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Some Buddhist Poems

ISSUE:  Summer 1975

AS evening falls, I stare at the darkening plain.
Where I shall rest tonight, I do not know.
Trees are already tinged with autumn’s stain
And the hilltops burn with the gold of afterglow.

Birds on his back, the hunter homes from far,
The herdboy drives his water-oxen in
And we stare at each other, strangers as we are,
So suddenly sure that once we three were kin.

Chinese: Wang Chik (c. 585—616)


My being in this world has been
Like moonlight on a spot
Of water on an open palm :
Who knows whether there or not?

Japanese: Kino Tsurayuki (833—946)


The rigging whines in the sky
    as we pitch and heel.
The boatman’s sound asleep
    though the waves bloom white.

Those mooring-lines
    must understand how I feel :
Weak in the world’s long wind,
    yet holding tight.

Chinese: Su Tung-po (1036—1101)

Thing of This World

Just as the moon emerged from cloud
It happened that I thought of her,
And foolish tears reduced that proud
Sharp radiance to a blur.

Japanese: Priest Saigyo (1118—1190)


Ten days in this temple
    have sent me up the wall.
No man gets to heaven
    just going by the book.
If some day you need me,
    you know where to call :
The fish-shop, wine-shop, brothel
    will each be worth a look.

Japanese: Priest Ikkyu (1394—1481)

Priest Passing

On white slow-moving waters
A white reflection fell.
Over the bridge a priest went past
As though the world were well.

Whither, I cried from the shallows,
O whither are you bound?

He neither gave me answer
Nor turned his head around,
But raised his cane and pointed
Where, quick and white and high,
Hundreds of clouds were driving
Over an empty sky.

Korean: Chong Chol (1536—1593)


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