December morning - only the sound of rain on temple tiles and scarlet maples swirling in the gutter



as the pale light of dawn bleeds through the shōji we eat a thin gruel of rice with a pickled plum from black lacquered bowls

the rain beat down during the night the moss garden is nearly covered with scarlet maples

a cold wind blows we hear the lonesome cries of wintering gulls as a temple bell resounds and a train rattles by

a monk in an indigo robe strikes a meditator's shoulders with a stick of cherry wood fiercely repeatedly until it snaps!



round midnight we take our zafus from the meditation hall and go out onto the verandah for night sitting

five of us in a line overlooking an immaculately raked gravel garden backed by tall cedars

we sit in zazen and breathe in and out the cold night air

I see the silhouette of the temple gate against the starlit sky the shadow of the eaves on the white sand

the priest today talked about non-duality no separation but I hear you out there by the willow weeping



We never did get out to Nachi that autumn splash to see that great waterfall splash did we? SPLASH!



it is soft and furry she holds it and gently caresses it in her bosom she loves her rabbit am I not soft? not furry?



the coffee cup that you broke I mended it with black lacquer and gold and on that beer tumbler I tried red and silver

I look out the window at last night's puddles and the grey skies as the pane begins to steam

this day long rain I empty a bucket from the kitchen floor and turn on the radio the kettle starts to whistle

endless winter



here in the twilight zendo things are not what they seem once false move can send you plummeting through the thin ice

here in this frozen landscape three monks in rags feet bound with straw are crossing over

we must be vigilant at all times there are fissures that are perilous I drop a stone into a bottomless well a ruined house leaks moonlight

all signs read no way out there are shackles of every form and no form on the frozen dune we climb to see no one

I stare at a black tile and see the ten thousand arms of Kannon we walk the thin ice with great trepidation

we are nearly over to the other shore when I hear a crack in the ice

here in this twilight zendo no sound no river no ice



Gao Xinjian

well over thirteen hundred celsius when we opened the portal our faces were protected by a visor from the searing heat we peered into the kiln

he was firing for a week with total attentiveness it was the fifth day and time for hikidashi pulling out pots at high temperature

as I watched the flames glide over the pinkish white pots there was a fearful beauty a serenity that could be heaven or hell

with an iron rod he spread some ashes over the pots he reached in and lifted one up over the glowing embers then out of the mouth of the kiln

the ash glaze ran rivulets as the molten piece tingled and cooled a chawan with a dragonfly carving it glistened there in a sea of emerald green



the first bullet only grazed the bear's ear but the other two tore completely through the bear's heart

a clearing in the forest just by the Treasure River a pool of blood stains the crimson maples and snow was falling

across the river there was an iron cage where another bear had been kept but it was empty

the wrought-iron bars had corroded and loosened over years of captivity and in the night the bear had escaped

as the snow began to fall a mysterious light shone through the clouds illuminating the dying bear

it didn't take long for snow to bury by the next morning there was hardly a trace under the bending pines

the bear's paw-prints ... just a drop of blood on deep snow



there were scarlet stains and a sharp pain as the brigand cut off a finger from the victim with a knife

the murderer wore a garland under his coat only one more finger was needed to complete the garland of a thousand fingers

it was dawn in the kingdom of Sakya when the saffron robed Blessed One was walking down the highway approaching Angulimala

Angulimala had decided that the Buddha would be his final victim he asked the Blessed One to stop but he continued walking

'I have stopped, but you haven't ?' struck by the words and its meaning Angulimala instantly became a disciple of the Blessed One he stopped his violence and did meritous deeds

due to his bad karma people would sometimes throw stones at the monk Angulimala as blood dripped into his begging bowl


written during rohatsu sesshin, December 2014,  Tofuku-ji

ink paintings by kind permission of Gao Xingjian

for H. & Plum

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