Zen Poetry

Selected Quotations




Cloud Hands Blog





The Zen legend of the beginning of the Zen transmission is that once
before an assembly Shakyamuni Buddha said nothing but held up a flower
and winked -- no one understood but the chief disciple
Maha-Kasyapa, who smiled.  Buddha said,
"I have the treasury of the eye of true teaching,
the ineffable mind of nirvana, the true form, which is formless -
this I hand on to Maha-Kasyapa.

-   Thomas Cleary, Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen, p. 75.





A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand beconing,
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 thery own silent
and expressive lanugage.
Reginald Horace Blyth, Haiku, Volume One, p. 243.




The road enters green mountains near evening's dark;
Beneath the white cherry trees, a Buddhist temple
Whose priest doesn't know what regret for spring's passing means-
Each stroke of his bell startles more blossoms into falling.

-   Keijo Shurin





Flowers in the Sky







                         Spring-water in the green creek is clear
                         Moonlight on Cold Mountain is white
                         Silent knowledge--the spirit is enlightened of itself
                         Contempleate the void: this world exceeds stillness.

                                                       -    Han-shan
                                                                Cold Mountain Poems
                                                                Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, 1990, p.49
                                                                Translated by Gary Snyder








The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind;
The butterfly visits the flower with no-mind.
The flower opens, the butterfly comes;
The butterfly comes, the flower opens.
I don't know others,
Others don't know me.
By not-knowing we follow nature's course.

-   Ryokan, Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf
    Translated by John Stevens





Be a spot on the ground where nothing is growing,
where something might be planted,
a seed,
from the Absolute.
-   Rumi




Do not think,
    Do not imagine,
   Do not analyze.
     Do not meditate,
 Do not reflect.
                   Abide in the natural state.
	-   The Six Rules of Tilopa





kamon.gif (3866 bytes)






Vegetable Nirvana







                                 By this glass filled with darkness to the brim
                                 and this heart that's never full,
                                 let us praise the Lord, maker of Nothingness,
                                 who carved our reason out of faith.

                                                       -    Antonio Machado
                                                             Siesta: In Memory of Abel Martin





Spirituality and Gardening






These are some of the characteristics of the state of mind
which the creation and appreciation of haiku demand: 
Selflessness, Loneliness, Grateful Acceptance, Wordlessness,
Non-intellectuality, Contradictoriness, Humor, Freedom,
Non-morality, Simplicity, Materiality, Love, and Courage.
-   Reginald Horace Blyth,  Haiku, Volume One, p. 154






The Oaktree in the Courtyard






Everything you cherish
Throws you over in the end
Thorns will grab your ankles
From the gardens that you tend.
Robert Hunter





Zen Poetry: Links, Bibliography and Resources






The water and my mind have both settled down
Into perfect stillness.
Sun and moon shine bright in it.

At night I see in the surface
The enormous face of my old familiar moon.
I don't think you've ever met the source of this reflection.

All shrillness fades into the sound of silence.
But now and then a puff of mist floats across the mirror.

It confuses me a little
But not enough to make me forget to forget my cares.

-  Master Hsu Yun
   Mirror Pond on Mount Taibo in Shanxi





Flowers in the Sky






Getting rid of things and clinging to emptiness
      Is an illness of the same kind;
It is just like throwing oneself into a fire
      To avoid being drowned.

-  Yungchia
    Zen and Zen Classics, R. H. Blyth, Volume One, p. 63





Cloud Hands: Taijiquan and Qigong





The Partial within the True:
The blue sky clears and the River of Stars' cold flood dries up.
At midnight the wooden boy pounds on the moon's door.
In darkness the jade woman is startled from her sleep.

The True within the Partial:
Ocean and clouds rendezvous at the top of the spirit mountain.
The old woman returns with hair hanging down like white silk
And shyly faces the mirror coldly reflecting her image.

-  Zen Master Hongzhi
   Cultivating the Empty Field,  p. 41





"In the beginning there is the cosmological ground state.  The vacuum.  Absence.
Recent theorizing about the origins of the universe has included a concept called
"the decay of the false vacuum."  The vacuum of empty space – the ground state
– is not the void we cartoonishly perceive it as being.  It is, rather, a turbulent sea
of sub-atomic particles spontaneously popping into existence and then being
quickly re-absorbed into the background nothingness.  They are virtual particles,
not quite real.  From a nothing comes a sort of something, but as not to violate
any physical laws and so maintain the cosmic status quo, these somethings are
fleeting in existence, living an infinitesimally slight life span before re-assimilation
into the ground state.

But add a little energy into the scheme of things to give a virtual particle a push
and it can cross the line and become materially real.  From nothingness can indeed
come a palpable something and a universe be born.
                        -    Gil McElroy,  St. Art: The Visual Poetry of bpNichol, 2000








active3.gif (2786 bytes)


"Zen practice in the midst of activity
is superior to that pursued within tranquillity."
Hakuin, 1688-1769







Actually there isn't a thing
much less any dust to wipe away.
Who can master this
doesn't need to sit there stiff.

-   Feng-kan (circa 800 CE)







"Good and evil have no self nature;
Holy and unholy are empty names;
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself."
Master Seung Sahn





Just when my longing to see
The moon over Kyoto
One last time grows deepest
The image I behold this autumn night
Leaves me sleepless for its beauty.
-  Dogen




Five Precepts






Do you want to study Zen?
You must let go.
Let go of what?
Let go of the four elements and five clusters,
Let go of consciousness conditioned over incalculable time.
Focus on right where you stand;
Try to figure our what the reason is.
Keep on pondering ...
Suddenly the flower of mind will bloom with enlightenment,
illuminating the whole universe.  

         -   The Pocket Zen Reader.  Edited and translated by Thomas Cleary.   p. 104



Cloud Hands Blog





Cherry trees will blossom every year;
 But I'll disappear for good,
 One of these days.

-   Philip Whalen, 1923 - June 26, 2002
Zen priest, Abbot of San Francisco Hartfort Street Zen Center
Beat poet







Journeys bring power and love
Back into you.  If you can't go somewhere,
Move in the passageways of the self.
They are like shafts of light,
Always changing, and you change
When you explore them.

-   Rumi







We eat, excrete, sleep and get up;
This is our world.
All we have to do after that--
Is to die.

-   Ikkyu Sojun, From The Way of Zen, p. 162








But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled
after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because
the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live,
mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn,
burn like the fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders
across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop
and everybody goes "Awww!"

-   Jack Kerouac, On the Road

















Consumed with anger,
The world is an ugly place.
Bathed in happiness,
The world is a wonderful place.
But, aha!  the same world.

-   Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn to Gold
By Taitetsu Unno (Jill Ker Conway)







We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts. 
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you 
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.









                        Railing against Do-Nothing Zen
                        Ekaku Haikuin presses that one hand, hard,
                        stamps his staff --
                        clap, clap, clap, Clap!
                        Shouting, spittle flying,
                        he prods, and pokes, and preaches
                        till the fawning monks scatter.

                        Haikuin sits alone the long cold night
                        gazing into the fires of hell.

                            Ivy crawls
                            the walls of Shoin-ji;
                            night boats pass in silence.  

                                   -  Michael P. Garofalo, Above the Fog







Green Way Blog by Michael P. Garofalo.







The three mystical doors and the three essential points
Are in actuality hard to divide and distinguish.
If you get the idea, you must forget the words:
This is the simple way to approach the Tao.
All phenomena are clearly comprehended in one sentence:
At the feast of Double-Nine; the chrysanthemums bloom afresh.

-  Chan Master Feng-yang Shan-chao, From The Goldern Age of Zen, p.209








How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb?
One to change it,
one to not-change it,
and one to both change and not-change it.









"Reason exhausted, concerns forgotten--
how could this be adequately expressed?
Wherever I go, the icy moonlight's there,
falling just as it does on the valley ahead.
The fruit is ripe, trees heavy with monkeys,
mountains so endless I seem to have lost the way.
When I lift my head, some light still remains--
I see that I'm west of the place I call home."
-   Fa-yen (885-958), Roaring Stream








"There is," someone says,
And we stick to that "there is."
See,  there is nothing--
Only the sound
Of the wind from the sea.

Since legendary times,
Nothing has changed:
Running water and the love
Between woman and man.

In the dark
I lost sight of
My shadow;
Iv'e found it again
By the fire I lit.

A Zen Harvest






Whether you are going or staying or sitting or lying down,
The whole world is your own self.
You must find out
Whether the mountains, rivers, grass, and forests
Exist in your own mind or exist outside it.
Analyze the ten thousand things,
Dissect them minutely,
And when you take this to the limit
You will come to the limitless.
When you search into it you come to the end of search.
Where thinking goes no further and distinctions vanish.
When you smash the citadel of doubt,
then the Buddha is simply yourself.





            The old pond,
                a frog jumps in--

                     -   Basho, 1684


          A still pond,
                    Basho wades in--

                                                  -   Mike Garofalo, 2004, Cuttings








Chan Poems: Selected Quotations

Next: XI

Previous: VIII










Distributed on the Internet by Michael P. Garofalo


I Welcome Your Comments, Ideas, Contributions, and Suggestions


Biography of  Mike Garofalo




Poetry Notebook III of Mike Garofalo
Zen Poetry: Selected Quotations IX
20K,  20 September 2002, Version 4.9

Last modified or updated on October 17, 2016. 




The Spirit of Gardening

Quotes for Gardeners

Haiku Poetry:  Links, References, Resources

Zen Poetry


Cloud Hands Blog