Words within Silence: 108 Poems of Zen and the Way

108 is the number of beads in a traditional Hindu or Buddhist mala (string of beads), a number of rich symbology in both religions. Presented here are a mala of poems.

The author began a daily meditation practice in midlife that ultimately inspired him to write poems based on his studies of Buddhist and Taoist literature and his Soto Zen practice. The poetry arose from a ‘spiritual opening’, bubbling up, sometimes as many as a half dozen a day, coming from a place deeper than the ego has access to.

Besides original poems relating to his personal practice, the author has written a number of poems that are versifications of Zen anecdotes found in Paul Reps’ book, ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’.


Prairie Lights
A firefly flickers
In and out of the oak's branches,
Like a mind without direction.
The candle flame
In the garden lantern,
Mimics the lightning bug.
The rising moon
At least for tonight
Is bright and constant.
The clear and steady mind
Shines its own light
On a world plunged in darkness.
Mountains of Bones
Buddha said: Each being
Returns so many times, its
Accumulated bones
Would make a mountain.
Through pain we enter the world,
Through pain we leave it.
The Lake of Tears grows deeper
With each of our passings.
Flesh and blood are consumed
By our fellow sentient beings,
For maggot and beetle
A corpse is a banquet.
But those who have cultivated
Awareness are not concerned,
At the time of their death,
With earth's necessities.
Ikkyu and the Broken Cup
from Reps, Zen Flesh ...

 Ikkyu had always been clever,
Even as a boy.
One day, he carelessly broke
His teacher's favorite cup.
Ikkyu knew in a flash
His teacher would be angry.
What to do? What to do? He heard
His master's footsteps approaching.
Ikkyu held his hands behind him,
Concealing the shards of porcelain
From his teacher's watchful eye.
Suddenly, he had an idea.
"Master, why do people have
To die?" "Because it's natural,"
His teacher replied. "In time
Everything has to die."
Producing the shattered cup,
Ikkyu commented:
"Master, it must have been time
For your cup to die."

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