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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Monday, December 21, 2015

Keeping a Watch on our Cultural Gatekeepers: a short reply to Cynthia Ozick

Dear Editor: 

I think a brief response is in order to this Sunday’s cover essay in the NYT book review, The Novel’s Evil Tongue by Cynthia Ozick.  The gist of Ozick’s essay is to suggest how all of literature is somehow derived from the impulse to gossip, which in turn can be traced right back to the serpent’s blandishments to Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.  So Ozick concludes – “The instant Eve took in that awakening morsel of serpentine gossip, Literature in all its variegated forms was born.”  You can read the rest of Ozick's essay here.

Oh please.  I have enjoyed Ozick’s short stories from time to time, and this essay too is written with her usual flair.  But talk about wrapping yourself up in self-justificatory myth. In this case Ozick pulls the coverlet down over her eyes and better judgment, as she tries to draw a direct line from the opening chapters of Genesis on down the line through the entirety of world of literature, briefly touching down on Austen and Proust and a few of her other favorites, to establish all of literature’s direct descent from Biblical creation myth.

The problem, of course, is that this is a completely myopic view of literature, closed off from the slightest attempt at understanding or accounting for literary traditions other than our own.  There are more things in heaven and earth, and in literature too, than are dreamt of or carried around in our own cultural baggage.

Has Ozick ever heard of Bhagavad Gita, I wonder, or Li Bai or Haruki Murakami, for that matter?   I thought by now the NY Times Book Review would be well beyond promoting such a limited conception of what literature is or means.   For those who are curious to learn about traditions other than those derived from our favorite serpent, I would direct your readers’ attention to the wonderful compendium Readings in Chinese Literary Thought by Stephen Owen, which provides a very cogent explanation of how one great literary tradition (truly as vast as ours) has evolved from creation myths and world views entirely different from our own.

Joe Lamport

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Short Note to Non-Self

The quantum of spiritual energy
Is smoothly dispersed across
A wide range of meditative states
From benign mindfulness to tantric bliss
We gain entree to this vast dim realm
Where self just sits and sits  

Until one day quite suddenly 
From basement to firmament
The landscape becomes bathed
In a sufficiency of light
As non-self discovers its tongue
 And gives voice to a wordless hymn
On the Emptiness of life

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Poem First Written as a Tweet

This is a poem I first wrote as a tweet after stumbling out of the garden with this treasure in my hands - a gnarled Catalpa root:

Even the lowliest root may partake 
Of the soaring majesty of a Brancusi 
Given the right light place and time

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Poem Written After Sunset Looking East While Standing on the Bank of Weesuck Creek

Perched for
Another beatitude
Or two on the edge
Of the guard rail
At the ass end of our street
Reality takes on
Its ink stained aspect
The dim ripples demonstrate
Time stretching out
Towards the horizon
A heron settles on its nest
A dog barks nearby
Ready for supper and 
While the mind expatiates
There's darkness
For all the rest

Meditation in the Center Island Parking Lot with the Radio Playing (aka Dashboard Buddha #2)

After a two month or two year
Discontinuity but also marking
The return (in the form of a song
from long ago reheard just now)
Of a longer wave cycle
So I found myself sitting
In a parked car once again
Given over to deep repose
No discernible forward progress
Having been made yet
Only this intermittent sitting
And doing nothing
Not merely idle but
Powered down like
The engine itself
As if I had already
Been meditating
For an eternity or two
On the blueness of
The bluest of mats


I've noticed lately how the habit of meditating can be contagious, inasmuch as the meditating frame of mind spreads and begins to assert itself even when you're not formally engaged in meditation.  This poem is about precisely such a moment of contagion that happened earlier today.  If you find this poem interesting you might also like to read this prior poem, which at least partially explains what I was thinking about when I wrote the first few lines of the poem above.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Yongjia - a poem in celebration of Bodhi Day

Head bowed in perfect repose
Awareness fully dispersed
Tranquil at the center of being
Arriving at the root of peace
Being both easy and severe and
Unique in neither having or lacking
A radiance that illuminates everything
Down to the finest particle of dust
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Song of Enlightenment (trans. of classic Chan verse by Yongjia Xuanjue)

Abandoning study
Foregoing action
Remaining idle
And following the Dao
Neither avoiding delusion
Nor seeking out truth

Ignorance is
Our real state of nature
In the Buddhist faith
Our temporal bodies once emptied
Become a sacred place

In our sacred body we
Awaken utterly dispossessed
Returning to the origin
In a simple state of grace

The five realms of experience
Are empty and fleeting
Like clouds drifting by
And so too our passions
Which dissipate like steam
Over a boiling cauldron

Looking at things as they really are
Not merely as fancied under human law
In an instant everything can be extinguished
Or consigned to hell on earth

If this sounds like nonsense
Or a deceit upon all living things
Then yank out my tongue
And pile it high with gravel and dust 
For an eternity

For just as suddenly when
We awaken to Suchness
In a meditative state we attain completely
The Six Perfections and
Ten thousand good deeds

It’s as if we are dreaming 
That’s how clearly we come to see 
The Six Paths of Reincarnation
And only after Awakening thus
Do we confront true Emptiness
Devoid of all Ten Thousand things



绝学无为闲道人     不除妄想不求真
无明实性即佛性     幻化空身即法身
法身觉了无一物     本源自性天真佛
五蕴浮云空去来     三毒水炮虚出没
证实相 无人法       刹那灭却阿鼻业
若将妄语诳众生     自招拔舌尘沙劫
顿觉了如来禅        六度万行体中圆
梦里明明有六趣    觉后空空无大千


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Time Made Visible in the Transport of Shadows Passing Across a Van in Front

A balmy November day 
The scraggly oaks
Have been stripped bare 
Long before now so 
As we're driving
Down Montauk Highway
Their shadows scroll by
On the back of the Cor J
Delivery truck just in front

But on the ground
They're fixed in place
More or less or
Only moving at the sun's
Sluggish pace

So you can read your speed
By the rate the shadows pass
Across the back of the van

But don't take your
Eyes off the road
Or otherwise you
Might run aground
In some ditch
Instead of 
Enjoying the 
Display of Time (equal
to Rate divided by Distance)
Rushing by right
In front of your eyes 

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Compound Tweet

Death is in front of us all
As on the schoolroom wall
Alexander's last battle stands reproduced
And so too it’s true that
Panic attacks and anxiety
Have been linked to low
Vitamin B6 and iron levels
According to Franz Kafka
And all the latest studies

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

This is a poem of enjambment composed simply by combining two nearly simultaneous tweets from my tweet stream that at first glance seemed to be completely disconnected.  The point of the poem is to discover their deeper connection.