Daily for the first six days of 2011 I posted an entry for this Printed Matter Press blog, then rested on the seventh. Rereading them carefully, critically, as if I were a stranger to myself—as I am in my poem “In Woods as Dark as I”--I realized as never before how curious I am about others’ faiths that I cannot accept literally, how they feel, think, and revere gods as if real which as Blake recognized “reside in the human breast.” Or as Yeats wrote about the spirits that dictated some of his finest poetry and prose to him, “We have come to bring you metaphors for poetry”—not the Truth.
I sympathize, empathize, even identify with—temporarily, as I do with Hamlet, Blanche DuBois, Dionysus, and many other characters—true believers and their worldviews even if they are literally false, misleading, and deluding. Exploring other minds, good or evil, expands and enriches my own, detaching me from some of my own misconceptions and illusions. Whitman sang of himself as everyone, every being, Vedanta teaches that Atman is Brahman, and Mohini Chatterjee told William Butler Yeats to pray, “I have been a king,/I have been a slave,/Nor is there anything./Fool, rascal, knave,/That I have not been…” I cannot claim all that, though I try my best.
After my first two blog entries, my other four (so far) express my infatuation, madness, and reverence for the moon, which Akemi Shinahara’s image on the cover of NONZEN POEMS projects so enchantingly. Readers may wonder what it has to do with Zen, for worshipping nature is remote from Zen: so that’s why it’s perfect for NONZEN POEMS.
However, the moon suddenly acquired Buddhist meaning for me when I was initiated in a Refuges Ceremony led by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in his Vermont community in 1974, when he bestowed on me the Tibetan name of Yarda Damcho, Waxing Moon of Holy Dharma. Thereafter, for some years, when I looked at the moon I wondered whether I was becoming more enlightened, or indeed whether enlightenment might instead be all or nothing, in which case I was still in the dark. These puzzlements, preoccupying me like a mind-cracking koan, permeate SPEAKING OF LIGHT, my first book of poems from living in Japan (1979), which re-appear in NONZEN POEMS. For example, “Looking for My Face” (derived from a famous koan, with modifications), ends with “moon of my smile riising/fom the face before I as born” (69). In contrast to this Zen poem is my poem of disillusionment, “Zazen at Myoshinji” (61), written about Zen philosopher Masao Abe’s great meditation seminar in the famous 500 year old temple in Kyoto. My poems are nonzen because I failed, not because of Zen, as I hoped to suggest in “Why M Poems and I Are Nonzen” (83).
I also wrote about my Buddhist quest in TANTRIC POETRY OF KUKAI (co-authored with translations by Hiroshi Murakami, Bangkok: Mahachulalonghorn University, 1982) and reprinted by White Pine Press in Fredonia NY, 1987, which also published my AMONG BUDDHAS IN JAPAN in 1988). My wanderings off the Way, which could be captioned “Waning Moon of Holy Dharma,” may caution, if not guide, others.