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#1791 - Saturday, May 8, 2004 - Editor: michael

Any great truth can -- and eventually will -- be expressed as a cliche -- a cliche
is a sure and certain way to dilute an idea. For instance, my grandmother used
to say, 'The black cat is always the last one off the fence.'
I have no idea what she meant, but at one time, it was undoubtedly true.
Solomon Short

Zen & Other Spiritual Cliches

Dear Friends,

Cliches, we've all used them. They come in handy. They irritate. They're everywhere.

They are Zen. No doubt about it, 'cause I'm as honest as the day is long. And I wouldn't

pull the wool over your eyes. Even Zen itself is a cliche. You know, like everybody says

'Zen' as if they used thier heads for nothing but  hatracks.


In this edition I've provided some cliches and set them against  Zen poems or quotes.

May you be amused,


All Zen quotes used in this edition were found starting at this web page.  

The cliches were just lying around like old dogs.  

  Love thy neighbor as thyself.  

In the morning, bowing to all;
In the evening, bowing to all.
Respecting others is my only duty--
Hail to the Never-despising Bodhisattva.

In heaven and earth he stands alone.

A real monk
Only one thing--
a heart like
Never-despising Buddha.

-   Ryokan
    Translated by John Stevens
    Three Zen Masters, p. 128

  Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  

We pray for our life of tomorrow,
      Ephemeral life though it be;
This is the habit of our mind
      That passed away yesterday.

               -    Ikkyu
Zen and Zen Classics: Selections from R. H. Blyth, p. 111

  If it was a snake, it would have bit you.  

                                          Above, below and around you, all is
                                          Spontaneously exisitng, for
                                          There is nowhere which is
                                          Outside Buddha-Mind.

                                                                -    Huang Po

God works in mysterious ways.

I asked a child, walking with a candle, 
      "From where comes that light?"
Instantly he blew it out. 
       "Tell me where it is gone -- 
         then I will tell you where it came from." 
-   Hasan of Basra

No man is an island.

 An explosive shout cracks the great empty sky.
Immediately clear self-understanding.
Swallow up buddhas and ancestors of the past.
Without following others, realize complete penetration.
-    Dogen, 1200 - 1253
Moon in a Dewdrop, p, 218 
Translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi

If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him.

 Why are people called Buddhas
After they die?

          Because they don't grumble any more,
Because they don't make a nuisance
Of themselves any more.

             -   Ikkyu
Zen and Zen Classics:  Selections from R. H. Blyth, p. 112

shit happens

by a rocky shore,
winds blowing wildly,
in a boat unmoored--
such is our condition.

  -    Saigyo, 1118 - 1190 Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home, p. 137
Translated by Burton Watson

The path is narrow...

Mind, mind, mind -- above the Path.
Here on my mountain, gray hair down,
I cherish bamboo sprouts, brush carefully
By pine twigs.  Burning incense,
I open a book: mist over flagstones.
Rolling the blind, I contemplate:
Moon in the pond.  Of my old friends
How many know the Way.

         -   Zengetsu
Zen Poems of China and Japan, p. 42
             Translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Life is but a dream.

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise;
A tenth of an inch's difference,
And heaven and earth are set apart;
If you wish to see it before your own eyes,
Have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.

-   On Believing in Mind,   Sosan Canchi Zenji

Honor among thieves.

The thief
Left it behind -
The moon at the window. 

  -    Ryokan,  1758-1831
Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf
Translated by John Stevens

It's all an illusion.

       To what shall
       I liken the world?
       Moonlight, reflected
       In dewdrops.
       Shaken from a crane's bill.

                    -    Dogen, 1200 - 1253
The Zen Poetry of Dogen
                         Translated by Steven Heine

Earth, mountains, rivers - hidden in this nothingness.
 In this nothingness - earth, mountains, rivers revealed.
Spring flowers, winter snows:
There's no being or non-being, nor denial itself. 

  -    Saisho  (? - 1506)
Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, p.32
Translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Chop wood, carry water.

My daily activities are not unusual,
 I'm just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing...
Supernatural power and marvelous activity -
 Drawing water and carrying firewood.
-    Layman Pang-yun (740-808)

I think, therefore, I am.

        The mind of the past is ungraspable;
        the mind of the future is ungraspable;
        the mind of the present is ungraspable.

                                 -    Diamond Sutra

Nobody lives forever.

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die 
-  Basho

The kingdom of heaven is within.

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for a fire with a
lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.

-   Joshu Washes the Bowl, The Gateless Gate #7
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,  p. 176
Translated by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

Don't put new wine into old wineskins.

In this way and that I have tried to save
 the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and
about to break
 Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
 No more moon in the water!
-    Chiyono's enlightenment poem, 
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,  1957, p. 31
Translated by Paul Reps and Nyogen Zenzaki

If it's not one thing, it's another.

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains,
            and waters as waters.
When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point
where I saw that mountains are not mountains,
            and waters are not waters.
But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.
For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains,

            and waters once again as waters.
                               -     Ching-yuan

Everything is energy.

Form does not differ from emptiness;
Emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness;
Emptiness itself is form.
So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.

Heart Sutra

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

As flowing waters disappear into the mist
We lose all track of their passage.
Every heart is its own Buddha.
Ease off ...  become immortal.

Wake up!   The world's a mote of dust.
Behold heaven's round mirror.
Turn loose!  Slip past shape and shadow,
Sit side by side with nothing, save Tao.

    -   Shih-shu, 1703
        Stones and Trees; The Poetry of Shih-Shu
        Translation by James H. Sanford
The Clouds Should Know Me By Now, 1998, p. 153

Leave well enough alone.

just as it is,
as it is, 
as is. 
Flowers in bloom.
Nothing to add. 

-    Robert Aitken, Roshi, As it Is

If thine eye be single...

Fathomed at last!
Ocean's dried.  Void burst.
Without an obstacle in sight,
It's everywhere!

             -    Joho, 12th Century
Zen Poems of China and Japan, 1973,  p. 15
                  Translated by Lucien Stryk, Takashi Ikemoto and Taigan Takayama

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