Zen Poetry

Selected Quotations









Forgetting all knowledge at one stroke,
I do not need cultivation anymore.
Activity expressing the ancient road,
I don't fall into passivity.
Everywhere trackless,
conduct beyond sound and form:
the adepts in all places
call this the supreme state.

-   Kyogen
                                                                         Rational Zen: The Mind of Dogen Zenji, p. 119
                                                            Translated and edited by Thomas Cleary







Though little he recites the Sacred Texts,
But puts the precepts into practice,
Ridding himself of craving, hatred and delusion,
Possessed of right knowledge with mind well-freed,
Cling to nothing here or hereafter,
He has a share in religious life.

-   The Dhammapada: The Pairs
Translated by Sathienpong Wannapok







Above the Fog: Selected Poems by Mike Garofalo







            The Prajnaparamita is a great spiritual mantra,
            a great wisdom mantra,
            a supreme mantra,
            an unequalled mantra.
            It destroys all suffering,
            because it is the incorruptible truth.
            Hereafter, proclaim the great Prajnaparamita mantra:
            "Gate, gate, paragate, Parasumgate bodhi, svaha."

                                  -   The Heart Sutra







All that can be annihilated must be
the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body; an Incrustation over my
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off &
annihilated always
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by

-   William Blake, Complete Poetry and Prose, p. 142
Chan Buddhism and the Prophetic Poems of William Blake








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I have nothing left to translate
Into the figures of night
Or the pale geometry
Of the fire-birds.
If I once had a wagon of lights to ride in
The axle is broken
The horses are shot.

         -   Thomas Merton
             Thomas Merton's Poetry: Emblems of a Sacred Season by Alan Altany







Cold Mountain Buddhas  (Han Shan)







Cold Mountain is a house
Without beams or walls.
The six doors left and right are open
The hall is blue sky.
The rooms all vacant and vague
The east wall beats on the west wall
At the center nothing.

-   Han Shan, circa 630
    Translated by Gary Snyder
    Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
    House With No Walls








The Buddha started his grand exodus
From fate in mind its details hold all minds
To be examples of it, who discuss
Enslavement, such as haunted virtue finds;
Yet in transmission those fine words he said
Concerning freedom, maxims thus and so,
Came coin at school -- to gather while hope fled,
As wisdom spoken so and thus be woe.

-   Proverbial Zen, Sam Hazelhurst







See with your eyes, hear
with your ears.
Nothing is hidden.
-   Tenkei






The perfect man has no self;
the spiritual man has no achievement;
the sage has no name.
-   Chuang Tzu




Cloud Hands: Taijiquan and Qigong






What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for Self-realization.
Continue to ask yourself:
What is it that hears?

-   Bassui








Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations IV








Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

-   Highway 50 Zen, Ripple






Daily, nothing particular,
Only nodding to myself,
Nothing to choose, nothing to discard.
No coming, no going,
No person in purple,
Blue mountains without a speck of dust.
I exercise occult and subtle powers,
Carrying water, shouldering firewood.

-  Ho Koji, Two Zen Classics, p.262






This slowly drifting cloud is pitiful:
What dreamwalkers men become.
Awakened, I hear the one true thing-
Black rain on the roof of Fukakusa Temple.

-   Dogen







   A heart subdued,
         Yet poignant sadness
  Is so deeply felt:
                     A snipe flies over the marsh.

-  Saigyo
                                   Translated by Steven Heine
                                                                         Motion and Emotion in Medieval Japanese Buddhism







Zen Poetry: Links, Bibliography and Resources







Where there is beauty, there is ugliness.
When something is right, something else is wrong.
Knowledge and ignorance depend on each other.
It has been like this since the beginning.
How could it be otherwise now?
Wanting to toss out one and hold onto the other
makes for a ridiculous comedy.
You must still deal with everything ever-changing,
even when you say it’s wonderful.

- Ryokan (1758-1831)







Mind set free in the dharma-realm,
I sit at the moon-filled window
Watching the mountains with my ears,
Hearing the stream with open eyes.
Each molecule preaches perfect law,
Each moment chants true sutra:
The most fleeting thought is timeless,
A single hair's enough to stir the sea.

-   Shutaku







The Cypress Tree in the Courtyard








How long had Ryoanji been there? You must have asked --
but there is no remembrance, just the rocks
and the gravel and the wall
and the very great silence,
the rootedness of deep meditation,
the weight of the rocks and the trees of this earth,
as if their roots grew right down through your heart...

-   Ryoanji Zen Garden.   By Jan Haag.







Ch'an (Zen) Poetry and Sayings: Links, Bibliography, Resources, Notes






                                  Old battlefield, fresh with spring flowers again
All that is left of the dreams
                 Of twice ten thousand warriors slain.

                  -   Basho
                                                      Translated by C. H. Page







Let him come from the bright side,
And I will dispose of him on that side;
Let him come from the dark side,
And I will dispose of him on that side;
Let him come from every possible direction,
And I will dispose of him like a whirlwind;
Let him come from the sky,
And I will dispose of him like a flail.

-   Fuke
     Masunaga Text







                          Sitting alone amongst the forest trees,
                          The sixfold faculties always still and quiet.
                          It seems as if you've lost a precious jewel,
                          But have no pain of worry or distress.

                          In all the World your visage has no peer,
                          And yet you always sit with your eyes closed.
                          The thoughts of each of us possess a doubt:
                          What do you seek by dwelling in this place?

                                                -     Nagarjuna, Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
                                                      Dharmamitra Translation
                                                      Kalavinka Dharma









                          I'd like to
                          Offer something
                          To help you;
                          But in the Zen School,
                          We don't have a single thing!

                                           -    Zen Master Ikkyu









If evil flowers bloom in the mind-ground,
Five blossoms flower from the stem.
Together they will create the karma of ignorance;
Now the mind-ground is blown by the winds of karma.

If correct flowers bloom in the mind ground,
Five blossoms flower from the stem.
Together they practice the prajna wisdom;
In the future this will be the enlightement of the Buddha.

 -   Huineng (638-713)
     Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
     Translated and edited by Philip Yampolsky (Columbia University Press, 1967)











        I praise those ancient Chinamen

        Who left me a few words,

        Usually a pointless joke or a silly question


A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin

                     of a quick splashed picture— bug, leaf,

                     caricature of a Teacher—

On paper held together now by little more than ink

& their own strength brushed momentarily over it


          Their world and several others since

          Gone to hell and a handbasket, they knew it—

          Cheered as it whizzed by—

& conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars

                Happy to have saved us all.


-   Philip Whalen,  Hymnus ad Patrem Sinensis













You find a flower half-buried in leaves,
And in your eye its very fate resides.
Loving beauty, you caress the bloom;
Soon enough, you'll sweep petals from the floor.

Terrible to love the lovely so,
To count your own years, to say "I'm old,"
To see a flower half-buried in leaves
And come face to face with what you are.

-   Han Shan, 630
    Translated by Peter Stambler






Green Way Blog by Michael P. Garofalo.









Leaving the weeds, entering the weeds;
Who knows how to seek them out?
White clouds, layer upon layer;
Red sun, clear and bright.
Looking to the left, there are no flaws;
Looking to the right, already old.
Have you not seen the man of Cold Mountain?
He traveled so swiftly;
Ten years he couldn't return,
And forgot the road by which he came.

-   Hsueh-tou (980-1052),  Roaring Stream








The monk from Shu with his green silk lute-case,
Walking west down Omei Mountain,
Has brought me by one touch of the strings
The breath of pines in a thousand valleys.
I hear him in the cleansing brook,
I hear him in the icy bells;
And I feel no change though the mountain darken
And cloudy autumn heaps the sky.    

Li Bai








Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the black bird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
or just after.   

-  Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird









At first, form is needed;
Then doubt and inhibition must be dispelled.
Eventually, form is celebrated with joy:
And expression becomes formless.

-   Deng Ming-Dao









Like the empty sky it has no boundaries,
Yet it is right in this place, ever profound and clear.
When you seek to know it, you cannot see it.
You cannot take hold of it,
But you cannot lose it.
In not being able to get it, you get it.
When you are silent, it speaks;
When you speak, it is silent.
The great gate is wide open to bestow alms,
And no crowd is blocking the way.

Cheng-tao Ke, translated by Alan Watts in The Way of Zen








You darkness that I come from,
out of which all things come,
I love you more that all the fires
that fence the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you,
But the darkness pulls in everything,
shapes and fires, animals and myself.
How easily it gathers them,
powers and people.
It is possible a great energy is moving near us.
I have faith in the night.

-  Ranier Marie Rilke, I Have Faith in Nights







You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait.
Do not even wait, be still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you
To be unmasked, it has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

-  Frantz Kafka








An inch of time is an inch of gold:
Treasure it. 
Appreciate its fleeting nature-
Misplaced gold is easily found, 
Misspent time is lost forever. 

-   Loy Ching-Yuen







Experience Chan!  It's not mysterious.
As I see it, it boils down to cause and effect.
Outside the mind there is no Dharma
So how can anybody speak of a heaven beyond.  

Experience Chan!  It's not a field of learning.
Learning adds things that can be researched and discussed.
The feel of impressions can't be communicated.
Enlightenment is the only medium of transmission.

Experience Chan!  It's not a lot of questions.
Too many questions is the Chan disease.
The best wya is just to observe the noise of the world.
The answer to your questions?  Ask your own heart.

-  Hsu Yun, from Chan Poetry






The Heart Sutra 


When the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
Was Discoursing in the Deep Prajna Paramita,
He Perceived That All Five Skandhas Are Empty.
Thus He Overcame All Ills and Suffering.
Oh, Sariputra, Form Does not Differ From the Void,
And the Void Does Not Differ From Form.
Form is Void and Void is Form;
The Same is True For Feelings,
Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness.
Sariputra, the Characteristics of the
Voidness of All Dharmas
Are Non-Arising, Non-Ceasing, Non-Defiled,
Non-Pure, Non-Increasing, Non-Decreasing.
Therefore, in the Void There Are No Forms,
No Feelings, Perceptions, Volitions or Consciousness.
No Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body or Mind;
No Form, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch or Mind Object;
No Realm of the Eye,
Until We Come to No realm of Consciousness.
No ignorance and Also No Ending of Ignorance,
Until We Come to No Old Age and Death and
No Ending of Old Age and Death.
Also, There is No Truth of Suffering,
Of the Cause of Suffering,
Of the Cessation of Suffering, Nor of the Path.
There is No Wisdom, and There is No Attainment Whatsoever.
Because There is Nothing to Be Attained,
The Bodhisattva Relying On Prajna Paramita Has
No Obstruction in His Mind.
Because There is No Obstruction, He Has no Fear,
And He passes Far Beyond Confused Imagination.
And Reaches Ultimate Nirvana.
The Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future,
By Relying on Prajna Paramita
Have Attained Supreme Enlightenment.
Therefore, the Prajna Paramita is the Great Magic Spell,
The Spell of Illumination, the Supreme Spell,
Which Can Truly Protect One From All Suffering Without Fail.
Therefore He Uttered the Spell of Prajnaparmita,
Saying "Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha."








The past is already past.
Don’t try to regain it.
The present does not stay.
Don’t try to touch it.

From moment to moment.
The future has not come;
Don’t think about it

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments
To be kept;
There’s no filth to be cleansed.

With empty mind really
Penetrated, the dharmas
Have no life.

When you can be like this,
You’ve completed

The ultimate attainment.
-   Layman P’ang (740-808)






Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi
By Dongshan Liangjie (807-869)

The Dharma of Thusness
is intimately transmitted by Buddhas and ancestors.
Now you have it;
preserve it well.

A silver bowl filled with snow,
a heron hidden in the moon.
Taken as similar, they are not the same;
Not distinguished, their places are known.

The meaning does not reside in the words,
but a pivotal moment brings it forth. 
Move and you are trapped,
miss and you fall into doubt and vacillation.

Turning away and touching are both wrong,
for it is like a massive fire. 
Just to portray it in literary form
is to stain it with defilement.

In darkest night it is perfectly clear;
in the light of dawn it is hidden. 
It is a standard for all things;
its use removes all suffering.

Although it is not constructed,
it is not beyond words.
Like facing a precious mirror;
form and reflection behold each other.

You are not it,
but in truth it is you. 
Like a newborn child,
it is fully endowed with five aspects:

No going, no coming, no arising, no abiding;
“Baba wawa”– is anything said or not? 
In the end it says nothing,
for the words are not yet right.

In the hexagram “double fire,”
when main and subsidiary lines are transposed,
Piled up they become three;
the permutations make five.

Like the taste of the five-flavored herb,
like the five-pronged vajra.
Wondrously embraced within the complete,
drumming and singing begin together.

Penetrate the source and travel the pathways,
embrace the territory and treasure the roads.
You would do well to respect this;
do not neglect it.

Natural and wondrous,
it is not a matter of delusion or enlightenment.
Within causes and conditions, time and season,
it is serene and illuminating.

So minute it enters where there is no gap,
so vast it transcends dimension. 
A hairsbreadth’s deviation,
and you are out tune.

Now there are sudden and gradual,
in which teachings and approaches arise. 
With teachings and approaches distinguished,
each has its standard.

Whether teachings and approaches are mastered or not,
reality constantly flows.
Outside still and inside trembling,
like tethered colts or cowering rats.

The ancient sages grieved for them,
and offered them the dharma.
Led by their inverted views,
they take black for white.

When inverted thinking stops,
the affirming mind naturally accords.
If you want to follow in the ancient tracks,
please observe the sages of the past.

One on the verge of realizing the Buddha Way
contemplated a tree for ten kalpas.
Like a battle-scarred tiger,
like a horse with shanks gone grey.

Because some are vulgar,
jeweled tables and ornate robes.
Because others are wide-eyed,
cats and white oxen.

With his archer’s skill,
Yi hit the mark at a hundred paces.
But when arrows meet head-on,
how could it be a matter of skill?

The wooden man starts to sing,
the stone woman gets up dancing.
It is not reached by feelings or consciousness,
how could it involve deliberation?

Ministers serve their lords,
children obey their parents.
Not obeying is not filial,
Failure to serve is no help.

With practice hidden, function secretly,
like a fool, like an idiot.
Just to continue in this way
is call the host within the host.

-  Dongshan Liangjie (807-869 CE, China), Tozan Ryokai Daiosho (Jap.)
   Berkeley Zen CenterAncient Dragon Zen Gate Chants







Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations

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A Short Biography of Mike Garofalo



Poetry Notebook III of Mike Garofalo
Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations VII
Available on the Net since January, 2000.
April 8, 2005





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