Painting on Water

Foothills for shoes, clear blue sky for a cap,
crisp empty air my cloak, honeyed sunlight
the shine my smile makes on wet grass –
who can say I lack for anything?
With gratitude my constant garland,
new birds’ nests my shoulder epaulets,
rapturous scent of lilacs and lavender
perfuming my heart-strewn path –
what do I have to protect or defend?
Clustered snug in mossy shallows,
filmy egg sacs ripe with tadpoles
incubate a destiny of dream-like worlds
afloat beyond the ken of frogs or men.
I just might laze around this magic pond all day!
With this heart a bursting bubble of joy,
what need for artifice have I?
Red dragonflies swoop low to play,
winged buddhas humming sermons
that words just can’t convey.
I hum along, we sing ourselves –
there is no disagreement.
Aimlessly wandering
through diamond fields
of emerging starlight at dusk,
I span the celestial playgrounds –
one seamless smile widening
into the heart of fathomless space,
echo of thunder before going under,
all fear dissolving, laughter erupting,
“Alive, alive” I say!
There I’ll sway by the light of the moon,
arms hugging my sides for some warmth,
my unreasonable laughter echoing through
rock canyons like a flock of partying peacocks,
drunk and destined for a sober-less night of love.
I’ve heard all the thoughtful talk
about life’s purpose and meaning –
just never took it too seriously.
Purposeless, I ramble on through
mountain meadows while meaning,
that mewling straggler, struggles
to catch up with me.
It hops along on one ragged foot,
while mine barely touch the ground.
Listen, you old mountain:
not one wise word today
about emptiness or impermanence —
not when these splendid wildflowers
run giddy riot up and down your hillsides!
Memories dissolve like cowering mists
pierced through and through by morning sunlight,
yet I am not naive enough to imagine that they won’t
return to climb the spine of my sentiment and linger
here at dusk, tenacious shades I’ll bear to the cave
of my heart, there to be tenderly consigned to a fire
I’ve lit for them to disappear in once again.
Only then will the clarity of moonlight
reveal the hidden secret memory can’t bear:
I have no past, I never did –
this skull is a bowl of moonshine.
The breezy spree of late-afternoon winds
swirling in play among the high pines
transmits a fragrance of fresh apples,
royal offerings flamed in crimson,
ripe from valley orchards below.
Gratitude for no-distance!
Now I’m a rouged sunset sky of feeling,
an open-billowing bliss, illumined
with the poignant shine of this
ever-arriving moment –
a wind song of apple light settling,
its lingering perfume lifting my smallness
into the everything-everywhere, senses keen
to apple worship in orchards of falling night.
Fascinated by itself, the drama,
depth, and direction of itself, it has
luxuriated in the infinite shades of itself,
yet unable to substantiate itself, at last retreats
to its own core, as the Maple’s sap does in fall.
How its leaves flush with color before
submitting to the romance of the breeze,
a ravishing angel, impersonally adorned,
autumnal compassion with no condition!
There is no dead weight in this
surrender, no reluctance, no resistance.
Still, at the root, the tree will cling
tenaciously to earth, like a child
to its parent, and not let go.
This season’s work is at the root –
that’s where the story began.
No longer anxious to fall for that
old trick of attainment, I now freely
squander my time, doting on the way
these luxuriant summer grasses, gaily
gathered in the arms of the billowing
breeze, bend to gently blend like
glad willing lovers immersed
in the act of perfect love.
At the break of dawn I kneel
to wash my eyes and mouth
in fresh cool mountain brooks.
In the evening I sit on a warm rock
by the stream and listen to water
tell tales without end.
Some smart fellow once said,
”No eyes, no ears, no mouth . . .”
Later he entered a mountain stream
and hasn’t stopped babbling since.
These days, I no longer remember
why I first sat down against this cliff.
If the mountain doesn’t care,
why should I?
The best advice I was ever given:
“Find out for yourself.”
How was I to suspect at the time,
that turned out to be the best joke!
The folks of the world aren’t different from me
except that they all have things they must do.
I was a lot like that once too, back when
I imagined I had something to do.
How about you –
what do you have to do?
Without your doing, somehow you were born.
Without your doing, each thought takes form.
Without your doing, the body keeps breathing.
Regardless of any fine notions of doing or not,
when it’s time for your body to stop, it will stop.
How crisp this mountain air!
I’m lived as plainly as the air I share
the mountain sky with, share
the lack of any why with —
chin-deep in chill, I am
whatever thrills me!
Everything is learning
to disappear –
what’s left when all is released:
some may call “The Teaching”,
the lovers say it’s love,
but from the wisest,
no word.
How can one attempt to find it,
if they know not what they seek?
Freedom finds itself.
One may advance to its threshold,
but what passes through the open gate
is not what stood before it once,
hoping to gain entrance.
Life moves as freely as it will,
plants vineyards, crushes the grapes,
then drinks the ruby wine of them —
our dreams and fears go too.
Don’t fall for myths of personal continuity,
don’t pledge your allegiance to phantoms.
Why substantiate a whisper of shadows,
all the while postponing, resisting this innate
presence waiting patiently to reveal itself?
What awakens to itself in ways
both mysterious and true, is the simple
recognition of the innocence we’ve always been.
One bright shout of our own light
clears the sky of doubtful mind.
Trust in it and have no fear —
it will outshine you too.
Lone flute in a distant canyon,
suddenly I am heart-broken.
Have all my efforts
come to this — these tears?
If you try to grab hold of it,
it will playfully evade you.
If you let it take you,
it will become you, the life
of your life, your living water.
The stream will meander on,
going its natural way –
no one knows how that will flow,
yet, rather than a fearful thing,
this is the heart’s delight.
How wonderful to course
freely on, splashing along the banks
where the tall green grasses sway all day
in their play with the stream-borne breezes!
Above the temple, a scythe of moon
is harvesting fields of stars while
everyone shrugs and snores.
From my window, I watch light leaping
from lotus to lotus, dancing across
the pond in firefly glee, expounding
the one and only true teaching.
How can anyone ignore
such eloquence?
Intermittent freezing drizzle
shrouds a light-torn sky.
Dreaming in the rock cave corner,
a lazy dog slumbers while this
old good-for-nothing smokes
the pipe of evanescence.
Tonight the buddhas have vanished,
yet in the dark a lone wolf’s howl
still expresses miraculous power.
Drifting in the restless wind,
some swirling flakes of snow agree.
Blue belly warming
on black granite rock –
yellow-eyed cat crouching,
a skittering of lizard feet.
Everything gets what it needs.
Only remember, belief is a thief.
Have nothing to steal.
Draped in a luminous memory of star-shine,
the night returns, remembers itself all over
again, exactly as I recall myself, embraced
by this lit vastness, opening to that same
vastness shining within, welcoming all
as a quicksilver memory of myself –
this self-forgetting, once feared, now
lavishly bright with impersonal
truth, forgetting that too –
only the night remains.
Judgments bought me an urn of stone,
impermanence filled it with ashes.
From a ledge on the edge of this world
I poured out into the impersonal wind.
Shadows of clouds swept over the cliffs,
a lone flute’s sound fell into the void.
If you want to change, if you want to serve,
bow down at the feet of all you’ve slurred.
Crack open that cold rock jar and weep,
let your heart speak, let your tears be
solvent to that hard crust of pride,
revealing a love which can’t be
resisted and won’t be denied!
What gives
is what receives;
what receives, gives.
is exchanged.
is a cunning thief.
A word to the wise:
quick — empty your hands.
What care have I for others’ words,
judgments, or expectations?
There are so many ways this life can play,
it confounds the gods’ imagination!
In the morning I bathe in a clear cool stream.
The remains of the day — too full to say!
At night I rock amidst the stars,
a lover in the arms of the beloved.
Nothing is waiting to be affirmed,
yet nothing arises to be refused.
Free of distraction, I’m unbound
by all of those petty man-made rules.
Behold, I sport amidst the flashing forms
of light and shadow, sound and utter silence!
Yelp of a baby fresh from the womb,
heartbeat identical to the throb of infinity —
throughout all creation its secret remains
hidden, yet it is never out of view.
In realms of darkness it abides as light.
In realms of light it abides as darkness.
Primordial peace, ocean of grace, essence
inexhaustible – who can describe it?
When I offer these words to the fire, the smoke
will rise and wreath this sacred mountain,
just as this mountain now wreathes me.
For each and every one of us there is
a true way – no need to imitate anyone else.
The easy path for each goes in the same
direction one’s heart unswervingly follows –
what’s truly most appealing to us
requires no stress and strain at all!
Effort can obscure the way,
yet so can effort’s lack.
When in doubt, just walk on.
Nothing real can long be hidden.
If we ourselves are the destination,
why worry our minds about delays?
There is a string of lovely pearls
the adepts have called “life after life”.
Each one is a unique miracle, draped
like radiant suns around the throat
of a blissful Buddha, appearing
in the imaginatively creative
form of our own self.
Likewise, life after life,
our own perfect way
shines bright before us.
Each traveler journeys
at their own perfect speed,
neither hurrying nor tarrying.
Whatever way we go is right for us —
without the slightest deviation, each path
in time returns the one who walks it home.
Visions of luminous grandeur
that thrilled my heart today are now
fast consumed by tonight’s chilling mists.
Stinging airborne water curtains obscure
the once-bright stage, leaving this
cold-soaked audience of one
to soberly sit and ponder
the play of changes —
yet like a lunatic
I rock back and forth,
arms hugging my sides to
keep from freezing, unaccountable
laughter echoing through rock canyons
like a flock of partying peacocks, drunk and
calling, destined for a sober-less night of love.
Memories dissolve like cowering
mists pierced through and through by
Manjusri’s sword of morning sunlight.
Still, I am not naive enough to imagine
they won’t return to climb the spine
of my sentiment and linger here
at dusk, tenacious shades
I’ll bear to the cave of my heart,
there to be tenderly consigned to a fire
I’ve lit for them to disappear in once again.
Only then will the clarity of moonlight reveal
the hidden secret memory can’t bear:
I have no past, I never did –
this skull is a bowl
of moonshine.
Every place is my favorite place
along this mountain stream.
When every place is perfect,
how can there be any regrets?
Wherever I am
is the right place to be –
what could be easier than that?
When I enter the stream,
I become the stream.
When I become the stream,
I forget the stream.
Water forgets itself in me.
I forget myself in water.
Water needn’t search for itself
when all there is, is water.
I’m not here to explain —
I’m here to praise.
Sometimes an explanation
can be a form of praise.
Just so, I offer
the following explanation:
there is nothing to explain.
There have been enough
explanations, not enough praise.
Our amazing feat of embodiment
needs no explanation.
The very act of appearing at all
is reason enough for praise!
Whatever can be gained
can also be lost.
Come spring, a thousand streams
cascade down sloping mountains.
In the fall, ten thousand trees
shed fading golden leaves.
After all, whichever way we turn,
what has been gained, what lost?
What do we long for most of all,
when autumn leaves begin to fall?
Like salty tears wept into the sea,
one dream melts into the next –
nothing remains hidden,
though nothing is revealed.
Awake in the dream, writing
in the air, I feed the wind
whatever still stings.
What clings is where
the real practice is, that is
if I honestly want the truth.
It won’t be found in the myths
of personal continuity, those stories
requiring an allegiance to phantoms,
as if to add some density to shadows,
all the while postponing, resisting
the presence waiting patiently
to reveal itself as the truth
nobody wants to hear.
Open your mouth
and try to say it,
see if your tongue
will move.
Everything is
cause for anything,
all is one with its effect.
With each step a fresh wind rises
as I tread alone through dusk-pink sky,
every direction home, every path the way.
For untold years I’ve sung these songs
of moon and water, mist and snow,
yet if you ask me what I know,
I’ll laugh and walk away –
the moon is rising full tonight,
that’s all I’ll have to say.
Imagine the ingenuity of mind,
reaching into itself to conjure up
some light with which to cast these
carnival masks and fleetingly familiar
shapes we playfully try on for fit, yet
behind each disguise is the waiting
surprise — there’s nobody there
but the air, Friends, there’s
nobody there but air.
A season of clouds and rain —
water beings emerge and dissolve,
while water in essence remains
itself, eternally the same.
Neither awake nor asleep,
water modifies itself as every
form with neither effort nor intent.
Devoid of any inherent distinction,
water flows, splashes, and divides,
yet persists at rest within its
own sufficient unity.
I am nothing but a jar of water —
once the container of time breaks open,
water will flood naturally back into itself.
Every water molecule will rejoice!
Awakening to light’s
spilling morning invitation,
lone magnolia’s crimson blossoms,
starkly framed by cave mouth opening,
erupt in riotous syncopation, dewy ecstasy,
golden dawn’s first bliss kiss smeared
across the sky’s blushing cheek,
awaiting my next move.
Mr. Illusion sits down to compose —
a ghost attempts to make human sounds.
The desire to say anything of real value
is a moon trying to give birth to a sun.
When the mind has any object to pursue
the trap is sprung, no use praying then.
The idea of arriving at some special destination?
There’s a clown playing tricks on gullible children.
Pouring studiously over the classic holy texts,
ignorance and arrogance increase exponentially.
Seeking the changeless within the changing,
when will you clarify there’s nobody home?
The glorious transcendence of all conceptual fabrications,
indescribable in words and ungraspable by thought —
what an amusing daydream for the illustrious one
who secretly worries about getting too fat!
Want to save your cast of dream characters?
How about waking yourself up instead.
When we imagine we’ve finally understood,
we merely succeed in embarrassing ourselves.
The peerless pristine sky of mind –
that’s where all our thought sheep roam.
Enamored of emptiness?
It’s empty too, an echoing laugh.
Listen, nothing true can come from a lie —
religion keeps us stupid, politics
insures that we stay blind.
The so-called sages all contradict themselves,
ignore the Buddha who knocks at your door!
Think it’s time to let go and rest?
First things first:
clean up your own mess!
Laying on your back in bed
keeping vigil in your private cave
thoughts squeeze through rock walls
like dripping water, forming tiny rivulets
going nowhere, not to any sea, not merging
triumphantly with the great everything at last
no, just evaporating before your eyes, forming
the pleasantly moist atmospheric cave ambience
where you hover in place like the central thought —
that one thought all other thoughts revolve around.
What if you just got out of bed now — you could,
you know, and strap on your waiting wings,
open the bedroom window, lift up and out
into the cloudless sky, don’t look back,
don’t give it another watery thought
go ahead, don’t hesitate, just fly!
Circumstance and expectation rarely coincide –
if and when they do, we can be sure
that it will be but briefly.
Like passing clouds, conditions are always forming,
changing, and dissolving – a perpetual round
of morphing water cycling through space.
All efforts to discern the meaning of it all,
if indeed there even is one, finally collapsed
when I just let things open and reveal themselves
for what they are, without the superimposition
of borrowed concepts and opinions.
It’s not that difficult to enjoy this gift of life
if we give up trying to figure it out, and instead
just relax and appreciate it as it unfolds.
It’s simple: when we resist, we suffer.
True acceptance is a marvelous garden
where love and peace can bloom and thrive.
Just so, this light warm breeze has laid claim
to my flowering senses, while overnight it seems
a riot of camellia blossoms has erupted in vibrant pinks,
reds, and whites, all spawned from the same fertile source
that births these glowing particles of living light.
They shine, swirl, and congeal into the momentary forms
of you and I, flowers and mountains, rivers and clouds,
always changing and dissolving – a perpetual round
of joyous love play cycling through space.
Candle flame wavers in the wind,
then blows out — pitch black.
Whatever was there before is still here,
yet now seems more palpable, waiting
patiently just behind these words,
crouched and ready to appear.
It is never the word we use to describe it,
nor does it move stealthily around in the dark
like a nocturnal predator, calculating its prey.
Some earnest aspirants sit in the dark for years
as if it is eventually going to oblige them,
switch on a light, and reveal itself.
Meanwhile, it is what’s sitting, waiting for itself
to appear, even though it has always been here.
It doesn’t make choices, it is the revelation too,
the one which won’t appear to enlighten
the dark and empty sitting room.
This is the provisional revelation:
to be everywhere but not appear.
If it appears, we’ve made an error —
thus begins the preaching, the candle talk.
As for the final revelation:
silence into silence,
pitch black.
Afternoon amid the ancients, in reverie
beneath an arc of translucent green leaf canopy,
a young child daydreams at the edge of a brook,
entranced by the play of water-skimming spiders.
From the deeper pools, little multi-colored carp
rise languidly to feed on the crumbs of time . . .
How many seasons come and go, unnoticed?
Memories, soft ripples spreading over stillness,
lapping at the banks – nothing really changes,
though nothing ever stays the same.
Nearby, ripe and fragrant with summer’s nectar,
blackberries swell flamboyantly over an old deer path
winding its way down to the cool inviting stream.
Purple skins luxuriate in the sun’s generous warmth,
each bulging berry bursting in its own perfect time,
one after the other spilling their syrupy essence
in the same way everything eventually pours out
of its own skin, an offered gift from life to life.
Form and emptiness, emptiness and form —
two twining smoke vapors – spiral higher,
higher into a darker blue, while somewhere,
lovers embrace again after lifetimes apart;
a teacup spills from an old woman’s grasp;
a shocked thief in the midst of his crime
suddenly catches himself in a mirror;
and a young child sleepily looks up,
then slowly closes his eyes again,
lounging near a murmuring stream,
dreaming, dreaming, dreaming . . .
The sound of running water in a desert –
the Dharma of Fun is that rare!
Abundance on this silly mountain –
there’s running water everywhere!
White clouds billowing over glad green hills,
making fast friends with skies of blue –
like you and I and running water –
all just merrily passing through.
The hermit’s life amidst such scenes
may not be fun for everyone, but
speaking here of running water:
running water likes to run.
Even depthless pools of calm serenity
are but running water’s breathless way
of having some motionless fun.
Waterfalls of bubbling laughter
won’t always come after,
though often they will.
Just so, silence is the happy sound
water makes when having fun
means being still!
For many years I’ve sung my songs
of running water, trees in snow,
yet if you ask me what I know,
I’ll laugh and walk away –
the breeze is picking up today,
that’s all I’ll have to say.
I awaken in my mountain bed,
harkened by a playful breeze –
an indolent dreamer, today I am
whirling particles of breathing light,
day-dreaming’s darling child, Delight,
with nothing to do but join in the play
on such a glorious snowy day!
So that it can fully experience itself,
appreciate and enjoy itself, life
grants a loving gift to itself:
the gift of the five senses.
Now, without hesitation,
let’s open up all of our cells,
let’s liberate every bodily molecule,
awaken and let our senses unfold
like fragrant floral petals.
We needn’t hold back, or wait
for a more auspicious time.
Life can only happen here,
not in the past or future.
Let’s open more than our mind,
more than even our heart –
let’s open our entire miracle body,
every glorious euphoric atom of it!
In this very moment, let’s expand
in all directions to infinity and beyond.
Couldn’t it be we are meant just for that?
Why limit ourselves to the cage of the known,
when our true being is boundless?
Our inheritance is open-ended –
contraction, fixation, why bother?
Let’s cut through all solidity
and break the chain of causality!
We’ll leave a trail of stars in our wake,
and galaxies spinning like carnival wheels!
Why turn away the gifts of life —
we’ve arrived at this table to taste,
to listen and smell, to see and touch.
Our resistance only postpones life’s call,
our reluctance keeps us fearful and small.
Whether or not we triumph or fail,
let’s break the trance and feel it all!
This Rock Medicine is not a cure
for the imaginary ailment which
keeps the preachers in business.
It advertises no speedy transformation,
promises no transcendental state,
nor cancels any lingering debt.
It is neither a strategy of improvement,
a method of redemption, a salvation
scheme, or some miracle remedy.
As such, it may be the remedy
for all other remedies.
Encouraging neither hope nor despair,
it seeks no success, avoids no failure.
Nothing succeeds like failure –
it’s Rock Medicine, with absolutely
nothing special to recommend it!
From the perspective of panaceas
and placebos, it’s of no practical use –
the ultimate medicine of last resort.
Because it is freely available
to all, it is most common.
Since its true value
is unknown, it’s priceless.
A treatment of Rock Medicine
accomplishes nothing, incites
no glowing testimonials, awakens
no secret power, prompts no gleeful
exultation or rapturous hyperbole.
It has no grand master,
no initiated practitioners,
no evangelizing devotees,
no gospel of supreme insight
couched between contradictory
warnings and exaggerated promises.
A word of caution: it’s not
what it appears, nor is it otherwise.
It will never be transmitted
from one to another –
it has no other.
It’s Rock Medicine, and like
all forms of unreasonable happiness,
it’s meant to be shared, never hoarded.
Confounding and obscure
to the meaning-making mind, it’s
the means by which all minds move.
Perhaps those who’ve had enough
of the sicknesses born of either hope
or fear may finally be ready for it.
In any case, all are welcomed to it —
there’s no requirement, except
to surrender every preference
and abandon all alternatives.
It belongs to nobody, nor could
any other ingredient be added to, mixed
with, or subtracted from it – it works alone.
With no image to preserve
nor identity to defend, it will never
become famous, nor can it be described
in terms or signifiers of what it is not.
It does not suddenly become available
when we are born, nor does it vanish
when we slide away into the light
of which all forms are made.
It has no proper place or position,
and neither improves, stays the same,
nor degrades with age and circumstance.
It comes with no expiration code.
Preceding history, it has no precedent.
Ever new, it’s immediately forgotten
after the fact — spontaneously!
Since it can neither be learned
nor ignored, it is without any quality
worthy of praise or complaint – a lesson
in itself, and one best not forgotten!
Beyond compare, it cannot be
apprehended by simile or metaphor –
what phrase or lyric could do justice
to that immense darkness from which
the stars shine forth in splendor at night?
If there even existed a word for it,
it wouldn’t be the genuine
Rock Medicine.
Unnoticed in the spiraling commotion
of the scene changes on the cosmic stage,
it humbly goes about its natural business,
while theologians and philosophers
ponder in awe and bewilderment
at the inexplicable existence
of anything at all.
Although the secrets contained within
this Rock Medicine are astounding,
there’s really nothing to it!
It’s Rock Medicine —
nothing goes down easier.
The compassionate choice,
it’s avoided till the end.
When applied as directed, it will
perform as claimed, although
it makes no special claims.
Impartial to both saint and sinner,
emperor and peasant, wise and foolish,
it functions impeccably, leaving
no trace of itself behind.
It’s what sages name
“the nameless”.
Do yourself a favor, and
ask for it by name!
How many lives have I exhausted
roaming through nights like tonight —
a wandering ghost sitting in the burnt-out
shell of a phantom temple, heart-eyes
tuned to moonlit views, palms open,
receptive, then realizing that I have
arrived back where I began:
in a dream, a dream
of moonshine
On a snowy path to nowhere
seasons seem to just slip by,
dreaming never ends.
Now the fog is lifting,
another winter turns to spring.
I wash my face in an icy stream –
this mountain’s just a mountain, after all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s