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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Zazen Poems
Richard Collins

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True vision isn't just seeing seeing. It's also seeing not seeing.
And true understanding isn't just understanding understanding.
It's also understanding not understanding. If you understand
anything, you don't understand. Only when you understand nothing
is it true understanding. Understanding is
neither understanding nor not understanding.

-- Bodhidharma


Zen masters stand out
like whip welts among the dull
bruises the dogmatic monks.
The rest of us are skin, just skin.


The unenlightened repeatedly depart
and augment cemeteries.
In other words, they fuck off and die.


Zen is not a dam to stop
but a needle to balance
the sensual world.


Sitting before dawn I see the day ahead
full of committees, contentious
and call it Quiet Day.


The Desire bus rumbles by outside.
I pack my thoughts inside it
quickly like a passel of rumpled kids
and watch them carried off to school.


I miss the little monkeys
and enjoy myself.


Gradual change is the best change
Lasts longer


This is my practice no one else's not theirs.
It is my Self, no Self. This keeps
recurring: Self No-Self, Self No-Self,
very soothing, this vanishment.


A car rusting in the meadow
Fog rolls through its windows
Drives through its steel.



Could the heart sickness I've been feeling be
compassion? Dogen said, "The new living
Buddha looks mild and peaceful, yet within
him the terrible thunder of Great Compassion
is roaring." And yesterday, the sensation
of a thousand frogs stampeding over my brain.


Basic Dialogue Sentences
Buddha Dharma Sangha
Let's begin!


Sometimes I have to let the bad
poetry of Buddhism wash
over me like cloying petals.
I am Teflon to it,
like the bodhisattva in Vimalakirti.


Wrapping myself in my doubt
I tied the sash
and sat inside its velvet folds.


Calm sitting, mind swinging, I am beginning
to appreciate the eventless


Nothing extraordinary! During kinhin
a drop of sweat sliding down my back!
Not my sweat and not my back.
That drop of sweat felt me intensely!


Four days ensued of nothing extraordinary.
Head to toe so sensitized it was almost painful.
People so unique, ugly beautiful, crazy
sane, so themselves - and that seems so sad.


Imagine a steel skewer slipped through
your temples and slightly lifted, enough
     to straighten your spine.

Imagine the hollow center of the skewer
draining off all thought and tension dripping
     from either side.

Imagine mind and body dropping off,
     hanging out to dry.


After the swift half-lotus
a spider on the ear lobe
eyes open wide!
No kyosaku for me, thanks,
it might interrupt my grin!


Desire is bad for your posture
Thinking is bad for your breath
Life is bad for your health

What to do?

Keep sitting and getting up
Go on wanting wondering living
Slouching panting dying.


The frog leaped into the illusion
of a lily. Li Po embraced
the moon and drowned. Old frogs
can still swim when they've had too much
to drink. Old poets sink like a stone.


No more self-pity!
It is as it is.


I want to go like Zen masters of old
while sitting in the posture,
like a watch that has run down
in its own good time. Hands coming together
in front of the face, gassho, at midnight.
Then the slumping final bow.
Then the cold.


Taking the posture the posture taketh me.



I can hear the faint snap
cracklepop of ox
-idizing metal in the meadow
in the middle of the year.
It seems even more beautiful knowing
there is no ear.


. Fifth-century monk who brought Zen to China from India. Although he meditated facing a wall for nine years, he freed Zen from the cushion, concentrating on "the mind that sits without sitting and acts without acting." He is said to have cut off his eyelids to stay awake, and from his eyelids sprang the first tea plants in China. In Japan he is known as Daruma.

. The enlightened being, whether the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, a number of other doctrinal Buddhas, or the Buddha we are when we do zazen.

. A complex term with many meanings, including law, practice, teaching, wisdom, thing, etc.

Dogen Zenji
(1200-1253). Author of the Shobogenzo who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan. His enlightenment consisted of "mind and body dropping off" during shikantaza.

. Palms together in front of the face, a gesture of consideration rather than prayer.

. One of the sitting postures, easier than the full lotus.

. Walking meditation.

. The wake-up stick made of hardwood and used on the shoulders of the sitter, who asks for it by putting hands in gassho.

In Buddhism, the group or community of practitioners.

. Enlightenment. According to Dogen, the act of zazen itself.

The essence of Soto Zen practice, literally "just sitting," but also called a duel with the self by Dogen. Soto practitioners sit facing the wall, like Bodhidharma.

. Great bodhisattva householder and subject of Vimalakirti-Nirdesi Sutra (2nd century). This sutra tells of a bodhisattva whose robes shed the petals of flowers falling from the sky, not because the world does not cling to him but because he does not cling to the world.

. Not meditation but sitting and concentrating on breathing, posture, the here and now. "Come to zazen, climb into your coffin; after zazen, climb out of the coffin. What's the difference? Nothing to fear. Kyosaku!" (Robert Livingston Roshi, Zen Temple of New Orleans).

. Japanese for Chinese Ch'an and Sanskrit dhyana, meaning meditation. Zen is not a form of meditation but rather a form of mindfulness.

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