Turn it UP!!!

Strictly speaking, Haiku poetry has just a couple rules—3 lines, 17 syllables total, 5-3-5 syllables per line, and NO METAPHORS, NO ANALOGIES!!!! So many of the well-known haikus of the past may seem like they're just praising nature, but just as likely only observing it.

Alan Watts translated Basho's famous haiku as: 

“The old pond,
A frog jumps in:

(I'm assuming that in Japanese that probably went with the 17-syllable rule, but I don't speak Japanese). 

I don't think Basho had any real feeling about the pond or the frog much one way or the other. He probably happened to be sitting on the bank of a pond, frog jumped in the water, consequently, “plop.” If he were in Tokyo at rush hour, the poem could possibly read:

“Overcrowded train
Salaryman here
white-gloved conductor, shove, shove”

Here's Steve Earle's definition of blues music: Statement of a problem, repeated twice, followed by an implausible solution, in 12-bars. The blues will quite often be just as observational, it's just that the observations seem to take place when some travesty has hit.In honor of the Blood Moon of September 2015, here's a "Blue Haiku:"

Blood Moon Blues (verse 1)”

There's a moon in the sky
And it has started to bleed
There's a moon in the sky
And it has started to bleed
Gonna make a deposit
At the Blood bank, save its life

Our Zen practice is typified by our direct experience of reality—a frog jumping in the water, your wife up 'n' leaving you, train conductor with his knee in your back. And that “reality” is as much as we can see looking through the keyhole of our own sense-gates. That keyhole is most likely often covered up by layer upon layer of delusion—mistaking our limited perception as “reality.” But even that adulterated version of reality is there for us to experience fully. Sometimes, even though we think we're going to save the moon's life by donating blood, there's a good chance that while the moon isn't what's saved, maybe someone will be. Mistaken assumption, correct motive, correct outcome.

From the Chapter 15 of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, “The Parable of the Moon:” (Tony Page translation)

"...For example, by the full moon, everything appears. In all places as in towns, hamlets, mountains, swamps, under-water, wells or ponds, and in water utensils, the moon manifests itself. Beings may be traveling 100 or [a] thousand [miles], and the moon always accompanies them. Common mortals and the ignorant think loosely and say: "I see all such in the castle town, in the house, and here in the swampy ground. Is it the true moon, or not the true one?"

“Each person thinks about the size of the moon and says: "It is like the mouth of a kettle."

“Or a person says: "It is like a wheel."

“Or some may say: "It is like 45 [miles] or [4,500 miles] [in size]."

“All see the light of the moon. Some see it as round as a golden basin. The nature of this moon is one in itself, but different beings see it in different forms. O good man! The same is the case regarding the Tathagata. He appears in the world. Man and god might think: "The Tathagata is now before us and lives."

“The deaf and dumb see the Tathagata as one deaf or dumb. Diverse are the languages which beings speak. Each thinks that the Tathagata speaks as he or she speaks, or thinks.

"….A person might mistake him for a sravaka, or a pratyekabuddha; [and they] might think and say: "The Tathagata is now in my line of thought [following my line of thought] and is practicing the Way"; or a person might think: "The Tathagata has appeared for me alone."

“The true nature of the Tathagata is like that of the moon. That is to say that it is the Dharma-Body, the Body of birthlessness, or that of expediency. He responds to the call of the world, being innumerable in [his] manifestations. The original karma manifests itself in accordance with the differing localities. This is as in the case of the moon. For this reason, the Tathagata is eternal and unchanging.”

We still do what the Buddha refers to! We mistake our key-hole view of reality as the totality of reality. We even think the Buddha speaks English or Chinese or Korean or Japanese because we do. If we don't go to that drastic a length, we think that whatever translation we happen to have read is the verbatim version of the Sutra as spoken by the Buddha, and whatever the next translation we read is not as good as the first.

We latch onto whatever Sutra happens to justify our (pre-existing) view of what the Dharma should be saying. Maybe we impose our 21st Century pop psychology, some scientific statistic to a Sutra that is not from the 21st Century, not psychology, and not science. Deep down, even though we may intellectually know that our body will die, can we really imagine the world continuing to spin, the moon to go through its phases, the seasons to change, without our hand firmly on the steering wheel of the universe? Our ability to experience “reality” directly is as limited as our thinking allows.

Even with all these limitations, delusions, and so on, every now and then it all can come out alright. Even when we act out of fear, it still might result in our doing the “right” thing, we may still get the correct outcome. The impetus for what we do may be flawed, but our resultant actions may provide a wholesome outcome. The old saying, “Fake it til you make it,” is certainly applicable, if we start to counter greed, anger, and delusion by practicing, sila, samadhi, and prajna—morality, meditation, and wisdom. Maybe at first we have to force our way into them “like” a Tokyo subway conductor was doing the pushing, but it may follow that those eventually come naturally. When they do, they become habits as much as the Three Poisons may have been. 

Any time we use an analogy—the moon is “like” a wheel--we're one step removed from reality, and our direct experience of it. We hear the Parable of the Moon, and we start picturing the moon in our heads, not getting past the metaphorical moon to the message. If Bessie Smith were a Zen practitioner, when she is singing about peaches, you can best believe she's standing in an orchard. 

What “it” is like isn't “it,” IT is “it.” 

With practice, we can get to the point where when we see the moon, we see the moon, not something like a wheel. When you taste sour, pucker. When tired, yawn. When sleepy, go to sleep. When your life is a blues song, embrace the blue and cry. When you hear the cries of the world, don't be like Kwan Seum Bosal, be Kwan Seum Bosal, and save all sentient beings. 

To use a dreaded metaphor, when we're slipping away from this moment, our attention is drifting, and it's inconvenient to hear the cries of the world, and there's too much other life-music that's getting louder than the cries of reality, go to the volume knob on reality, and TURN IT UP!

Blood Moon Blues (verse 2)”

There's a moon in the sky
It's the same moon everywhere
There's a moon in the sky
It's the same moon everywhere
All sentient beings
Gotta lotta work to do

Thanks to Dharma brother Gary Cociollilo for the inspiration from his talk, “There is No Such Thing as a Sour Note.”

Click on the title to listen to the Dharma talk.