Wally Swist

The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Taunted by his fellow monks,Shantideva was challengedto give a dharma talk,and what he delivered to them is what is now knownas the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra,or Guide to the Bodhisattva’sWay of Life. So, there he was, sitting in front of them in a lotus, the same one whomthey referred to as onlybeing good enough for three things: eating, sleeping, anddefecating; and here he was,giving the lecture on howto become a true bodhisattva, on how to live the good life,while his fellow monks took pleasure in setting him upto be humiliated, which is said to be what humans fear most,or at least that is what the monksinitially set out to do—to humiliate Shantideva by putting someone they bulliedand didn’t think much of on the spot, so that he wouldsquirm in embarrassment. Whenever we are challengedin such a way, it is best to smileand to accept the offer to shine,not as provocation but as invitation, all the timesummoning not only couragebut also centering our focuswith a diamond mind, and to remember that whenShantideva finished deliveringhis dharma talk he didn’teven consider lording it over his fellow monks sittingin awe before him, but, simply,nodded his head once, slightly,in a bow of acknowledgment to them, before, as they allclaim, his body lifted upwards,and he disappeared, corporeally,into a streaming pillar of light.
After Lu Chi’s Wen Fu Based on a translation by Shih-Hsiang Chen, in 1952, and then modified after consulting a translation by Sam Hamill, 1991 & 2000. 2. Starting Out We listen, eyes closed, to the music that is within, aswirl in thought we make inquiry; Our spirit soars to the universe’s eight corners, mind roaming thousands of miles away; When only the inner voice becomes clear, in proportion, with each numinous object. It is then what issues are the quintessence of words; and, in this, we revel in this sweetness. This resembles drifting on heaven’s lake, or plunging into a deep sea. What we surface with words that are alive, fish hooked by the gills, flipping on our deck. These words are hauled as is a luminous bird on a string amid passing clouds. What we do is to gather whatever words are unused from writers of previous generations. Such melody is such that it hasn’t been heard for at least a thousand years. The flowers this morning will open; shortly, the same buds will close upon nightfall. The past fuses with the present— perpetuity appears in the blink of an eye!
3. Selecting Words Making thought cogent, clarifying our ideas, we precipitate our word choice. Every word chosen scrupulously, each word fits best as a beam does, tongue in groove. Thoughts flickering on the periphery are reigned into reason’s natural light; we chart the sources of echoes. This is similar to locating the leaf on a trembling branch, finding the stream’s source at the spring. Each writer illuminates what is dark, even if this entails making what is simple difficult, or what is difficult easy. Thus, the tiger’s roar may quiet those who hear it; the dragon’s thunder startle flocks of birds, in waves of terror. Our skill in writing, sometimes the road is level and speedy; other times craggy and dizzying. Still the inky waters of the heart; gather profound thoughts from what are the accurate names of everything. Sky and earth are caught in ostensible form; all these things appear from whatever writing implement we choose. What is the truth but the trunk of the tree; a stylist makes the foliate beautiful. Never think emotion and reason are one: each nuanced feeling must be read with scrutiny. Discover veritable joy, easily find laughter; in heartache, distinguish each moan. Often enough, the words will come without exhortation; other times, we sit amid the silence biting down on our pencil. Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Contest, and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature (Ex Ophidia Press, 2019), the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize. His recent poems have or will appear in Buddhist Poetry Review, Commonweal, Rattle, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and Transference: A Literary Journal Featuring the Art & Process of Translation. Recent books include The Bees of the Invisible (2019) and Evanescence: Selected Poems (2020), both with Shanti Arts. Forthcoming books include Awakening & Visitation and Seamless Glass: Selected Adaptations & Translations, also with Shanti Arts.

See Wally Swist's Archive page to read more of his work, including the full text of After Lu Chi’s Wen Fu.