I spent ten summers alone exploring the mandala of the bad-lands

The sutra of dried river-beds and abandoned cabins
The shastra of fence-posts and the poetry of carrion-crows.

Impermanent in appearance but immutable in essence,
I walked in lands littered with the garbage
   tossed away
      by generations.
Nothing left but the notations of past shamans;
    long dead stares of rancher monks;
    remnants of old hermits and remains of rock huts;
    dharma transmission from mind to mind,
          from rock to rock
                   from valley to valley.
The Bodhi-Mind of the basin.

Flakes left by generations of ancient craft and error unearthed in one cloudburst;
torrents dig deep ruts and flowed into a valley of sage.
Silence broken by sound becoming silence again after days alone.

Water flows over shattered clay pigeons
     old pottery
         blue glass
    and        beer cans.
Dried, dusky-white bones of indescriminate cattle and bison,
      tan remnants of older beasts
specters haunt the sand,
ghosts float in the rocks.

Sacred gaps are filled with the energy and intensity 
     of ants
slow and meticulous stupa builders
     smooth pebbles 
   seed husks
fragments of teeth 
a glass bead on an anthill

Moments of revelry when coyotes met from the six directions;
Sacrificed a rabbit, took my boots in offering and ran off, yipping.  
The night punctuated with the mantra of a screech owl, cut off abruptly by the rebellion of nightjars –
      the Ikkyu of Aves. 
We mimic the irreverence and trade the nervous glances of lost children.

No-Mind wasn’t created out of esoteric need.  It was a practical tool lost; the ability to be aware of surroundings and exist as predator and prey – a tool that aided gathering and planting, protecting and hunting, thought and magic.  Our bodies and mind were once wild; loose and tough, reflective and graceful, finely honed, sharp – now spinning wildly and out of breath.  It is a constant state of controlled slippage – hands gripped tight on a wheel.  Sliding and then steering hard…losing control through effort wasted.  We remember the howl of wolves and the rustle of leaves; lost in the roar of an engine, the ringing of the zendo bell, the morning buzzer or the *ding* of a microwave.  Each bringing us abruptly in or out of the moment.  

no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue,
no body, no mind; no sight, no sound,
no smell, no taste, no touch.
no object of mind; no realm of sight,

no realm of mind consciousness.

No roof. 
No hall. 
No pages. 

We used to read fields and grass, 
           shit and scent,
             harsh winds 
                 blowing snow. 

Now we read sutras and pretend it is the sound of nature.
We are off the reservation.


6 thoughts on “Mandala

  1. Beautiful and full of such vivid imagery. I felt like I was there — going on a tour of the physical and spiritual treasures of the bad-lands. A place I want to visit “badly.” O.k., forgive the horrible pun but I do really want to visit that area of the U.S.

  2. Wow! I’ve been reading Gary Snyder’s “Practice of the Wild,” and this piece fits with those essays just perfectly. Thank you for writing it. Man, I thought my hiking jones was bad BEFORE I read this…

  3. Ah Timmy Mac, you caught me! I’ve been reading the same thing and it is seeping into my writing. There is no shame in admitting that I love Snyder’s work and that his blending of nature with Dharma is an inspiration to me.

  4. Thanks James. The imagery is inspired by the time I spent working in Cottonwood Draw. Everything described was surrounding my campsite and was where I proposed to my wife so means much to me.

  5. HA! Great minds think alike, I guess. I think your style is all your own, though. And you’re right – the view of wildness as Dharma has been mindblowing for me, too. I caught myself pawing my backpacking gear last night lustily…having the walkabout craving in New England in January is NOT good timing.

  6. Nature has helped me immensely with absorbing Dharma lessons into practical life. I have always found nature to be a very spiritual thing. I miss my backpacking days at the end of August when I head up into the mountains. I would love to build a small cabin up there and just live off the land and meditate.

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