Well, yes – exactly – that is the problem.
All travelers experience it
at each step on the Way. Is it
here, there, up, down,
backwards, forwards, all around,
or somewhere else? How are we to know,
if it doesn’t tell us so?
We all have our maps, but they are the
artifacts rubbing our noses in it.
My worn map I drew myself. I traced
a line from Birchman Street in Fort Worth
through dark caves as a Boy Scout, to Saigon
(and flowing dresses) to Ubon and
Thailand’s temples to Third Street in Denton –
a college town – to Dallas (there’s the dead president)
to Arlington to Thailand again and Laddawan – to Denton
(the college town again) to Waco – a crazy town –
to Alpine and the airy Big Bend where I met and lost
so many friends, to here and now in Chiang Mai.
Ok, just breathe deep and let go.
That’s as close as I can get to it.
A Gary Snyder interview I did more than a year ago that appeared in the The Kyoto Journal #76 issue in July 2012 is here.
I found your clear, plastic ruler
between the pages of a book
I bought for $2. Oriental poetry.
Your straight lines in black, red and green,
the stars and brackets marking
the words of Li Po that fired your mind.
From the margins your ideas rise so clear.
“Do nothing – not nothing to do.”
Text and notes joining here and now
in my mind, measuring, marking
studying the way Li Po and you and me
joined mind to Mind.
It’s a matter of matter or so one thinks.
The half-full bowl and emptiness
are not one or the other.
Everything is like that.
Old babbling songbirds said it too.
If you want to know the Old Bowl,
know the songbird’s silence.
Red Pine, aka Bill Porter, has a couple of new books underway in various stages of completion. An article in the New York Review of Books runs down his latest activities, including the receipt of a Guggenheim grant, which is so well deserved.
In the NYRB article, he was asked by a Chinese man to explain what is Zen:
“Zen is like a cup of tea,” he replied “On one level you can see the teacup and you can admire it. You can look at the tea and admire it and its flavor. But then you have to drink it. When you drink it you have the real cup of tea. But what is it? It’s gone: it’s the memory of the taste, the sensation in your mouth.
“China has a great Olympics program but not everyone in China should train for six hours a day. Likewise, being a hermit is not for everyone. It’s like spiritual graduate school.
“You spend most of your time chopping firewood and hauling water. This becomes part of your practice. Many people go in the spring and leave in the autumn. They don’t have the spiritual practice to sustain them during the winter.
“A man, somewhat perplexed, stood up: “You are a westerner, of course, and in the United States Christianity is the main religion. But you practice Buddhism. Can you explain why?”
“Porter paused for a few seconds, sensing that the man might be one of China’s burgeoning ranks of Christians. Then he said, “Christianity asks you to believe in things that you can’t see: that there’s a god, that he had a son and so on. In Buddhism there is that too—there’s a paradise and so on. But in Zen Buddhism it’s mainly about your mind and your heart. You believe in something that is in your heart. That is something not abstract but real.”
Porter has completed a book on the Silk Road, and he’s working on another travel book about early Chinese poets.
Jim Harrison’s newest poetry book, “Songs of Unreason,” is even more moving that his recent “Saving Daylight,” and “In Search of Small Gods.” The poet in winter, yes, but his mind is still on fire, the fire of recurring youth, and a blending of flowing memories of the last moment and moments far past reborn. When I told my friend Red Pine I was getting the book soon, he said, “I think it is his best ever.” Red Pine knows whereof he speaks, being the translator of Cold Mountain and Stonehouse. Harrison is up there with the discursive giants of poetry. He has uncovered himself as few poets can do. A true voyager between the inner and outer world of mind. Here’s a sample:
Back Into Memory
The tears roll up my cheek
and the car backs itself south.
I pull away from the girl and reverse
through the door without looking.
In defiance of the body the mind
does as it wishes, the crushed bones
of life reknit themselves in sunlight.
In the night the body melts itself down
to the void before birth
before you swam the river into being.
Death takes care of itself like a lightning
stroke and the following thunder
is the veil being rent in twain.
The will to live can pass away
like that raven colliding with the Sun.
In age we tilt toward home.
We want to sleep a long time, not forever,
but then to sleep a long time becomes forever.
Illusion works impenetrable,
Weaving webs innumerable,
Her gay pictures never fail,
Crowd each on the other, veil on veil,
Charmer who will be believed
By man who thirsts to be deceived.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
*Hindu for illusion.
Once and for all.
–From A Zen Forest
Nothing Is Always Absolutely So
This came to me today on the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Day , and is associated with Theodore H. Sturgeon (1918–85, born Edward Hamilton Waldo), a U.S. science fiction writer.
Very rich in multiple meanings, it speaks in that fine musical way beyond concreteness of language, moving on into another unfixed place in our mind.
Stonehouse, the Zen hermit poet of 14th century China, writes so simply his wisdom often escapes the reader who is tangled up in the flow of words and images. Translated by Red Pine, the book remains a classic.
Look for the real and it becomes more distant/ try to end delusions and they just increase/ followers of the Way have a place that stays serene/ when the moon is in the sky it’s reflection is in the waves