Death and the Hermit

Then there’s the story of the hermit who lived
for fifty years by a stream in the mountains.

When Death came for him, he was not afraid,
but asked if he could have just one more day.

Death had been partying recently on wars, famines,
diseases, and various disasters and calamities, so
generously agreed to grant the hermit his request.

The hermit used this opportunity to sit on his rock
by the stream, just as he had done every day before.

When Death returned and found the hermit still sitting
on the same rock, he asked him why he bothered to ask
for more time, since he hadn’t used his last day on earth
to do anything special other than sitting by the stream.

The hermit smiled and offered Death a seat on his rock,
and together they sat for a day and a night, and then
another day, and then another night, and even more.

After some time had passed — maybe another day,
maybe fifty years — Death roused himself at last,
turned to the hermit, cleared his throat, and said:

“This is pleasant indeed, but I must get back to work!”
The hermit smiled, nodded, and said: “Go right ahead!”

Death wandered off, relaxed and a bit absent-minded,
until he found that, while he had been sitting on a rock,
his list of customers had grown, grown, and grown again.

He was so busy that it took him fifty years to catch up,
until he finally came back for the hermit once more.

“That was a pretty sly trick you pulled!” said Death.
The hermit just smiled and nodded, because to him,
by now, one day was fifty years, and fifty years one day.

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Return to the Essential

When people in the other world wander over
to the edge and look down, we must seem
like darling little children to them.

We play big games, we make things up,
we laugh big laughs and cry big tears.

Of course, the whole idea must seem appealing,
because so many of them choose to drop down
for a life or a few and play here too.

Soon they’re pushing out of the woman — yes,
they look so dear and innocent, smell good too.

Over time, they no longer remember why they came,
and little by little become more and more confused.

For every being they happen to meet — great or small,
wise or foolish — there’s a different point of view.

By the grace of recognition, or the gift of some sweet Friend,
from the depths of their hearts they might eventually hear
the whisper of their own immortality.

Gently, they’re returned to the essence of their
natural innocence, graciously reminded,
lest they’ve forgotten:

“Love is all that matters.”

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Wasting Time

“Zen students must learn to waste time conscientiously.”
~Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

We are attracted to the concept of eternity
because it alleviates the suspicion we harbor
that we might be somehow wasting time.

Perhaps our story has stalled at base camp.
We’re not quite ready to climb that mountain,
but we’d surely lose face if we turned back now.

For the rest of our life, people would whisper
to each other dismissively when we walked by:
“He went to the mountain but lost his nerve.”

When I was young I thought I had plenty of time,
perhaps all young people think likewise.

I went to the mountain and camped by a river,
waded out into eternity, splashed about like
a carefree child, or lazily floated downstream.

At night, perched on a rock out under the stars,
I could feel the whole planet gently turning.

Since those glorious times I’ve worn many costumes,
yet underneath them I have always been naked.

Regardless of whatever may seem to come or go,
this planet itself keeps on turning.

I’ve been wasting my time conscientiously, just like
my old master once said I should do, and for that most
helpful piece of advice, how could I not be grateful?

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An elderly nun sneezes in Ireland, and a Black Mamba
suddenly strikes out at a child in South Africa.

I raise a glass of Pinot Noir to my lips, since
alcohol and venomous snakes don’t mix.

The lama crawls into his disciple’s bed, and planes
drop retardant over a raging wildfire in Oregon.

A turn of the key sparks the ignition in my automobile,
and another politician repeats a lie on Prime Time.

The mystics and their parrots claim everything’s connected,
but maybe it’s not even that — at what point does the sun
and its light connect, the songbird and its song,
the stream and water, the experiencer
and the experience?

Perhaps everything is so wrapped up in everything
that not even Einstein can tell energy from mass
plus the speed of light squared.

Consciousness and light — are they two separate
things that happen to intersect and connect
here and there, now and then?

The preachers tell us to go to the light,
but we are that light, so where should we go?

That which perceives cannot be found
within the world, since it is the world itself.

Just so, I sit here by the river, watching it flow,
yet the only thing flowing is me, I am it.

Whatever is happening, there I am too —
the secret of love: you are me,
I am you.

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How He Became the Man in the Moon

Before he went to bed each night, he enjoyed
gazing at the moon, loving its solitude and purity.

In the morning, he despaired of being human.
His one motivating ambition: a fresh cup of coffee.

Without coffee, a lot of what finally gets done
in this world might never finally get done.

Projects begun the day before might languish
the next day in the office, factory, or out in the field.

His next big mistake was reading the news. That,
along with the coffee, left a bad taste in his mouth.

He muttered: “Why must humans act so . . . human?
What will it take before they finally learn?”

Now he could either go back to bed or make breakfast.
He hesitated for a few hours before finally making a choice.

He had read the Hindu books, he wanted to be a Determinist.
The most painful part of being human was having to choose.

Life would be so much easier without choices confronting
him every step of the way, what good was free will?

Meanwhile, the whole planet was revolving in fixed orbit
around the sun, the same way it always did — choicelessly.

He admired that concept so much that he eventually
made one final, momentous choice.

He put his mind to it, and eventually was able
to rise so high he blended with the moon.

Now, when we happen to look up at night,
we might see his smiling face passing over us —
it’s the happy face of the man in the moon.


gleason moon

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Always Be This Way

Now that the pain has returned with full force,
you spend more time sleeping in your chair.

I sit next to you, watching the candle you lit
earlier as it burns steadily down, releasing
a delicate perfume which fills the room.

I page through the books you bought me,
though you are the only book I want to read.

It has always been this way, sitting next to you,
gazing into that flame which never wavers.

I sometimes have the sense that we are here
at the pleasure of another being, perhaps a deity
of love who takes great delight in our being this way.

Even though the night approaches, you and I find
a welcoming comfort in the encroaching darkness.

We are here together, holding this pristine light
between us, knowing that whatever comes —
season after season, life after life —
it will always be this way.

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The Room of Unknowing

The room is immense, and filled with ghosts.
There is no special time — for all we know,
it may have always been like this.

We are moving aimlessly about in the dark,
occasionally brushing against each other.

We are blind in any case, so we imagine
things, we create stories in our minds.

We don’t see the room for what it is,
but only as a stage prop in our story.

Simple things may be happening, but we
make them complex, to fit with our idea.

Our idea is that we are solid, we are here,
we aren’t sure where that is, but wherever
it is, here we are — real, solid, present.

We don’t realize we are dreamers inhabiting
these ghost bodies, we prefer our own stories.

There are innumerable twists and turns to our story,
though we always end up where we began —
relieved of any knowledge, a figment in the dark.

Sometimes we seem to drift out of our story,
out of the big room, but we have merely entered
a larger room, a truly immense room.

If there is any light there, it is our own light.
We go to it, relieved of any knowledge.

There is a door in the light, we pass through it
to another room, a room filled with ghosts.

There is no special time there, and we are
moving aimlessly about, occasionally
brushing against each other.

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