I walked toward the setting sun's horizon tonight with questions in my heart.

At the six mile mark, I turned around with no answers in heart-mind.

I began the long walk home in the dark, a feeling of defeat hanging over me like a dead man's aura. 

I inserted earbuds and picked back up with Zukav's The Seat of the Soul. 

I paced my feet to the rhythm of his voice and tried to find The Way again.

'I used to know this. I used to radiate this. What a horrid student I have been,' I thought.

A true "Worst Horse"...to use a Zen term.


As the quantum soul map was unfurled, like fragile paper in the delicate air,

I heard how "personalities" from our other lives, still connected to our soul,

can try to heal their karma through our present-day circumstances.


My samurai-self immediately appeared in my mind: raw survival -- fight or flight.

A life as a worker in the Varanasi charnel grounds came next.

Then, the wounded child of this life appeared.

Beaten with thorn-switches.

Thrown like a sack of potatoes against a wall for wetting the bed one Saturday morning.

Being left behind at a vulnerable time.


Then the face of my old-man-self showed up and I felt the tears begin to stream.


It was a life when our whole village grew lazy

and stopped holding each other in prayer.

It was a life when our whole village grew lazy

and stopped praying to the spirits of the land that held us.

We took the mountains for granted. The rivers that flowed down from them.

And the valley. And the rice. And each season's new batch of sake.


As soon as we let go of the shimmering blue thread of life, a slow rot set in.


One sweltering August day, laying back on my haunches, for there was no rice to harvest,

I sipped the last swig of sake I had secretly hoarded from the village storehouse.

I was convinced beyond all shadow of doubts that it was the end. 

Why wouldn't it be?

The Spirit of the Valley had retreated.

For yet another year she had withheld the harvest.

When the Spirit of the Valley retreats, the rice gods cannot do their part.


And then it happened. 

A small, one-legged warbler landed on a nearby branch and began to sing.

Namu-Namu Chirp-Chirp.

Namu-Namu Chirp-Chirp.

Namu-Namu Amida Butsu.

Namu-Namu Chirp-Chirp.


I sat bolt upright with a jolt. 

I gazed out at the valley as if for the first time.

I saw the mountains as 'The Mothers' again.

I saw the barren rice fields and knew they were empty because we hadn't prayed; we hadn't nurtured them.

I looked out at my fellow villagers and felt the accumulation of years of grudges like a thick sludge because we had ceased looking upon one another as bodhisattvas and future-buddhas.

I ran to a small boarded up shack that once served as a shrine and shattered the planks into splinters.

I threw open the doors and grabbed a handbell.

'Ding ding ding ding. 

Ding ding ding ding.'

I rang the bell as if my life depended upon it

because I knew the entire life of our village depended upon it.


Thinking there was a fire, the people came running

in from the fields,

in from the forest where some were foraging,

some from their bedrolls.


When pressed for an explanation for what was happening, I barked:

"Don't you see? Don't you see? If we don't approach each other with prayer in our hearts, it is a road that leads directly to hell realms! Everything must be prayer. Every word must be prayer. Every act must be prayer. Planting must be prayer. Harvesting must be prayer. Tending wounds must be prayer. Everything must be the nembutsu."

Liner notes: The nembutsu is the mantric prayer of the Pure Land tradition. It is an expression of true-entrusting. It consists of seven syllables: namu amida butsu. Some Pure Land adherents believe its daily recitation ensures rebirth in a Pure Land of joy following this life. Other Pure Land adherents hold that its recitation is a way of bringing the peace and harmony of the Pure Land into this reality. Still other Pure Land adherents suggest we are already living within the Pure Land now but do not perceive it. 

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

sound: Roy Mattson / "Water Maze" / Endless River