Zen Poetry

Selected Quotations







                                            My daily activities are not unusual,
                                            I'm just naturally in harmony with them.
                                            Grasping nothing, discarding nothing...
                                            Supernatural power and marvelous activity -
                                            Drawing water and carrying firewood.
                                                                      -    Layman Pang-yun (740-808)






The wind has settled, the blossoms have fallen;
Birds sing, the mountains grow dark --
This is the wondrous power of Buddhism.

          -   Ryokan,    (1758-1831)
                           Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf
                            Translated by John Stevens







        The mind of the past is ungraspable;
        the mind of the future is ungraspable;
        the mind of the present is ungraspable.

                                 -    Diamond Sutra






                                            Nothing in the cry
                                                         of cicadas suggests they
                                        are about to die
                                                 -  Basho






Unfettered at last, a traveling monk,
I pass the old Zen barrier.
Mine is a traceless stream-and-cloud life,
Of these mountains, which shall be my home?

                   -    Manan   (1591-1654)
                         The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry
                        Translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto






   My legacy -
         What will it be?
               Flowers in spring,
                        The cuckoo in summer,
                          And the crimson maples

     Of autumn ...
                                     -   Ryokan   (1758-1831)
                                                           Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf,  p.143
                                               Translated by John Stevens






The Five Precepts of Buddhism






          Finally out of reach -
          No bondage, no dependency.
          How calm the ocean,
          Towering the void.

                       -   Tessho's death poem







How boundless the cleared sky of Samadhi!
How transparent the perfect moonlight of the Fourfold Wisdom!

At this moment what more need we seek?
As the Truth eternally reveals itself,
This very place is the Lotus Land of Purity,
This very body is the Body of the Buddha.

Song of Meditation,  Hakuin Ekaku Zenji






Zen Poetry: Links, Bibliography and Resources






It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for a fire with a

lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.

-   Joshu Washes the Bowl, The Gateless Gate #7
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,  p. 176
Translated by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki







                       Opening bell
                                           echoes from the canyon walls --
                                                         raindrops on the river.

                                                        The sounds of rocks bouncing off rocks;
                                                        the shadows of trees traced on trees.

                                            I sit, still.
                                            The canyon river chants,
                                            moving mountains.

                                                        The sermon spun on the still point:
                                                        dropping off eternity, picking up time;
                                                        letting go of self, awakened to Mind.

                                                                            -   Michael P. Garofalo, Above the Fog






         To what shall I compare this life of ours?
         Even before I can say
         it is like a lightning flash or a dewdrop
         it is no more.

                           -    Sengai






A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand becoming,
a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean.  It is a way of returning
to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our
falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature.  It is a way in
which the cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very
day in its hotness, and the length of the night, become truly
alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent
and expressive language.

Haiku: Eastern Culture, 1949, Volume One, p. 243.
Translations and commentary by Reginald H. Blyth






Spirituality - Meditations Along a Garden Path







Loving old priceless things,
I've scorned those seeking
Truth outside themselves:
Here, on the tip of the nose.

       -   Layman Makusho





                 Reciting a small portion of the scriptures,
                 But putting it diligently into practice;
                 Letting go of passion, aggression, and confusion:
                 Revering the truth with a clear mind;
                 And not clinging to anything, here or hereafter;
                 Brings the harvest of the holy life.

                          -    Dhammapada
                                             Translated by Balangoda Ananda Maitreya
                                             Found in Entering the Stream, 1993, p. 69
                                             Edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn






                                        In this way and that I have tried to save
                                                  the old pail
                                        Since the bamboo strip was weakening and
                                                  about to break
                                        Until at last the bottom fell out.
                                        No more water in the pail!
                                        No more moon in the water!
                                                                      -    Chiyono's enlightenment poem,
                                                                            Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,  1957, p. 31
                                                                            Translated by Paul Reps and Nyogen Zenzaki







This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.

         -   The Buddha's Words on Kindness (Metta Sutta)






Emptiness in Full Bloom:  Flowers in the Sky (Kuge)







Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains,
            and waters as waters.
When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point
where I saw that mountains are not mountains,
            and waters are not waters.
But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.
For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains,

            and waters once again as waters.
                               -     Ching-yuan






Well versed in the Buddha Way,
I go the non-Way
Without abandoning my
Ordinary person's affairs.
The conditioned and
All are flowers in the sky.
Nameless and formless,
I leave birth-and death.

-  Pang Yun, Two Zen Classics, p.263








kamon.gif (3866 bytes)







Form does not differ from emptiness;
Emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness;
Emptiness itself is form.
So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.

Heart Sutra







As flowing waters disappear into the mist
We lose all track of their passage.
Every heart is its own Buddha.
Ease off ...  become immortal.

Wake up!   The world's a mote of dust.
Behold heaven's round mirror.
Turn loose!  Slip past shape and shadow,
Sit side by side with nothing, save Tao.

    -   Shih-shu, 1703
        Stones and Trees; The Poetry of Shih-Shu
        Translation by James H. Sanford
        The Clouds Should Know Me By Now, 1998, p. 153







The Japanese Haiku Masters







                                              just as it is,
                                              as it is,
                                              as is.
                                              Flowers in bloom.
                                              Nothing to add.

                                                                 -    Robert Aitken, Roshi, As it Is







Fathomed at last!
Ocean's dried.  Void burst.
Without an obstacle in sight,
It's everywhere!

             -    Joho, 12th Century
                  Zen Poems of China and Japan, 1973,  p. 15
                  Translated by Lucien Stryk, Takashi Ikemoto and Taigan Takayama







                                              The body is the tree of enlightenment,
                                              The mind like a clear mirror stand;
                                              Time and gain wipe it diligently,
                                              Don't let it gather dust.

   -   Shenxiu






                                              Enlightenment is basically not a tree,
                                              And the clear mirror is not a stand.
                                              Fundamentally there is not a single thing -
                                              Where can dust collect.
  -   Huineng, Sixth Zen Patriarch in China,  638-713
                                                                                        Transmission of Light, Thomas Cleary, p. 140







                                                                                Chanting the sutras,
                                                                                 I receive the rice;
                                                                                The shrikes sing.

                                            -   Santoka Taneda  (1882-1940)
                                                                                                                         Mountain Tasting, John Stevens, p. 90







Zen Poetry:  Selected Quotations III







There I was, hunched over office desk,
Mind an unruffled pool.
A thunderbolt!  My middle eye
Shot wide, revealing - my ordinary self.

             -    Layman Seiken, 11th Century
                  Zen Poems of China and Japan,  1973, p. 14
                  Translated by Lucien Stryk, Takashi Ikemoto and Taigan Takayama







                                An explosive shout cracks the great empty sky.
                                Immediately clear self-understanding.
                                Swallow up buddhas and ancestors of the past.
                                Without following others, realize complete penetration.

                                                            -    Dogen, 1200 - 1253
                                                                 Moon in a Dewdrop, p, 218 
                                                                 Translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi







Zen Poetry:  Selected Quotations IV







                               Two come about because of One,
                         but don't cling to the One either!
                         So long as the mind does not stir,
                         the ten thousand things stay blameless;
                         no blame, no phenomena,
                         no stirring, no mind.

                         The viewer disappears along with the scene,
                         the scene follows the viewer into oblivion,
                         for scene becomes scene only through the viewer,
                         viewer becomes viewer because of the scene.
      -    Seng-ts'an,  600
                                                           Hsin-Hsin-Ming: Inscription on Trust in the Mind
                                                           Translated by Burton Watson
                                                           Found in Entering the Stream, p. 149
                                                           Edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chodzin Kohn







                         Shame on you Shakyamuni for setting
                         the precedent
                         of leaving home.
                         Did you think it was not there--
                                in your wife's lovely face
                                in your baby's laughter?
                         Did you think you had to go      elsewhere
                         to find it?
      -    Judyth Collin
                                                           The Layman's Lament
                                                           From What Book, 1998, p. 52
                                                           Edited by Gary Gach







                                                                    Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
                                                       A thousand regions of your mind
                                                       Yet undiscovered.  Travel them and be
                                                       Expert in home-cosmography.
      -    Henry David Thoreau







Cloud Hands: Taijiquan and Qigong







                          Step out onto the Planet.
                          Draw a circle a hundred feet round.
                          Inside the circle are
                          300 things nobody understands, and maybe
                          nobody's ever seen.
                          How many can you find?
      -    Lew Welch
                                                           From What Book, 1998, p. 124
                                                           Edited by Gary Gach







   The Three Thousand Worlds
   that step forward
   with the light snow,
   and the light snow that falls
   in those Three Thousand Worlds.

                      -    Ryokan, 1758-1851
                           Ryokan: Zen Monk - Poet of Japan, 1977, p. 103
                           Translated by Burton Watson







kamon.gif (3866 bytes)







                                          Gone, and a million things leave no trace
                                          Loosed, and it flows through the galaxies
                                          A fountain of light, into the very mind--
                                          Not a thing, and yet it appears before me:
                                          Now I know the pearl of the Buddha-nature
                                          Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.

                                                                -    Han-Shan, circa 630
                                                                     The Englightened Heart, edited by Stephen Mitchell, p. 30







Cold Mountain Buddhas:  Han Shan








Manjusri, a bodhisattva should regard all living beings as a wise man
Regards the reflection of the moon in water,
As magicians regard men created by magic.
As being like a face in a mirror,
like the water of a mirage;
like the sound of an echo;
like a mass of clouds in the sky;
like the appearance and disappearance of a bubble of water;
like the core of a plantain tree;
like a flash of lightning;
like the appearance of matter in an immaterial realm;
like a sprout from a rotten seed;
like tortoise-hair coat;
like the fun of games for one who wishes to die...

           -  Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra 






Spring has its hundred flowers,
Autumn its moon,
Summer has its cooling breezes,
Winter its snow.
If you allow no idle concerns
To weight on your heart,
Your whole life will be one
Perennial good season.

The Golden Age of Zen, p. 286







Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations

Next: II











Compiled by Michael P. Garofalo

Potety Notebook III of Michael P. Garofalo
Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations I
Available on the Net since January 2000
April 8, 2005


E-mail Mike Garofalo





The Spirit of Gardening

Quotes for Gardeners

Cloud Hands: Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong

The Poetry Notebooks of Michael P. Garofalo

Zen Poetry