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my death verse

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

my death verse early to be written too late to be read

winds sweep the mountain prairie unfurling waves through wild grass

no one came here

no one ever left

peace unstirring

ei-tai ji temple, 2004


in the old days of zen (called chan) in china, monks felt invited or inclined to write a death poem. this poem, usually terse, you wanted to get on with it, no point in dragging your feet, was supposed to sum up a few things, notably your understanding of the dharma and, where you stood, with death facing you, when there would be no turning around, no beating around the bush, no turning back, completely bare and exposed.

some years ago, i wrote this when i was still a monk training at my master's temple in the lower alps in france. the monk died in me or disappeared without leaving a return address sometime later, but left this poem as a testimony of his passage of a time when our teacher, among other things, was helping us see how mountains walk. glimpses of that.

witness to his passing and to his poem, i share it here.

though we are here for participation, we are also here for witnessing.

when participation and witnessing go hand in hand we feel we can venerate and revere.

we participate in the world and the world carries us.

we witness the world and carry it with us.

to bear witness means the realization of our oneness and inter-connectedness with all existences. this is not some detached observation, this is intimacy of knowing and the knowing that comes with intimacy with all beings.

both necessary dimensions of our passage on this earth.

we are ultimately called upon to give up all self-images and identities. this is another level of encountering fear. relinquishing our identities is to embrace being no one.

no one, you are the portal to amazement.

" blessed art thou, no one, in thy sight would we bloom- paul celan. "

the idea of leaving the world, if we can, a little emptier and lighter than when we first stepped into it. but no matter what we do or do not do we cannot leave this world, dead or alive, can we?

to become lighter is to let the light in. this takes some unavoidable cracks, often at the seams, crack after crack at the seams, to open us up. sometimes suffering does that for you and sometimes joy does that for you. not to make a big deal of either, both come and go. to come and go tracelessly.

when we lose our deep-seated fear of death, there is this spaciousness and opening we feel a part of. death is the great opener and the great opening.

death is the opening to life just as life is an opening to death. when we are no longer afraid of dying we begin to live more fully as our anxieties are originally rooted in the fear of death.

freed from death, we are ready to live.

freed from life, we are ready to die.

life is just such a moment.

death is just such a moment.

the moment of the undividedness of life and death.

and the rest is mountain talk.

no one came here

no one ever left

peace unstirring

ei-tai ji temple, le rocher de la baume, october 2018

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