Zen poems

One Reality


Confused by thoughts
we experience duality in life.
Unencumbered by ideas,
the enlightened see the one Reality.

One instant is eternity 

Wu Men Hui-k’ai (1183 – 1260)

One instant is eternity;
eternity is the now.
When you see through this one instant,
you see through the one who sees.



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

Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch 


The body is the Bodhi tree,
The mind is like a clear mirror.
At all times we must strive to polish it,
And must not let the dust collect.

The Great Way has no gate

Wu Men Hui-k’ai (1183 – 1260)

The Great Way has no gate,
A thousand roads enter it.
When one passes through this gateless gate,
He freely walks between heaven and earth.

I sat facing you for hours but you didn’t speak

Ryokan (1758 – 1831)

I sat facing you for hours but you didn’t speak;
Then I finally understood the unspoken meaning.
Removed from their covers, books lay scattered about;
Outside the bamboo screen, rain beats against the plum tree.

Wrapped, surrounded by ten thousand mountains

Yuen Mei (1716-1798)

Wrapped, surrounded by ten thousand mountains,
Cut off, no place to go….
Until you’re here, there’s no way to get here.
Once you’re here, there’s no way to go.

If there are mountains

Santoka (1882 – 1940)

If there are mountains, I look at the mountains;
On rainy days I listen to the rain.
Spring, summer, autumn, winter.
Tomorrow too will be good.
Tonight too will be good.

Although the wind

Izumi Shikibu (d. 1034)

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Flow with whatever may happen


Flow with whatever may happen,
and let your mind be free:
Stay centered by accepting
whatever you are doing.
This is the ultimate.

My daily activities are not unusual 

Layman Pang-yun

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.

One Mind

Hsu-yun (1840-1959)

When you realize that “one mind” is the Buddha,
from that point on there is nothing more to do.
Everything is already complete.
All talk about practice or attainment
is demonic deception.

Watching the moon

Izumi Shikibu (d. 1034)

Watching the moon
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely,
no part left out.

Doesn’t anyone see 

Shih-te (d. 850)

Doesn’t anyone see
the turmoil in the Three Worlds
is due to endless delusion
once thoughts stop the mind becomes clear
nothing comes or goes neither birth nor death

The 999th of The Glorious Aeon

Sikhin Buddha

Good Dharmas arise, and evil karmas too,
Yet both are but illusions.
The body is like foam,
Like wind the mind;
Illusion has no base and no reality.

This emptiness


This emptiness
Is not empty emptiness
This Path is not a path
That can be considered a path
Where peaceful extinction is totally extinct
Perfect illumination is complete and final.

My Legacy 


My legacy –
What will it be?
Flowers in spring,
The cuckoo in summer,
And the crimson maples
Of autumn …

Chapter 1, vs. 19-20


Reciting a small portion of the scriptures,
But putting it diligently into practice;
Letting go of passion, aggression, and confusion:
Revering the truth with a clear mind;
And not clinging to anything, here or hereafter;
Brings the harvest of the holy life.

The true person

Dogen (1200-1253)

The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone,
Everywhere in the world.

Everything just as it is


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



Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.

What is this mind?


What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?

How Poetry Comes to Me

Gary Synder

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light

Gone, and a million things leave no trace


Gone, and a million things leave no trace
Loosed, and it flows through the galaxies
A fountain of light, into the very mind–
Not a thing, and yet it appears before me:
Now I know the pearl of the Buddha-nature
Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.



I was born with a divine jewel,
Long since filmed with dust
This morning, wiped clean, it mirrors
Streams and mountains, without end.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn 

Wu Men

Ten thousand flowers in the spring,
The moon in autumn,
A cool breeze in summer,
Snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
This is the best season of your life.

Heart of the Buddha

Hsu Yun (1839 – 1959)

No need to chase back and forth like the waves.
The same water which ebbs is the same water that flows.
No point turning back to get water
When it’s flowing around you in all directions
The heart of the Buddha and the people of the world…
Where is there any difference?

Just Done

Yuan Mei (1716 – 1798)

A month alone behind closed doors
forgotten books, remembered, clear again.
Poems come, like water to the pool
up and out,
from perfect silence

A smile

Ko Un 

Shakyamuni [Buddha] held up a lotus
so Kashyapa smiled.
Not at all.
The lotus smiled
so Kashyapa smiled.

Nowhere was Shakyamuni!

The Way


When mortals are alive, they worry about death.
When they’re full, they worry about hunger.
Theirs is the Great Uncertainty.
But sages don’t consider the past.
And they don’t worry about the future.
Nor do they cling to the present.
And from moment to moment they follow the Way.

Rinsed by the rain

Wonkam Chungji (1226-1292)

Rinsed by the rain,
The front garden is clean,
And the corridor in which the wind
Passes is a cool as autumn.
The mountain green, sound of water
Pines dancing in the wind
What could disturb my mind?

When the mind is at peace 

Layman P’ang (d.808)

When the mind is at peace,
the world too is at peace.
Nothing real, nothing absent.
Not holding on to reality,
not getting stuck in the void,
you are neither holy nor wise, just
an ordinary fellow who has completed his work.

Earth, mountains, rivers 

Saisho (1506)

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

When concentration and wisdom are joined

Po-Chui (772-846)

When concentration and wisdom are joined,
Then there is understanding.
When understanding illumines the
Outside world,
The world has nothing to conceal any more.
Just as a large round mirror
Reflects an image without being affected by it.

The moon’s the same old moon

Bunan (1602-1676)

The moon’s the same old moon,
The flowers exactly as they were,
Yet I’ve become the thingness
Of all the things I see!
When you’re both alive and dead,
Thoroughly dead to yourself,
How superb
The smallest pleasure!

Sitting in the Mountains

Jakushitsu (1290-1367)

Rock slab seat
legs folded
sitting alone

Not loathing noise
not savoring silence

The carefree clouds concur


Po Chu-i (772-846)

my lute set aside
on the little table
lazily I meditate
on cherishing feelings
the reason I don’t bother
to strum and pluck?
there’s a breeze over the strings
and it plays itself

Mind set free in the Dharma-realm

Shutaku (1308-1388)

Mind set free in the Dharma realm,
I sit at the moon-filled window
Watching the mountains with my ears,
Hearing the stream with open eyes.
Each molecule preaches perfect law,
Each moment chants true sutra:
The most fleeting though it timeless,
A single hair’s enough to stir the sea.

On the mountain: A conversation

Li Po

You ask why I perch
On a Jade Green Mountain?
I laugh, but say nothing

My heart, free like a peach blossom
In the flowing stream going by
In the depths, in another world
Not among people

To learn to be without desire

Yuen Mei (1716 – 1798)

To learn to be without desire
you must desire that.
Better to do as you please:
sing idleness.
Floating clouds, and water idly running —
Where’s their source?
In all the vastness of the sea and sky,
you’ll never find it.

There is no I and there is no other

Layman P’ang (d.808)

There is no I and there is no other.
How can there be intimacy or estrangement?
I recommend giving up trying to get there by meditation,
But rather, directly seizing the reality at hand.
The message of the Diamond Sutra is:
Nothing is excluded from our experienced world.
From beginning to end,
It inevitably exposes our false identities.
Layman P’ang (d.808)

You stop to point at the moon

Ryokan 1758 – 1831)

One moon, one careless finger pointing —
are these two things or one?

The question is a pointer guiding
a novice from ignorance thick as fog.

Look deeper. The mystery calls and calls:
No moon, no finger — nothing there at all.

As flowing water disappear into the mist 

Shih-sh (1037 – 1101)

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.

Without a jot of ambition left

Ryokan (1757-1831)

Without a jot of ambition left
I let my nature flow where it will.
There are ten days of rice in my bag
And, by the hearth, a bundle of firewood.
Who prattles of illusion or nirvana?
Forgetting the equal dusts of name and fortune,
Listening to the night rain on the roof of my hut,
I sit at ease, both legs stretched out.

Mountains as Mountains


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.

For all these years, my certain Zen

Shutaku (1308-1388)

For all these years, my certain Zen:
Neither I nor the world exist.
The sutras neat within the box,
My cane hooked upon the wall,
I lie at peace in moonlight
Or, hearing water splashing on the rock,
Sit up: none can purchase pleasure such as this:
Spangled across the step-moss, a million coins!

When people look for the roads in the clouds


When people look for the road in the clouds.
The cloud road disappears.
The mountains are tall and steep.
The streams are wide and still.
Green mountains ahead and behind
White clouds to east and west
If you want to find the cloud road
Seek it within.

If you want to be free


If you want to be free,
Get to know your real self.
It has no form, no appearance,
No root, no basis, no abode,
But is lively and buoyant.
It responds with versatile facility,
But its function cannot be located.
Therefore when you look for it,
You become further from it;
When you seek it,
You turn away from it all the more.

Few believe believe 


Few people believe their
Inherent mind is Buddha.
Most will not take this seriously,
And therefore are cramped.
They are wrapped up in
Illusions, cravings,
And other afflictions,
All because they love
The cave of ignorance.

Verses on the Perfect Mind

Seng-Tsan (d.606)

Do not search for the truth;
Only cease to cherish opinions.
If there is even a trace
Of this and that,
Of right and wrong,
The mind will be lost
In confusion.
Although all dualities
Come from the One
Do not remain in the dualistic state.

Living in the Mountains

Jakushitsu (1290-1367)

Neither seeking fame
nor grieving my poverty
I hide deep in the mountain
far from worldly dust.

Year ending
cold sky
who will befriend me?

Plum blossom on a new branch
wrapped in moonlight

My daily activity is not unusual 

Layman P’ang

My daily activity is not unusual;
I just remain in spontaneous harmony.
Not grasping or rejecting,
nothing left to assert or oppose.
What use are fancy titles
and expensive clothes of vermilion and purple?
This entire mountain is free
of even a speck of dust.
Supernatural powers and miraculous activity:
fetching water and carrying firewood

The universal body of reality


The universal body of reality
Is so subtle that
You do not hear it
When you deliberately
Listen for it,
And you do not see it
When you look at it.
As for the pure knowledge
That has no teacher,
How can it be attained by
Thought or study?

Temple of Eternal Light

Muso Soseki (1275 – 1351)

The mountain range
the stones in the water
all are strange and rare
The beautiful landscape
as we know
belongs to those who are like it
The upper worlds
the lower worlds
originally are one thing
There is not a bit of dust
there is only this still and full
perfect enlightenment

Tung-Shans Self-Admonition 


Don’t seek fame or fortune,
Glory or prosperity.
Just pass this life as is,
According to circumstances.
When the breath is gone,
Who is in charge?
After the death of the body,
There is only an empty name.
When your clothes are worn,
Repair them over and over;
When you have no food,
Work to provide.
How long can a phantom-like Body last?
Would you increase your ignorance
For the sake of its idle concerns?

Silent and serenely one forgets all words

Hung-chich Cheng-chueh (1091-1157)

Silently and serenely one forgets all words;
Clearly and vividly That appears.
When one realizes it, it is vast and without edges;
In its Essence, one is clearly aware.
Singularly reflecting is this bright awareness,
Full of wonder is this pure reflection.
Dew and moon,
Stars and streams,
Snow on pine trees,
And clouds hovering on the mountain peaks.
In this reflection all intentional efforts vanish.
Serenity is the final word of all the teachings;
Reflection is the response to all manifestations.

Happy in the morning

Wen-siang (1210-1280)

Happy in the morning
I open my cottage door;
A clear breeze blowing
Comes straight in.
The first sun
Lights the leafy trees;
The shadows it casts
Are crystal clear.
In accord with my heart,
Everything merges
In one harmony.
Gain and loss
Are not my concern;
This way is enough
To the end of my days.

Make no mistake about it 

Lin Chi

Make no mistake about it;
if you do not find it now,
you will repeat the same
routines for myriad eons,
a thousand times over again,
following and picking up
on objects that attract you.
We are no different
from Shakyamuni Buddha.
Today, in your various activities,
what do you lack?
The spiritual light coursing
through your six senses
has never been interrupted.
If you can see in this way,
you will simply be free
of burdens all your life.

In studying ourselves

Taizan Maezumi Roshi (1931-1995)

In studying ourselves
We find the harmony
That is our total existence

We do not make harmony
We do not achieve it
Or gain it

It is there – all the time

Here we are – in the midst
Of this perfect way
And our practice is…

Simply to realize it
And then
To actualize it
In our everyday life…

The past is already past

Layman P’ang

The past is already past —
Don’t try to regain it.
The present doesn’t stay —
Don’t try to grasp it over and over.
The future isn’t here yet —
Don’t ponder it beforehand.
When the three times are revealed as non-existent,
mind is the same as awakened nature.
To quietly function relying on emptiness —
This is manifesting profound action.
Not even the least phenomena really exists —
Whatever comes to the eye, leave it be.
No rules to be kept, no filth to be cleaned;
With empty mind truly revealed,
All things no longer have birth or death.
When you are like this
The ultimate achievement is finished.

The whole world is your own self 

Daikaku (1213-1279)

Whether you are going or staying
Sitting or lying down,
The whole world is your own self.
You must find out
Whether the mountains,
Rivers, grass, and forests
Exist in your own mind
Or exist outside it.
Analyze the ten thousand things,
And when you take
This to the limit,
You will come to the limitless;
When you search into it,
You come to the end of search,
Where thinking goes no
Further and distinctions vanish.
When you smash the citadel of doubt,
Then the Buddha is simply yourself.

Ikkyu (1394-1481)

only one koan matters


Old pond
A frog jumps in –
The sound of water


as ice bursts
the water jar

Sengai (1750-1837)

It is my constant thought:
The mind, Buddha, and all beings,
These three: undifferentiated.

Natsume Soseki (1867 – 1916)

Watch birth and death:
The lotus has already
Opened its flower.

Ikkyu (1394-1481)

inside the koan clear mind
gashes the great darkness

Santoka (1882 – 1940)

Just as it is —
It rains, I get wet, I walk.

Diamond Sutra

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

Kobayashi Issa

Buddha Law,
In a leaf dew.

Kobayashi Issa

Just by being,
I’m here —
In snow-fall.

Kobayashi Issa

Never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers.

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

Where there are humans
You’ll find flies,
And Buddhas.

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

The sound of silence
is all the instruction
You’ll get

Ikkyu (1394-1481)

Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain,
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon.


Has burnt down,
I can see the moon.

Manzan (1635-1714)

One minute of sitting, one inch of Buddha.
Like lightning all thoughts come and pass.
Just once look into your mind-depths:
Nothing else has ever been.


One ought to draw close
to those who seek meaning,
while keeping a great distance
to those who are caught up in words.