—a poem about exertion and quiet fruition
Eight hundred years ago
there was quite an argument
about faith and practice in Japan.
Fame-chasing priests and their students
and sword-wielding samurai
all lined up for the brawl.
It was a rehash of the old debate in Zen
“sudden enlightenment vs. gradual enlightenment”.
Some still wear the team jerseys today.
Back then, some said the Path of Sages was “the only way”;
others spoke of true-entrusting in the Pure Land, Amida’s vow.
Others yammered, “You must utter your faith 60,000 times a day,”
while others said, “Once is enough if your heart is lit by faith.”
I am no referee.
I want nothing to do with priests
or the type of “faithful” who foam-at-the-mouth
and clobber others over the head.
All I know
is before you can plant a seed
you must till the soil.
You must turn up the earth
and clear the rocks from the dark.
Then, in the right season,
in the right light,
the miracle of the harvest springs forth
and there is no magic quite like that.
But if we stop there, we’ll starve.
We’ll forget what it’s like to feast together;
to see the light in each other’s eyes.
So, the tilling will still need to happen every season.
So will the gentle-tending.
And, if our work of preparing the ground was properly done,
each autumn, like a heart-lifting homecoming,
there will come an effortless feeling
that seems to spring from outside yourself
but somehow makes itself known, first, inside your own chest.