Thirty Verses on Koans, I

These verses are responses to the koans in three 13th-century Chinese koan collections. To locate the koan to which the verse pertains, see: Gateless Gate (aka Mumonkan or Wumenguan) HERE; Blue Cliff Record (aka Hekiganroku or Biyan Lu) HERE; Book of Serenity (aka Shoyoroku or Congrong Lu) HERE.

Blue Cliff Record #42
Beauty of flake, sting of slap,
No place but here, no place but here.
Beauty of flake, sting of slap,
Long since gone, long since gone.
2016 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #91, Book of Serenity #25
Rhinoceros broken to make a fan, also broken. One brokenness or two?
Bring forth your brokenness and, what is the same, the rhino's.
Then you may draw a perfect circle
And behold what is right under your nose.
2016 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #71
The monkey leaped far from branch to branch, and
Now would instruct the eagle and turtle alike how to soar.
Shoulding the teacher is a gutsy display,
But what do you do for an encore?
2016 Apr

Blue Cliff Record #70
An action (speaking, say)
Doesn't come from a decision (to open the lips, say)
It doesn't come from anywhere, it's just suddenly (there, say)
One ex nihilo universe after another, all day long. Say!
2016 Apr

Gateless Gate #40
Every true assertion is also false.
Every false one also true.
Speech, calling a thing this or that, is a hawk's cry in a canyon.
It says neither something nor nothing, and it echoes.
2016 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #26
Behold the special! So ordinary.
Behold the ordinary! Sublimely special.
Sitting alone leads to bowing.
Bowing leads to receiving blows.
This ordinary is extraordinary precisely because there is no extra.
2016 Mar

Blue Cliff Record #3, Book of Serenity #36
Listen, I will tell you the good news: you're going to die.
You don't have to get everything fixed, figured out.
It's not up to you. You're off the hook, Dead One Walking.
You only have to be present to the sky's shining faces.
If you say, "no time soon, I hope," you might as well be dead already.
1800 years is just the same as one day.
Right now, the only eternity there is, they're just the same.
2016 Feb

Gateless Gate #33
Snowflakes are beautiful because they are gone.
Flowers come after, also gone, gone before they arrive.
Rocks, lakes, stars -- all that is mind --
All long departed: beauties of absence.
2016 Feb

Gateless Gate #30
Endless play everywhere. No inside, no outside.
The ten thousand things cross the ten thousand synapses,
Merge into a single axon, which passes itself into
The dendrites of ten thousand other cells.
This is not just a nervous system.
It is mountains, rivers, the great wide earth.
No outside, no inside. Endless play everywhere.
2016 Feb

Blue Cliff Record #18, Book of Serenity #85
A seamless monument, he requests -- to a seamless life,
Lived like a fabric smooth and unbroken from river to lake.
Are you so keen to unemploy the tailor?
Or has your eye perceived the seamlessness of every seam?
2016 Jan

Book of Serenity #42
Just take a deep breath. The essential body of Vairocana Buddha.
Turn left at the second light. The essential body of Vairocana Buddha.
It's always right where you put it, until you try to nail it there,
Then it's gone.
2016 Jan

Blue Cliff Record #99
"Jesus died to save you," say the Christians.
Buddha, also, dies to save you.
The twist, though, is you must kill him yourself --
And know you haven't been saved from anything.
2016 Jan

Gateless Gate #17
Calling calls and stands alone, complete.
Answering answers and stands alone, complete.
Thus do you and I, each other's attendant, each other's master,
Disappear into solitary completeness.
2015 Dec

Book of Serenity #5
I went down to Luling to buy a bag of rice.
I paid something for it: the essence of Buddhism, I guess.
Even though the bag proved to be empty
I have been living on that rice ever since.
2015 Dec

Gateless Gate #29
So wind, flag, and mind all move.
So neither wind, nor flag, nor mind move.
Both are true.
Indeed, they are the same truth.
2015 Dec

Gateless Gate #23
Ming's primal face, without thinking good or evil, was thinking good and evil.
Maybe he knew. If so, what then? Softening? Hardening?
To become dry, dive into the lake.
Steadfast attention to the grip
Is the only release.
2015 Nov

Blue Cliff Record #67
Other masters of the time opened their mouths, spoke at length,
Polished and clarified the Diamond, edified audiences.
Today we speak of Fu, who spoke not,
And speak not of the masters who spoke.
Were not Baozhi's ghost whispering the poisonous question, "Have you understood?"
We would not distinguish chatter from silence.
2015 Nov

Gateless Gate #41
No one's arm was lost,
No weapons, no defenses, cut through;
Thus peace and disarming mutually entail --
And both are always already established.
2015 Nov

Blue Cliff Record #1, Book of Serenity #2
The deep meaning of the holy truth is that there is no holy truth.
Therefore, not knowing pervades everywhere
Like a mountain mist, like a speck of mud on a trouser leg --
Like a sincere and pious prayer.
2015 Nov

Book of Serenity #3
Every dharma is dharma.
Realizing realizes.
He can recite the suchness-sutra
But can he shut up?
2015 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #78
Just find fifteen intimate friends,
And follow the rule.
The water takes care of everything.
Nothing to pierce. Nothing to break through.
2015 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #84, Book of Serenity #48
Watch them play, Manjusri and Vimalakirti.
See the one's chatter enact the other's silence.
The one's silence enact the other's chatter.
Watch them play, Xuedou and Hongzhi,
Recapitulating the ancients.
All the words there ever were are contained in your silence.
The vast and void silence is contained in your every word.
How then will you speak? How remain silent?
How enter the gate of Not-Two?
2015 Oct

Gateless Gate #22
Breathing in, Ananda. Breathing out, yes, Master.
Breathing in, yes, Master. Breathing out, Ananda.
Breathing in, flagpole knocked down. Breathing out, flagpole raised.
Breathing in, flagpole raised. Breathing out, flagpole knocked down.
2015 Oct

Gateless Gate #6
If you are genuine,
like a running brook, like a crow,
Or like that weed in Buddha's hand,
Then the treasury is transmitted to you
Every time you smile, and
Every time you don't.
If you ask, "how can I become genuine?" then you are lost.
Sit down, shut up, and see
That you have never not been.
2015 Oct

Blue Cliff Record #97, Book of Serenity #58
The people hate you, of course.
They know you for the liar, the thief, the murderer that you are.
Can you be saved? Redeemed?
Maybe. Just tell me this:
How deeply grateful are you for their hatred?
2015 Sep

Blue Cliff Record #94, Book of Serenity #88
When the beloved's smile lights up your world, you don't see it.
Isn't it just you, through and through: smile, light, beloved?
Later, groping for the memory, you believe you saw it,
And the world dims. Also you.
2015 Aug

Gateless Gate #42
Buddhas gather so they can return to their original dwelling.
They return so they can gather again at the next Buddha party.
She, unnamed and untitled,
Her light and its snares one,
Surpasses their backing and forthing.
2015 Aug

Blue Cliff Record #92, Book of Serenity #1
Each moment, a gavel bang.
Each moment as sharp as that whack.
This is the Dharma of the Dharma-King.
Birthless, deathless, thunderingly silent.
2015 Aug

Gateless Gate #32, Blue Cliff Record #65
Such earnestness and no asking.
Miles and miles beneath the sun and under the moon
Climbing mountains, crossing rivers, getting lost in the woods:
A long journey for nothing.
2015 Jun

Book of Serenity #4
Mountains, rivers, God’s green earth
Spring sanguinaria, autumn moonlight,
Lightning flashes light up the pines.
Indra would have more quickly built the temple
Had he left the grass stalk where it was.
2015 Jun

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