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Roshi Cagamucho was rough on poets. He thought poets were a complicated, effeminate bunch, and very poor material from which to carve an enlightened monk.
Seasoned monks advised the novices, "If you're a poet don't show it, or you'll be put in charge of the honey buckets until the day you leave."
I disregarded that advice due to my addiction to Haiku, waka , renga, and even haiga. I wrote poems at every opportunity. And, of course, tried to push my poems on the monks. They were terrified that Cagamucho would catch them reading my poetry. At first they declined politely, but I was relentless in forcing my poems on them. The ignorant lot didn't realize how spiritual my poetry was. I had no doubt it would speed up their progress. So It was for their own good that I accosted them in the aisles, or placed poems under their pillows, or crumpled them into little balls, and dropped them in their rice bowls. Finally, in desperation, several monks went to the head monk.
Next day, the head monk marched me to the temple hall, were I found the roshi dressed in full regalia, and looking as aloof, cold, and imposing as a mountain peak.
I have invited you for some tea, come up and sit with me.
After I sat, I noticed my feet felt like ice, but the palm of my hands were sweating.
Show me one of those poems you have been serving with the rice.
I don't have any with me, but I could recite one.
Oh, you commit them to memory? Your mind must be very cluttered .
Well, I just remember the best ones.
I don't remember any of mine, he said.
I'll be honored if you show me some.
I don't write them down, I forget them as soon as they come up.
That's terrible, sir, you must write them for the good of others.
I can't, my poetry has no words.
No words? That's impossible!
Oh, it's possible. How many words do your poems have?
I'm not sure, eight, maybe ten on average.
Too many! Write poems with only one word. That'll be a nice start for now.
That's is impossible. A poem needs beauty, meaning, sensation, emotion, one word can't convey that.
Butterflies, he said.
Pardon me! What about them?
Butterflies have beauty, meaning, they can convey sensations and emotions. So, just write, Butterflies.
No sir, a single word can not be a poem.
How many words are needed then, would red butterflies do?
Red butterflies gone, then?
Red butterflies gone, Night?
No. That won't do either.
Red butterflies gone,
Because now with those five words, meaning has been created and the words convey emotion.
Which word carries the emotion?
No one in particular, we need them all.
Are you sure? Suppose I said, Gone falls red butterflies night. Would that be the same?
No, sir, certain meaning is needed for emotion to be there.
But each word retains its own meaning regardless of their order, do they not?
Yes, sir, they do!
So do you know how they gain new meaning when placed in a particular order, and how that meaning creates emotion?
He stared at me with his slanted eyes as a wolf stalking a hare.
You are nothing but a milker of emotions. You have a cow's udder for a brain. And you just milk it and stuff yourself with emotions and pride. You will collect excrement every week in the village to fertilize the garden, and you'll scrub the floors every day, and since your brain is a cow's tit repeat Mu constantly while doing it.
After my lecture on poetry, I stayed at the zendo for another three years, but, until the day I left, Cagamucho and I never spoke again.
I repeated Mu, I sat for two hours in the morning, and two in the evening, I attended lectures and sermons, and did my chores, but my main practice was Cagamucho watching.
He walked like an elephant, and sat like a great ape. He had all the unconcerned confidence of a huge beast. His movements were like a deliberate, ponderous dance. At times he had the stare of a wolf, and at times his eyes would look on things like a puppy, with that irresistible, innocent charm. He was uncomplicated, single, all of one piece, but his simplicity was mysterious, dark, empty, and as scary as a bottomless pit.
I stalked and studied him like an entomologist pursuing a rare butterfly. Sometimes, when meditating I felt I was him, and sat on the mat like a huge rock. And then, one day it happened, I was him. The mind became an endless pit. a chasm which had no needs, fears, or goals, empty and self-sufficient, it contained all things.
I marched to his room like a rogue elephant in its prime ready to confront an aging bull. Sliding the paper screen door open, I saw him sitting by his window gazing at the Zen garden, the wisteria, and the blue hills beyond. He stared with brown puppy eyes. He seemed soft, open, receptive, like a woman in love.
As I sat down, he turned, looking at me now, as a cat sizing up the strength of a rat. We confronted each other in silence for a few seconds, then I touched the mat with my forehead.
I'm leaving you now.
He nodded with a faint smile, You have done well!
I jumped to my feet, I'll be forever grateful. I vowed again.
Do you still write poems?
How many words?
Eight or ten.
Good, he smiled. Come and see us if you pass this way again.
Many years later, I did pass that way again, and as I was straitening up from a deep vow, miracle of miracles, a red and black butterfly alighted on his grave.
Pete, posted to NondualitySalon
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