Enlightenment poems 2019.0104rev.2019.0107 DRAFTAt a ceremony I attended a senior monk sharply asked an aspirant, “What’s your enlightenment poem?” I thought, “Poor sap. Talk about getting put on the spot!” The fellow mumbled, “Hm. That’s tough. I don’t really know...” to which the monk responded, “OK, how about another one.“ At that moment I realized I had just recited my own enlightenment poem in private conversation with the abbot shortly before. Here it is: 1. Many people live in hells.
2. Things we do often cause hells for others and ourselves.
3. To me it is urgent to do whatever can be done to prevent and end hells.
4. I cannot prevent and end hells—I cannot save, awaken, or even teach anyone—but basic meditative practice centered in zazen and five precepts fosters self-teaching, awakens, and helps end hells. ~ ~ ~ This is zazen: Just-sit, upright and still, alone and with others, regularly. These are the five precepts: Don’t kill, steal or lie, and don’t misuse sexuality and intoxicants. (Do foster life and liveliness; Do be generous; Do seek what is so and speak truly; Do use sexuality and intoxicants responsibly.) For some people basic meditative practice includes prayer to God. After writing the poem I noticed that basically it is an amped-up version of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Substitute suffering for hell and you’re most of the way there: 1. There is suffering.
2. The cause of suffering is grasping.
3. There is an end to suffering. 4. Practicing the Eightfold Way (which includes meditation and precepts) ends suffering. I suppose this could be called one of the Buddha’s "enlightenment poems". The differences between my poem and the Buddha’s are significant: I am trying to end hells, not all suffering. I invite attention to all behaviors as possible causes of hells, regardless of whether they are forms of grasping. My goal is only the practical whatever can be done to end hells rather than the grandiose-sounding and counter-factual ending of all suffering. I acknowledge my powerlessness and do not attribute omnipotence even to meditative practice. The To me in the third line is another significant difference. When it comes to the importance of meditative practice I speak for myself and do not insist that others share my sense of urgency. I do think and feel that meditative practice is universally and urgently needed, but that’s just my opinion, albeit one tested by long experience. Shortly after the first poem a second occurred to me: After thirty-nine years I affirm: Zazen is the short path. The forgoing are poems of enlightenment about suffering. There are also God enlightenment (which views suffering differently), Science-intellectual enlightenment, and others. Universal enlightenment spans all of them, and in my opinion no one has ever or can ever realize it.