Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Three Poems: Rumi, Neruda, Li Po

I drafted this post, oh, in November I think but never finished it. Diana DoShin Johnson used these three poems in a dharma talk on one of her returns to El Paso / Las Cruces. We have them on hand. The poems have not grown older. I have. Bobby Kankin

Story Water  

A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It carries messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

               ―Pablo Neruda

Nosotros, los perecederos, tocamos los metales,
el viento, las orillas del océano, las piedras,
sabiendo que seguirán, inmóviles o ardientes,
y yo fui descubriendo, nombrando todas las cosas:
Fue mi destino amar y despedirme.

We, the mortal ones, touch metal,
the wind, ocean shores, stones,
knowing they will go on, inert or burning,
and I went discovering, naming all these things:
It was my destiny to love and say goodbye.

In Memory of Apollinaire “Polo” Valenzuela

The Birds Have Vanished
               ―Li Po

The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

(Translation by Sam Hamill)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good luck with that, huh?`

Both Sides / No Sides Zendo
Summer Morning after an Unexpected Rain
Beings are numberless, we vow to save them.    
A Journal Note

(Egad, I wrote the in June 2015, a year and a half ago. I forgot to push the publish button. Oh, well. Better now than never. Things have changed, of course. Polly lives in Las Cruces with her partner Steve, I talk to her and see her from time to time, but we all miss her. I don't see Matthew anymore. I miss seeing him. He's a good guy. I hope he walks through the door again sometime soon. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the post.)

One Tuesday night when I was out of town, Matthew Torres—the young man with the curly hair who comes when he can—brought the Zendo a gift, a little paper dolphin he had made, origami style, from thick paper marbled with many pastel colors. I was out of town and my fellow priest Polly Perez was in charge. Knowing Polly, she received the dolphin with a joyful smile. She placed it in the arms of the bronze teaching Buddha who sits on the altar. But then it was time to ring the bell. She lit the oil lamps and the incense, and the services began, as always, with the voices of those gathered together to sit zazen, atoning for the harm we cause in the world.

So this morning, back in town—the smell of dampness in the air from the little bit of rain we had last night—I went out to the zendo. Lucky me, the zendo is in my backyard. The little building is a 90 year old stone garage that Lee and I, with a little bit of extra cash, transformed 25 years ago into my office. Now it’s the Both Sides / No Sides Zendo, a 12-seater. Buddhism does things like that, letting one thing become another. I bowed to the bronze Buddha. He still carries the dolphin in his arms. This makes me happy. I lit the lamps and a stick of incense. I too recited the Prayer of Atonement for the harm I cause in the world. I bowed to my zafu and began chanting in preparation to sit zazen. Ernie the black cat walked in. He strolled up to me for a scratch behind the ears, and then he slowly went from zabuton to zabuton, sniffing at the wonderful places full of human smell to lay his body down. He chose, finally, the zabutons stacked beneath the altar. He climbed inside the little cave and immediately went to sleep, so black you cannot tell cat from zafu until he opens his golden eyes.

Stephen Batchelor, toward the end of his book Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, says Gautama contributed four basic elements to the Dharma, elements that were not derived from the Indian culture of his time.

  1. The principle of “this conditionality, conditioned arising.”
  2. The process of the Four Noble Truths.
  3. The practice of mindful awareness.
  4. The power of self-reliance.
So there we were—the Buddha, the paper dolphin, the black cat and the old man sitting zazen. We felt the breeze seeping into the stone zendo, and we listened to the mockingbirds and the mourning doves. By sitting zazen, Dogen says, we express our true nature. Ideas and words are irrelevant. Just pieces of trash floating past. But the bell does ring, sooner or later. Like always, I recited the Four Great Vows, vowing to save the numberless earth beings, ending all delusions, entering all the boundless Dharma gates, and becoming one with the Buddha’s Way.

Good luck with that, huh? But that’s what we vow. Over the years, the roots of these vows, watered by the daily practice of zazen, grow deeper into our heart-mind. I blew out the lamps, bowed to the Buddha and the dolphin in his arms, scooted Ernie out of the zendo, and went about my life. As one more of the numberless beings, I carried along the little bit of freedom I realized within those old stone walls—the morning light, the open door, the fresh but damp spring breeze and the happily dissonant songs of mockingbirds and mourning doves.

Bobby Kankin Byrd 
June 2015

Ernie, the Dolphin & the Buddha
A lousy photo but you get the picture!

Ernie opens his eyes!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Old Man Winter Morning Zendo Poem

Old Man Winter Morning Zendo Poem

Morning zazen makes no sense at all, 
Absolutely no sense at all.
But I’m happy to be here, after practice,
Alive on my black cushion, bundled up
From a nagging sickness, sipping cold coffee,
Incense burned to ashes in the quiet,
Candles flickering, sunlight shadows
On the brown wall, and those silly pigeons,
They’re eating out of the cat dish again.
Ha! Good for them.
They don’t know right from wrong.
What better time to give thanks,
Thank you, thank you
A single grackle screeches out
Her love for me
And then she flies away.

In celebration of Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi's 70th Birthday

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher. 
Being just this moment, compassion’s way.  
―The Third and Fourth Principles of Practice as adapted by Charlotte Joko Beck and the Ordinary Mind School from the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths
You know, when you first start reading about Zen practice, you come across two visions of how to sit on a cushion, Rinzai Zen and Soto Zen. These are the two primary Japanese lineages. Each is pigeonholed into its own stereotype. Rinzai is the sterner practice, more martial in observance of all the rules, and Soto Zen is softer and more lenient in many ways. In Rinzai Zen, you sit zazen facing the sangha, you have regular sansen (interview with the teacher), the teacher gives you koans to break the hard walls of psyche, and the aim is to experience “kensho,” or sudden enlightenment. In Soto Zen, you sit facing the wall, you have irregular dokusan (interview with the teacher), and there is no aim, per se. You sit shikantaza, which means “just sitting.” The Soto lineage favors of what is called “gradual enlightenment.” Of course, in actual practice, especially here in the United States, the differences between the two lineages have faded away in some aspects, and really, the only way to find out the real differences, is to go sit with one group or another. If it’s true Zen practice, the foundation will always be zazen, sitting on a cushion (or chair, as your body requires), back straight, eyes open, breathing in and out, bringing the mind to the point of existence. 
Ha! The reason I wrote all of that is because of that little poem up above, “Old Man Winter Morning Zendo Poem.” I consider it a “Zen poem” because it speaks of my daily practice. But in high school and college, when I started reading about Zen poets and artists, I was always intrigued by how they had these sudden blasts of simultaneous insight and expression. Basho and his buddies would sit at the edge of a creek, getting drunk on sake and throwing down haiku and renga at each other in raucous laughter-filled dharma battles. The great calligraphers would approach a blank scroll with brush and ink, there would be a frenzied dervish swirling of arms, perhaps a shout and grunts, then, ZAP! And there it was! Another masterpiece!
Oh, I wanted to be like them. That was my romantic notion. Now I’m almost 75, and I want to say my Zen and writing of poetry is not like that at all. That’s not who I am. That’s not how I write poems. 
Every day I try to write in my journals. Mostly with my illegible (except to me) hand-writing. Sometimes on the computer. Sometimes even on my cell phone, talking, not writing, into the damn thing if I have idea, see or hear something that interests me. Anyway, from time to time I go through my journals and try to harvest poems. When I find something, I fiddle with it some, and, after a while, if I like it, I move it to my “poems in-progress” files.
Several weeks ago, I scribbled in my notebook about the silly pigeons eating out of the cat dish. When I finish my morning zazen, I can see them out there, finishing up what the cats didn’t eat. That irritates Lee and me, them eating the cat food and shitting all over the place. We wish the cats would do their job and harvest the pigeons but the cats don’t care about the pigeons. They are no longer hungry. They just watch the pigeons and dream ferocious cat dreams. That’s why we don’t feed the cats on the front porch anymore. It’s no fun to come home and see pigeon poop on the front porch. But one morning, after zazen, I looked out there at the pigeons and laughed at them. Silly birds, they don’t know right from wrong. Ha! I wrote that down. I took a sip of cold coffee. It was delicious.
Then one day at services, while we were finishing with the tea, one of our members had a question. She said a friend of hers was comparing Zen with another form of Buddhism. In Zen practice, the friend said, we don’t do anything. We just sit there. “It doesn’t make any sense at all.” I had to laugh. Her friend was right, of course, because he was witnessing our practice only from the outside. And that’s what we do. We just sit there, staring at the wall. 
So this comment stuck with me. I wrote that down in my journal too. Then I remembered something I had been working on. I went to my journals and found this little piece about giving thanks for our practice. “Thank you, thank you.” All of this migrated into my “work-in-progess” files. I coupled that with the pigeons, right and wrong, and the idea about “making sense.” Then a few mornings later, a grackle showed up while I was sitting. It was one of those times during zazen when you hear something perfectly―my hearing the bird and the bird’s wild screech wrapped up together into one complete expression of existence. Not two. But one. That’s what Dogen means when he writes, “to be realized by the 10,000 things.” The grackle screeched out her love for me. Why not? She flew away. It all made sense. And I put it all these bits and pieces into this one little poem. 
When the poem was done, I liked it. It satisfied me somehow. And I like how it was made. Like following a mountain trail up and around to no place in particular. Except I need to pay attention. See the world clearly as it is. Otherwise, I’ll get lost for good. This is how I try to lead my life, following that mountain trail through the scrub and the trees, around the rocks, up through the rip-rap, vowing not to squander my life. So I decided to share the poem on our email list. Then yesterday morning, during zazen again, I remembered it was almost Harvey Daiho Hilbert’s birthday. He’ll be 70, so I need to give him thanks too. He was my teacher for all these many years. Thank you, Daiho, thank you, thank you. That’s what I want to say. To Harvey and to all those who have come before us. 

With our practice, 
We honor all those beings, 
Women and men, 
Known and unknown, 
Who have given their lives
To this practice 
For our present benefit. 

So, yes, yes, thank you. Thank you. 
Bobby Kankin Byrd

Monday, October 5, 2015


Lucia Penelope Corbett among the Many Shoes (10-4-2015)
What a great success was our first Kids’ Day at the Zendo. Five children, along with 16-year-old Audrey Schroder, showed up holding the hands of their parents. Our zendo was packed with kids and adults. The children participated in the chants before zazen—The Prayer of Atonement, The Three Refuges and The Heart Sutra—, and they followed Veronica Schroder to the house for artwork exercises. Veronica is co-owner and teacher (her specialty is teaching children) with her husband Paul at the El Paso San Soo Kung Fu Studios. Recently, she’s been studying how to teach “Mindfulness” to children. This practice, of course, dovetails into her Zen practice. She’s now studying with Bobby Kankin for Jukai, the ceremony where she receives the Buddhist vows and formally taking her journey along the path of the Buddha.

After this last Sunday, we decided that we will schedule Kids’ Day at the Zendo on the first and third Sunday of every month. If the interest remains, and Veronica gets some other volunteers, then we will make it every week.

Please contact Bobby Kankin Byrd at 915-241-3140 or bbyrd@cincopuntos.com for more information.

● ● ●

[Whenever I think of children and Zen, I remember the great story of Hotei, aka "the happy Buddha." He established a kindergarten of the street, passing out goodies to the kids who followed him around as he traveled through town and country. Here's the story as it appears in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, one of my favorite all time books. / bb]

Anyone walking about Chinatowns in America will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha.

This Hotei lived in the T’ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets. Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: 'Give me one penny.'

And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: 'Give me one penny.’

Once as he was about his play work another Zen master happened along and inquired: 'What is the significance of Zen?' Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.

‘Then,' asked the other, 'what is the actualization of Zen?'

At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ROHATSU 2014 / Both Sides / No Sides

Rohatsu Schedule
December 4th thru 7th

This is the tentative schedule for our sesshin. We may modify it slightly before or during Sesshin. Sesshin will be held at our Zendo at 2709 Louisville. Suggested Dana for the Sesshin is $20. If you are coming for only part of the sesshin, please give Dana as you feel appropriate. PLEASE REGISTER BY EMAIL OR PHONE. For questions, call me at 915-241-3140. Notes: Zazen periods will be 30 minutes. Dokusan will be offered every day. Please read notes at the end.

Thursday Night, December 4th, Opening Evening Schedule
5:30pm to 6pm. Arrival and straightening up of Zendo.
6pm. First bell. Refuges and Heart Sutra. Two periods of zazen with kinhin.
7:20pm. Maka Hanya Hara Mita., tea service and dharma talk. Dharma talk will be followed by two periods of zazen with kinhin.
8:45pm to 9pm. Closing ceremony.

Friday Night, December 5th, Opening Evening Schedule
5:30pm to 6pm. Arrival and straightening up of Zendo.
6pm. First bell. Refuges and Heart Sutra. Two periods of zazen with kinhin.
7:20pm. Maka Hanya Hara Mita., tea service and dharma talk. Dharma talk will be followed by two periods of zazen with kinhin.
8:45pm to 9pm. Closing ceremony.

Saturday, December 6th, Full Day Schedule.
5:30am. Arrival, coffee, and straightening up of Zendo.
6am. First bell. Refuges and Heart Sutra. Three periods of zazen with kinhin.
7:50am. Break to clean up for breakfast.
8:00am. Informal “family-style” breakfast.
8:45am. Maka Hanya Hara Mita, tea service and dharma talk. Dharma talk will be followed by two periods of zazen with kinhin.
10:15am to 10:45am. Samu (work meditation), cleaning the zendo and sweeping.
10:45am to Noon. Two periods zazen with kinhin. 
Noon to 12:15. Personal cleanup and break.
12:15pm to 1:15pm. Modified formal oryoki (lunch).
1:15pm to 2:15pm. Samu. Bring workclothes!
2:15pm to 3:20pm. Two periods zazen with kinhin.
3:30pm to 4:00pm. Personal time.
4:00pm to 4:30pm. Yoga.
4:30 to 5:45pm. Two periods zazen with kinhin.
5:45 to 6pm. Cleanup for dinner.
6pm to 6:45 In-formal “family-style” dinner.
6:45pm to closing. Three periods of zazen with kinhin. Closing Ceremonies and cleanup.

Sunday, December 7th, Last Day Schedule
6:30am to 7:00am. Coffee, fruit and light breakfast for early arrivers.
7am to 8:45am. First bell. Three periods of zazen with kinhin.
8:45am to 9:30am. Samu. Preparation for ceremonies.
9:30am to 10am. Welcoming guests.
10:00am to Conclusion. Opening Ceremonies, Jukai Ceremony for Amelia Furrow, Tristan Bouilly, Jamie Sacone, and Esau Ruiz.
11:30ish. A potluck. All invited.

Our practice will be in silence.
My wife Lee has been kind enough to let us share our house this weeken, so we want to keep the place clean so she’ll invite us back! We’ll also do samu in the yard on Saturday. By the way, Lee’s not a fan of folks bowing to her. Hello, is just fine. Maybe a little chat.
Bring work clothes for Saturday samu.
Sunday, after the ceremonies, we will have a potluck! Bring something if you can! We’ll make do. 

Bobby Kankin Byrd

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Thank you for your concern.

The other day I received this message from my teacher, Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi:

Rev. Kobutsu Malone who has spent his life in service to others is now in dire need of funds.  His car broke down and he was hospitalized needing a stent in his heart.  This is a man who sat with prisoners about to be executed, who has led the way in exposing priest abuses, and who has steadfastly been a spokesman for engaged practice.

If you can assist him, please go to the Engaged Zen website and press the donation button in the lower right hand corner of the home page.


This note hit me hard. It's only been a little more than a month ago I met Kobutsu by telephone. When I was wondering where to find rakusu rings for five Jukai students, my fellow priest and student Polly Miaodao Perez told me about Kobutsu. "He makes them himself," she said, and she sent me to the link that shows just how he does it. So I called him. He's a good guy, open and very generous. I told him I needed five rings. He asked about my lineage, and I told him Daiho Hilbert Roshi is my teacher. "Yes, yes," he said. He told me his story about his teacher Eido Shimano who had shamefully abused his student's trust and respect. I won't go into that, other than to say how much I admired Kobutso for being able to separate his disgust for his teacher's actions towards him and his family and the practice of Zen. As Daiho stated above, here's a man who has followed the Bodhisattva Way, bringing about abundant good to all beings through intense engaged practice. I was honored to speak with him. And when I said goodbye, I asked how much I owed him. He said, "Send what you can." Four or five days later I received a box in the mail. It contained eight rings, each from a different kind of wood. Five, I believe, came from hardwood trees in the Amazon region of Brazil and Venezuela. The other three are from trees native to New England and the East Coast. All, if you stare at them, hold them, carress them, are exotic in their own unique way. And each is a hand-crafted ensō expressing the path of the Buddha, the path of form and emptiness. They are beautiful. And they are among the last that Kobutso will ever make. He's older now, he has eye problems, and the work if too difficult.

Please, provide what Dana you can to Kobutsu Malone. The Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community is collecting donations that we will send along next week, or you can go to the Engage Zen website and make a donation there. The donation box is in the lower right hand side of the home page.

And here is a photo of seven of the rakusu rings that Kobutsu sent to us. Please note that he also included a copy of his book Prison Chaplaincy Guidelines for Zen Buddhism. And what happened to the eighth ring? Polly happily grabbed it for herself when I was showing them to her. Ha! --Bobby Kankin

Monday, July 21, 2014

“What is this life I am living right now?”

A few days ago, I participated in a funeral service for a young man who had killed himself. It was a beautiful service. It was held outside in a wonderful backyard with family and friends all standing close together, touching each other, in sadness and reverence and contemplation. Because of that closeness and silence, it was easy to feel that we were all one being, breathing in and out. My job simply was to say a few words of introduction, then let people speak. The final voices were his sister, his mother and finally his father. The father, a friend and neighbor, then read several prayers from the Episcopal and Eastern Orthodox prayer books. Then mother, father and sister—on their hands and knees—emptied his ashes into a small round hole dug in the very spot where he died. They replaced the dirt and smoothed out the little grave of ashes. The father has vowed to care and make beautiful and sacred this place where his son died. And he had invited us all, with our presence there, to help in making the ground sacred.

Like so many others, I was deeply touched. As I told my friend, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow he has gone through. Especially because it was he who found his son, lying there in the garden. We all get lost in our daily lives and we don’t remember the miracle of our lives, to be here on this earth in the midst of sorrow and beauty, breathing in and out. I don’t want to say much here about suicide, especially this young man’s death. I don’t think he committed a sin, especially the way that word is commonly used. Depression can feel like a very dark room with no way out. The doors and windows are locked. We have all been there one time or another. Some for longer than others, and some, like this young man, felt he was locked in for good.

This morning I remembered and re-read Brad Warner’s chapter “Suicide at a Zen Monastery” in his book, There is No God and He is Always with You. The chapter is very wise. Brad remembers that when the Buddha was asked questions about life and death, he responded, “The question does not fit the case.” The better question to ask, Brad says, is “What is this life I am living right now?” This is why we practice, to learn to ask the question, "What is this?"

During the service, I was once again reminded of the Evening Gatha we chant at the end of our sangha’s services and especially that core statement, “Life and death are of supreme importance.” Several weeks ago, instead of giving a dharma talk at Sunday services, I recited several texts, beginning with the Evening Gatha. I am pasting these below. Together, and separately, they all remind us to awaken to our precious and very brief lives. These texts point to ways we can ask that question, “What is this life I am living right now?”

From time to time, I hear sangha members catch their breath when reciting the Evening Gatha. For some it’s the first time they’ve heard it; for others, it’s like they have finally truly heard it. It strikes a deep chord in their hearts. I should know. It’s happened to me. More than once. The chanting during the service and especially the zazen opens us up so that we can hear. Also, I have been reading Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s new book, Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges. Her chapter on “Death and Dying” deeply touched me. Two of the texts below are from that chapter: first, her short poem that opens the chapter, and second, “The Meditation on Death” which is in the Practice section that concludes the chapter. The final text is a Zen prayer or gatha that can be read at a memorial service. I found this in a 2010 Village Zendo email. Someone had asked the VZ sangha for some text for a memorial service, and Robert Chodo Campbell, who is now co-director of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, responded with this beautiful piece. It’s something he uses, he said, when he’s asked to speak at a funeral service.

By the way, Enkyo O’Hara gave the following instructions for using her “Meditation on Death”: “There are many ways you can use this meditation. You can read it to another person, record it and listen, or simply read it sentence by sentence. If, during this meditation, you should feel uncomfortable, take a moment to observe that, and simply open your eyes, take a breath, look around, and feel your hands and feet.”

I suggest you read the texts aloud, even if you are alone. When I recited these to the sangha, I rang the small bell between each. You might try that too. And finally, I suggest you adapt the Evening Gatha as part of your daily practice, saying it aloud before going off to bed.

Evening Gatha

Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Take heed.
This night your days are diminished by one.
Do not squander your life.

A Death Poem 
By Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

Oh, time to go, so soon?
I knew the time would come, but now?
I thought there’d be more time.
Oh what needs to be done?
What have I left behind?
Will I be safe? Will I be happy?
Will I be?

A Meditation on Death
By Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

Close your eyes and let your body relax.
Let the body soften, let the breath come by itself.
Nothing to change, nothing to control, just breathing.
Soften the body, moment to moment, allow it to be loose, as if floating.
Allow the edges of your body to soften, to melt.
Allow your whole body, arms and legs and hands, to melt, to be at ease,
To enter that space in your heart, in your breath, that is melting, like an ice cube in water, flowing back into the fluidity of space and light.
Letting go of sensation, of the sense of the body, we float free of its constraints,
Melting, softening, ice to water, dissolving into the flow of light and space,
Becoming quieter, more at ease.
As each holding arises, we let it melt, we let our name and reputation melt, our family melt, our form melt, our holding melt into our heart and breath.
Letting go allows us to melt, to float free, to dissolve into light, into space.
Letting go of the body, releasing the body, floating freely in the light.
Safely, each thought, each emotion, each perception safely floats away, and there is space flowing into space, light into light.
No boundaries, even the breath now, slowly falling away, melting into space.
Now, floating freely as water in water, light in light, space in space,
There is no inside, no outside,
Free, completely, and utterly free, free, space, endless space,
Slowly now observe the breath,
As you realize, although many people are dying now, are letting go, you are staying, it is not yet your time.
This is realization in vast, wondrous space.
Breathe slowly, feeling freshness, peace, and come back.

Gatha for a Memorial Service

Because of the ceaseless action of cause and effect,
reality appears in all its many forms.
To know this fully liberates all who suffer.
All beings appear just as we do from the one,
and pass away as we all do,
After a few flickering moments or years of life
Back to our original unborn nature.
Truly, our lives are waves
on the vast ocean of true nature
Which is not born and does not pass away.

I hope these texts help you to strengthen your daily practice.
My best to you all.
Bobby Kankin Byrd