The top of the inhalation… the bottom of the exhalation–

The top of the inhalation is a fold, the bottom of the exhalation is a cut. The fold returns the breath to its downward course, the cut extinguishes it. The cut is the surprise of death, the cleanest mark of impermanence. The beginning of the inhalation is the first dawn, the very edge of the cosmos’s beginning.

Attentive breathing–each asymmetrical, open circle; each twisted, pleated, unfinished–dramatizes the entirety of life, mine and any other’s, and this so loudly in the surprise of feeling unhanded. For the top of the inhalation does not come quite when one would anticipate its coming but early, late, or with a jolt. And the bottom can come hollowed, like a gasp, or hallowed, like a guest. The cavity of the body gives as much as it is given; lets as much as it is let; attunes as much as attempts. There is no more effort than there is effortlessness, no more renting than being rent, no more the delicious luxury of this than the wonted necessity of the unseen veil.

Breathing while observing, while feeling oneself breathing, is sweeter than spring and more delicate. It is love of self except it is also its other. The fold is seeing oneself turn, the cut is seeing oneself off. Or missing the moment completely.

Pei-chien on action and stillness

The collection, ‘Summer: Collages of Desert Pieties (2013),’ is now visible at There are beautiful photos of summer Daoist travels on each page. Enjoy.


This morning after watering the plants, I meditated upon Zen master Pei-chien’s words (1185-1246). I then put them into a more poetic form:

Let your actions be like the gliding clouds; the gliding clouds are mindless. Let your stillness be like the valley spirit; the valley spirit is undying. When action and stillness dwell together, the fault-line disappears.

Plato speaks of reality in terms of movement, rest, being, same, and other.

I say that the highest movement is the same as graceful action; the greatest form of rest is stillness. Thus, when movement, which is generally other than rest, seems to pass into rest and rest to pass easily into movement, then there is being, energy, flowingness. Then, the fault-line disappears and the sage is but gliding and stilling.

Basho’s poetic spirit: A mode of radiance

For Basho (1644-1694), in whose hands the haiku form achieves its essence, the poet must

submerge himself within a natural object, to perceive its delicate life and feel its feelings, out of which a poem forms itself. A poem may skillfully delineate an object; but, unless it embodies feelings which have been naturally emerged out of the object, the poem will fall short of the true poetic sentiment, since it presents the object and the poet as two separate things. (quoted in Makoto Ueda, ‘Basho and the Poetics of “Haiku,”‘ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 21.4 (Summer 1963), 424)

Haiku is a spiritual exercise (ascesis) in the way of communing with ordinary things. It is not that one wishes to spend one’s days writing haiku. On the contrary, it is that one seeks to adopt the true poetic spirit, to come to a mode of spontaneous living, and it is out of such spontaneity that a poem may pour itself forth. By endeavoring to make one’s mind clear as the cloud passing over the redwoods, by bending one’s ear, first thing in the morning, to hear the copper face of the wind chime, one may be limbered up for ‘inspiration, in Basho’s sense.

Composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter feeling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous foe. It is also like cutting a ripe watermelon with a sharp knife, or taking a large bite of a pear. (Ibid, 427)

The haiku, a mode of radiance’s appearance, invokes goodness and beauty but makes no clean distinction between the two. Humble, simple, delicate, light: remember these. Be these.

Summer morning: Redwood haiku

A haiku marries sincerity with accuracy, reintroduces simplicity to lightness. There is no time for parody, satire, or irony. One’s poetic concentration is on the thing, on its relations to what is felt or unseen, and on the world’s radiating significance. R.H. Blyth states that a haiku ‘expresses some realm of the human spirit in an unforgettable way,’ seeking to lead us to lightness, or karumi. An offering:

Above the limpid rim

The folding yellow crêpe

Of welking lilies.

‘Why is Tu Fu sad?’ asks the master

‘Why is Tu Fu sad?’ asks the master.


A Poem About Radiance

‘It is obvious,’ replies the first pupil. ‘It is, as Tu Fu says: the longest bough has been broken.’ A second pupil differs: ‘The world is unjust: the violent and strong will always crack and break the weak and frail. Had we not better stay in the hermitage and meditate?’ A third believes he sees the light: ‘Do not you see? Because everything, including the willow tree, is impermanent.’

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