—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.

(c) 2019 / Frank LaRue Owen (Ichinen) / purelandpoetry.com

sound: Nen / Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai: Vol 1 / Kitaro

image: Gabriel Jimenez





“Branches” / purelandpoetry.com

Dark plum sky.

I contemplate branches.

Branches of rivers.

Branches of trees.

Branches of veins and aortas.

Branches of migrations.

Branches of lineages.

Branches of Zen.

Branches of Jōdo.

Ippen and branches of Jishū.

Seizan’s Taima Mandala;

branches of outward and inward practices.

Women of branches;

hidden lamps carrying lanterns.

My late teacher’s teacher — a Kannon spirit.

My late teacher — a gatherer of branches.

An invisible lantern.

Branches of wind moving through lungs.

Branching out beyond the seen.

My own feet.

Branches of bones.

Stepping out from under branches.

An open sky.

A traveler.



A moonless night.

One path.

(c) 2019 / Frank LaRue Owen (Ichinen) / purelandpoetry.com

sound: Petrichor / Flora and Fauna / Roy Mattson

image: Sirma Krusteva


When the Matter is Finally Settled


When the Matter is Finally Settled

“When the Matter is Finally Settled” / purelandpoetry.com

50 years of age.

Living in a row house.

Still shouldering debt from my education

…and my “education.”

What tuition!

Yet, there are small jewels.




phrases of the jishū before me;

I don’t wander

but I follow them one phrase at a time.

I stretch out my legs like Ryōkan

and drift into sleep to the sound of autumn rain.

Better that than tears.

In the morning, I will wake

to the piercing cry of a hawk

gliding through the golden pines.

Crisp air will flow through the screen

and kiss the tip of my nose.

Just another year.

(c) 2019 / Frank LaRue Owen (Ichinen) / purelandpoetry.com

sound: Freeze II / Ghost Woods / Chihei Hatakeyama

image: Jack Cain


A Letter To My 13-Year Old Self


A Letter To My 13-Year Old Self

a dream-influenced poem; sending wisdom back-and-forth through time

Being an adult is not much different from childhood.

There are bullies who bully

because their parents did not know how to show love.

You have to sit for long hours

doing things and remembering details

that have absolutely no meaning for you

(just like 8th Grade).

The best days will be Saturdays

when you are free to follow your spirit.

Sunday nights will be irritating

because you know what the next day holds.

“Frumpy girls”, “artsy girls”, “hippie girls” are the sweet ones, the kind ones.

The “popular girls” are often mean, so watch your step.

Regardless of the humans you know

the more meaningful conversations

will usually be with Mother Nature.

(But, you already knew that).

When you get old, like me,

and your dreams turn strange,

and you start losing your eyesight,

the only things that will seem to matter at all

are what make the eyes of your heart light up.

More and more that won’t involve other people.

Your true accompaniment

will be with something invisible

behind the shape of things.

The sound of wind through pines.

Moments of quiet.

Rare communions with sunrise, forest-humidity, ocean waves at dawn.

The soft-gauzy-purple-light when day turns to night.

What will be harder than childhood

is knowing you have done what you came to do

and pretending (and convincing others)

there is some “great” and “important” thing that keeps you going

when all you really want to do is nap


drink saké


and make your way

across the water

to your final and ultimate home.


Mixing soy sauce and mustard goes great on pickles.

Baian the Assassin never gets old.


The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women

Zen Women

and Women of the Way;

women understood Buddhism better than men.

If you see a door marked ‘Inja’, that’s yours, cowboy.

It leads to the Practice of the Hidden People.

There you will pick back up with the threads of yourself.

Surrender to your un-importance.

There is magic in fading away.

(c) 2019 / Frank LaRue Owen (Ichinen) / purelandpoetry.com

sound: Sunset (Contemplations with Patrick O’Hearn) / Ix’chel and the Owl

image: Anita Austvika


信心 | Shinjin


信心 | Shinjin

With every turning glance I mutter to myself: Mappō! Mappō! Mappō!

How deep we are into the red dust.

Breath seizes like a sparrow caught in a net.

I observe-through-feeling the Fear and Strain of These Times.

People Seeding Hell Realms with Body-Speech-Mind.

Trauma-Bodies Exiling Dharma-Bodies.

I step out into the cool night air.

A subtlety arrives.

The perfume of Kannon.

Something loosens within me.

The echo of a single nembutsu I uttered in another time returns to me.

I am hurled into remembrance; another age —

becoming a True Time-Companion.

Rain begins.

Rain ends.

Brand new world.

Namu Amida Butsu

(c) 2019 / Frank LaRue Owen (Ichinen) / Pure Land Poetry / purelandpoetry.com

sound: Being in Dreaming / Being in Dreaming / Michael Hewett

image: Finial of a Buddhist Monk’s Staff (Shakujō) / The Met Fifth Avenue / Public Domain

Liner Notes for the Curious:

Mappō: Many schools of Mahayana Buddhism recognize a working cosmological reality called the Three Ages of the Dharma. Shōbō (Age of Right Dharma) is the first thousand years of Buddhist activity when the teachings are transmitted and people are able to uphold the practices, both exoteric and esoteric. Zōbō (Age of Semblance Dharma, sometimes called “the copied law”) is the second thousand years when conditions decline considerably and there is only a simulated sense of right Dharma. The teachings spread, but there is also widespread corruption, with some teachings weakening or decaying, and people’s aptitude and exertion for practice wane. Mappō (The Degenerate Age, or the Degeneration of the Law), believed by some Japanese Buddhists to have begun in 1052 CE, is characterized by unparalleled societal upheavals and natural disasters, and people are unable to enter the Dharma gates of numerous practices, schools, and paths. [I would add to this the characteristic of Dharma teachers slandering the Dharma and causing harm within sanghas]. The conditions of mappō are said to last 10,000 years, at which time a new flourishing is predicted to occur. Until that time, increasingly the only gates of the Dharma that will remain open (translation: that people will manage to be able to practice) are the condensed, simplified paths.

Nembutsu: A phrase (and meditation visualization) used by practitioners in the many lineages of Pure Land tradition, and by some Shingon, Tendai, and Zen practitioners as well.

Shinjin: clear heart-mind, true-entrusting faith, non-retrogressive devotion





a poem before my 12th mountain pilgrimage


you, me.

We’re moving through quite a stretch,

aren’t we?

I can feel the waves now

30 days out.


They come, they go —

one after another.

Beyond the control

beyond the control

even of the moon

or endless lineages of tathagatas.



cycling appearances.



Here we are…


What is this traveling that we do?

We come, we go, we return.

We come, we go, we return.

We come, we go, we return.

We spend a lifetime

trying to remember each other’s faces,

each other’s souls.

We come, we go, we return.

We put on different labels

and all of them fail us.

We come, we go, we return.

We come,

we go,

we return.


bodhisattva epiphany


bodhisattva epiphany

It takes you a long while.

The old books say kalpas.

The Teacher in the desert barked: “What’s time?”

Then, you figure it out.

You see.

The old-timers call it kensho, satori.

The Teacher in the desert declared: “It’s just blinders falling away.”

When you finally see, you no longer want to be here.

The seeing requires a letting-go for which you were never prepared.

It goes against the grasping of the Floating World.

It runs counter to your animal natures.

It’s when the Dharma becomes a biological override.

The old ones say, “Harness practice exertion.”

The Teacher in the desert said: “Eventually you will grow bored

with anything that doesn’t contain the sweet nectar of The Way.”

The moment from seeing to doing can be an arduous delay.

Even some of the greats set aside whole swaths of time

to lounge in the Halls of Decadence as a final farewell.

But, you can’t un-see what you have seen.

The old ones talk about Mara’s daughters, the arrows of demon armies;

how nothing here can compare to the ecstasy of Sukhavati.

The Teacher in the desert said: “Even that doesn’t quite get it.”

When you finally see, you no longer want to be here.

But, you see others struggling around you,

and you love them,

and the Earth Realm,

and what the world could be,

so you stay.

The Teacher in the desert says:

“I know you no longer want to be here.






udumbara: a flower in Buddhist iconography said to bloom every three thousand years. As a symbol, it expresses how each being — sentient and insentient — is profoundly rare against the backdrop of the world’s unfolding.

in honor of holy conversation with brothers

Su Tung-p’o was enlightened through the sound of a babbling brook.

It took him years to understand. It took him years for his heart-mind to see.

One day, his mentor Chao-chio gave a talk. The talk went over Su Tung-p’o’s head.

But, as the saying goes: “The Dharma is often dark to the mind

but luminous to the heart.”

Months later, Su Tung-p’o visited a forested mountain retreat.

In the middle of the night, he heard a flowing stream in the darkness.

The husk concealing his True Heart cracked open

and words flowed forth along with tears:

“The sound of the river is the Buddha’s tongue

freely offering all sentient beings the flowing Dharma.

Mountains are the body of the Buddha in which we may find refuge.

Since last night, I have started to write poems thousands of times,

but how will I ever explain to others what my heart has seen?”


“Without a degree of submission,

healing, ironically, cannot enter.”

— Martin Shaw —


At season’s end, cicadas fall like hail.

Their song is done for another cycle.

I understand such sudden silence.

Now the rains come

washing clean the autumn-mountain parts of me.

Summer is meant to be paradise.

A soft release into languid heat.

Ripe fruit on tongues.

Ripe tongues on bare skin.

Humans remembering we are spiral-flung stars

through buoyancy


gentle telepathy

unplanned telemetry —

a kind of deep celebration of the measure of our days

through evening feasts wherein we join in

with the cosmic conversation taking place

in the high branches around us.

The truth is,

despite the sutras being sung from the pine tassels above,

my summer was a shrine of grief.

The only thing greater than my own deafness

was my immovability.

I do not speak of pity-parties here.

I was holding a vigil

while the children laughed, and ran, and played.

I raged and grieved for all that has passed…is passing…will pass.

In so doing, I stepped off the mountain of ten-thousand steps

and glided like a blue swan into a great valley below.

Don’t look for these places in the outer world just yet.

I cannot fully point to the inward map either.

We love the image of the chrysalis, the transformed butterfly.

We forget we don’t reach that doorway

without completely cooking in our own juices

until there’s nothing left.

Don’t look for these places in the outer world just yet.

I cannot fully point to the inward map either.

I only know this:

In that great valley

in that great, beautiful valley

that is both far, far away and ever close-at-hand

there is nourishment to be found

for this pain-drenched world.

I only know this

because I come

freshly washed from it.

(c) 2019 / Frank LaRue Owen / Pure Land Poetry

sound: Shine Like A Star / Moonglow / Igneous Flame