Medusa stands in grey twilight
That those may hide who wish to see the day and not the coming night,
Keeping watch upon her fearful flock,
Turning words to stone, lest they wander.
The muse of madness and a million corpses,
Lashing through their timeless dance like aberrations of the mind,
She screams commands
And strikes the blind puppets,
Crushing them beneath her feet as they run to do her deeds.
And we speak of human creeds,
While she pours the serpent’s venom in our ears,
Makes bravery the tyrant’s fool,
Spreads chaos in the name of truth,
And shatters us.
Then let us make a sacrificial altar in her name,
Call her beauty
And worship her with closed eyes.

Gypsy caves
Granada, Spain


In memory of my father

You are my father, I am your son;
We are one in blessed purity.
Our radiant love can eclipse the sun
And stay the season’s fated course.
Within your timeless memory, I become a child again –
Cradled in your loving arms, all thoughts of sorrow flee.
You are my earth, father,
And I am the rain, soaking your pores with my tears.
Death cannot separate us, father –
Even the dust beneath my feet contains your seed,
And flowers bloom from your ravaged breast.
I will always be with you, father.
Your breath fills my spirit with boundless aspiration,
And I encompass the stars,
Where you burn brightly in eternal solitude.

Rochester, NY
February 1987

Tears of Blood

“Horse and wagon part. Bloody tears flow.” – I Ching

Tears of blood stain the cheeks of my Madonna,
Who did no wrong and yet was forced to see
Her only son crucified upon the cross of man’s ignorance.
Who can know the burden that she carried on her way to Calvary?
Who can know the depths of her travail?
Imagine, if you can, that final tragic scene:
The hill, the guards, the crown of thorns, the prisoner struggling to his fated destination, the jeering crowd, the spikes, the cross, the growing gloom, the silhouette with arms outstretched, the words of absolution.
Can you hear the groaning of the firmaments as earth prepares to give him up?
Can you taste the bitterness upon the lips of those who have betrayed him?
Can you see the heavenly descent of cherubim and seraphim coming to receive him?
Can you feel those tears of blood that fell upon the multitudes and washed away their sins?

Rochester, NY
April 1989

The Rope of Lust

The rope of lust is like a line
Attached to thoughts which seem divine.
It strangles Logic’s Golden Rule
And makes of man a beast most cruel.

I long to hold love’s crimson rose
But grasp the thorn with which it grows.
A fevered passion burns my heart
For I’m struck down by Cupid’s dart.

How many lives this game I’ve played
As many deaths can ne’er be stayed.
The very thing I crave the most
Is what turned the king into a ghost.

So now I’ll bid the world adieu –
This passion play that turns the screw
Which crucifies the best of men
And brings them back to play again.

From Wisdom’s chalice I will drink
With faith in Causal Chain’s each link. A reference to the Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination.
I’ll fight delusion’s rising tide
Whose siren song is passion’s bride

And set my course by freedom’s star
Knowing well the path leads far
Into the night where tempests reign
But inch by inch I’ll make my gain.
And if a moment’s thoughtless glance
Inclines my flesh toward sweet romance
I’ll summon forth with clear recall
The ditch awaiting mankind’s fall.

This thought alone will set me free
From bondage to eternity
And when the inner battle’s won
I’ll hear the gods proclaim, “Well done! Well done!”

On the road, USA

Hansīka Hansīka: a Sanskrit name derived from the word “hamsa” (“swan” in English), the vehicle of Brahma; metaphorically, universal soul or supreme being, possessing the power of separating Soma from water (i.e., supreme discrimination); destroyer of ignorance; associated with royalty; beautiful or graceful like a swan.

To Hansīka on her 60th

Hansīka is truth, knowledge, bliss divine –
It’s all in a name, it’s all in a rhyme.
How did she forget the root of her noun?
She likes to play games, she thinks she’s a clown.
I once saw Hansīka playing “Maori” with sticks;
She tossed one to me, it’s one of her tricks.
I didn’t respond quite quickly enough,
But that’s part of the rules, there’s no time to bluff.
No doubt, Hansīka’s a sudra, she’s not upper crust.
She works for a living, a nine-to-five bust.
But Hansīka’s got something that goes beyond art:
She gives all she’s got, cause Hansīka’s got heart.
Now Hansīka’s got sixty years under her belt;
She’s seen how dreams vanish, how visions can melt.
And Hansīka’s not looking for fortune or fame,
But at your request, she’s still good for a game.

Satchidananda Ashram
Virginia, 1990


To Swami Satchidananda

He comes and goes as he pleases,
Crossing the great ocean and the perilous heights.
This is the sign of return:
After sickness comes health, after darkness comes light.
Should one applaud the day?
Should one lament the night?
The entire universe is his home.

Satchidananda Ashram
Virginia, 1990

Bojjhanga Sutta

Discourse on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment
(translated from the Mahāparitta Pāli)

To the Venerable U Revata, for his help with the translation

The factors of enlightenment consist of seven dhammas, Dhamma: in this context, thing or principle.
Which have the power to vanquish Māra's Māra: the Evil One, comparable to Satan or Lucifer in Christianity. army
And eradicate all the suffering of those beings who are transmigrating in samsāra. Samsāra: the ongoing process of being born, ageing and dying, which occurs repeatedly over countless lifetimes.

Having practiced and realized these seven dhammas,
Those beings liberated themselves from the three realms Three realms: the three main divisions of the thirty-one realms of existence, i.e., the sensual realm(s), the fine-material realm(s), and the immaterial realm(s).
And attained the birthless, ageless, deathless state,
Where sickness, fear and danger reign no more.

Endowed with innumerable benefits and virtues,
The recitation of the Bojjhanga Sutta is medicinal for both body and mind. Let us now recite this sutta:

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are Mindfulness, Investigation of the Dhamma, Dhamma (with a capital “D”): the teaching or doctrine of the Buddha, universal law, ultimate truth, the Four Noble Truths. Energy, Rapture, Tranquility, Concentration and Equanimity.
All seven factors were well expounded by the All-Seeing Sage. All-Seeing Sage: a reference to the Buddha.

When developed and frequently practiced,
These factors lead to the direct realization of the Four Noble Truths, Four Noble Truths: the central teaching of the Buddha. to
path knowledge Path knowledge: the first of two insight knowledges that function as the core of the enlightenment experience. and to the attainment of Nibbāna. Nibbāna: the cessation of suffering and the goal of all Theravada Buddhists.
By this declaration of truth, may you be always well.

At one time, the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna and the Venerable Mahā Kassapa Venerables Mahā Moggallāna and Mahā Kassapa: two famous disciples of the Buddha. were sick, suffering and in pain.
The Blessed One, The Blessed One: the Buddha. seeing their condition,
Proceeded to expound the Seven Factors of Enlightenment to them.
The two elders were delighted and rejoiced in his words;
At that very moment, each was liberated from his illness.
By this declaration of truth, may you be always well.

Once, even the King of Dhamma King of Dhamma: another reference to the Buddha. was afflicted with an illness.
Then the Elder Cunda was asked to recite that same discourse, with due reverence.
Having delighted in that recitation,
The Blessed One recovered from his illness.
By this declaration of truth, may you be always well.

Just as the defilements, eradicated by path knowledge,
Can rise again no more, in like manner
These ailments were overcome by those three great sages.
By this declaration of truth, may you be always well.

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
February 2003


One step at a time,
Old Methuselah walked in concord with the ancient law.
He had no access to the internet,
No need for firewalls or anti-virus protection,
Knew nothing of gigabytes, memory sticks or virtual reality.
As he approached old age and bones grew brittle, he slowed his pace
But did not surrender his faith;
What he lost in strength, he gained in grace.
If only we could be like him, content with little,
Moving one step at a time with conviction.

Whom can we honour if not the aged?
Whom can we trust if not the wise?
How many lives are lost moving down the fast lane,
Going God knows where?
How many battles fought because of too much ambition?

How can we buy what we cannot sell?
How can we sell what we cannot buy?
Who can stop the clock,
Undo the blunders of the past,
Or bend the future from its fated course?

Truly, we are fixed in stone.
But lo, the stone dissolves.
Soon it will be nothing but sand.

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
October 2006

U Subhūti

He draws his sword
And cuts through empty space.
He takes up the great burden
But it is not heavy.
He speaks
But is not heard.
He enters the market place
And dwells in seclusion.
He leaves home and family
But has nowhere to go.
He renounces the low life
And lives on offerings and leftovers.
He meets his debt
But does not know how to pay it.
He looks up into the heavens
And is blinded by the sun.
His face shines
Yet he sees no one.

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar


He follows the rules, Rules: the rules of discipline for a Buddhist monk.
But the rules do not follow him.
He conforms to the order,
But his mind rebels.
The jewel he seeks, he cannot find,
Neither in the folds of his robe
Nor the lip of his bowl. Robe and bowl: basic requisites of a Buddhist monk.
What good to seek for non-essentials
When the essential is waiting to embrace us.
Go to her and surrender yourself –
Let go the mind that seeks the way.
Dissolve into the present moment
And the timeless bliss of her sweet embrace.
Listen closely and she will tell you what to do:
Let go! Let go! Cease to grasp! Let go!

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
June 2007

Bhikkhu Bhikkhu: a Buddhist monk. Beware!

Beware! Beware! Bhikkhu beware!
For what we say will come to fare –
A tune that burns each note upon the khandhas’ Khandhas: in this context, the five constituent groups of existence that comprise a being’s body and mind, i.e. materiality (the physical body), feeling, perception, mental formations (volition) and consciousness. mortal frame,
A song we sing of suffering, for anyone we call a name;
For what we say is duly sung,
As courts of law judge cases one by one;
Then let each note from kamma’s Kamma (karma in Sanskrit): the law of moral causation. fateful song
Be rightly sung and not be wrong,
For careless words that stain a bhikkhu’s face
Lack wisdom, virtue, mindfulness and grace.

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
September 2007

Song of Sharing

(adapted from a popular Sri Lankan song)

With red and white roses
And lilies offered to the shrine,
The devotees with faith unwavering,
Cling not to “me and mine.”

As birds upon the wing
Move freely through the sky,
So ants seek refuge in their anthills
And squirrels their tree-homes ply.

Such is nature’s law: Rains fall,
Flowing ownerless across the land
And sing a song of sharing
For peace sublime and grand.

Sri Lanka Buddhist Monastery
Brisbane, Australia
April 2008

Kuan Yin
Artwork by I Wayan Tunas

Chinese New Year’s Poem

To live in peace, we must forgive,
As we would be forgiven.
By forgiving, we release the heart
And receive the gift we’ve given.

Two wrongs indeed don’t make a right,
But one right can right two wrongs;
This is heaven’s golden mean
And the sweetest of all songs.

It soothes the raging beast within
And brings an end to war;
It overcomes all enmity
And leads to freedom’s shore.

So easily the debt is dropped
The moment we forgive
And set ourselves a higher norm –
To live and to let live.

Then peace will reign throughout the land,
And harmony’s bright ray
Will shine within our hearts again
On Chinese New Year’s Day.

Chinese New Year’s Day
Bodhi-Heart Sanctuary
Penang, Malaysia
February 14, 2010

A Vesak Vesak: a festival traditionally held on the full-moon day of May, when Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha. Thought for the Coming Year

It is not the robe that makes the monk,
But the monk who makes the robe.
His needle and thread are one-pointedness and strong determination.
His robe material is this human birth,
Its stitching is the Eightfold Path, Eightfold Path (i.e., the Noble Eightfold Path): the path that leads to the realization of Nibbāna.
And the dye is Dhamma-Vinaya. Dhamma-Vinaya: the combined teaching and disciplinary code of the Buddha, which provides the training and moral structure of the (Theravada) monk’s life.
His girding-belt is insight-knowledge,
His sitting cloth is faith,
His razor is renunciation,
His water strainer, insects' grace.
His umbrella is dispassion,
His alms bowl, sense-restraint, Girding-belt, sitting cloth, razor, water strainer, umbrella, and alms bowl: along with his robe (and needle and thread), the basic requisites of the bhikkhu.
And the finished robe, Nibbāna
Is the ending of all taints.
Such a robe indeed, adorns the monk who wears it well,
And he in turn becomes a field of merit
For all the world, where men and devas Devas: heavenly beings; angels. dwell.

Bodhi-Heart Sanctuary
Penang, Malaysia
May 2010

Artwork by I Ketut Murtana

Angulimāla Verses

(translated from the Theragāthā 866-91, with the exception of the second and third stanzas, which have been adapted to avoid repetition)

To Sayalay Daw Sobhana Dhammarakkhita

Who once did live in negligence
And then is negligent no more,
Shines like the moon freed from a cloud,
Which brightens earth’s broad shore.

Who overcomes the evil deeds he did,
By doing wholesome deeds instead,
Shines like a beacon in the night,
By which mankind is safely led.

The youthful bhikkhu who devotes himself
With great effort to the Buddha’s way,
Shines like the rising sun at dawn,
Which drives the darkness of the night away.

Let my enemies hear this discourse on the Dhamma Dhamma (with a capital “D”): the teaching or doctrine of the Buddha, universal law, ultimate truth, the Four Noble Truths. then,
Let them be devoted to the Buddha’s way,
And let them wait on those good folk,
Who lead others to the Dhamma day by day.

And let my enemies give ear from time to time,
To hear the words of those who teach them to forbear,
Of those who speak in praise of kindness,
And having heard, may they in turn be kind and fair.

For surely they would not wish to harm me then,
Nor would they think to take another’s life;
So to those who would protect all beings, both weak and strong,
May they attain the peace that overcomes all strife.

Conduit makers guide the water’s flow;
Fletchers straighten out the arrow’s shaft;
Carpenters straighten timber’s warps and bends,
But a straightened mind is wisdom’s greatest craft.

There are some who tame with beatings,
Some with goads and some with whips they bring,
But I was tamed by one who leaves
No mark of rod nor weapon’s sting.

“Harmless” is the name I bore,
Though I was dangerous in the past;
But the name I bore is true today –
I hurt no living being at last.

And though I once lived as a bandit fierce,
Bearing “Angulimāla” Angulimāla: literally “garland of fingers,” which he wore around his neck. It is said that when Angulimāla met the Buddha, he had already collected 999 fingers (one from each of his victims) and was seeking to complete his collection with a thousandth finger. as my name,
One whom the great flood swept along,
I took refuge in the Buddha and was thereby freed from blame.

And though I once was bloody-handed,
Named for all the fingers I had cut,
See the refuge I have found –
The bond of being has now been cut.

And though I once did many deeds
That could have led to rebirth in a woeful state,
Their kammic fruit has reached me now,
And so I eat debt-free, untouched by greed or hate.

They indeed are fools and have no sense,
Who give themselves to negligence,
But those of wisdom guard their virtue well
And know that virtue is their best defense.

And thus I say, “Do not give way to negligence,
Nor in sensual pleasures be remiss,
But meditate with diligence,
So as to reach the highest bliss.”

So welcome to that choice of mine
And let it stand above the rest;
Of all the dhammas known to man,
I have come upon the very best.

So welcome to that choice of mine
And let it stand, it was not ill wrought;
I have attained the triple knowledge Triple knowledge (or threefold knowledge): (1) remembrance of former lives, (2) the ability to see beings passing away and being reborn according to their kamma, and (3) the extinction of all mental defilements.
And done everything the Buddha taught.

I stayed in forests, at the roots of trees,
And dwelt in mountain caves alone,
But in those days, no matter where I went,
I had not arrived at my true home.

Now I rest and rise in happiness,
And happily I spend my time,
For now I’m free from Māra’s snare;
Ah, to me the Buddha was so merciful and kind!

A Brahmin Brahmin: a member of the upper caste in India, traditionally assigned to the priesthood. noble by descent,
On both sides high and purely born,
Today I am the master’s son,
An heir in Dhamma of the perfect norm.

Free from craving, without grasping,
With guarded senses, well restrained,
Spewn forth the root of future suffering,
The end of taints have I attained.

In sooth, the master has been served by me full well,
And all the Buddha’s bidding has been done.
The heavy load I bore so long is finally dropped,
And the ending of samsāra finally won.

Centre de Meditation Vipassana Sakyamuni
Saint-Agnon, France
July 2010


He aligns his mind with truth
And removes the crookedness from his character.
Purified of pretense and duplicity,
He goes his way, independent of the many.
Unswayed by others’ points of view,
He does not lose the balance of his mind.
Just as the compass needle,
Aligned with earth’s magnetic field,
Wavers neither to the east nor west,
So he whose mind is in accord with Dhamma
Wavers neither to the past nor future,
Nor does he cling to notions such as good or bad, or right or wrong.
Thus he bides his time, mindful and equanimous,
With faith firmly grounded in the Middle Way, Middle Way: a synonym for the Noble Eightfold Path; the path that avoids extremes and therefore leads directly to Nibbāna.
And asks for nothing more.

Na Uyana Aranya
Pansiyagama, Sri Lanka
November 2011

At Pātimokkha Pātimokkha: in this context, the formal recitation of the bhikkhu’s disciplinary code, which traditionally occurs in Theravada Buddhist monasteries, on the full-moon and new-moon days of the month.

With roving eye and simulated smile,
He tosses his eyeglass case into the air.
Who could fail to see the case’s rise and fall,
Born of the shamelessness of such a dare?
Caught by its tail, the two-faced viper will no doubt bite,
And bitten, we will badly fare.

Oh Mahā Kassapa, Mahā Kassapa: one of the great disciples of the Buddha, known for his strict discipline and asceticism. leader of the Sangha,
We have been bitten and are in need of your care.
Oh Mahā Kassapa, guardian of the Dhamma,
Perfect in virtue and supremely austere
– You who could not be bought at any price –
Where have you gone, oh where?

Na Uyana Aranya
Pansiyagama, Sri Lanka
November 2011

Unfinished Dhammapada

(translated from the Dhammapada)

1. The Twin Verses

1. Mind is the forerunner of all conditioned states, Conditioned states: in this context, the physical and mental states of living beings, which can be either pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the wholesomeness or unwholesomeness of their previous actions. mind is their leader, mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.

2. Mind is the forerunner of all conditioned states, mind is their leader, mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows him as surely as his ever-present shadow.

3. “He abused me, he struck me, he defeated me, he robbed me” – in those who harbor such thoughts, hatred is not appeased.

4. “He abused me, he struck me, he defeated me, he robbed me” – in those who do not harbor such thoughts, hatred is appeased.

5. Hatred is never overcome by hatred in this world. Only by non-hatred is hatred overcome – this is an eternal law.

6. Those who live by hatred have forgotten that we all must one day die. Those who know this truth settle their quarrels.

1. Who lives contemplating the attractive and the lovely, with senses unrestrained, immoderate in food, indolent and dissipated, him verily does Māra overcome, even as the wind blows down a weakened tree.

8. Who lives contemplating the repulsive and the ugly, with senses restrained, moderate in food, firm in faith and energy, him can Māra never overcome, even as the wind cannot blow down a rocky peak.

9. Who wears the bhikkhu’s yellow robe, yet bears the stain of passion, devoid of self-control and truthfulness – such a one is not worthy of the yellow robe.

10. Having purged himself of passion’s stain and kept the moral precepts well, endowed with self-control and truthfulness – such a one indeed is worthy of the yellow robe.

11. Taking the unessential as essential and the essential as unessential, they enter the field of wrong thought and never arrive at the essential.

12. Knowing the essential as essential and the unessential as unessential, they enter the field of right thought and thereby arrive at the essential.

13. Just as the rain penetrates an ill-thatched roof, even so does lust penetrate the untrained mind.

14. Just as the rain cannot penetrate a well-thatched roof, even so is lust unable to penetrate a well-trained mind.

15. Here he grieves, hereafter he grieves, in this world and the next, the evil-doer grieves. He grieves and is afflicted, recollecting the impurity of his own past deeds.

16. Here he rejoices, hereafter he rejoices, in this world and the next, the well-doer rejoices. He rejoices and is uplifted, recollecting the purity of his own past deeds.

17. Here he’s tormented, hereafter he’s tormented, in this world and the next, the evil-doer is tormented. The thought, “Evil have I done” torments him, and he’s tormented even more when he’s born in states of woe.

18. Here he delights, hereafter he delights, in this world and the next, the well-doer delights. The thought, “Good have I done” delights him, and he delights even more when he’s born in states of bliss.

19. However much he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who counts the kine of others – he has no share in the blessings of the holy life Holy life: the life a monk or layperson who observes celibacy..

20. Though little he recites the sacred texts, but acts according to the teaching, forsaking lust, hatred and delusion, and clinging naught to this world or any other – such a one, with knowledge true and mind well-freed, shares indeed the blessings of the holy life.

2. Heedfulness

21. Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless, The Deathless: a synonym for Nibbāna. heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful do not die, the heedless are as if already dead.

22. Having clearly understood this truth, the wise rejoice in heedfulness and find their pleasure in the resort of the noble ones.

23. Ever meditative and steadfast in effort, these wise ones experience Nibbāna, the supreme security from bondage.

24. Who lives in Dhamma, with actions pure, energetic and mindful, heedful and restrained, his fame ever grows.

4. Flowers

49. Just as a bee gathers nectar and flies away without harming the flower or disturbing its color or scent, so should the sage go on his alms round through the village.

18. Impurities

239. Even as the smith refines silver, so, little by little, gradually, moment by moment does the wise man fine away his defilements.

Colombo, Sri Lanka
December 2011


If the Chinese could see where they were headed,
They would go back to Confucianism.
If they could see the consequence of where they were headed,
They would go back to Taoism.
If they could see the cause of where they were headed,
They would go back to Buddhism.

Green Valley Forest Refuge
Sebastopol, California
July 2012

Sagara Sagara: Sinhala for ocean. * Bodhisattva: one who has resolved to become a fully enlightened Buddha.

To the Venerable Ariyadhamma Mahathera

Artwork by ginty

Green Valley Forest Refuge
Sebastopol, California
August 2012

Beeing Time
Artwork by I Ketut Murtana

Beeing Time

To Ron and Joanne

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a bee
That spreads its shining wings in flight
And brings to all such great delight.

In valleys greened with redwood trees,
The wondrous bee dost shake its knees,
To pollinate the world to date
And open Eden's garden gate.

In meadows filled with wild flowers,
The buzzing bee dost pass its hours,
To warm the hearts of passers by
With a sun-filled bee-time lullaby.

From flower to flower the bee dost light,
As happy as a woodland sprite.
It leaves each blossom as it found,
As it makes its way on alms-bee-round.

From lilac to the honeysuckle,
The busy bee in flight dost hustle.
From lavender to Queen Anne's lace,
It never seems to lose its pace.

On summer days that languid lie,
Our busy bee is never shy,
To seek the undiscovered bloom
Or gnarled branch draped with perfume.

Within the heart of love's sweet rose,
Our gentle bee a harvest sows,
So that the rose may bloom again
In rocky cleft and forest glen.
It's not a GMO-type ploy
That brings the world such scented joy,
But nature's gift to all who thrive
Upon the fruits of the beehive.

So let us thank the humble bee,
Who gives its life in service free,
And in our hearts the words enshrine
A big “BEE HERE NOW” for all bee-kind.

Green Valley Forest Refuge
Sebastopol, California
September 2012

What Would Beauty Be?

What would beauty be without desire?
The rose without its scent,
The plan with nothing to aspire,
The heart unbound that yearns for none,
The love unconsummate,
The doing left undone.
True perfection it would be,
A beauty unconstrained and free,
Resplendent and beyond compare,
For beauty would be everywhere.

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
December 2012

Woman’s Liberation Revisited

Their father was an old fashioned man,
While their mother was a modern woman.
Their father sacrificed himself for the family,
While their mother sacrificed the family for herself.
Who’s to say if one was right and the other wrong?
Listen to the children crying in their beds at night
In the homes of broken families
And decide for yourself.

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
December 2012

Final Words

A Reflection on Death

For all our presumption,
We are but pawns in the service of King Death,
Players on an empty stage,
Conspirators of the dead, imprisoned by our fears and dreams.
Oh youth, how can you be so blind?
How can you not see the terminus of life’s highway, where all must exit?
How can you not see the graves of your parents and grandparents, and the hand of death reaching up to pull you in?
How can you not see death’s vacant stare in the eyes of your beloved or the seed of death entering her womb at the time of conception?
How can you not see death’s claim upon the child you call your own, and upon the children of that child, and the children of its children?
How can you not see the inescapable conclusion to life’s journey and the providence of its one immutable truth: whoever is born must die?
How can you not see the flower of life fading and the seed of death sprouting within?

Pa-Auk Forest Monastery
Mawlamyine, Myanmar
February 2013

Sisters in the Holy Life
Artwork by Dr. Yudhy Winata

Poems to my Sisters in the Holy Life

I. Snow

To Snow

Beneath the heavy blanket of snow,
The germ of life, slumbering in fertile soil.
Warmth of springtime sun transforms the snow to drips of thaw
That trickle down into the soil and prod the seed to life,
Making it become what it was not.
At first, the infant seedling sprouts in darkness,
Anchoring itself in what is firm and stable.
Later, a slender shaft of pale green emerges from the earth,
Lifting its tender bud up toward the sun.
Balanced, as it were, on one leg in some primordial asana,
It reaches up into the heavens and unfolds
Into a self-created world of form and color,
Revealing in that instant the glory of its inner perfection.
To what higher state could any flower aspire?
To what higher law could any flower conform?
A fragrance heretofore unknown pervades the universe,
Rainbows festoon the sky,
And a thousand bees dance upon its timeless petals.

Pa-Auk Tawya Buddhist University
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
May 2013

II. Prescription

To Sister Gunagavesi

Of causes and conditions, the Great Physician Great Physician: an appellation for the Buddha. taught twenty-four, There are 24 conditions described in the Patthāna, the last book of the Abhidhamma. These conditions explain the occurrence of all conceivable mental and physical phenomena.
Beginning with root condition, and followed by object condition and the rest.
Not knowing these twenty-four, worldlings confuse cause and effect,
Mistaking the cause of their disease for its symptoms,
And the symptoms for their cause;
Thus they poison themselves with the wrong medicine.
Knowing both cause and effect, and how they differ,
The Great Physician prescribed the proper course of medicine for our disease.
With the proper course of medicine, the cause of our disease disappears.
When the cause disappears, the symptoms disappear.
When both cause and symptoms disappear, the disease disappears.
When the disease disappears, the patient disappears,
For how could there be a patient without a disease?

Pa-Auk Tawya Buddhist University
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
May 2013

III. The Greatest of Gifts

To Sister Paññā Cārī

The greatest of gifts, the joy sublime
Is in giving a gift with a satisfied mind.
The fruit of this gift has the taste of release,
When bondage to clinging and stinginess cease;
So open your heart to whomever you give,
And content you will be and long will you live.

Pa-Auk Tawya Buddhist University
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
May 2013

Lord of the Ring

No practitioner of martial arts can match the striking power of death;
None has death's speed;
None can withstand death's blow.
In the ring, all who face death are vanquished,
Consumed by death's relentless fury.
In the ring, death reigns supreme,
Crushing his opponents, one after the other, in endless succession.
When your time comes to face death in the ring, how will you respond?
Listen to this short verse:

None have ever beaten death at his own game,
None ever will despite their claim;
So ask yourself what you will gain
Within the ring when you are slain,
For death from life gives scant relief,
But acts instead more like a thief,
And death cares not how you might die,
Nor counts the tears of those who cry.
In summary, the ills of life death cannot mend,
But only brings life's painful end,
And thus, to challenge death within the ring
Is certainly a most foolish thing.

Oh brother, don't be a fool; get out of the ring!

Pa-Auk Tawya Buddhist University
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
September 2013


To Aung San Suu Kyi

A treasure among treasures is she who served as faithful wife,
Who built within her house a home secure and free from strife,
But treasured more is she for her unwavering devotion to the Golden Land,
Outshining even the gilded stupas with her simple elegance and open hand.
She, whose dedication to the common good is tribute to her father's name,
Whose humanity and strength of character are unalloyed by politics or worldly gain.
Oh youth of Myanmar, the jewel within your midst you seek afar
And thereby miss the glorious light of Burma's eastern star,
For true heroism is born within the heart and cannot be bought or planned.
For proof or this, you need seek no further than the lady of your land.

Pa-Auk Tawya Buddhist University
Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
September 2013

Rhinoceros Tear Sutta Sutta: in this context, an ancient verse or quotation; (traditional) knowledge, belief or lore.

Shed your tears, oh great horned one. Plunge into the sea of loneliness and desolation.

Have you lost your lover, one who made the snow spirits dance and the wildflowers sing, blooming on the ice shelf of eternity?

Shed your tears and cry for lost horizons and vistas as purple as the dark night of the savannah.

Shed your tears, oh great horned one, for such tears will be your consolation and release – tears that cut like knives and wash into a boundless sea, frozen in the liquid marrow of creation.

Release your deluge, oh great horned one, from the solitary sky,
Upon the parched savannah of this weary round.
Flood the earth with tears that long for liberation,
Pregnant with the final goal of craving’s end.

Weep, oh great horned one, as you wander forth across the land,
Weep for what is not yet won. This poem contains a number of references to the Rhinoceros Horn Sutta of the Sutta Nipata I.3, where the Buddha advises us to forsake the intimacy of friendship (unless we can find a companion equal or superior to ourselves in wisdom and morality) and to “wander alone like a rhinoceros.”

Southwest Sangha
San Lorenzo, New Mexico
January 2014

Love’s Labor’s Loss

What holds you back within this convoluted dream,
Love’s labor’s loss to taste the god’s ambrosial cream,
When all of heaven’s joys lie veiled from mortal sight,
Yet beckon love’s sweet bloom enfold the emptiness that cloaks the night?

Canst thou not see the hidden place within love’s beating heart,
Where love and lover meld and disappear into a single part?
Then leave all thoughts of nature, God and heaven’s joys behind,
And seek that place within the heart where love and truth combine,
To taste the kiss of unborn lips that worship at that shrine,
And drink the draught of timeless bliss in non-creation’s wine.

Southwest Sangha
San Lorenzo, New Mexico
February 2014

On Whitman’s Dream
Artwork by Wayan Gabrig

On Whitman’s Dream

To Michael and Maria

The stream of verse flows freely from the poet’s heart
Not quite unlike eternity’s
Long dawn of endless consonants,
To which the flow of vowels a structured measure dost impart –
Such works that swallow space like fissures in the mind
And rend time’s veil in sceptered phrase
To conjugate forgotten visions of the blind –
Denizens of the maze, the self-repeating puzzle,
Perpetrators of the crime,
Dressed in coat and tie,
In straight-jackets which they struggle,
Strung upon the abacus of asynchronic time,
Buying time so that it can unravel –
Here within the labyrinth,
The muse that seeks but cannot find
The silent means to end the round
And split the atom of the mind,
Like Alexander’s two-edged sword
That cut the Gordian Knot
Or tribulation’s fateful law that turned to salt the wife of Lot.
Oh, stop therefore this useless rhyme,
As useless as the chirping crickets
Or croaking frogs that fill the night
With cacophony and render sound
Into arboreal flight.
At dawn the peacock cries.
Two orbs burn brightly in a golden sphere
And burn in splendor as they disappear,
And a thousand-armed Kwanyin Kwanyin: (Chinese Mahayana) the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, somewhat informally translated as the God or Goddess of Mercy.
Dissolves into a million gods
That merge and separate in rhythmic grace
And dance their timeless dance of empty space;
And as they drift together and apart,
A foreign language contradicts their ancient art,
Which leaves all thought in dreams of disarray
And beckons like an echo,
Calling with a passioned voice
To eat forbidden fruit on judgment day.
Words fail the poet –
They always have and always will.

Wood Valley Temple
Big Island, Hawaii
April 2014

Artwork by Erwin Bastomi


To Colin

“Purple Haze, Jesus saves,” sang Jimi,
But how could he have known that time would change the lyrics to his song,
And irony would mock the meaning of his former words
As if by twist of fate to prove him wrong,
That he himself would soon become the sacrificial lamb,
The truth by which he lived engulfed in treachery and sham.

No, Jimi was not the first in line to be led down the primrose path,
Nor will he be the last,
As long as there are hypocrites and worshipers of the golden calf;
And although the holy covenant foretells a promised land,
The tragedy of Jimi’s life begs questions that still stand:

Do we have to die in order to be saved?
Is that the meaning of the cross?
Must we follow Jimi to the grave,
To be martyred for another’s loss?
And where and how did the problem begin –
Isn’t that what some people call the “original sin?”

Those who know don’t speak.
Those who speak don’t know. “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know:” a verse from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, a sage and poet of ancient China.

Was the Buddha only deceiving us then?
Was his Dhamma nothing but a passing show?
It all depends on one’s perspective:
Don’t try to speak unless you’re really dead,
And if you want to kill the Buddha, The phrase “kill the Buddha” comes from a famous koan attributed to the Chinese Zen Master Lin Chi: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
Then kill Jimi instead.

Green Valley Forest Refuge
Sebastopol, California
September 2014

Tree Ode
Artwork by ginty

Tree Ode

To James “MacD”, Defender of Trees

A tree, a tree, pray tell, oh tree, how shall I honor thee – with loaf of bread or flask of wine, in book of verse or song – to which of these
most favored means does the honored task belong?

Quoth the tree: “Eat my fruit, take shelter in my shade – if you wish to honor me, that’s how the honor’s paid.”

And, for the sake of industry, may I also turn thee into pulp and paper?

Quoth the tree: “Nevermore.”

But oh, fair tree, as Adam was to Eden, so am I to thee, for God created man to have dominion over trees. And if thou serveth not when thou
couldst render service unto me, oh then, pray tell, what good is it to be a tree?

Quoth the tree: “Cut me down and you will see.”

But having cut, have I not sinned?

Quoth the tree: “Become a tree, the answer lies within.”

And if I do become a tree, oh then I fear what will become of me?

The tree laughed and shook its leafy boughs,
The wind whispered secrets in my ears,
And soon a sense of woodland peace allayed my unfound fears,
The heartwood of my mind grew still and calm,
Within my breast I felt the pulse-beat of an ancient earthen psalm,
And in that sacred moment, for one second in eternity,
I became a tree.

But still, one final question lingers, and I wonder what the truth might be,

For the tree is silent now and seems it does not want to answer me:

Was I the tree,

Or was it that the tree was me?

Green Valley Forest Refuge
Sebastopol, California
September 2014

Anicca Anicca (Pāli): impermanence; the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence.

C'est la vie, sabbe sankhāra anicca, Sabbe sankhāra anicca (Pāli): All conditioned things are impermanent. que sera sera –
“This is what but what it is,” the teacher said to me.
C'est la vie, sabbe sankhāra anicca, I see but do not see –
Such is life, impermanent, whate’er will be, will be.
C'est la vie, sabbe sankhāra anicca, que sera sera –
Whate’er begins will surely end, how could I not foresee?
C'est la vie, sabbe sankhāra anicca, the teacher made his plea –
“Stop talking and stop thinking, and the truth shall set you free.”
C'est la vie, sabbe sankhāra anicca, que sera sera –
And now we’ve reached the end, my friend, of this our little spree –
Of c'est la vie, sabbe sankhāra anicca, of que sera and me.

International Vipassana Meditation Centre
Colombo, Sri Lanka
November 2014

The Tao of Shit

“The more you stir it, the more it stinks.” – Brazilian proverb

The more that you stir it, the more it will stink –
The higher it’s piled, the deeper it sinks –
The more you proclaim it, the less that you know –
The greater the load, the more pompous the show –

When you throw it, it splatters –
When you crush it, like jam it spreads out –
When you fart, there’s always a danger that some might come out –

Go home, and it’s with you as you walk through the door –
If you don’t have enough, you can always make more –
Give it to someone you love, and they’ll soon send it back –
Released in your undies, it leaves a brown track –

When you travel abroad, it can go duty free –
When it plops in the toilet, it floats in your pee –
If it runs down your leg, you’ll hope no one’s around –
To see the brown pool as it forms on the ground –

Now most doctors won’t tell you what every turd knows –
The more that you eat, the bigger it grows –
If it plugs up your butt, it can ruin your day –
And when nature comes calling, it’s best not to delay –

In the end, all turds are a product of cause and effect –
You have to eat the right foods to gain their respect –
So don’t blame it on God if your bowels should protest –
For to him, what we call shit is in fact one holy mess.

International Vipassana Meditation Centre
Colombo, Sri Lanka
February 2015

The First Hundred Days

“If a person does what is good, he should do it again and again…” –
Dhammapada, verse 118

To Maithripala Sirisena

After the first hundred days,
A second hundred days,
And then another.

Is it
The life cycle of a worm or flea,
The duration of an alien flower,
A lunar month on Jupiter,
A half second in a Deva’s hour,
Or ten months in the womb of your mother?

Is it
The stigmata of man’s inherent flaw,
Divine non-intervention,
The repetition of a faulty law,
A foolish predilection,
Or is it merely nature’s way to greet perfection?
If you had to choose, which way would it be?

Devi Mahamaya Temple
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
March 2015

The Chickens of Global Warming
Artwork by I Made Gunawan

The Chickens of Global Warming

The chickens of global warming have finally come home to roost,
And folks in the US are getting well goosed.
With the heat-waves and draught, and the cost of our vegies,
You’d think Mother Nature was giving us wedgies.

No doubt the Kentucky Fried Devil will soon join the fun,
When the broilers line up in the fierce morning sun,
Pre-cooked in the streets at the Devil’s command,
As our earth is turned into a big frying pan.

While the Congress and lobbies are out making merry,
Fact is our future looks pretty damn scary.
Come the end of the day, with these birds of a feather
Still pecking at pork, we’ll all sizzle together.

And now, the land that God graced hangs by one little thread,
The amber waves withered, the fruited plains bled,
The wasteland dustbowls growing daily by day,
With the sun at its height, blazing and ready to slay.

But there’s still one ray of hope – let’s make a swift ban
On petroleum products and raping the land.
Let the meadows go fallow and set the cows free,
Let the chickens go back to roost in the trees.

Let’s get off the grid and collect our rainwater,
To leave something left for our sons and our daughters.
Let’s stop all our species from kicking the buckets
And hang the damn politicians by their chicken McNuggets.

International Vipassana Meditation Center
Colombo, Sri Lanka
April 2015


To Manny Pacquiao

With fists ablaze, like Thor’s hammer,
And Jesus as his sure defense,
Like Samson with the Philistines,
He proves God’s eminence.

Like David when he faced Goliath,
Undaunted in the battle’s heat,
Endowed with faith, he moves a mountain,
Much more his hands and feet.

Whatever the odds, they can be changed
By one who’s tried and true,
Who sets a goal and keeps on going,
Who gets in the ring and sees the battle through.

Such is he, who fights the good fight,
And gives all credit to the Master,
Who doesn’t seek ill-gotten gain,
And thus avoids his soul’s disaster.

Much like the Good Samaritan,
Both rich and poor, he’ll gladly greet,
Or shoot a basket with a friend,
Or share his food with others on the street,

And when God’s grace is finally put to song,
With a feisty Filipino beat,
His fellow countrymen will sing along:
“Manny, Manny, all glory unto thee!”
And heaven’s gate will open at his feet.

International Vipassana Meditation Center
Colombo, Sri Lanka
April 2015

Of Touch and Gravity

There are higher pleasures in this world than taste or touch or pull of gravity,
For on the wings of angels, you can soar beyond the sea,
And outer space is but another name for heaven’s inner majesty,
And light, oh light, more glorious than the moonlit night, your gown and jewelry.

Vajirarama Forest Solitude
Bowalawatta, Kandy, Sri Lanka
April 2015

Mosquito Love
Artwork by I Ketut Murtana

Mosquito Love

To the Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw

Sweet fragrance of dawn –
Clemency of life’s morningtide –
Perfumed rivulets of dew flowing into an ocean of grass.
A single note and the silence is broken.
The changing of the guard:
Exit the winged marauders of the night,
Hiding themselves in the receding shadows –
Those who sought me out under cover of darkness
To greedily exchange their body fluids with me
That they might bring forth more of their own kind.
Mosquito love is such a one-sided affair –
Their gain is my loss, their pleasure, my pain.
But that is only one point of view.

Enter the harbingers of the new day –
Swooping down upon the blood-sated denizens
Of last night’s repast,
As if in retribution
For every bite that left its itch and stigma on my mortal frame,
As if in retribution
For every mosquito I had ever slain,
For who knows what I might have been to these mosquitos in the past,
Or what they might have been to me.
And who knows if I will stay the same as what I am,
Or if and when and how I might yet change –
The slayer slain, the proud brought down,
The merciless who vainly pleads for mercy?
And who might then one day in some far-distant time
Point to me and say, “Ah, I was once like him, and he was once like me”?

Suddenly, my mind is shaken from its reverie,
As swifts and swallows burst into song,
Diving and soaring like French curves from heaven,
And pulling me back into the present moment.
With each aerial maneuver, my strength enters their veins,
And we are joined together by a common heritage,
As brothers and sisters of the earth and sky,
And solar sons and daughters,
Our unity sanctified by my blood,
In the light of the morning sun.

And in that light I clearly see
A new mathematics of the mind and heart,
Which brings all opposites together,
Balances polarities,
And makes whole what was once divided.
Some call it love, for love unites and judges not,
And brings together dark and light,
Male and female, left and right.
And love forgives and turns its cheek,
And bitten though a thousand times bares not its teeth,
But freely gives an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,
And one’s blood for the blood of another.
And in that light I further see
Love conquers all, because it has no enemies,
That even should I lose my limbs or life itself,
Love grants me wings that I might rise above hate’s tangled mire
And journey on to happy isles beyond this mortal shore.
Thus my joy grows ever more complete,
And on wings of joy, my heart takes flight,
Returning in full measure what was taken.

Polgasoweeta Aranya, Sri Lanka – Sanur, Bali
May-June 2015

Artwork by ginty

If you want to be a Christian

In memory of Clementa C. Pinckney and the others who died in the June 17th shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina


If you want to be a Christian,
Then be black.
Show me
That you can rise up from slavery,
That I am your long lost brother,
That we are of one family,
That truth will not stab me in the back.
Pull me out of the morass
And heal the wounds that you have inflicted on me –
Become the Good Samaritan that you are not.

If you want to be a Christian,
Then don’t act superior.
Don’t think you’re better than somebody else,
Just because of the color of that person’s skin,
For skin is only as good as the person within,
And I am far brighter than the holes in your soul,
While you are the blight that spreads from heart to heart,
Dividing brother from brother
And father from son.

If you want to be a Christian,
It all begins in the heart,
For as you think, so you become
A child of God or a servant of Satan.
You have the choice
Between darkness and light,
Between love’s ray of hope and the beam in your eye –
From the twisted perception
To the growing occlusion,
From the rage and the blame
To the imminent blindness
Of a fool’s cataract.
You think it’s white,
But your lens is dark with poison.

And yet, you call yourself a Christian,
But I know what you see -
It is the color of hypocrisy,
The grain of pretense and deception,
That will bring you to the deepest hell
And consign you to the flames
Of your own self-begotten hatred.
But I have forgiven the error of your ways;
Therefore, my strength is greater than your loss,
And with it, I will inherit the earth,
Shining like black diamonds in heaven.


No matter how hard you try,
You can never take away what was originally mine,
But this kind of logic you will never understand –
It is as if you had fallen into a deep pit
And forgotten there is a world outside,
Beyond the barrenness
Of this narrow hole in the sand.

One with wisdom would be seeking to escape,
Leading the others with him
To the freedom of a better life.
You spend your days and nights conspiring against me,
Endeavoring to keep me with you
As your prisoner in this pit,
As if my life had no significance,
Other than to serve
Your every whim and need,
And that I should be as you would have me be –
A creature of your dictates,
Servile and unquestioning,
Subordinate to you
In every measure.

But now,
Because God’s Law would grant me
Equal stature in his sight
And set me free from your dominion,
You are plagued by jealousy, and I –
I have become the object of your spite,
The scapegoat of your status quo,
A pawn within your twisted game –
White above black,
Dark above light,
Treachery above shame.

Such is the nature of your jaundiced prayer,
That for the sake of loathing,
You would turn the world into a pit
And cast me in,
To keep me under your control,
Downtrodden and distressed,
I, the slave, and you, the master.

But who are you to choose my fate
And do to me such things
As would tarnish e’en the Golden Rule?
Then let me ask you on this fateful day
To take a moment and reflect
On the way you treat your Christian brothers,
And if you know,
Or think you know,
How you will answer for yourself
When the Day of Judgment comes,
Or if you’ve given thought
To who will testify for you on that same day,
As you sing your psalm of wrath,
Or forgive you – the unforgiving – of your sins,
You who would raise Cain from the dead
And crucify Abel,
Tarring and feathering the Lamb of God,
Pretending to be the Christian that you are not?

Temple of God of Espiritista Cristiana
Urdaneta City, Philippines
July 2015

The Right Mishmash
Artwork by I Ketut Murtana

The Right Mishmash

To Esther


I feel it in my veins
the blood of Elijah
the wine
in the cup at the empty seat A reference to the Jewish custom of setting aside a cup of wine for the Prophet Elijah at the Passover Seder.
Jesus on the cross
the passion
the passionless
God the Father
barefoot on my mother’s breast
green manna sprouting up from between my toes
how many lifetimes did it take to get to where I am?
how many more do I have to go?
seems I’ve gotten too old for this game
even my semen is curdling and drying out
putting holes in my desire like Swiss Gruyère Swiss Gruyère: a popular brand of hard cheese from Bern, Switzerland.
how then did I end up a Buddhist monk
living at a Filipino church in Urdaneta Urdaneta: a city in the province of Pangasinan, Philippines.
eating durian and blended salads
a Zionist supporter of the Palestinian cause
and an advocate of equal rights
for the Filipino water buffalo?
guess I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer
rooting for the underdog-undercow-undercat
monks for monkeys – that’s me
high on the rock at Nimalava Nimalava: a monastery in southern Sri Lanka.
meditating with the gibbons at sunrise
eating the sun as if it were ice cream A reference to the ancient yogic practice of sungazing.
in the eye of the hurricane
I’m the low pressure center
reaping the whirlwind
a right mishmash I am
walking the talk of the oxymoron clan
stopping status quos dead in their tracks
but I keep forgetting
at this age my memory’s not quite what it used to be
maybe I took too much acid back in the 60’s
but whoa, let’s not get into that trip again
anyway, it’s kinda like everything got tossed in the blender together
now the blender’s churning away
and there’s not much time left
to pull the arrow out Pull the arrow out: a reference to the Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, where the Buddha discusses the importance of removing a poisoned arrow from the body in a timely fashion.
before samsāra Samsāra (Pāli): literally “perpetual wandering;” the ongoing process of being born, ageing and dying, which occurs repeatedly over countless lifetimes. sends me off on another mission
so at this pivotal point in my life
when everything seems to depend on everything else
I’d like to ask only one thing:
Lord, give me refuge A reference to the Buddhist Threefold Refuge, the formula for professing one’s faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (traditionally repeated three times by the reciter); in this poem, however, the term “Lord” acts as a double entendre, since it could refer either to the Buddha or the Judeo-Christian Lord of the Bible.
tell me: are Nibbāna Nibbāna (Pāli): literally “blowing out” (as of a candle) or “extinction;” the cessation of suffering. Descriptions include: “extinction of greed, hatred and delusion,” “final deliverance” and “the supreme foundation of truth.” and God the Father one?
but don’t open your mouth
don’t expose yourself
with your insipid quotes and stock answers
and your rotten toothy smile
rotten from chewing too much betel
hide your light
as it shines forth
radiate, but without the splendor
disappear like the Buddha did from Baka Baka: this is a referene to Baka the Brahma (the supreme deity in one of the Brahma Realms), in the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta, who challenged the Buddha to a disappearing contest and, of course, lost.
but you might reply
hell with you, I’m an atheist
and my response to that is
how can you not believe in God once you’ve tasted durian?
(however, some people mistake God for the devil
and then they think durian is evil
but actually it comes straight from God)
still, if you want to go ahead and ask God for an answer –
to get the last word on Nibbāna
straight from the horse’s mouth –
what do you think he’ll say:
hey, don’t get personal with me?
oops, there I go again, stepping on the tail of the tiger A reference to the I Ching, hexagram 10.
pretty soon there’ll be nothing left of me
but one big bite
as I’m chewed from here to eternity
but isn’t that what happened to Adam?
what did we inherit from him other than the bite in the apple?
blame it on Eve, if you will, for tempting Adam
but God should have known better when he first made Eve
who came from Adam’s rib, but smelled so much better than he did
(except when she was menstruating)
that she was gonna have all the right attributes
(both software and hardware) in all the right places
and that Adam would be programmed not to resist
so you can’t blame Eve for that
besides, she was tempted by Satan
who slithered up to her in the form of a serpent
personally, I think the whole thing was a set-up
but I’m getting a little off track here
the bottom line is
that the Adams lost their booking at the honeymoon suite in the Garden
and had to go east, looking for work
in order to pay the rent on their new apartment
and buy a smartphone for everyone in the family
(not to mention the other basic necessities of life
like health insurance and funeral costs)
which are things they never had to deal with in the Garden
where everything was free – sin-free, cost-free and care-free
kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it
if money didn’t have something to do with the original sin
which lay ensconced in the flesh of the apple
or if the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t the start
of putting a price-tag on everything
and then incorporating and opening a franchise?
whichever way you look at it, the children ended up paying the price
and it’s as true today as it was in Adam’s time
the children still craving the indescribable flavor
of that old forbidden apple
unwilling to come to terms with the loss
anyway, kids have always been like that
they always want what they can’t have
being forbidden only makes it more attractive
and when they grow up, it’s no different
except that they replace some of the toys with real people
and the real apples with artificial ones
but they still end up miserable
craving and pining away for the proverbial and unattainable
something for nothing
kinda like winning the lottery
which almost everyone would like to do
until it actually happens
and all your relatives start moving in
and on top of that you gotta pay 50% in taxes
or winning the most beautiful girl in the world
and then when you kiss her
she turns into a frog
don’t they know things never turn out the way we’d like?
if you don’t believe me, just ask someone who’s died
don’t they know there’s no free ride to Nibbāna
you gotta take up the cross
you gotta give what you got
and you get what you give back?
don’t they know what goes around comes around, la-de-dah
ring around the rosey with your karma?
take it from one who’s learned the hard way
but some people never learn
they just keep on singing the same old stupid song
like the guy on the train in Australia
who seemed to have about a three-word vocabulary
I wanted to ask him how he could talk like that
to the woman sitting next to him on the train
but she would have probably told me to fuck off
hmmm, looks like I’m off on a tangent again
anyway, as I was saying
she would have probably told me to fuck off
darn, still on the same thread!
where was I
before I lost my place in the poem
and strayed from the natural order of things?
give me a moment
to get my act together
and sort out the strands
of my fractured mind
hey man, nobody’s perfect
what’d ya expect, Shakespeare or somethin?
Buddha or Christ on the cross?
wait a minute, got an idea: I’ll do a word search
nah, that ain’t gonna work
how about backtracking?
okay, let’s see: fuck off, the woman sitting next to him on the train, three-word vocabulary, train in Australia, same old stupid song, but some people never learn… ya, that’s it
okay, got it
anyway, as I was saying
some people never learn
they just keep on singing the same old stupid song
paving the road to hell with their bad intentions
too proud to admit they might be wrong
after all, what could be worse
than to be a fool and proud of it?
better to humble oneself
and make amends for the coming disaster
than to go on erring until it’s too late
waiting for closure
while the door slams in your face
and mine, too, if I’m not careful
fact is, we’re all in the same boat together
so who am I to be preaching to you?
I better save myself first
before I try to start saving others
well, that’s a truism if there ever was one
and here’s another – fuck off, fuck off
darn, the f-word again!
thought I’d gotten rid of that
hey, wait a minute
I thought monks weren’t supposed to talk dirty?
well, ya, that’s kinda true
whataya mean “kinda true”?
what kinda bullshit is this?
well, you know, when I first started this poem
I was feelin’ pretty good about it
kinda like Adam must have felt in the Garden
you know, before he munched down on the forbidden apple
I mean, back then, he was as innocent as a lamb
so you see, what I’m tryin’ to tell you, fact is
I had no idea this was gonna happen
I mean, like the words just kinda popped up
when I opened my mouth
besides, this is only a poem
you know, like Ginsberg, I mean the poet
remember him?
ya, whataya tryin’ to say?
well, you know, Ginsberg, you know, the poet
well, he was an innovator
and sometimes, you know, when he wrote
I mean, let me see, uh, damn, forgot what I was gonna say
oh ya, that’s it – from the stream of consciousness
you know, he used, uh, whataya call it
I mean, uh, wait a minute, ya, that’s it – poetic license
in order to, uh, you know, uh, whataya call it, to uh…
you want me to punch you in the mouth?
just shut the fuck up
I don’t wanna hear your fuckin’ excuses
hey man, jeez, I mean, like I said
I had no idea this was gonna happen
I mean, come on, man, gi’me a break
you know, I mean, everybody makes a mistake
I mean, jeez, I mean, I didn’t really mean it
ya, sure ya didn’t mean it
then tell me
who’s writin’ this fuckin’ poem
Ginsberg’s ghost?
wait, I can explain, just calm down
calm down, my eye!
I’m gonna leave this fuckin’ poem
you can go find yourself another reader
wait, are you sure you want to do that?
ya, as far as I’m concerned
you can take your poetry and shove it
all you poets are nothing but a bunch of faggots, anyways
I’m not gonna pander to your bullshit anymore
what a crock of shit this is, what a crock of fuckin’ bullshit…

* * *

oh well, you can’t please everybody
now I gotta find my place in the poem again
and another reader to boot
wow, that guy was really angry
hope he doesn’t take it out on his wife
okay, let’s backtrack a bit and see if I can’t catch my old thread:
well, that’s a truism if there ever was one…
ya, that’s it
but right about now I’m gettin’ a bit tired
and fed-up with this poem
so let’s take a break
we can come back to it later
no way, Jose; you want a break, first finish the poem
jeez, what a dictator!
as if the last guy wasn’t enough of a pain
now I gotta deal with my own ego game…
well, that’s a truism if there ever was one
and here’s another – no Walt Whitman am I
I’m just too aware of all my mistakes
like the prodigal son
who put all his eggs into too many baskets
and fell from grace again and again
who would have thought
after forty years, I’d still be wandering
with not much to show for my time on the road
but a face full of wrinkles, parched by the sun
or in the end
that death should be the final victor
when all we hold most dear in life
is swiftly swept away
oh, vanity of vanities
and shame on me
for all the good I’d left undone
so here I sit, my medicine half-swallowed
a covenant unkept
the promised land all but forgotten
and I, not knowing whom to trust
which path to take
or what the roll of dice will bring
in karma’s wake
am not what I have been, or am, or will become
for I am what I am not
and in that state, doubt rears its ugly head
and morphs into a thousand demons in the night
hell’s merchants mocking me
and laughing at my plight
plaguing me
as the cat would plague the mouse it caught
shouting gross obscenities
and cursing me for fun
and yet… and yet…
despite the demons’ din and sway
their hell-bent ways
and frenzied fray upon my senses
throughout the night, I hear another –
a voice that rings above the rest
   “oh no it doesn’t,” so they say
   “our voice is perfect as it is, and that is why there is none better”
   “oh yes it does,” I do protest
   “one voice rings clear above the rest”
a voice as clear as living waters
flowing freely through the mountain rent
cascading down like thunder from the heavens
resounding with a mighty resonance
is it man or god
or the product of an apparition?
or is it naught
but the voice of one who cries
for the sake of man’s redemption
who cries indeed for all living beings
caught in the cycle of birth and death
that they might waken from the night
to the dawning of a newborn day
and then that voice cries out again
calling out for peace on earth, goodwill to men
and bearing witness to the light:
   “make straight the path
   the middle way Middle way: the path between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification; an appellation for the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which “leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.”
   that leads directly to Nibbāna”
and then I pray
for the second time:
Lord, give me refuge
be an island unto me
for truth is an island
and truth is one
and truth is three
the holy trinity times two:
Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (the Three Jewels of Buddhism): the Buddha, or awakened one, is the person in this epoch who (re)discovered the Dhamma. The Dhamma (Dharma in Sanskrit) is the teaching of the Buddha, the understanding of which leads to Nibbāna. The Sangha is the community of Buddhist practitioners who have realized or are striving to realize the Dhamma.
Father, Son
and the Holy Spirit
perched in my heart
in the cage of my breast
cooing ever so gently
yes, the caged bird sings A reference to Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Caged Bird,” and secondarily to the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is often symbolized as a white dove.
but the bird is free
I just couldn’t see it
for the dust in my eyes Dust in my (their) eyes: a phrase occurring in several Buddhist suttas, which refers to the mental defilements that obstruct mankind from seeing things as they really are.
and the passion
now is the time to wake from the dream
and come to terms with my past
for the third time, I ask only one thing:
Lord, give me refuge
give me the refuge of a pacified heart
and I promise
to take what you give
and give my best back…

* * *

oh, and by the way, Lord
one more thing:
an offer like this doesn’t come every day
and just for the record
I think we’d make a great team
cause I’d be for you
and you’d be for me
and that’s a right mishmash if there ever was one
(oh, and I almost forgot –
no need to worry about the apple, Lord
I’ll take care of that).

Temple of God of Espiritista Cristiana
Urdaneta City, Philippines
October 2015

Double Standard

Who are they to invade our land and commit unspeakable acts of terror,
Killing women and children alike?
Who are they to plant the seeds of foreign values on our native soil
And decide for us
If we should live or die?
In whose name do they perpetrate such crimes,
And by what heinous belief are they possessed
That they should be so callous
To our basic rights,
When so many lives hang in the balance?
Who can ignore
The blood on their hands
And the stain in their hearts,
Which can never be washed away
With rationalizations and excuses?
Who can justify
The heritage of grief
Bequeathed to the innocent
Who mourn for the loss of their loved ones?
Who can remove the fear and the pain,
Etched in our memories
For generations to come?
Who are they
And to what alien God do they owe allegiance –
A God so fierce and wrathful
That he would turn against us like an angry serpent,
Striking our mortal flesh
With a swift and mighty retribution,
Penetrating the thick-skinned exterior
Of our double standard,
And poisoning us with our own venom?

Sanur, Bali
December 2015

Cat Skinner’s Blues
Artwork by ginty

Cat Skinner’s Blues

Y’all know
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
It ain’t no big deal to take a knife
And cut the skin off
And then stretch it on a rack.
But can ya show me a man
Who can re-skin a cat –
Who can take that same skin
And then put it back?
Well now,
There’s a man worthy of praise,
And I’ll drink to that,
For the dead he can raise,
And I bet you’ll have one grateful cat.

Forest Island
Peneng, Bali
May 2016

Entering the Coconut

We make our overtures in the four directions
And divide the coconut into four:
Husband, wife, son and daughter (one piece each);
The water we share.
This is the ritual.

But I can remember a time,
Before the leaves ever fell from parental trees,
When the world was still an unfinished painting,
Awash in colors that had no names,
And everything was fresh and pure,
Innocent in its unexplored potential.
Even the air itself seemed to sparkle in the sun.

At that time, there was no coming or going,
No male or female,
No right or wrong way to divide
What was originally undivided –
Only mother and father,
And the sweet, jellied flesh of the baby coconut,
Scooped out with a spoon.

Back then, the world was my coconut –
I could close my eyes and enter its flesh in an instant,
Lose myself in its mysterious waters
And sail across to uncharted shores.

Since then, I have aged
And trudged forth into manhood,
Sacrificing the unknown for the known,
But if I could, I would give it all up in an instant,
To return to that lost innocence
And the ephemeral flesh of those childhood coconuts
That offered so much and asked for so little in return –
A complete meal for one who had not yet learned to divide,
At home or in school.

Forest Island, Bali Usada
Peneng, Bali
February 2017

Artwork by I Ketut Murtana


To Puspa

On the tree of life grow myriad fruits,
Each one more delicious than the last,
But the root of that tree is humility,
With a flavor quite different from the rest,
For the more that one eats of it, the sweeter it gets.

The scriptures say of the proud and mighty:
“Pride cometh before a fall,”
But even should the humble fall,
As all surely will when conditions ripen,
Humility will lift them up and bathe their wounds,
And set them back on course again.

As surely as the seasons change,
What comes will come, but does not stay,
And yet humility stays its course,
For it follows nature’s way:
Like water, it accommodates to changing conditions;
Like wind, it moves unseen;
And like the earth, beneath our feet,
Humility does not complain.

There are four great virtues in this world – faith, hope, love and charity,
But greater than all these is humility,
For love may be blind, but humility sees;
For faith may be one-sided, but humility is even;
For hope may be broken, but humility bends;
For charity gives, but humility also receives.

Be humble –
You may not become famous, but you will be happy.
You may not become wealthy,
But you will learn to appreciate what you have.
You may not reach all your goals or get everything you want in life,
But in their place, you will find contentment.

Be humble,
And the gods will bow down before you,
Heaven will honor you,
And in this world of endless conflict,
Where vanity and egotism rule the day,
You will be like a king among paupers,
With humility as your crown.

Forest Island, Bali Usada
Peneng, Bali
May 2017

Ode to My Smartphone

Smartphone, smartphone, on my stick,
Whose selfie is the fairest one of all?
Whose texts and tweets are full of wit?
Who is the queen of the virtual ball?

Smartphone, smartphone, in my pocket,
Hallowed be the names of Samsung and iPhone,
Of Sprint and Verizon and AT&T,
For 5G will come and thy will will be done,
On earth as it is in Facebook.
Give us this day our daily tweet,
And forget not our passwords,
As thou savest the passwords of others.
And lead us not into malware or temptation by spam,
But deliver us from all hackers,
For thine is the platform, the app and the power,
Forever and ever (well, maybe not).

Sanur, Bali
July 2018

Kathina in Sri Lanka

To the bhikkhus of Polgasoweeta

With robes the color of jackfruit and mahogany, draped upon our aging bodies, we stand single file, silent and motionless, awaiting the inevitable. With the crack of wood-on-wood thunder, our line comes to life, like some giant naga, roused from its slumber, and snakes its way along the path to the Dhamma Hall. Today is Kathina (the annual offering of robes to the monks), and many families have come to join in the celebration. For them, it is a time for making merit and reconnecting to their Buddhist roots; for the children, however, it is a time of discovery – of giving and receiving, when the old is replaced by the new.

As usual, more girls have come than boys – girls with dark skin and nubile bodies, coaxed by their parents up to the seated monks in the Dhamma Hall. One of them, with the help of her mother, cautiously approaches the chair I am seated in, and reaches out to me with her first Kathina robe, as I extend my arms to accept her offering. Her coal-black eyes shine like burning embers – the wick of an all-consuming glory, flickering in the consciousness of the moment, casting shadows of a distant time, when devas descended from the heavens to pay homage to the Ariya Sangha, with the Blessed One at its head.

Year after year, they come and make their offerings, as the supple lines of breast and hip grow more pronounced, evoking the roundness of ripe pomegranates, bursting with their red seeds. The flames grow brighter, curves become shooting stars, the branches bend ever so slightly, heavy with the burgeoning fruit of the season’s bounty.

Yet all too soon, the season ends, for buried deep within the flesh of every fruit, lie the seeds of future change, of increase followed by decrease, as gravity takes its toll on the physical frame: the breasts sag, the belly distends, the hips widen. Gone is the lilt and bounce, the spark that lit uncounted fires, long forgotten, yet burning still in the memory banks of time; so too, our old robes wear out, but each year new ones are sewn and offered to the Sangha.

This year, I returned to Sri Lanka just in time for Kathina. Withered and hunched, with faltered step, an old lady approaches the row of seated monks in the Dhamma Hall, unable to lift the heavy burden of her offering alone. With the help of her son, she extends her arms toward me, as I reach out to accept the freshly sewn robe. Suddenly, I see the same young girl that I saw so many years ago on this very same day – the same purity, the same innocence, the same wonderment and devotion. But her eyes no longer shine like burning embers, and everything about her seems to have turned a shade of grey.

Soon there will be many tears, but not from her eyes. The ashes will be collected and placed in urns or scattered on the ocean waves. Later that same day, a young girl, with the help of her mother, approaches the row of seated monks to make her first Kathina offering. Her coal-black eyes shine like burning embers, but her features are shrouded in a mist, which seems to hang in the air, veiling the entire Dhamma Hall. Beyond that veil, a thousand eyes stare back at me, all of them asking the same question.

I think back to the time of the great ascetic monk, Maha Kassapa, who kept the same robe for more than eighty years – a true benchmark if there ever was one. It was the last robe to ever cover the nakedness of his 120-year-old body, but what would you do if you'd been offered a robe by the Buddha? Anyway, I am not Maha Kassapa, and this old robe – faded and threadbare as it is, and coming apart at the seams – has been my home and second-skin for more than seventeen (or is it seventy?) years, and is in sad need of a replacement.

Polgasoweeta Aranya
Polgasoweeta, Sri Lanka
December, 2018

Unfinished Symphony

I saw her there,
Stranded on the reef,
With the water rising.

I wanted to tell her there was nothing to fear,
But I knew she would not live
To see the coming day.

My mouth was frozen,
My thoughts dispersed, my tongue made lame,
I knew not what to say.

The tide was coming in,
A pearl of dew slid down her cheek,
And dropped into oblivion.

I saw the wave as it crashed the reef,
Her frail form was swept away,
Engulfed in the mighty spray.

I must do something, I said to myself,
It seemed too cruel and cowardly
Just to stand there while this happened.

Across the void, my hand reached out,
The emptiness shining –
The unspoken word.

I could taste the salt water
As it entered her mouth
And made its way to her lungs.

I could feel the currents
As they swirled round her body,
Pulling her down to a treacherous end.

I could sense the hopes and the fears
Of an unfinished journey,
The moment of transit,
And then, and then…

Polgasowita Aranya
Polgasowita, Sri Lanka
January 2019


A Collection of Aphorisms and Musings

The following series of aphorisms and musings were culled from the previous poems and arranged in chronological order in the eight sub-sections below (along with a few minor alterations for the sake of continuity). The time frame of their composition overlaps the author’s stays in Sri Lanka, the US, Myanmar, the Philippines and Bali. Due to the fundamental difference in style and character between poetry and aphorism, it might be best to read these two different art forms on separate occasions. Despite this contrast, however, the reader may notice some concordance of subject matter between the poems and aphorisms originating from similar periods.

I. Sri Lanka

May 2011 – July 2012


July – October 2012

III. Myanmar (Mawlamyine)

November 2012 – March 2013

IV. Myanmar (Pyin Oo Lwin)


April – November 2013

V. Philippines, Bali and the US

November 2013 – November 2014

VI. Sri Lanka

December 2014 – May 2015

VII. Bali and Philippines

June – October 2015

VIII. Bali


Chicken Musings
Artwork by ginty

Chicken Musings

Dedicated to the chickens of Forest Island

1st Chicken: There is an innate order to the universe – unfortunately it’s a pecking order.
2nd Chicken: No problem, as long as I’m at the beginning of the line.
1st Chicken: Who said there’s a beginning?

1st Chicken: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
2nd Chicken: The chicken.
1st Chicken: How do you know?
2nd Chicken: Stop squawking and you’ll find out.

1st Chicken: The early bird gets the worm.
2nd Chicken: What does the worm get?
1st Chicken: Why don’t you ask it?
2nd Chicken: Too late.

1st Chicken: How many chickens does it take to change a light bulb?
2nd Chicken: I don’t think any of them could do it anymore.
1st Chicken: Why not?
2nd Chicken: Selective breeding – they’ve made us so damn big we couldn’t get off our fat asses even if the sky were falling. Besides, once you’ve had your beak clipped, how you gonna screw in a light bulb?

1st Chicken: God, this is a lousy life being a chicken! First you spend your days cooped up in some stinking cage, then you get your head lopped off and your feathers plucked. After that, it’s chicken soup for the soul.
2nd Chicken: Well, you deserve it.
1st Chicken: Why?
2nd Chicken: Cause you were a chicken plucker in your last life.

1st Chicken: You ever seen two cocks fight?
2nd Chicken: Not over me, I’m too damn busy laying eggs from all the artificial lighting.
1st Chicken: Well, you know, people pay good money to see two cocks slashing each other with razors.
2nd Chicken: Really? I thought only people did that.
1st Chicken: Wise up, girl, this is the 21st century.

1st Chicken: Do you believe in God?
2nd Chicken: Kind of, but I think he’s probably too busy dealing with people’s problems to worry about us poor chickens.
1st Chicken: Hey, why don’t we write our own bible – then we could create our own chicken God, plus a chicken Moses and a chicken Jesus? Maybe people would leave us alone if they thought somebody died for our sins.
2nd Chicken: You really think people are gonna fall for that story? Keep dreaming, girl.
1st Chicken: Well, it’s just a thought – you know, an all-compassionate God that has mercy on us poor dumb creatures. I mean, if they can have a women’s liberation, why can’t we have a chicken liberation? After all, we do more laying than they do; don’t you think we should get some credit for it?
2nd Chicken: Hey, girl, don’t you know that we chickens don’t count – only people have souls. In the cosmic order of things, we’re only as good as the eggs we lay, and, after that, our wings and livers. Better keep laying, girl, otherwise it’s McNuggets for you.
1st Chicken: Oh yeah, I forgot. What a dumb cluck I am.
2nd Chicken: Hey, wait a minute, maybe if we got enlightened, at least we wouldn’t have to reborn as chickens.
1st Chicken: Now who’s the dumb one? Don’t you know that chickens are too dumb to become enlightened?
2nd Chicken: No shit?
1st Chicken: Yeh.
2nd Chicken: Wow, chicken karma really sucks!
1st Chicken: Life’s a bitch, huh.
2nd Chicken: Well, at least a bitch gets two square meals a day and some pampering.
1st Chicken: Plus, with a bitch, at least you’re safe up a tree. Nah, life’s gotta be worse than a bitch.
2nd Chicken: True enough, sister.
1st Chicken: God, if only we were birds of paradise.
2nd Chicken: Yeh, or an endangered species…


November 2015 – December 2017

Final Musings 2018-2019

Polgasoweeta, Sri Lanka
Nov-Dec, 2018