(a collection of zen poems)
All rights reserved.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Mind Your Own Business (a free book)
Kadupul (a free book)
An Unswept Path (a collection of monastery haiku)
Zen teaching uses the image of the night quite often. In the light, there are too many distracting stimuli, so that appreciating this moment can be very momentary. Dog, bird, person 1, person 2, car 1, car 2, cat, can cause sensory overload, not concentration. Zen practice is all about concentration.
Some call it being mindful, but as a priest from perhaps the less sweet side of the street, I’d just as soon shout, “Pay attention!” If we take a walk in the dark, maybe somewhere we aren’t quite sure of our footing, one had better Pay Attention!, lest that act of courage walking take a turn for the unpleasant. Writing poetry is a courageous act as well. Having done so in much smaller quantities than Malintha has demonstrated that. The initial spark of an idea, that first line, those that follow, the rewrites, the second-guessing, the doubt, the horror, the satisfaction, the sigh of relief are all there as opportunities for Zen practice.
One might believe that true Zen writing, prose as well as poetry, would be to splash a word onto paper, then move onto the next word, and so on, with no thought, let alone editing. My experience includes that, but it also includes pondering, consideration, concentration, and the search for that word that will just knit it together to convey the intention perfectly. We experience all those thoughts and emotions, the no-thoughts and the movement, the pleasant and unpleasant, and feel them fully. That’s all we have, is to directly experience the reality of here & now, even when here & now includes those things that don’t seem particularly “Zen” at all.
We second-guess, then second-guess that we have second-guessed, and soon there’s a full scale 8-way debate going on between the ears. That’s reality. We can read the sermons, dialogs, and quotations of the sages of past and present one way one day, the invariably differently the next time. Was the first interpretation the correct one, or the second? Or maybe next time will really be best. Thus begins the cycle of Samsara once again. But each time is the perfect interpretation, because in each instance of here & now, those interpretations couldn’t have been any other way. As Wonji Dharma would say, “It’s all good.”
Great American Beat Bodhisattva Jack Kerouac wrote in a style sometimes called “spontaneous bop prosody.” When I read poetry, I tend to blast through it, seeing what sticks to me as I dash from verse to verse, much like Kerouac is said to have written. I may go back and read everything more carefully, maybe to find that line that “stuck,” and sometimes that works. Sometimes what stuck turns out to be gum on the sole of my shoe and not the soul-shaking words I originally thought. If I look at my reactions, I can see that when I first read the words, they were indeed the best arrangement of words that had ever been assembled. And I can also see that “Meh,” is every bit as valid. “Wonderful!” is as wonderful as “Meh.”
“And When the Stars Fell” is one of those collections that have any number of poems that stick. I read them in my typical “spontaneous bop” way, experienced them fully, then went back and re-read them, and what hadn’t stuck the first time sometimes stuck the second time, sometimes what stuck first slipped second. That’s the wonder of paying attention to each moment of experiencing a courageous arrangement of words perfectly in each and every moment they’re read, by the light of the moon, stars, falling stars, or broad daylight.
Each thought contains all thoughts, all thoughts are dependent and identical to the one. Starlight contains the light of all stars, all stars are identical to the light of one. All words contain that one word “truth” that manifests each and every moment, and “truth” is identical to all words. We experience that if we Pay Attention!
Eunsahn Citta is a Brahmajala Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order, guiding teacher of One Mind Zen in Northampton, MA, USA, and an instructor at Buddha Dharma University, FMZO’s seminary. He also writes the No-Bodhi-Knows blog and contributes to the Progressive Buddhism blog, as well as the occasional poem.
In the Dharma,
Rev. Eunsahn Citta
One Mind Zen Sangha
413-341-6785 Skype: eunsahn.citta
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It’s time for my evening prayers
and I’m listening to some nearby bird songs.
So many overrunning like a cross stitched maze.
There is no meaning.
There will be no beat in my chanting somehow.
It is raining all night.
Black rain without the moon.
The distant city lights gleam like stars.
I want to show this but everyone is asleep.
Who will understand the beauty in the crying lights ?
The moon is full tonight, drinking up all the stares.
My window is open and it’s pulling me.
The leaves shrug.
I’m a mist on top of the trees.
Touching lazy clouds at the feet of the moon.
The night is dense.
Midnight hours stares back at me.
The moon is peeping from behind a black veil.
Delusion has never looked so good.
So much work to do.
And I’m still at the altar
in my office room.
Adjusting a flower, circling the incense around the Buddha.
Watching the smoke make knots.
My phone is in silent mode.
Last tap at the key board.
No more emails
or cursors blinking back at me.
I’m staring at my own reflection
on my laptop screen.
But I’m blinking.
So many dots trying to connect.
There’s too much salt
in one of the curries.
Where was my mind ?
I was in a hurry to finish off and begin my sitting.
Now I have taken the entire saucepan to my cushion
and I’m still cooking it.
Adding more salt.
My boys are arguing
There is much noise.
The TV is loud
but the silence is even more louder.
I’m in the background
looking out of the window,
watching the smoke from a faraway chimney.
They don’t last long.
They disappear as they rise.
Bad news all over the media.
All I can see is the colour of
the moving sky.
How each cloud swallows one another.
A dragon eating a cow, a flower sucking an elephant.
I smile when some are suffering.
Is this even a choice ?
Another unwashed tea cup
swarming with ants.
I take it outside
to keep it under the sunlight.
They scatter out of the rim
and scrawl behind a flower pot.
I throw some sugar for them to have while they hide.
My neighbor’s tree is heavy with flowers.
I light the lamp and incense
and offer the whole tree to the Buddha.
What a beautiful sight.
The tree on my empty flower tray.
Today I’m too tired to cook dinner.
I take out a sutra book and go through the verses silently.
I’m back in the kitchen.
Chopping vegetables and the words.
This food is the tastiest.
In chaos. Until they turn to smoke.
Then they are a waterfall that turns in to a small spring.
It falls on to the sea and then I’m a fish and then a scale.
Stripped under a knife, on to the sand.
On fire. Smoke again.
Just one incense to light today.
It is my satellite and it’s sending
a signal continuously without breaking.
The earth is filled with its aroma.
I cloak it and hold it on my palm.
I make a cradle with my fingers, nestling it.
There’s moss around the flowerpots.
Even around the trunks of some trees.
past its expiry date.
Who would want them but me ?
I pretend to hear him.
To what he is saying.
He asks me things over and over again.
I say nothing. There is nothing but the turning sounds
flowing from one to another.
He stops. But I go on.
I’m relishing the silence.
Served between the pages.
I just turn them.
Without seeing the words.
The letters get thinned.
Mere lines. There are crows on them here and there.
I shoo them away.
I see the words now.
Heavy rain with thunder and lightning.
We are all seated in one place.
Unable to do anything, they tell us about school.
We laugh. The rain listens.
Reluctantly we get up after a while.
The rain has said many things.
The jasmine is silent tonight.
My room is filled with their presence.
They are breathing about the moon and the cloud curtains.
I get up and look at the sky.
My cushion is with me all the time.
The heels of my sandals are worn out.
I look at them and promise.
By saving myself I will save you someday.
I will no longer be a burden.
I wear them. They make less noise.
Bougainvillea. The petals are moist after the rain.
The colours are pouring out
and in my mind they make one puddle.
It reflects only the moon.
Early morning and everyone is still asleep.
I make tea very slowly savouring the motions
Listening to the breathing of the house.
Watching Dhatu mixing with Dhatu. How karma creates.
I drink tea.
The silence is like a capsule.
That is getting bigger somewhere in my throat.
My skin is shining with a warmth
and when the light in my room touches me,
they reflect back like from a mirror.
Everything is impermanent.
Even this stillness.
The world I created splinters around me.
No higher than me.
Shorter than the cows grazing nearby.
The peacocks walk across on its wall.
I go parallel in search of a gate.
(inspired by Abhayagiri monastery ruins, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka)
A quiet night.
The tv is playing very softly.
My sons doze on the couch and one is fully asleep.
This life is short. My words don’t come out.
I brush their brows with my lips.
The flow of water
filling into the washing machine.
Our cat is near it.
A radio is playing
at a nearby house.
A celebration is going on.
They laugh louder than the music.
I’m missing the words of the song.
Car doors banging.
Yet I don’t mind these thoughts
coming and going.
Why bother with physical presence ?
So many squirrels
making such a noise.
It’s the distant barking of the dogs I hear.
Not even the flame that’s flickering without oil.
describing the hills
break off, deserting the trees
and it’s not them that fly.
It’s me that rush
in search of them.
Not separating the sound.
I let it go right through me
and I am that.
A thud, a plunk
that comes back after a while.
The thread is not broken
I continue on its edge
On a selfless bridge, I stand
The flow pushes me under it
and yet I stand above
The mist parts
for a while and a tree peeps in
between that crack.
I’m voyeur, looking in to myself.
The distance it creates.
Not judging this breath.
I let it be
itself, letting me
be no one.
It’s such a relief.
It’s not a choice we make
to be in water.
floating on the surface.
we cannot ourselves
be just this.
The moon is so bright sometimes
you can see the colour
of the leaves.
I tilt a claypot filled with rain water outside
and wait to see it being filled.
So many drops
becoming one, filling
Just like life. This desire to be inside a space.
I let the pull of the wind take the reins.
Sometimes I’m on top of a nodding branch
or a sheet of paper being chased
in an open field.
It’s the movement that calms me, going here
allowing it to take me.
What another flower
they all make
on this earth.
The sound of puddles
a thin line
with this breath.
Which is which ?
Down with the dusk
The day has threaded
through my fingers
but the night is there
for my fingers
darkness by darkness, a long bead
that ends with the strings
of the dawn.
These thoughts drag me
under a tree
I’m pulling at the overgrown grass
and stray away into the forest
I’m lost and
have to think how to come back.
The light of stars.
pulls out a different moon
to shine on the road.
Just enough to see
and not get lost.
Only my feet know the way.
Curling in the mist
the roads run into each other
and I’m the juncture
to which they will never
I watch the spells
opening and closing
like a bird’s mouth
the words chant me.
I drift away with the wind
that has come inside.
in a rush
tugging me along with it
and I stand at the window
beyond the horizon.
So many sounds
from one, the moonlight stretching
Sitting under a tree, I lean away from the world
as it moves
from branch to branch
to a single leaf
and it falls
taking its time, taking me.
I tilt myself
so that all words I have
again and again.
May my head touch
a deep well.
The flowers were a joy
to be arranged for rituals
it was time
to let them
Passed on the leaves,
the moonlight is a soft breeze
moving through shelves and shelves
I have been restless.
Unable to focus on my breathing.
This night is my yard
and I’m watching its texture.
How each of us are laid to rest.
How the moonlight touch some of us.
It’s been hectic.
One after the other
trying to feed life, when all they do
is empty myself.
The bird bath is filled with
This time of morning.
When I am between sleep
and awake, the lamp I lit last night
is just a flicker
and the half smile of the Buddha
is a welcome.
I am motionless.
It’s just us. Staring at the world between us.
I’m surrounded by noise.
Out of the ordinary, it’s the sound of laughter
that corners me.
It seems very far. It fades away.
Such is this desire to be lonely.
So many things going around me.
I am not even the center in that space.
Sometimes it’s lonely, in this vacant seat.
I can’t even see myself.
The dusk is slow today.
It’s taking too long to let the twilight in.
The house is still in darkness.
I want to see the altar lamp in its fullest glory.
There is a Jack tree just outside my window.
Occasionally a yellow leaf would fall.
Just now one fell and it spun beautifully.
The tree just waited.
The whole world waited.
Only I went on and on.
You can always spot the young green leaves.
Their shades are lighter than the matured ones.
In their innocence they open to the sun and the rain.
They glisten with an awareness not so young.
A frangipani. Paled at the edges.
On a dry teak leaf.
How good they look against each other.
My pleasure against suffering.
Saving myself through many beings.
I tell things to the moon
It knows you.
It’s the same that you watch
and not tell. I don’t know.
The trees can hear me.
They bear my silence and carry it
upon their branches.
The sky takes some of its weight
but this void gets bigger and bigger.
There is nothing new to tell you.
A light went out
in a part of my heart.
Only the stars are there lighting the fields.
So many fireflies in that semi darkness.
I don’t want to move to the light.
It feels so right.
This broken moon,
where the sky has swallowed a part.
How painful it is.
With only a part.
When the other is lost to things
we wish we had control.
The distance between mountains
is filled with the mist.
The sky is untouched
despite all these.
It is there no matter what.
This is suffering.
To think the clouds cannot ever meet.
This is my gatha
I’m still looking for a rhythm
but only this is there.
It’s not even a nothingness.
It’s something even beyond that.
It is the same aging, this momentary death.
The stars will flicker and they will never stop.
We are all inside this display
and yet a part of it.
I see a moon. Is this wise ?
It’s night here.
I feel I must say something to the moon.
It’s behind a cloud in a misty retreat
I tell it anyhow.
These lines without eyes to look into.
They are just dead leaves.
Even the moon looks empty, I can see
only the outline.
My pen asks if there is a soul.
My son is lighting incense
He blows them out by waving in the air.
They light again as soon as he stops.
He is delighted. Alone with this moment.
The incense is now almost half burnt.
a collection of zen poems