American Poetry, Book Excerpts, Poetry

W.S. Merwin – Variation on a Theme

“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world.” These were the words of former Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin whose work reflected his lifelong concern and respect for the natural world. Merwin moved to Hawaii in 1977 in order to study Zen Buddhism,… Continue reading W.S. Merwin – Variation on a Theme

Koans

Ordinary Mind is the Way

This koan is an exchange between Master Nansen and his student Joshu that would have taken place in China around the 9th century. Their dialog concerns the nature of the Way and how to attain it. Nansen advises his student that ordinary mind is the key, but that it is not something he can seek… Continue reading Ordinary Mind is the Way

Book Excerpts

There is No Bolt That You Can Set Upon the Freedom of My Mind – Virginia Woolf

"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others," wrote Virginia Woolf in her essay on the role of women in literature, A Room of One's Own. Published in 1929 and based on two talks she gave at women's colleges at the University of Cambridge the previous… Continue reading There is No Bolt That You Can Set Upon the Freedom of My Mind – Virginia Woolf

Chinese Poetry, Chinese Texts, Poetry

Chuang Tzu’s Action and Non-Action

The true stillness that is at the root of human wisdom and the Taoist endeavor is a positive state, in as much as it is not the absence of anything nor a resistance to anything. Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu, author of foundational Taoist texts, writes in this poem: "The sage is quiet because he is not… Continue reading Chuang Tzu’s Action and Non-Action

Book Excerpts

Buddhism and the Agnostic Faith

Stephen Batchelor is a celebrated proponent of dharma practice stripped of ritual and other cultural trappings in order to reveal the power of the basic Buddhist teachings. His 1997 book, Buddhism Without Beliefs, is a manifesto in that direction. In it, he reminds us that Buddha himself was no mystic but rather a pragmatist with… Continue reading Buddhism and the Agnostic Faith

Book Excerpts

Infinities of Blue – Maggie Nelson

In a 2007 interview about her writing, Maggie Nelson said that the starting question for her book, Bluets, which is all about the color blue, was this: "can I contain all the information and feeling I have collected over the years about the color blue (my favorite color) and marry it to the form of Wittgensteinian… Continue reading Infinities of Blue – Maggie Nelson

American Poetry, Book Excerpts, Poetry

Dorianne Laux – Life is Beautiful

In her poem, Life is Beautiful, Dorianne Laux is literally making art from trash as she considers the wonder of a fly and its lifecycle through the things that we discard. That the miraculous can exist in the most pungent and fecund places, and that the birth of a maggot in such a world can… Continue reading Dorianne Laux – Life is Beautiful

Book Excerpts

Mitsu Suzuki on Teaching Tea Ceremony

Mitsu Suzuki was the wife of Shunryu Suzuki who accompanied him when he moved to the United States from Japan in the 1960s. After her husband passed away in 1971, Mitsu stayed on at San Francisco Zen Center where she taught tea ceremony and haiku poetry for another two decades. This excerpt is from a… Continue reading Mitsu Suzuki on Teaching Tea Ceremony

Book Excerpts

Just Take One Step – Dainin Katagiri

Dainin Katagiri came to the United States in 1963, originally to help out at the Zenshuji mission in Los Angeles, before moving up to San Francisco to work with the Sokoji mission there as well as the San Francisco Zen Center. He eventually established his own center for practice in Minnesota. In this extract from… Continue reading Just Take One Step – Dainin Katagiri

American Poetry, Poetry

The Caged Bird Sings of Freedom

The image of a caged bird is one that Maya Angelou used repeatedly to illustrate the struggle of African-Americans during the Civil Rights era in the United States. A powerful image, it can also represent the wider human endeavor towards freedom of every variety, both internal and external. The free bird is the one who… Continue reading The Caged Bird Sings of Freedom