POEMS FROM TWO ZEN MASTERS

From Ikkyu (1400ís) -- his poem "Skeletons"

Students, sit earnestly in zazen, and you will realize that everything born in this world is ultimately empty, including oneself and the original face of existence. All things indeed emerge out of emptiness. The original formlessness is the "Buddha," and all other similar terms -- Buddha-nature, Buddhahood, Buddha-mind, Awakened One, Patriarch, God -- are merely different express- ions for the same emptiness. Misunderstand this and you will end up in hell.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
One night . . . a pitiful -looking skeleton appeared and said these words:

A melancholy autumn wind
Blows through the world;
The pampas grass waves,
As we drift to the moor,
Drift to the sea.

What can be done
With the mind of a man
That should be clear
But though he is dressed up in a monkís robe,
Just lets life pass him by?
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
 

Toward dawn I dozed off, and in my dream I found myself surrounded by a group of skeletons . . . . One skeleton came over to me and said:

Memories
Flee and
Are no more.
All are empty dreams
Devoid of meaning.

Violate the reality of things
And babble about
"God" and "the Buddha"
And you will never find
the true Way.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

I liked this skeleton . . . . He saw things clearly, just as they are. I lay there with the wind in the pines whispering in my ears and the autumn moonlight dancing across my face.

        What is not a dream? Who will not end up as a skeleton? We appear as skeletons covered with skin -- male and female -- and lust after each other. When the breath expires, though, the skin ruptures, sex disappears, and there is no more high or low. Underneath the skin of the person we fondle and caress right now is nothing more than a set of bare bones. Think about it -- high and low, young and old, male and female, all are the same. Awaken to this one great matter and you will immediately comprehend the meaning of "unborn and undying."

If chunks of rock
Can serve as a memento
To the dead,
A better headstone
Would be a simple tea-mortar.

Humans are indeed frightful beings.
A single moon
Bright and clear
In an unclouded sky;
Yet still we stumble
In the worldís darkness.

    Have a good look -- stop the breath, peel off the skin, and everybody ends up looking the same. No matter how long you live the result is not altered[even for emperors]. Cast off the notion that "I exist." Entrust yourself to the wind-blown clouds, and do not wish to live for ever.

This world
Is but
A fleeting dream
So why by alarmed
At its evanescence?
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

The vagaries of life,
Though painful
Teach us
Not to cling
To this floating world.

Why do people
Lavish decorations
On this set of bones
Destined to disappear
Without a trace?

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

No one really knows
The nature of birth
Nor the true dwelling place.
We return to the source
And turn to dust.

Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain,
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon.

If at the end of our journey
There is no final
Resting place,
Then we need not fear
Losing our Way.

No beginning,
No end.
Our mind
is born and dies:
The emptiness of emptiness!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Rain, hail, snow and ice:
All are different,
But when they fall
They become the same water
As the valley stream.

The ways of proclaiming
The Mind vary,
But the same heavenly truth
Can be seen
In each and every one.

Cover your path
With the fallen pine needles
So no one will be able
To locate your
True dwelling place.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Bankei (1622-1693) -- his "Song of Original Mind"

Unborn and imperishable
Is the original mind
Earth, water, fire and wind
A temporary lodging for the night

Attached to this
Ephemeral burning house
You yourselves light the fire, kindle the flames
In which youíre consumed
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Keep your mind as it was
When you came into the world
And instantly this very self
Is a living "thus-come" one

Ideas of
Whatís good , whatís bad
All due to
This self of yours

In winter, a bonfire
Spells delight
But when summertime arrives
What a nuisance it becomes!

And the breezes
You loved in summer
Even before the autumnís gone
Already have become a bother
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Throwing your whole life away
Sacrificed to the thirst for gold
But when you saw your life was through
All your money was no use

Clinging, craving and the like
I donít have them on my mind
Thatís why nowadays I can say
The whole world is truly mine!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Since, after all this floating world
Is unreal
Instead of holding onto things in
Your mind, go and sing!

Only original mind exists
In the past and in the future too
Instead of holding onto things in
Your mind, let them go!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Having created
the demon mind yourself
When it torments you mercilessly
Youíre to blame and no one else

When you do wrong
our mindís the demon
Thereís no hell
To be found outside

Abominating hell
Longing for heaven
You make yourself suffer
In a joyful world

You think that good
Means hating what is bad
Whatís bad is
The hating mind itself
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
 

Fame, wealth, eating and
drinking, sleep and sensual delight --
Once youíve leaned the Five Desires
They become
Your guide in life

Notions of what one should do
Never existed from the start
Fighting about whatís right, whatís wrong
Thatís the doing of the "I"

When your study
Of Buddhism is through
You find
You havenít anything new
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is "mine"
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other

These days Iím not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is
I wake up in the morning feeling fine!

Praying for salvation in the world to come
Praying for your own selfish ends
Is only piling on more and more
Self-centeredness and arrogance
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Die -- then live
Day and night within the world
Once youíve done this, then you can
Hold the world right in your hand!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

If you search for the Pure Land
Bent upon your own reward
Youíll only find yourself
    despised
By the Buddha after all!

People have no enemies
None at all right from the start
You create them all yourself
Fighting over right and wrong

Clear are the workings of cause
        and effect
You become deluded, but
    donít know
Itís something that youíve done yourself
Thatís whatís called self- centeredness
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Though the years may creep ahead
Mind itself can never age
This mind thatís
Always just the same

Wonderful! Marvelous!
When youíve searched
    and found at last
The one who never will grow old
    -- "I alone!"

The Pure Land
Where one communes at peace
Is here and now, itís not remote
Millions and millions of leagues away

When someone tosses you a tea bowl
    -- Catch it!
Catch it nimbly with soft cotton
With the cotton of your skillful mind!

(Zenshu, pp. 519-522 -- trans. Peter Haskel, Bankei Zen, pp. 125-132)
**************************************************************************************************

                                         Return to the Zen Enrichment Page

                                              Return to the Zen Menu Page

                                        Return to John G. Sullivan Homepage