raccoons, opossums, and other animals are a common sight along roadways.
The crushed raccoon's corpse,
Is partially decomposed:
Ants begin to feed.
The Buddha-To-Be sat beneath a banyan (ficus/Bodhi) tree, moments away from his Awakening. The full moon shone through the tree limbs and leaves. A colony of ants by his feet tended their mound, following pheromone trails, turning over the soil, heedless of Shakyamuni"s strivings. Siddhartha,Prince of the Shakya clan, smiled. Venus rose dimly above the horizon. Mara the tempter vanished. The Buddha placed his right hand on the Earth, and rejoiced. "I, along withthe Earth, am enlightened," he said. From that moment forward, samsara (the physical realm) and nirvana (the absolute realm) were joined.
9. Dark Matter
Preface: Dark matter, hitherto unobserved by science, comprises approximately 85% of the matter in the Universe. It does not react with light or other particles, but it does interact with gravity. Findings in physics and astrophysics in the last 100 years now define our natural world. Our understanding of nature and the heavens has changed greatly since the 17th century in Japan. Life at the sub-atomic level and on the grandest scalesof existence are suitable subjects for haiku, and do not violate the form's
purity. Buddhism adapts.
Unseen dark matter,
Is sculpting the Universe:
Maple's buds open.
The cutting word is Universe. While dividing the verse into two very distinct segments, it also confirms dark matter is just as valid as the mundane maple tree as a subject for haiku.
In nook of the shower stall,
Safe from water spray.
Golden orb weaver,
Perfectly still in its web,
In the mangrove swamp.
After morning meditation, Master Bankei led all of his monks out onto the lawn in front of Ryomonji Temple. The early light illumined hundreds of small spider webs spun into the wet grasses. "Whoever can look at this field," he said, "and tell me what he sees has entered the Tao."
11. One Drop of Water
The brief squall passes,
One drop of water glistens,
On each pine needle.
In samsara, the conventional world, we are each have the delusion of existing as discrete beings, like separate H2O molecules, and have a sense of duality with the world around us. But at the ultimate Big Mind state of being, we are fungible, indistinguishable entities like the drops of water in the streams and oceans. This is the truth of non-duality. "In one drop water, no matter how tiny a drop, the water's great value doesn't change at all. If you can't understand the value of one single drop of water, no matter how hard you train, you'll never become someone who can
give life to that training." -The Path of Bodhidharma, Shodo Harada Roshi
12. The snapping Turtle
Preface: The alligator snapping turtle makes its home in the waters of the south eastern United States. This is a powerful creature, with a bite that can easily amputate a man's finger. Fully grown, it has three rows of spikes on
A snapping turtle,
The spike on its carapace,
Punctures the cosmos.
Commentary: The cutting word is carapace, the animal's shell.
13. Water Striders
At dokusan, the private interview between a roshi and a student, Zenkai assigned his most advanced student the koan, "Why did Bodhidharma come to the East (to America). This was a simple variation on the widely known koan
regarding Bodhidharma coming from the West (from India to China). Responses from monks and students over the years had always provided the Master with great amusement and sometimes with keen Zen insight. Zenkai selected this koan because it was the third day of sesshin, and he believed the student's nature might be ripe for a breakthrough. Also, he was curious to hear what a Westerner could do with Bodhidharma's journeys. The long time Buddhist student bowed with his hands in gassho, and without hesitation replied:
Hundreds of water striders,
Leaving V-shaped wakes.
Zenkai said, " That makes as much sense as any response I've heard." He immediately certified the student's mild enlightenment experience, and gave him the Dharma name Mumon, meaning "no gate."
14. Sandhill Cranes
Preface: Sandhill cranes are large birds, native to North America and parts of Siberia, that have gray feathers, red foreheads, long legs, and a long neck. Their distinctive trumpeting is a cry that can assist any meditation. They
live in mated pairs, and are frequently seen with a chick in their company.
Drowned out by the rain,
The sandhill cranes' trumpeting,
Now just faintly heard.
Returned to their nest,
Mated sandhill cranes trumpet:
Drought in the wetlands.
Commentary: Across Asia, cranes are symbols for youth, happiness and long life, a ready inspiration for Taoists. In Japan, cranes have a legendary lifespan of 1000 years. In the second verse the kireji is trumpet.
Perched on my finger,
Black pennant dragonfly,
Claspers holding tightly.
Commentary: Several years ago I was paddling the Loxahatchee River in southern Florida when I passed what appeared to be a dead dragonfly floating motionlessly on the low tide. About 50 yards upriver, I decided to circle back and have a closer look at my favorite insect. When I scooped it up with my paddle, its transparent wings began to move. I brought him into the boat, and maneuvered it onto my ball cap. I knew there
was a sloped beach access near my put-in, and to there I paddled. The dragonfly a black pennant, recovered quickly, but showed no inclination to take flight. I beached the boat, coaxed it on to my finger, and scrambled up the bank. The dragonfly wouldn't budge. He dug into my finger with six strong legs. We remained in a stalemate for a few minutes before I maneuvered it on to a palmetto frond. It seemed fine. One last look, and then I returned to my kayak.
Preface: The bee's hive possesses all the well-ordered behavior of a monastery. Each bee knows, and is adept, at its job. Science has affirmed all of mammalian life is dependent on the bees to fertilize crops and flowers.
Bees swarm in the grass.
Tasting the clover's nectar:
Broad swatches of sand.
The cutting word is nectar, a delicious word. The traveler has made many attempts, but has never been able to locate the bee hive in the pine flat woods. The Royal Jelly is the sweetest honey in the hive. There is a period in almost every meditation when you taste the Royal Jelly.
17. The Soft Shell
Preface: Turtles in fresh or brackish waters have the local name "cooters." Most of them are red eared sliders.
Hauling the soft shell,
To the St. Lucie's shoreline:
Plop! Of a turtle.
This soft shell was found approximately 200 yards from the river, making it way to the steep bank. The traveler provided an assist, setting the turtle down about 10 yards from the water. Moments later: the extremely pleasant
plop! As it dove into the river, and swam northwards.
18. The Slough
Preface: This verse was written in the Ten Thousand Islands on Florida's southwest coast. The slough would make a strong support for meditation. Better than a wall, a statue, or a hermit's cave.
Hundreds of islets,
Strewn across the shallow slough:
Osprey gathers nest.
Commentary: Slough is the cutting word.
The islets are limestone, stained brown by tannin, that have built by mangrove trees taking root, and trapping sediment. Each individual islet or island is "a jewel in the heart of the lotus," Om Mani Padme Hum.
Disc shaped depression,
In the wet red cedar mulch:
A box turtle's nest.
Commentary: One good haiku should occupy the reader's mind uncluttered, by itself, not one of twenty read in three minutes. Reading haiku is an art form, just like writing the verse. A distracted mind will miss the mulch's essence.
20. Wake of Vultures
Preface: The collective noun for vultures feeding on carrion is wake. Vultures are the hardest working birds in the animal kingdom, feeding on animal corpses, and reducing the possibility of diseases spreading.
A Wake of Vultures,
Mobbing the caracara:
Swales fill with water.
Commentary: The caracara is a raptor, a fierce opportunist. Known as the Mexican Eagle, it is equipped with powerful beak and claws. In Tibet, vultures are accorded the status of dakinis, female bodhisattvas. In a Tibetan "Sky Burial," a human corpse is chopped up, sent aloft, and fed to the vultures.
21. The Donkey Brays
Pausing to moon-view,
While a nearby donkey brays:
Venus trails behind.
Commentary: The sound of a donkey braying is the Buddhist "Call to Prayer." Pause when you hear this unique, comforting sound. It is the voice of Shakyamuni experiencing Awakening as Venus rose in the sky.
22. A Blow Hole
Preface: A blowhole is a gap in a reef through which the surf enters and leaps skywards.
Sound of breaking waves:
A spray of sea-water shoots
Through the reef's blow hole.
Commentary: The spray of water acts as a prism.
Preface: Haiku's subject matter is wide open and non-judgmental. There are no appropriate or inappropriate topics. Typically, haiku journals abound with moonlit pine branches, the cry of the osprey, dragonflies perched on bamboo shoots, and the reflection of stars in a pond. But a poem could readily address maggots wriggling in a trash heap as evening rain glistening on banana leaves. In Zen doctrine, all phenomena are empty, empty of inherent self-existence. All phenomena are equal.
Fat maggots wriggle,
On the open trash can's lid:
Late afternoon light.
Empty trash barrels:
Catfish swim the riverbed,
24. Pelican Skull
The pelican's skull,
Beak and jaw disintegrate,
After forty years.
Commentary: The coral reef refracted as the ocean swells rose and fell. Sean Yeats had paddled his eighteen foot fiberglass kayak out the St. Lucie inlet, then north along Hutchinson Island to a familiar dive site located approximately two miles offshore. Certified in kayak rolls and self-rescues, Yeats capsized the boat, detached the spray skirt, and performed a wet exit. A bungee cord connected his ankle to the boat as he kicked, and dove down 10 through the clear water to the ocean floor. There, among sand dollar shells and the fire coral, was the pelican skull, fully intact, and the last piece Yeats needed for his personal meditation altar.
25. The Tao
In the pine flat woods,
The orchids present the Tao,
And so do the rocks.
Commentary: As do the trees, the lake, and the woodpecker's cry.
Always in motion,
The scarcely noticed mayfly,
Alights so briefly.
Commentary: Many phenomena, such as the mayfly, elude our notice. It is worth noting that ontological reality consists of what the brain/ mind perceives. This differs somewhat for each of the seven billion people on this planet,
depending on the acuity of their senses, causes and conditions, and karmic emotional states. For some, the blind, deaf, and head trauma victims, reality's texture varies dramatically and greatly. Few ever notice the mayfly.
27. The New Moon
The winter solstice,
New moon black against the stars:
Rustling sounds are heard.
Stars are an effective cutting w forming a juxtaposition between empty moon and rustling sounds of a small animal in the brush. This haiku makes a companion verse to the first verse of The Tao teaching.
Million years past,
The first lungfish flopped on land:
Haiku originated from "Play Verse," and did not always have a intimate connection with Zen. Nevertheless, this lighthearted haiku does ask the question, "When did Buddha Mind manifest in sentient and insentient beings?"
Two bobcat kittens,
Warily follow mother,
Across the driveway.
Back to its nest in the woods:
A donkey braying.
Commentary: Sean Yeats' meditated each morning after sunrise on his screened- in patio, in front of a Buddha statue surrounded by orchids in bloom and a pelican skull. Typically, this entailed 20 or 30 minds of calm, abiding, followed by either tonglen or reflection on Buddhist aphorisms. One December day as he was "breathing out, breathing in," one of the nearby donkeys in the agricultural community began, and continued braying. No Zen Master could have shown greater kindness. Yeats's mind had gradually been ripened. The donkey's Great Cry shattered Yeats' drifting thoughts, and, for a brief time, he experienced Big Mind unfettered. Such kindness he'd received!
31. The Viewing
Lying in coffin,
No longer animated:
Mourners mumble prayers.
Commentary: I knelt at the railing in front of the coffin at All Soul's Funeral Home, and looked in at the corpse of my old friend Judy. "You are in the bardo, the between state," I said quietly. "Be calm. What you see and hear are your own peaceful and wrathful deities. Don't be afraid. They cannot harm you and wish only to lead you to the serenity and wisdom of your innate Buddha nature. A Catholic prayer service was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes. I made the sign of the cross for Judy, whispered the Hail Mary, and rejoined my friends at the back of the hall.
Tangles of pine roots,
I plant my staff carefully,-
But still stumble!
Senryu are an important subset of haiku. These are the seventeen syllable verses that deal with human affairs and emotions. The original form had not the least bit of an "I" involved in the composition. But this cannot truly be done without involving the workings of the self and the senses.
33. The Summit
Mountain range of clouds,
Illumined by the sun,
Summiting each one.
While sun is not really a cutting word, it does set up the third line. All Buddhists, on a daily basis, are attempting to summit Mount Kailash, the sacred mountain. The toeholds are difficult to find.
34. Lightning Awakening
Lightning flashes may be perceived as either cloud-to-Earth, cloud-to-cloud, or Earth to cloud.
A thin lightning bolt,
Leaps from Earth to the cloud tops:
Pleasant ozone smell.
Commentary: The two major Zen schools are the Rinzai and Soto. Rinzai aims for suddenenlightenment, Soto for gradual, achieved through many hours of zazenmeditation. Our minds are always ripening when we practice. All Awakeningsare lightning flashes.
35. The Red Claw
Mouse runs for wood line,
At first threat of predator:
Safe in its burrow.
Commentary: All sentient beings are both predator and prey. Large animals feed on small animals, the small, even microscopically small, feed on the large creatures.
This is the Buddhaverse of the red claw and the red tooth.
36. The Path
The path to an Emergency Room is one dreaded by all, and one that is constantly looming.
Fearful, bored people
In the ER's waiting room:
Suffering and pain.'
Commentary: The path to the liberation from suffering is The Four Noble Truths. -First Truth: An unenlightened life consists of suffering. -Second Truth: Suffering results from pain, dissatisfaction, unsatisfied desires and attachments in a world characterized by impermanence. - Third Truth:
Suffering can be ended. - Fourth Truth: Suffering can be ended by meditation, compassion, mindfulness, and an understanding of the ultimate nature of reality (Emptiness).
37. The Day's Cycle
Birdsongs replace stars.
And then the birds are silent:
Crescent moon at night.
38. The Moon
The moon is immune
To the Earth's weather patterns:
It waxes and wanes.
Wu-Wei is an essential Taoist concept meaning action created out of non-action. Sages are in accord with the Tao, therefore they act without effort. Every action, every spoken word, every thought is in harmony with nature. The Earth and the moon represent wu-wei.
39. Not Today
Water lily leaves,
Uprooted by the storm's winds,
Float across the pond.
Commentary: Sean Yeats leaned on his bamboo staff, and thought fondly of the Holy Fools and Crazy Wisdom Sages for whom the lake is Buddha, the uprooted water lily
leaves are Buddha, the pines and the hog ruts are Buddha. The alligators and the cooter turtles are Buddha. Mind is Buddha and mind is unbound emptiness, thought Yeats; pleasant, so pleasant, he reflected, but for me, not today.
44. A Pine Twig
Long Winter's darkness:
Through pine trees an orange moon,
Is quickly hidden.
Darkness is the cutting word. Taibi complained to Master Baso during dokusan: "For three months now I've been meditating on the sound of one hand, but all I've heard is the scratching of a pine twig against the wall of my hut."
45. Fiery Orchids
Winter in the woods:
Acres of sharp palmettos:
Orchids bloom in fire.
The cutting word is palmettos. Any day that includes a hike in the woods, along the shore, or in the mountains in a meditative state of mind is a worthy day. This confers the
seldom mentioned virtue of contentment while you enjoy right-concentration. Even orchids will bloom in fire. But be careful of those pointy palmetto fronds!
46. Ghost Crabs
Ghost crab waves eye stalks,
Then disappears down burrow,
In the sandy beach.
Daydreaming is very pleasant and, in doing so, you can disappear down a ghost crab burrow for hours, time during which you do not fully exist. How soothing it is to replay events in our mind, shifting around the events to provide different, more felicitous outcomes.
47. The Four Seals
Waves lap against the pier,
Pipefish nibble at wharf pilings:
The planks well weathered.
Clear to the heavens,
Blue sky teems with energy:
Motionless tree tops.
Haiku correlates well with Buddhism's Four Seals. First Seal: All entities are impermanent. Second Seal: All phenomena are, by nature, unsatisfactory to the unenlightened being. Third Seal: All phenomena both sentient and insentient, are empty. Fourth Seal: Nirvana is true peace, and suffering can be ended. A true understanding of the everyday world is the liberation from suffering. Haiku can assist that understanding. Well weathered. Space teeming with energy.
48. No preferences
Fed from underground,
Mushroom caps swollen from rain,
Prior to his testing for his Geshe degree at Samye monastery, Thubten Norbu undertook Tibetan Buddhism's rigorous three year, three month, three day solitary retreat. Norbu selected a high altitude cave as his hermitage. This was a barebones retreat. He slept in his meditation box, gathered food from the vegetation growing at lower altitudes, and collected water using buckets and siphons. When the period of solitary meditation was completed, Thubten Norbu returned to his monastery. The head lama greeted him warmly, asking, "During the three years, three months, and three days, what did you learn?" I learned," responded the monk, that mushrooms appear suddenly, and that I no longer have any preferences." Note: Hsin Hsin Ming, attributed to Seng-t'san, the third Chinese Zen Patriarch, develops "No Preferences" as a practice. The text also contains many Taoist influences.
49. Validating Science
In the Hadron Collider:
The Higgs-Boson forms.
After 2500 years, Buddhism is still validating scientific findings. Recent advances in Quantum mechanics and astrophysics have accelerated this process. If I had presented my 12th grade physics teacher with The Heart Sutra (Form is emptiness, Emptiness is form), he would have said "Absurd," and maybe made disparaging comments. Now if I were to present him with the Sutra, he'd exclaim, "This is it! This is the essence of our Universe."
50. The Mundane
The longhorn steer rests,
Oblivious of the rain,
Calm in pasture.
It is the third month:
The food market's parking lot,
Is scavenged by crows.
Haiku has a definite affinity for the mundane. Everyday life with its common images and familiar sights are the basis of mindfulness. Be aware of the local, not so spectacular, flora, fauna, and human activities. For the most part, we live in the familiar.
51. How Hard Could it be?
The manta ray glides,
Tracelessly through sea grass:
One day Master Bankei addressed the multitudes who had come to his Temple at Ryomanji: "just yesterday a monk from Kyoto came to me asking how many lifetimes he could expect to spend in samsara, providing he was on the Dharma Path. He was ready to toil through hundreds of rebirths, purifying his karma in order to solve the great mystery of existence." "I told him to leave the monastery if he didn't believe he could achieve enlightenment before nightfall. Live the life if a drunk, I told him. He'd be better off." Enlightenment resides within our minds. Don't accept your own delusions, or those of others. The manta ray glides tracelessly across the ocean floor. How hard could it be?
52. Invisible Forces
The magnetic pull,
Pulls iron chunks through space:
"But why is it real? Because mind conceives it."- John Blofeld, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Reality is as our five senses conceives it .This differs, at least somewhat, for each of the seven billion human beings on this planet, depending on the
acuity of their senses. For some, the blind, head trauma impact patients, etc., ontology may vary greatly. And there are many forces we can't perceive with our senses. The electromagnetism that moved the iron in the haiku above, gravity, the Higgs field, certain broad bends of light, dark matter, and dark energy comprise a few of these invisible forces. There might well be spirits whose realm lies beyond our senses. "True, true," thought Sean Yeats, whose life had
interacted with a dakini, sometimes wrathful, since his Junior High School years.
53. Disparate Elements
To much lighter neutrinos:
Three pink flamingoes.
The cawing of crows,
On a sweltering hot day:
Kudzu vines shroud pines.
Piglets crossing path,
While the tusked boar stands guard:
Hiker leans on his staff.
Commentary: Master Nansen was asked by Ganto, a young novitiate, how he would characterize a man whose life was driven by anger, attachment, and delusion. "Such a man," replied the Zen Master, "is like a contented pig lying at the
feet of its butcher." Nansen was ferocious in his pursuit of the Dharma, a tusked boar.
41. Survival instincts
Triggers ancient migrations:
Encodes all species.
Many species of animal life follow this encoded map to locate mating grounds that may be located thousands of miles from their natural habitat. They are following instinct, which in the animal kingdom is Right Effort, one of the steps in the Eightfold Path. In humans, Right Effort is a dangerous path. To become an Awakened One, the practitioner must be capable of doing things of which less enlightened beings are capable. This requires the bodhisattva to act against many of the ego-driven survival instincts wired into our brains in the last 170000 years.
42. The Milky Way
Venus shines aloft,
In the cloudless pre-dawn sky:
An early moon set.
Commentary: The moon's early setting removed the light pollution, displaying the Galaxy. At age 23, Bankei returned to his angya, the travel that is part of a Rinzai Monk's education. Still consumed with a longing to attain Buddha Mind, he sought solitude, and moved into a hut in the village of Nonaka. No teacher had been able to point a finger at the moon. Bankei spent the next two years enduring an ascetic's hardships, starving and depriving his flesh. He seldom left his hut, devoting upwards of 18 hours per day to deep meditation. He learned to resist both heat and cold. His only sustenance was a bowl of rice brought to him by a monk from nearby Zuioji Temple. In the spring of 1647, Bankei lay on his mat, ill, emaciated, and seemingly
close to death. On the night of his Enlightenment, Bankei, sick from the Three Poisons (anger, attachment, delusion), dry heaved twice, and then puked out the Milky Way.
43. Pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya
Journeying to see
The jacaranda tree in bloom,
Ah, purple flowers.
Many people traveled a great distance to view a grove of exotic jacaranda trees in bloom. Purple bell shaped flowers filled the tree's gray limbs. Thousands of gray flowers were sown in the field's grasses. Each year, Master Bankei spoke at the jacaranda Festival, teaching monks and lay people about the Unborn Buddha Mind. "I have always dreamt of sitting on the Buddha's Diamond Throne beneath the Bodhi tree and meditating while the morning star rises," said a samurai who followed the Dharma. "What merit will I gain by making the pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya?" "None, whatsoever," replied Bankei. The Buddha, himself, hasn't been at Bodh Gaya for over 2,500 years. All latitudes and longitudes are the same. All trees are the Bodhi tree. Meditate beneath that jacaranda after the rest of us have departed.
The cutting words are, respectively, "neutrinos" and "day." They juxtapose two seemingly disparate elements of the Earth into two elements. By doing so, they have the paradoxical effect of eliminating the illusion of duality. All entities are One, though do not appear so to the cognitive brain. In this regard, haiku may act in a way similar to koans.
54. The Ocean Changes Hands
Washes up on the shoreline:
Seaweed floats in surf.
Bankei incensed Eshun with his boasts that "the waves, the fishes, sea.all of this belongs to me." Enshun knew ownership to be illusion. Cultivation of personal property, he insisted, strengthens your tie to the origin of suffering. "You're a likeable fellow," Bankei stated, "but you still haven't developed a sense of non-attachment." One night the monks departed the monastery for a walk along the nearby
beach. Can any man rival my wealth?" he said as they watched the breakers slam into a reef. Outraged, Enshun challenged his audacious friend, "If the ocean really is yours, take it back with you to your room when we leave. Fishermen along the coast frequently use Clorox jugs as buoys to mark their lobster traps. One of these bottles had snapped loose during a recent storm, and washed up on shore. Bankei retrieved the opaque container, unfastened the cap, and submerged it in the surf. After a minute, he
withdrew the bottle, and held it aloft. He was unsatisfied as the bottle was only 2/3 full. "You see," he explained. "all of the air has not been displaced." He dunked the vessel once more, this time until it would not absorb a single additional drop. "Let's return to the monastery." He said, tucking the bottle under his arm. I've got what I need," he said, "you may have the rest."
Pits dug in the soil,
Where the opossums forage,
Near the ficus tree.
Ficus trees are commonly referred to as banyan trees. It was beneath a tree of this species that Shakyamuni was enlightened. Sean Yeats delighted in watching these marsupials. One had several babies clinging to her fur. Generally, they are solitary and nocturnal. But this grouping had become comfortable on Yeats' 5 wooded acres. They practice wholeheartedly, thought Yeats.
56. An Atom
In the nucleus,
Three quarks are bound together:
In the past 50 years particle physics have made many discoveries about the components of the natural world.
57. Early Life Forms
From the ocean floor,
Single cell archaea,
Pour from thermal vents.
Current studies indicate life may have begun on this planet with the archaea that formed colonies around thermal vents, breaks in the ocean floor through which volcanoes delivered extreme heat and chemicals. Did the archaea have
Buddha nature? If not, at what point in evolution did Buddha nature manifest.
58. Perfect Balance
Mottled snake skin shed,
On the ficus bonsai's limbs:
No Yin and No Yang.
Perfect balance: no Yin and no Yang.
59. Paganism and Seagrass
Balance between light and dark:
Seagrass flows with tide.
Seagrass is the cradle of the life cycle in an estuary. It is the where the small fish and the rest of the food chain's bottom hide. Similarly, Paganism, still widely practiced today, was the cradle of many benevolent religions. Like the seagrass in many lagoons, Pagan covens have been under stress. Many of us, if not all of us, had ancestors who practiced Paganism.
We still practice it today. It is embedded in our culture and our religions.
60. The Waterfall
Wood rat roams mud flats:
The tide drains the mangroves,
A waterfall sound.
The cutting word is flats. I have kayaked the Loxahatchee River many times, on many different tides. On this day I was startled to hear a thunderous waterfall sound as the tide drained. I paddled over and saw a section of the bank, elevated above the rest of the shore, that produced the roaring. I also saw the wood rat scurrying.
61. Reading Haiku
Reading haiku is an art form, just like writing the verse. A distracted mind will miss the essence of the poet's insight. The haiku reader has only seventeen syllables with which to work. He must be able to make associations, have the ability to see, hear, and smell images vividly. In some cases, the reader may even have to "fill in the blanks," know how to comprehend, using only a fragment of an image. One is expected to complete what, in many cases, the poet has just begun. Haiku do not really require commentary or explanations. Just read them mindfully.
Here are a series of "stand-alone" verse.
The snow is falling,
Trespassing on hilly ground,
Skidding down the slope.
As the Earth passes through,
A comet's debris.
In mid- November,
Black pennant flag dragonflies,
Replace green darners.
From drought to monsoon,
The unseen steering currents,
Bring the wind and rain.
Makes an atom's path random:
Tree frogs bark at dawn.
Behind the worm reef,
Glint of a barracuda,
Small, bright fish scatter.
As the rain tapers,
Flying insects leave shelters,
And the sky whitens.
Reshaped by tides and weather,
Protects the coastline.
A sudden cloud break,
The bamboo leaves glistening
In the sun shower.
The cottonmouth swims,
Then ascends the river's bank:
Moss grows on oak limbs.
62. The Dharmakaya
Neutron stars collide:
Gold and heavy metals sown,
Throughout the Universe.
At what point did Buddha Nature enter the Universe? The answer is from the moment of the Big Bang. Matter, energy, time, and gravity originated from the Dharmakaya.
by Kevin McLaughlin