Lao Tzu’s Funeral

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When Lao Dan died, Jin-I went to his funeral. He gave three shouts and walked out.

A disciple accosted him. “I thought you were the Master’s friend!”

“I was.”

“Then do you really think it’s proper to mourn him this way?”

“I do. I used to think of him as a great man, but no more. Just now when I went in to pay my respects, I saw old people crying as if they had just lost a son, and young people crying as if they’d lost their mother.

“In bringing them all together like this, surely he has led some people to say things they don’t really mean, and others to cry when they don’t really feel like crying. People who act like that are hiding from Heaven, turning away from their true nature. Ungrateful bastards! In the old days, they would have seen this kind of betrayal as its own punishment.

“In coming when he did, the Master was right on time. In leaving when he did, he was simply following the current. If you can wait calmly for the right moment and hold fast to the current, neither joy nor sorrow will ever unsettle your mind. The old-timers called this ‘being cut loose by God.’

“Do you cling to the firewood? When the fire passes from one piece to the next, do we not accept that ‘firewood’ has turned to ‘cinders’?”

Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu), Chapter 3

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This is my own version. Translations consulted include: Lin Yutang, Thomas Merton, Martin Palmer, Derek Lin and the Tao Study Group, Burton Watson, and A. C. Graham.

Infallibility blues

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Error, my love, stay close. Without you, I’d never find the exit from this hell of mirrors. Look – another dawn stains the lunatic fringes of my sky in tints of crimson. Washable. Ready to wear. The monitor at my bedside shows my heartbeat skipping like a scapegoat. Who was that mitered man, and what was he doing in my chambers? Get back, you paperweights! I brandish my scepter like Aaron’s rod. My staff is stiff. It comforts me.

Error, you were the first and best of all my teachers. Once I found I could not leave my office for a pilgrim’s road, you drew dark nights on the insides of both my eyelids. With Him there is no left and right, I told my faithful. Bull or no bull, your matador’s cape goes to heel with the horns of any dilemma. Sweet Teresa may have been pierced, riven. A true saint. But it’s you I love.

Errors mount, they say. Mount of Horeb, Sinai, Zion, Olives. Mound, as it were, of Venus. Crowned with the shining head of a life, blind eye precious in His sight. Life and more life, life, life! A priest who can’t get it up is no priest. Shorn of foreskin, the holy hill must never again come under the shadow of so-called sacred groves. The mark of Cain printed in a baptismal font.

Solitude is a luxury denied the truly righteous, if they exist. Alone on my side of the net, I serve. My life is a service. However much my mind may go errant, this stubborn donkey knows to head straight for the oats. No sins without blessings, no blessings without sins. And everything made perfect in His sight. His all-seizing eye. I feel myself watched by the hour and the gargoyle minute, by night and by day. They grow and shrink through the seasons like all living things, thinking they’ll endure forever.

Is it about endurance then, my love? Ha! Give me nine months of contemplation and I too might bear some unimaginable offspring. Try me! But He knows best. I could wear a hairshirt, practice auto-flagellation, but the agony of childbirth is a blessing reserved for women. We priests are called to imitate Christ, giving birth from the tomb instead of the womb, yawning portal under the altar where we perform our redundant magic, food into flesh. Open, like this straw they’ve stuck where the breath goes in: extreme suction. One more river to cross.

Or am I in error again?

Or is she – at last – in me?

Cibola 68

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This entry is part 67 of 119 in the series Cibola


Shiwanna (3)

By the path to the spring
in Kyakima the young
men are loitering, each
in the shadow of some
unprecedented desire.
Ah sweet dusk, thin tissue
between home & harm!
On the path to the spring
in Kyakima the young
women go laughing together,
virtuosi of the sidelong
glance, the ambiguous
word given shape
by half-mocking lips.
Over this current

the Word Priest’s nasal voice:
an instant hush.

–We have news of the Apacha,
or other enemies. Nothing is sure
except a new force gathers
in the south. We hear
of other nations struck
by powerful sorcerers, often
in secret alliance with some
of their own. Please be careful
tomorrow when you go
to your fields & gardens.
Beware of anyone who leaves
in the middle of the night
without a cause. Report
anything suspicious, but please
go about your business as before.
Sleep well.

(To be continued.)