I had thought about growing old with her;
to become one of those old guys you see
sporting a garden hat and an indigo bandana.
Her man.
Her 'old man,' I would've thought of myself.

I would've written poems
counted dragonflies
caught trout
helped her with planting, harvesting.
I would've napped some days like an old lion.

But, as a dear, long-ago myokonin - a true Pure Land faithful - put it to me once over tea: 

"Nothing works without true-entrusting. True-entrusting is a two-way street."

Now I am here, in this dark cave, 
in a cave-dark time it seems,
surrendering an old life, opening to a new life of deep-listening and mountain austerity;
cutting-loose, cutting off, cutting-through,
stumbling into and out of the greatest cosmic joke there is.
Turns out: 
The self that held such visions of harvest was, in the end, always the silly punchline.

How could I hold a grudge? What exactly would hold it?

How could I even write a poem now referring to a "self"?

I'm just a quiet ghost now borrowing this skin bag for a final fleeting journey through.

Like a moth to a flame, all self-power has been snuffed-out in the dark by Other-Power

and the only poem I can ever write again as part of the silent faithful is namu-amida-butsu.


Whether a complex system of bestowed practices, or a single black brushstroke on rough paper, it's all there. The Dharma: Reality-as-it-is. It doesn't hold back. Our life, whether in harmony or in shambles, always tells the absolute truth.

In all cases, our suffering undoes us. It undoes all obscurations. It is inescapable, and only ever slightly delayed by the degree of investiture in fortification of the self.

The only way beyond it: 
Let go. 
Forget the self.

The only way beyond the self: 
Allow the self to be unstitched.

The only way to be unstitched:
Surrender to the tides and high winds
of the Dharma of Suffering.

Allow the forces of Other-Power
to overcome the pure fallacy of self-power.
Therein, for the first time, we feel that something tangible beyond the finite self has heard our cries woven in among the cries of the rest of the world.

Liner Notes: 

Mishirabe is an ancient Pure Land Buddhist practice of going without food, water, and sleep for a number of days, usually in a dark place such as a cave.

Namu-Amida-Butsu: known as the nembutsu, it is a mantric phrase used either as a spoken recitation or silent contemplation in the Pure Land traditions of China (namo-amito-fo) and Japan. One translation is: "I take refuge in the Buddha of Infinite Life."

(c) 2018 / Frank LaRue Owen (Wandering Stone Lantern) / purelandpoetry.com

sound: "The Ghost In Me" / Terra Ambient (the late Jeff Kowal) / Wanderlust