What Cats and Dandelions Know
Sunday morning cloudy wet
dandelions only know
when it’s time to grow
kitty licks her luxuriant fur
then goes back to sleep
on a folded rainbow rug
that any soft thing’s only purpose is
to be her bed
her forepaws twitch and tremble
dreaming of the hunt
Drinking with Dorje Bo 3
Dorje Bo usually served Korean sake. He admitted that it was not as delicate as the Japanese brands but it was usually all they had at the corner store near his flat. So he was delighted when I showed up next Sunday with a bottle of Harushika and we proceeded to plunge into the Great Matter. Of course he never talked about That. Any ordinary passerby would have thought we were talking about the mechanical condition of his cab or his preferred method of cooking a pig’s head. He laughed at my suggestion that he was a master, insisting that he was just an ordinary taxi driver who, like many other Koreans, occasionally practiced zen. Indeed there were times when I thought that must be the case, as for example when I came by to find him in his birthday suit carousing with a mother and daughter duo who were into rainbow hair and vinyl. I suppose I had always thought of masters as austere gents who wore black and kept the sleepy monks awake with an angry stick.
But the proof, as they say, is not in the decorum of the cook but in the pudding.
For the first half hour we ate and drank in silence then I said this combination of sake and pig meat was truly perfection. Then he brought out a small dish of fermented persimmon and said, “When we add kimchi we have perfection, without kimchi it’s only near-perfection.”
“Near-perfection’s a curious term,” I said, “how do I know when I’m experiencing near-perfection?”
“When you taste the kimchi,” he said, “you know that you were in near-perfection. Before you taste the kimchi you only think you are experiencing perfection.”
I swallowed the sake in my mouth and said: “So a good sign that I’m experiencing near-perfection is that I think I’m experiencing perfection.”
“When you experience perfection you can’t say anything meaningful about it so you just let it roll and talk about the weather.”
We ate in silence for a bit then he said: “According to zen logic there are only two conditions of mind, perfection and near-perfection. Near-perfection is like being fascinated by the mind mirror of reality instead of ‘things as it is’.”
“Things as they are,” I corrected.
“No, things as it is,” he said. Then he went to his bookcase and returned to hand me a white paperback with a picture of a monk on the cover and the red title: BRANCHING STREAMS FLOW IN THE DARKNESS. I examined the cover photo and recognized the monk as the famed master Shunryu Suzuki.
“I learned that phrase from him,” he said. “Not from this book but when i talked with him in Japan, after he returned from America.”
“So in near-perfection we are still trying to capture the Great Matter in our mind mirror, so we can be the masters of reality, we can say ‘See how brilliant I am. I can describe it, I can paint its portrait.’”
“As long as you only look at the image in the mirror, you can say many things,” he said, with a sad smile, “but when you look truth in the face your tongue can only say what clear understanding can put into words, a verse, a song, a howl of joy and sorrow.” He raised his head in the dimness of the room then lowered it to face me.
Wordlessly I nodded, seeing the tears that flowed toward his smiling mouth.