March 23, 1989
Poet Bob Trammel, his girlfriend, Allison, and I are in a house that extends over a riverbank on a swiftly flowing river. Through a window, I see a larger-than-life water buffalo swimming against the current toward the house. My first thought is that the buffalo is so big it will crash into the house and sweep it into the river. I watch in amazement as the water buffalo clambers up the almost vertical riverbank, defying gravity. Before I can tell Trammel what’s happening, the buffalo is walking on the roof of the house. Each step is loud, and I think it’s trying to crush the house. I ask Bob if he knows what’s happening. He seems unconcerned, and I think: He doesn’t hear me or the buffalo – I may be dreaming.
I look out the window again, and more water buffalo are swimming toward the house. I must confront the largest buffalo. She exudes great power, but I feel I can tame her. I jump into the river, swim over, and scramble onto her back. Then she turns and begins swimming to the other side of the river. On the riverbank, she turns into a normal, calm water buffalo, and I slide off onto the ground.
Roxy Pays a Visit
Jan. 9, 1989
My friend, the writer Roxy Gordon, and I are standing beside each other, watching life-sized skeletons dancing in the air. The sounds of rattling bones surround us. Suddenly, I turn into an owl, and I hoot three times deeply, hoo, hoo, hoo. Then I’m awake in my bed, and I’m still hooting in the dark. Who, who, who?
Fly Me to the Moon
May 27, 1989
I’m in a small room talking with a monk. He doesn’t want to answer my questions. He’s called away and leaves me alone in the house. I look through the rooms for books, poems or writing of any type to read. I find a magazine and some old books about stars. I see a scroll painting sticking out from under the monk’s bed. I feel cheap and phony for nosing around behind his back.
Then the monk returns, and we are standing outside in the dark. There’s a threat of danger from somewhere, and the monk says, okay. Suddenly, we’re flying through the vast, cold sky with the moon on our right. We fly through space until we suddenly enter heaven. We turn around and fly faster, downward toward Earth. Then a spacecraft is shooting at us. The monk creates a cloud cover to enter Earth’s atmosphere undetected. Suddenly, I notice several hundred babies are flying behind us and they are in our care — all pure and ready to be born.
When we land on Earth, the babies disappear, and I say, “Be careful, they’ll try to get you.” Then I’m back in the monk’s room. We’re aware someone is searching for us, and we have to leave.
Spoon strikes cup,
Sound made flesh
Each time the door opens
Something is given and given up
Upon waking: The corpse dances
In the empty casket
Rock on the ground
Moon in the cosmos –
The Sinosphere blog of The New York Times has published an interview with Bill Porter, who also publishes translations of Chinese texts under the pseudonym of Red Pine, upon the release of his Yellow River Odyssey, a travel journal written just prior to China’s emergence into the modern world. His extensive photographs of the trip capture a China that has largely disappeared. Many of Red Pine’s books are now bestsellers in China, after being translated from English into Chinese, including his translations and commentaries on Buddhist poems and sutras. The interview is by China correspondent Ian Johnson, and can be read here.
Yellow River Odyssey is published by Chin Music Press.
Ruben Habito, my Zen teacher for many years, who will always be a core presence in my life, continues on his path, bringing Zen to Texas, writing his many books on Zen, and opening himself and his zendo to teaching anyone who seeks a way into Zen practice or a way to experience their own religion more intimately. Over the years, his students have been agnostics, Jews, Christians, and members of other faiths, all seeking to experience life more deeply and simply. This interview, which appeared in Tricycle, is typical of Ruben, gently building bridges that can lead Christians and others into Zen practice, pointing to the connections that bind us all to each thing. I wrote a chapter on Ruben in my travel/memoir, which is sitting silently now unable to find an agent or publisher. If for no other reason, I would like the book to be published if only to spread the word about Ruben’s unique life, profound understanding of people, and his unwavering commitment to compassion. As more years pass without seeing him, I miss him more and more while at the same time feeling his presence grow even deeper.
“Mountains walking is just like humans walking. Do not doubt mountains walking even though it does not look like human walking.” – Dogen, Jan. 19, 1200, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan.
Where else better to take a thoughtful walk than in Kyoto, home to so many worthies who have graced its streets and paths. Ted Taylor and Michael Lambe have put together a paean to walking through Japan’s most intimate city, savouring the ancient temples and today’s artful graffiti. The anthology, Deep Kyoto Walks, includes Pico Iyer and others, and this is one of those books that takes you to where you didn’t know you wanted to go. Sixteen writers who know Kyoto pay tribute to life in the city of “Purple Hills and Crystal Streams,” offering a testament to the art of contemplative city walking.
“I had to acknowledge that I had to come to Japan in order to see that a 7-Eleven here was just as Japanese — as foreign — as any meditation hall, and no less full of wonder…” – Pico Iyer, Into the Tumult
About That Bowl
Round it is, the bowl I placed
in a hut in a mountain valley.
For a moment, its dominion
arises, a matter of form and space,
or so one thinks – that bowl and
emptiness – giving and taking
like nothing else.
But it’s not about one or the other –
or wilderness or hearth. In usefulness,
wildness is swept away,
for a moment, but then it returns
like nothing else.