Poems Related to the Dharma


by Wang Wei

I cannot find the Monastery of Heaped Fragrance.
Miles up now into the clouds of the summit,
There is no footpath through the ancient woods.
Where did the bell sound,
Deep in the sound, deep in the mountain?
The voice of the torrent gulps over jagged stones;
Sunlight hardly warms the bluish pines.
As dusk deepens in these unfathomable mazes,
I practice meditation
To subdue the dragon of desire.

(translated by David Hinton)



by Layman Yakusai

A deafening peal,
A thief escaped
My body. What
Have I learnt?
The Lord of Nothingness
Has a dark face.

(translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto)



by Betsungen

All night long I think of life’s labyrinth—
Impossible to visit the tenants of Hades.
The authoritarian attempt to palm a horse off as deer
Was laughable. As was the thrust at
The charmed life of the dragon. Contemptible!
It’s in the dark that eyes probe earth and heaven,
In dream that the tormented seek present, past.
Enough! The mountain moon fills the window.
The lonely fall through, the garden rang with cricket song.

(translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto)



by Ho Xuan Huong

The gentle spring evening arrives
airily, unclouded by earthly dust.
Three times the bell’s toll echoes like a wave.
We see heaven upside down in sad puddles.
Love’s vast sea cannot be emptied,
and springs of grace flow easily everywhere.
Where is Nirvana?
Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten.

(translated by John Balaban)



by Utitiaq

Aja, I am joyful! This is good!
Aja, Only ice around me: good!
Aja, I am joyful! This is good!
My country, only slush! Good!
                That is good!
Aja, I am joyful! This is good!
Aja, When, indeed, will this end?
                That is good!
I am tired of watching and waiting!
                That is good!

Utitiaq [of the Cumberland Sound Inuits], adrift for a week in pack ice when seal hunting, made and sang this song, deliberately seeing and enhancing the immanent goodness in slush and ice. He could see this world in what Black Elk called a “sacred manner.”

(translation and note by A. L. Soens)



by Thomas Crofts

The body is an engine,
a person a karma machine.

The senses are a hive of bees,
agitated, or drunkenly serene.

But the mind is a dog
that rolls all day in chicken poop
and then
is magically clean.