1 month ago
A year or so later, in Kyoto, I asked my teacher Oda Sesso Roshi, "Sometimes I write poetry. Is that all right?" He laughed and said, "It's all right as long as it comes out of your true self." He also said "You know, poets have to play a lot, asobi." That seemed an odd thing to say, because the word asobi has an implication of wandering the bars and pleasure quarters, the behavior of a decadent wastrel. I knew he didn't mean that. For many years while doing Zen practice around Kyoto, I virtually quit writing poetry. It didn't bother me. My thought was, Zen is serious, poetry is not serious. In any case, you have to be completely serious when you do Zen practice. So I tried to be serious and I didn't write many poems. I studied with him for six years.
IN 1966, JUST BEFORE ODA ROSHI DIED, I had a talk with him in the hospital. I said, "Roshi! So it's Zen is serious, poetry is not serious." He said "No, no—poetry is serious! Zen is not serious." I had it all wrong! I don't know if it was by accident or it was a gift he gave me, but I started writing more, and maybe I did a little less sitting, too. I think I had come to understand something about play: to be truly serious you have to play. That's on the side of poetry, and of meditation, too. In fact, play is essential to everything we do—working on cars, cooking, raising children, running corporations—and poetry is nothing special. Language is no big deal. Mind is no big deal. Meaning or no-meaning, it's perfectly okay. We take what's given us, with gratitude.
* * *
In Japanese art, demons are funny little guys, as solid as horses and cows, who gnash their fangs and cross their eyes. Poetry is a way of celebrating the actuality of a nondual universe in all its facets. Its risk is that it declines to exclude demons. Buddhism offers demons a hand and then tries to teach them to sit. But there are tricky little poetry/ego demons that do come along, tempting us with suffering or with insight, with success or failure. There are demons practicing meditation and writing poetry in the same room with the rest of us, and we are all indeed intimate.
John Muir on Mt. Ritter:
After scanning its face again and again,
I began to scale it, picking my holds
With intense caution. About half-way
To the top, I was suddenly brought to
A dead stop, with arms outspread
Clinging close to the face of the rock
Unable to move hand or foot
Either up or down. My doom
Appeared fixed. I MUST fall.
There would be a moment of
Bewilderment, and then,
A lifeless rumble down the cliff
To the glacier below.
My mind seemed to fill with a
Stifling smoke. This terrible eclipse
Lasted only a moment, when life blazed
Forth again with preternatural clearness.
I seemed suddenly to become possessed
Of a new sense. My trembling muscles
Became firm again, every rift and flaw in
The rock was seen as through a microscope,
My limbs moved with a positiveness and precision
With which I seemed to have
Nothing at all to do.
No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.
"We're not eating babies or drinking blood," said Teri Kalgren, W.E.L.'s vice president. "[We promote] a better understanding of what witch craft is." [And that would be??? Apparently, what Witchcraft is -- is going around assuring people that you don't eat babies. Because there's NO discussion of "what witch craft is." Just the already-hackneyed assertion that we don't eat babies.]
continue with community services such as the annual W.E.B.-founded "ask a witch, make a wand," where children are invited to make magic wands with area witches near Halloween. [Great idea, by the way. G/Son would love it. More like this.]
planning a number of events coming up including a [P]agan family day tentatively set for August.