Zen Poems

Zen Poems


I am one
Who eats his breakfast,
Gazing at the morning-glories

– Basho



Confused by thoughts
we experience duality in life.
Unencumbered by ideas,
the enlightened see the one Reality.

– Hui-Neng


Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

– Basho



Bodhi originally has no tree
The mirror also has no stand.
Buddha nature is always clear and pure;
Where is there room for dust?

By: Huineng
Tr. Philip Yampolsky


What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?

By: Bassui


When mortals are alive, they worry about death.
When they’re full, they worry about hunger.
Theirs is the Great Uncertainty.

But sages don’t consider the past.
And they don’t worry about the future.
Nor do they cling to the present.
And from moment to moment they follow the Way.

By: Bodhidharma


When all thoughts
Are exhausted
I slip into the woods
And gather
A pile of shepherd’s purse.

Blending with the wind,
Snow falls;
Blending with the snow,
The wind blows.
By the hearth
I stretch out my legs,
Idling my time away
Confined in this hut.
Counting the days,
I find that February, too,
Has come and gone
Like a dream.

Like the little stream
Making its way
Through the mossy crevices
I, too, quietly
Turn clear and transparent.

By: Ryokan


My Hovel

The world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me.
The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
No spring breeze even at this late date,
Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.

By: Ikkyu

From Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, translated by John Stevens
Published by Shambala in Boston, 1995.


Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

On the white poppy,
a butterfly’s torn wing
is a keepsake

The bee emerging
from deep within the peony
departs reluctantly

From The Essential Basho, Translated by Sam Hamill.
Published by Shambala in Boston, 1999.


Sitting alone on an Autumn Night

I sit alone sad at my whitening hair
Waiting for ten o’clock in my empty house
In the rain the hill fruits fall
Under the lamp grasshoppers sound
White hairs will never be transformed
That elixir is beyond creation
To eliminate decrepitude
Study the absolute.

By: Wang Wei
Tr. G.W.Robinson


Passing the Temple

Tonight he walks with his light stick,
Stops by the Tiger Stream’s source,
Asks us to listen to the mountain sound,
Goes home again by clear waters.
Endless blossoms in the stillness.
Bird-cries deep in the valleys.
Now he’ll sit in empty hills.
In pine-winds, feel the touch of autumn.

By: Wang Wei



Photo Tejvan / Phoolanjaya (Basho Grasses) Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries