Though I have come to be known as the Nonzen Poet because of my email address and poems, I do not deserve that title, for I saw the original face of the Nonzen Poet much earlier. In fact, as I explained in KYOTO JOURNAL #48 more than a decade ago, I stumbled on the original Nonzen Poet on a beastly hot summer’s day in 1999 on Motomachi, the famous street of fashionable shops in Yokohama that began with MacDonald's (since transformed into a jewelry shop) and ended (and still ends) with Starbucks and a koban.
“Excuse me!” I exclaimed to the youngish person lying on the sidewalk, sunshine boiling about its androgynous face and radiating from its Dalai Lama T-shirt, with a silk scarf debonairly wrapped around its neck. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked.
“OK, KOed, living or dead, as the case may be,” was its reply, opening one eye that stared at one of mine, and then at the other.
"What are you doing down there?” I asked. “Boycotting Starbuck's? Going limp?"
"I am boycotting Maya," it murmured. "My zazen is horizontal."
Squatting beside the face, from which sweat was flowing copiously into a puddle under its head, I asked, “Are you some kind of zen freak?”
“Nonzen’s more like it,” was the laconic reply. “But what’s the difference?”
“The difference is, that if you are who I think you are, I can interview you for KYOTO JOURNAL. Would you by chance be the Nonzen Poet, for whom I have been searching high and low?”
“I am neither high nor low, over nor under, living nor dead, believe it or not.”
“Be that as it may, are you or are you not the person known as the Nonzen Poet of Yokohama?”
“So some say, others deny it. I am in the middle, muddled, whether on or off the Middle Way I have no idea.”
“I’m sure you're the one I’ve been searching for, or the none, as you wish,” I said ingratiatingly, squatting down in an awkward attempt to help it stand and walk inside, but I managed only to lean it against a window. I sat at a table, on which I rested my notebook, gazing down at the visage of my prey.
“Mind a few questions for my editor?” I asked.
“Not if I can reply mindlessly,” it replied, eyes open but without seeming to focus on me.
“How can you boycott Maya when you are in the thick of it--on Motomachi, the most luxurious consumerist thoroughfare in Yokohama?"
"Being on or off of it, in it but not of it is a matter of tranquil compassionate wise egoless interdependent detachment, that's all," it serenely replied.
“You're not even hot, sweating like that?” I asked.
"Spring, winter, summer, or fall, I scorn the cycles of karma," it intoned.
"I confess caring that I'm boiling out here. Would you mind being interviewed in Starbucks, where it's cooler?”
"The Tao has no temperature," it replied.
"Just what I wanted to know!" I exclaimed, scribbling this quote for my “Philosophizing in the Void” column. “Your name is legend," I added. "It is said that you exchange email with Daruma himself. Others say that you escaped from a crazy hospital. Still others fear that rightwing black trucks hunted you down and disappeared you. I have never lost my faith, searching everywhere for you, and for the Tao."
"I'm always where I am--on the Tao,” it assured me, and the Tao is everywhere…"
"Ahhh..." I exhaled.
"... and nowhere."
I gasped. My 0.5 mm. Mujirushi fine point sharp lead broke. I clicked frantically for more, hoping against hope for the last word on enlightenment. But no, the illusion came and went like all the others, and I was just as off the Tao as ever. It might well be everywhere and nowhere, but I was nowhere on the Tao, and everywhere dismayed.
"If that’s not your last word, what is?” I implored. "I've got a deadline! Does Daruma ever reply?"
The Nonzen Poet laughed so hard that it choked on its sweat and had to sit up in the lotus position.
"Are you all right?" I asked, willing to compromise principles if I could rescue it with an Iced Mocha Frappucino, Starbuck's Special for the Day. But it was laughing so blissfully as the coughing subsided that I saw no need to enter the exploitative consumerist multi-national neo-colonial enclave. The mysterious being was looking serenely down Motomachi as if it were the Tao itself. I looked where it looked, but saw only the chicest of chic shoppers entering and exiting chic shops.
"Did you really think Daruma would give a shit about anything?" it asked. "You must be kidding!" It broke out laughing again, but this time easily in rhythm with his breathing, like a mantra.
At last I worked up courage to whisper, "Excuse me, I have an abject confession. I’m too skeptical to be a Buddhist, or a Zennist, or anything else. I’m as skeptical as you.”
"I doubt it, " it replied.
"You even doubt that we are skeptical?"
"Certainly, I doubt everything, doubt as much as certainty."
"I feel exactly the same."
"In any case, let me confess." I confessed, "Twenty-seven years ago in despair I moved from endarkened America to Japan, meditated every day, studied the sutras, countless koan, every page of the BLUE CLIFF RECORD, commentaries, the complete works of Daisetz Suzuki, every word I could read on Buddhism. I explored countless temples and learned what I could from roshi who were most kind, patient, and wise, but there were always little chinks in their spiritual armor. I rejected traditions, authorities of all kinds. More importantly, I felt increasingly deluded by my own desire for enlightenment. Now all I can do is philosophize in the void, endlessly, for each issue of KYOTO JOURNAL, like a snake consuming its tail in eternal 69, impotently. Where is the Tao? Please, O Nonzen Poet, help me get back on track!"
The being abruptly rose! Astonishing me, it began walking briskly past me and all of the customers and well-bred dogs at Starbuck's outside tables. "Wait, wait, " I cried out, jumping up, panting. "Where are you going?"
"Nowhere, I'm always where I am, but if you continue down Motomachi you can get back on track at Ishikawa Station."
"No, no!" I exclaimed. "That’s not what I meant at all! Please just stop and show me the Tao or Zen or NonZen or Enlightenment or anything!"
It stopped in the shade of Charmy Tanaka's shop and contemplated in the windows manifold jeweled luxuries glittering in each other's glitter like endless galaxies; or was this vision just its reflection? Chilling, I closed my eyes, and when I opened them it was gone.
"Is this way in or out?" I desperately asked a cute saleslady in Charmy’s doorway.
"The way in and the way out are the same," she said.