Zen Poetry

Selected Quotations








You’re bound to become a buddha if you practice.
If water drips long enough
Even rocks wear through.
It’s not true thick skulls can’t be pierced;
People just imagine their minds are hard.

- Shih-wu (1272-1352)





not when the monkey settles
on the rocker on the porch of
your mind

sees the orange splash of sunset
and thinks
I hope this lasts forever

but rather when the monkey
notices only that something has happened to the sky

and later sees that it is dark

-   Five Poems, Dinty W. Moore





released from rock
a stone lotus
seated and still

for centuries
a candle
silent circle

legs folded
head still
arms cradling


-   Seated Buddha,  Alan Altany





Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations I





Bitter rain soaks the pile of kindling twigs.
The night so cold and still the lamp flame hardly moves.
Clouds condense and drench our stone walled hut.
Broken rushes clog the reed gate's way.
The stream gurgles, a torrent in its bed.
That's all we hear. Only rarely, comes a human voice...
But oh, how priceless is this peace of mind that fills us
As we sit on our heels and put on another Chan monk's robe!

-   Bitter Rain by Master Hsu Yun





kamon.gif (3866 bytes)





Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God  
while one is peeling the potatoes.   Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes

-   Allan Watts






Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations V






There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it;

It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.

-  Daio Kokushi,  1232 - 1308, On Zen
Manual of Zen Buddhism






Joshu was asked,
"When a man comes to you with nothing,
what would you say to him ?"
Joshu replied, "Throw it away!"






Flowers in the Sky







In the awakened eye
Mountains and rivers
Completely disappear.
The eye of delusion
Gazes upon
Deep fog and clouds.
Alone in my zazen
I forget the days
As they pass.
The wisteria has grown
Thick over the eaves
Of my hut.

-   Muso (1275-1351)







What's heaped too


-   Cid Corman







The Five Precepts







The buddha in the mind is like a fragrance in a tree.
The buddha comes from a mind free of suffering,
Just as a fragrance comes from a tree free of decay.
There's no fragrance without a tree and no buddha without the mind.
If there's a fragrance without a tree it's a different fragrance.
If there's a buddha without your mind, it's a different buddha.

The Teachings of Bodhidharma







Things are not what they seem;
Nor are they otherwise.

-   Lankavatara Sutra









Asking without knowing.
Answering, still not understanding.
The moon is cold, the wind is high--
On the ancient cliff, frigid juniper.
How delightful: on the road,
He met a man who had attained the Path.
And didn't use speech or silence to reply.
His hand grasps the white jade whip.
And smashes the black dragon's pearl.
If he hadn't smashed it,
He would have increased its flaws.

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








Long seeking it through others,
I was far from reaching it.
Now I go by myself;
I meet it everywhere.
It is just I myself,
And I am not itself.
Understanding this way,
I can be as I am.  

-   Tung-Shan (806-869)







On that far mountain
On the slope below the peak,
Cherries are in flower.
Oh, let the mountain mists
Not arise to hide the scene.

- Oe no Masafusa
    Japanese Gardens








Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind,
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.

-  Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche









     will it matter
        when it comes
           you do not need
     to know now
           you do not need

    to be told     
    it is like that
       for each of us
   day by day  
     held in being

                             -   Bill Brown, A Way of Zen



So many gods
So many creeds
That wind and wind,
While just the art
Of being kind
Is all the sad world needs.
-  Ella Wheeler Wilcox




The Buddha's teaching is in accordance with the nature of all beings,
        which is beyond attainability.
This truth knows no hindrances anywhere.
It is like a vacuity of space which is not hindered by anything,
        it refuses to take any predicates.
As it is beyond all forms of dualism, in it there are no contrasts,
        no characterization is possible of it.
As there is in it no opposition,
        it knows nothing that goes beyond it.
As there is in it no origination,
       it leaves no traces behind it.
As there is in it no birth-and-death,
       it is unborn.
As there are in it no pathways to mark its transformation,
      it is pathless.

-   Pranjnaparmita, Fo-mu Chinese version
    Translated by D. T. Suzuki
    Essays in Zen Buddhism, Third Series, 1953, p. 267.







Zen Poetry: Links, Bibliography and Resources










Autumn's colors dropping from branches in masses of failing leaves.
Cold clouds bringing rain into the crannies of the mountains:
Everyone was born with the same sort of eyes--
Why do mine keep seeing things as a Zen koan?

-   Muso
    Motion and Emotion in Medieval Japanese Buddhism






The Cypress Tree in the Courtyard







         Buddha, Unform me,
                Sit where I am not sitting,
    I am all weakness.

            Meditation, clear mind.
                           Too much of me, seek nothing,
        Pain, empty of need.

          Playing with my soul,
              Toss it in the air, higher
                      Each time, come back, soul.

                        -    Jerry M. Pickard
                                    Buddha, Unform Me
                                   The Stories of K'ang







Cloud Hands: Taijiquan and Qigong








The Zenith has the Brahma Voiced Buddha,
The Lord of the Constellations Buddha,
The Incense Offering Buddha,
The Incense Illuminating Buddha,
The Great Blazing Shoulders Buddha,
The Many Colored Precious Flowers Adorned Bodied Buddha,
The Teak Tree King Buddha,
The Seeing All Wishes Fulfilled Buddha,
The Mystical Mountain Buddha ...
Thus everywhere countless Buddhas,
Equal to the sands along the river Ganges,
Each of them having His Own Lands.
Countless Buddhas with long broad tongues,
Covering three thousand great universes of universes,
Expounding truthful and sincere words to all living beings.

-   The Pure Land Sutra






Green Way Blog by Michael P. Garofalo






The mind is very difficult to see,
Very delicate and subtle;
It moves and lands wherever it pleases.
The wise one should guard his mind,
For a guarded mind brings happiness.

Translated by Daw Mya Tin








To have some deep feeling about Buddhism is not the point;
we just do what we should do,
like eating supper and going to bed.
This is Buddhism!

-   Suzuki Roshi






Sitting silently, practice meditation.
Continuously and gently regulate your breathing;
One yin and one yang brewing in the internal cauldron.
Nature must be enlightened, life be preserved.
Don't rush, let the fire burn slowly.
Close your eyes and look at your heart of life.
Let tranquility and spontaneity be the source.
In a hundred days you will see a result.

The beauty is boundless and inexplicable,
All over the body vital energy arises.
Who can know such a marvelous experience?

Let the mind be still, and life be strong.
The spirit radiates throughout 3,000 worlds.

Golden cockerel crows beneath the shadowless tree,
The red lotus blossoms in the middle of night.
Winter comes the sun shines again,
A thunderous roar shatters heaven and earth.
Dragons call, tigers play,

Heavenly music fills the sky with harmony.
In nebulous mixture everything is empty,
The infinite phenomena are all here.
Marvelous in its mystery, mysterious in its marvel.

The circulation of the stream breaks through the three obstacles;
All phenomena are born in the union of heaven and earth.
Drink the dew of nature, sweet like honey,
Saints are buddhas, buddhas are saints.

When the ultimate reality reveals dualism disappears,
Now I realize all religions are the same!

Eat when hungry, sleep when tired,
Offer a joss stick and practice meditation.

The great Tao is just before your eyes,
If you are deluded, you'll miss the chance.
Once you've lost your human form you may have to wait a million eons.
The uninformed dream of going to heaven,
The blind go into a deep forest to practice.

The four true principles you have to cultivate,
Breaking the gate of mystery to reach the marvelous.
Cultivate day and nigh without break,
Get a master early to develop your elixir.
There are people who know that real mercury
Is the elixir of longevity and immortality.
Cultivate each day, be more determined each day.

-  Taoist Master Zhang San-Feng, circa 1300 CE
   Song of Silent Sitting
   Translated by Wong Kiew Kit, The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan, 1996






A life-time is not what's between,
The moments of birth and death.
A life-time is one moment,
Between my two little breaths.

The present, the here, the now,
That's all the life I get,
I live each moment in full,
In kindness, in peace, without regret.

-  Chade Meng, One Moment





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 way is just to observe the noise of the world.
The answer to your questions?
Ask your own heart.

Experience Chan! It's not the teachings of disciples.
Such speakers are guests from outside the gate.
The Chan which you are hankering to speak about
Only talks about turtles turning into fish.

Experience Chan! It can't be described.
When you describe it you miss the point.
When you discover that your proofs are without substance
You'll realize that words are nothing but dust.

Experience Chan! It's experiencing your own nature!
Going with the flow everywhere and always.
When you don't fake it and waste time trying to rub and polish it,
Your Original Self will always shine through brighter than bright.

Experience Chan! It's like harvesting treasures.
But donate them to others.
You won't need them.
Suddenly everything will appear before you,
Altogether complete and altogether done.

Experience Chan! Become a follower who when accepted
Learns how to give up his life and his death.
Grasping this carefully he comes to see clearly.
And then he laughs till he topples the Cold Mountain ascetics.

Experience Chan! It'll require great skepticism;
But great skepticism blocks those detours on the road.
Jump off the lofty peaks of mystery.
Turn your heaven and earth inside out.

Experience Chan! Ignore that superstitious nonsense
That makes some claim that they've attained Chan.
Foolish beliefs are those of the not-yet-awakened.
And they're the ones who most need the experience of Chan!

Experience Chan! There's neither distance nor intimacy.
Observation is like a family treasure.
Whether with eyes, ears, body, nose, or tongue -
It's hard to say which is the most amazing to use.

Experience Chan! There's no class distinction.
The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are a Buddha unit.
The yoke and its lash are tied to each other.
Isn't this our first principle... the one we should most observe?

-   Master Xu Yun













Void is Form
When, just as they are,
White dewdrops gather
On scarlet maple leaves,
Regard the scarlet beads!

Form is Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Uncaring spring!

-   Ikkyu (1394-1481)
Penguin Book of Zen Poetry






Last day of Spring,
ripe purple plums drop--
form is emptiness.

First day of Summer,
ditch completely dry--
emptiness is form.

-  Mike Garofalo. Above the Fog







Form is No Other Than Emptiness
Emptiness No Other Than Form

A nice hot kettle of stew.  He ruins it by dropping a couple of rat turds in.
It's no good pushing delicacies at a man with a full belly.  Striking
aside waves to look for water when the waves are water.

Forms don't hinder emptiness; emptiness is the tissue of form.
Emptiness isn't destruction of form; form is the flesh of emptiness.
Inside the Dharma gates where form and emptiness are not two
A lame turtle with painted eyebrows stands in the evening breeze.

Zen Words for the Heart: Hakuin's Commentary on the Heart Sutra
Translated by Norman Waddell









Well versed in the Buddha way,
I go the non-Way
Without abandoning my
Ordinary personís affairs.

The conditioned and
All are flowers in the sky.

Nameless and formless,
I leave birth-and-death.

Layman Píang (740-808)






One stroke has made me forget all my precious knowledge,
No artifical discipline is at all needed;
In every movement I uphold the ancient way,
And never fall into the rut of mere quietism;
Wherever I walk no traces are left,
And my senses are not fettered by rules of conduct;
Everywhere those who have attained to the truth,
All declare this to be of the highest order.

-   Hsiang-yen, Gatha of Enlightenment
    Translated by D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series 243









Mountains, a moment's earth-waves rising and hollowing;
      the earth too's an ephemerid; the stars--
Short-lived as grass the stars quicken in the nebula and dry
      in their summer, they spiral
Blind up space, scattered black seeds of a future; nothing
      lives long, the whole sky's
Recurrences tick the second of the hours of the ages of the
      eternity is nothing too tiresome,
Enormous repose after, enormous repose before, the flash
      of activity.

-   Robinson Jeffers, The Treasure










Only insentient beings hear the sermon of insentient beings;
Walls and fences cannot instruct the grasses and trees to
     actualize spring,
Yet they reveal the spiritual without intention, just by being
     what they are,
So too with mountains, rivers, sun, moon, and stars.

-  Dogen
   Translated by Steven Heine
   The Zen Poetry of Dogen, 1997, p. 141






Wise sayings often fall
on barren ground,
but a kind word
is never thrown away.
-   Sir Arthur Helps




Commit not a single unwholesome action,
Cultivate a wealth of virture,
To tame this mind of ours.
This is the teaching of all the buddhas.

-  Buddha







Zen Poetry and Koans: Links, Bibliography, Resources, Notes




         You are me, and I am you.
         Isn't it obvious that we "inter-are"?
         You cultivate the flower in yourself,
         so that I will be beautiful.
         I transform the garbage in myself,
         so that you will not have to suffer.

         I  support you;
         you support me.
         I am in this world to offer you peace;
         you are in this world to being me joy.

                 -  Thich Nhat Hanh, Inter-relationship









And no expectation of Heaven.
Rather on some fine morning to walk alone
Now planting my staff to take up a hoe,
Or climbing the east hill and whistling long
Or composing verses besides the clear stream:
So I manage to accept my lot until the ultimate home coming.
Rejoicing in Heaven's command, what is there to doubt?

-   T'ao Yuan-ming (365-427 CE)








The Way is perfect like unto vast space,
With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous:
It is indeed due to making choices
That its suchness is lost sight of.

Pursue not the outer entanglements,
Dwell not in the inner void;
When the mind rests serene in the oneness of things,
The dualism vanishes by itself.

When you strive to gain quiescence by stopping motion,
The quiescence thus gains is ever in motion;
As long as you tarry in the dualism,
How can you realize oneness?

-    Third Ch'an Patriarch Chien-chih Seng-ts'an  Faith Mind Inscription









It is as though you have an eye
That sees all forms
But does not see itself.
This is how your mind is.
Its light penetrates everywhere
And engulfs everything.
So why does it not know itself?

-    Foyan





"It has been said that if you could become another person
for even a few moments you would probably become Enlightened.
So strong is our attachment to the idea of who we are that even
the smallest jolt out of it can have an immense effect."
-   Manjusvara










Zen Poems: Selected Quotations

Next: IX

Previous: VII










Distributed on the Internet by Michael P. Garofalo


I Welcome Your Comments, Ideas, Contributions, and Suggestions


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



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