Good Morning All, Haiku and Zen are among the most wildly abused words in
any language. My 6200 word piece "Lanterns Floating Downstream: 17 Syllable
Zen" attempts to correct that regrettable condition. Please don't feel
obligated to read it. I will try to flog it to some unsuspecting literary
agency or publisher of arcane material. If that doesn't work, I'll send it
as a freebie to every Sangha in America, Ireland, Scotland, and Japan. I
have the necessary email addresses. This is a crusade.
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."
"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
"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 ne 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.
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
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
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.
Commentary: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
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.
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.
Photons, massless light particles, are inherently without any specific
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
Dead raccoons, opossums, and other animals are a common sight along
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 with
the Earth, am enlightened," he said. From that moment forward, samsara (the
physical realm) and nirvana (the absolute realm) were joined.
9. Dark Matter
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 scales
of 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
A blowhole is a gap in a reef through which the surf enters and leaps
Sound of breaking waves:
A spray of sea-water shoots
Through the reef's blow hole.
The spray of water acts as a prism.
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.
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.
As do the trees, the lake, and the woodpecker's cry.
Always in motion,
The scarcely noticed mayfly,
Alights so briefly.
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
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 Taoteching.
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.
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
31. The Viewing
Lying in coffin,
No longer animated:
Mourners mumble prayers.
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
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.
The two major Zen schools are the Rinzai and Soto. Rinzai aims for sudden
enlightenment, Soto for gradual, achieved through many hours of zazen
meditation. Our minds are always ripening when we practice. All Awakenings
are lightning flashes.
35. The Red Claw
Mouse runs for wood line,
At first threat of predator:
Safe in its burrow.
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
Fearful, bored people
In the ER's waiting room:
Suffering and pain.'
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.
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,
Piglets crossing path,
While the tusked boar stands guard:
Hiker leans on his staff.
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
42. The Milky Way
Venus shines aloft,
In the cloudless pre-dawn sky:
An early moon set.
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
53. Disparate Elements
To much lighter neutrinos:
Three pink flamingoes.
The cawing of crows,
On a sweltering hot day:
Kudzu vines shroud pines.
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
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
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
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
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
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