Sunday, January 5, 2014

Zen Poems: The Perfect Sound, the Mad Monk, My Little Pink Buddha and Passamillion, the Prostitute of Enlightenment

I was deeply moved and uplifted this afternoon when Tim Colohan, a gifted Zen teacher who studied with the same Korean Zen master as I did, shared about the dharma and Zen meditation at a spiritual practice group organized by my dear friend Jeff Utter (a Church of Christ pastor whom I met through the Parliament of the World's Religions).

Our group of a dozen or so practitioners of various faith traditions meets once a month. Last month our spiritual practice session was led by Noor Maliki, a Sufi practitioner.

This month our group sat Zen-style under the magnificent live oaks in Jeff's backyard. We also did walking meditation that helped us to get in touch with Reality--the Truth that is before and beyond our thinking. We were all deeply grateful to Tim for his gentle, wise teaching.

I felt special joy as I recalled how practicing Zen meditation Providence Zen Center helped to open up my creativity after years of graduate school had left me spiritually dry as dust.

In a previous blog, I shared some of the haiku I wrote during this fruitful period. See
In this blog, I am sharing poems that reflect my quirky Quaker Zen perspective on everything from peacemaking to sexuality.


The Perfect Sound

  (For Suzanne Schmidt)

 Sometimes I wonder what it would sound  like if all the weapons in the world were beaten into ploughshares. I imagine it would sound like a tremendous bell ringing out through he whole world, louder than all the Victory bells that rang out during World War II.--Ann Kellam

 Each morning before dawn I ring a large bronze bell
and chant the Bell Chant with the rest of my sangha:

 "Vowing this bell sound spreads through the whole universe,
Making all the Hell of Dark Metal bright,
Relieving the three realms of suffering,
Shattering the Hell of Swords.
All beings become enlightened."

 I ring the bell, and try to let go of all thoughts--
forget the pretty poetry, the dream of Enlightenment,
my own situation, changing, and always the same, day by day--
just ring the bell, just listen,
experience the world-as-it-is,
the birds outside chirping from the eaves of the temple
as the bell clangs and clangs--
all of us making our first baby steps towards peace.

 This morning a woman spoke of the sound
she imagined would be made
if all the weapons in the world were beaten into ploughshares,
the sound of a great bell ringing round the world,
and another woman wept,
silently, but openly, thoughout Quaker Meeting.
I went to her afterwards to offer what comfort I could,
and found her strong and clear as a bell.

She had broken into a munitions plant, beaten on a missile tube
with a balpeen hammer called "Hope,"
served a month in jail,  and now awaited sentencing.

She had been weeping not only for herself,
but for the whole world trapped in a Hell of Swords....

 In her silent weeping I could hear
the one perfect sound that would heal the world--
a sound that has never existed, and is always with us--
a sound that cannot be heard, or ignored--


The Mad Monk

"God, I've carried you on my back long enough,"
the mad monk sighed, "old and sick as you are.
Whenever I see something beautiful—
a tree, a flower, a lock of hair--
you mutter, `Beware!'
Whenever I despair, you tell me solemnly,
`Face it, that's the way life is.'
Well, I say, `To hell with you.'"

With that, God leaped off the monk's back
and turned into the sun.

Sunlight streamed through the trees,
and the mad monk bowed his head.

Things Are What They Are

These discarded Christmas trees do not pine after happiness.
On this icy clear night, 
the stars do not claim to be brilliant.
The leaves do not remind us of their fallen condition. 
Immense rocks are reflected in the clear pond;
they don't expect our admiration.

The Correct Way 
One man measures out his life in coffee spoons.
Another carries spoonfuls of melted snow
down from a mountainside to a drought-stricken valley.

Another pushes a rock up a hill,
only to watch it tumble back,
again and again.

Another pushes an eraser across a page,
trying to erase every mistake, every lie, ever written. 
Which is the correct way?

Driving down Rt. 295 to Providence this morning
the snow is white, the sky blue.

First Noble Truth

 ("All existence is suffering": Sakyamuni Buddha)

Curled up like a fetus in a questionmark,
her life goes on endlessly trying to explain itself.
She remembers all her dreams, and files them carefully away
in her notebook, with appropriate cross references.
She is full of interesting plans. She sometimes suspects 
that an unusual destiny has eluded her. She has inklings
of past lives. She almost believes in clairvoyance.
She senses that, much of the time, she moves in a gray, wet fog
of words. She has experienced the despair
of knowing more than can be expressed. She knows that living
is not a life sentence. She knows that knowing
doesn't help. She has found, and lost, love
many times. She has a son who is almost grown. 
She does not want to be born again.  
When she is singing, she forgets she is unhappy.

My Little Pink Buddha

My little pink Buddha
was carved by a woman
who wished to be wise
and retreated to the woods
to fast and pray.

I, too, wished to be wise
so I purchased you,
little buddha of compassion.

I sat you down upon my altar
at the Zen center, 
and meditated on you each day. 
Then one morning I left you unattended
and a kid knocked you over.

Bang! Just like that!

Your head went rolling across
the floor like a marble.

His mother came to me hysterically
"My son didn't mean to do it..."

Being wise for once, I said, 
"Don't worry. Be happy. This is the Buddha
of compassion."

Now you sit upon my windowsill
seemingly secure
thanks to a bit of superglue
and each day I bow in your direction
grateful that I finally know what to do
when enlightened ones
lose their heads.


    Buddhists believe that in every profession, even the one reputedly the world's oldest, there is a bodhisattva---an enlightened being who compassionately refuses to enter the state of nirvana until all other beings are enlightened. Among prostitutes, there is a bodhisattva called Passamillion.  According to a Korean Buddhist legend, she has slept with one million men, each of whom became enlightened. This poem explains how.

In her arms in the pre-dawn,
he felt unutterably satisfied.
Her lips had kissed him
everywhere; she made love all night
in every way he'd ever wanted,
and in ways he'd never dreamed of. 
He felt a radiance
filling his heart, filling the room. 
Turning to her in wonder, he whispered,
'What's your secret?' 
She explained without bitterness
all the pain one must endure
to make the pale lotus of love bloom
out of the muck and darkness. 
Her words were like a mountain stream
overheard at night, and he felt
the truth of them, and almost wept.

But there was still a tiny stone in his heart,
a sharp-edged scruple: 
"If you're so wise," he said, 
"How come you're a hooker?"

 As he spoke, he felt a great change
come over him, and her.
Her body grew hard and muscled,
hair bristled on her chest and above her lip,
between her legs a penis dangled,
pressing against his hip.

Meanwhile, his body softened, his hair grew long,
his breasts enlarged, and between his legs
there was nothing but an opening,
a doorway into an unknown place.
Rising without a word, Passamillion
left the room and took
his face and body with her.

As he lay spread-eagled on her bed, 
he realized that his work would not be finished
for many nights,
many lifetimes.

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