A Melding and Soaking of Two Distant Poems


Though we are on break this week, two koans have melded together and begun to soak deeply into me: The 9th-century Chinese master Dongshan’s exchange with another monk, and a piece by the 20th-century Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.

We have shared both of these pieces of writing in this forum a number of times, but for me they are always fresh and different. The universe is recreating itself anew moment by precious moment. It is wonderful that in each moment it is all for us.

One day when Dongshan and a monk were washing their bowls, they saw two crows fighting over a frog. The monk asked, “Must it always be this way?”
Dongshan replied, “It’s only for your benefit, honored one.”

~ Record of Dongshan, 98

The Century’s Decline

Our twentieth century was going to improve on the others.
It will never prove it now,
now that its years are numbered,
its gait is shaky, its breath is short.

Too many things have happened that weren’t supposed to happen,
and what was supposed to come about has not.

Happiness and spring, among other things,
were supposed to be getting closer.
Fear was expected to leave the mountains and the valleys.
Truth was supposed to hit home before a lie.

A couple of problems weren’t going
to come up anymore:
hunger, for example,
and war, and so forth.

There was going to be respect
trust, that kind of stuff.

Anyone who planned to enjoy the world
for helpless people’s helplessness,
is now faced with a hopeless task.

Stupidity isn’t funny.
Wisdom isn’t gay.
Hope isn’t that young girl anymore,
et cetera, alas.

God was finally going to believe
in a man both good and strong,
but good and strong are still two different men.

“How should we live?”
someone asked me in a letter.
I had meant to ask him the same question.
Again, and as ever, as may be seen above,
the most pressing questions are naïve ones.