The Monk

The heron in the cool morning mist
huddles beneath the oak by the lake,
like a monk with head bowed low betwixt
his gray wings while the sleepy woods wake.
He blends with the shadows on the shoals,
as unmoving as dawn’s torpid air,
while sunlight burns on the distant knolls;
the hermit stands like a statue there.
What does he read in that quiet lake
that scholar of mist-spun solitude?
What does he read in the mirrored make
of water while in his pensive mood?
Stoic, soundless, solitary soul,
what is the bounty behind his eyes?
He does not blink as the white mists roll
like tumbling smoke into gilded skies.
Perhaps he sees the leaves of the oak
ablaze with the futile hues of Fall,
painted gently with a master’s stroke:
light on water, water holding all.
Or maybe he sees himself therein,
pondering his beak, his crest, his wing,
like a Buddhist monk mesmerized when
staring at his navel’s spiral ring.
A soothing gray silhouette, he waits,
an anchorite heron by the lake;
silent and still, in between those states
such as when we dream and when we wake.

Chase The Horizon

The Zen master and the student sat on the steps of the monastery, gazing down the mountainside upon which the monastery sat.  The master’s face was serene, his forehead relaxed above his gray eyebrows.  The student’s brow was wrinkled with frustration, his young face troubled after a long morning of lessons.

“I do not think I can contain so much knowledge,” the young student said.  “It is too much.”

“You need only to broaden your mind,” the Zen master said, placidly.  “Then all knowledge and understanding can be contained.”

The student shook his head doubtfully.  “It is too difficult,” he said.  “There is nothing more difficult.”

The Zen master smiled sadly.  “Ah, but there is something much more difficult.  To broaden one’s heart.”

The young student frowned, perplexed.  “How so?”

“To broaden one’s heart, one must widen it to the edge of the horizon.”

The student shrugged, surveying the landscape that sprawled below the mountain, and stretched out to the forests and mountains beyond.

“That does not seem far,” the student remarked.  “A few miles at most.”

The Zen master chuckled.  “Then chase the horizon, young one, and broaden your heart.”

And, so, the young student did.  He chased the horizon the whole day, and the whole night, and slept the following morning.  Then he began again, following the horizon as it rolled ever closer and ever farther from him.  When he came to the sea, he took a boat, and when he came to another shore he walked once again.  To many places he came and went; many people he met and grew to know.  For three decades he chased the horizon, sometimes in haste, sometimes in leisure, and eventually he found himself returned to the monastery, standing before his much-aged master.

“Master,” he said, “I have returned, but I have not reached the edge of the horizon.  It eludes me even now.”

His master smiled proudly nonetheless.  “But how did your travels go?  Whom did you meet?”

“Many people, master,” the student said.  “People of all colors and customs and beliefs.”  There were tears in his eyes.  “Many friends whom I love as I would any brother or sister.”

“Then you have caught the horizon,” the Zen master said.  “For your heart now reaches from one horizon to the next, enveloping the world as a whole, and not just the small part where you are.”

The Zen master invited his student to sit down and drink tea with him, and to tell him of the people and the places he had come to know.  The student spoke happily all morning, and into the evening.  Other monks in the monastery sat down, too, and listened upon the steps that overlooked the world.

And as they listened to the student recount his travels—-student, now a master in his own right—-they felt their own hearts broadening from horizon to horizon also.