Victoria Korth: Twenty-five Years of Jukai

the Buddhist celebration of taking the precepts

Though it’s still like gliding toward a giant lion’s maw
in a shallow-bottomed boat, this self-guided tour,
off-kilter love canal we enter each November prior to Jukai,
single, barefoot and chill, maintains an aura of improvement.
Six realms fitted out along the covered walk
between the Zendo and the Buddha Hall—
hell, hungry ghost, animal, fighting demon, deva, human—
the same mini-Bose spits out Philip Glass; fans blow dry ice
through orange crepe, along instructive art:
humans over-eating, drunk, dying, burning up.
Heavy with forgotten lives, alive to having strayed
from childhood ways, Judeo-Christian practice
old as the Buddha, yet with fathers as well as sons
and mothers, guitar music, awkward shoes, and mystery:
three in one and one in three, saved but needing saving,
the Psalmist’s language, crushed pine boughs, lilac, earth,
and yes, something like tonight’s embarrassed loneliness
in a tunnel meant to be traversed alone.
Yet I have run to be alone, run from siblings, husband,
children, attendance lacking depth, prayer lacking discipline,
run and found a clearing where my heart hears,
believes in, grapples with its furious patterning.
In Zen there is nothing to believe,
except that the Buddha was not lying.
In Zen there is no need for faith, or hope.
Or need to mention love?
Serenely focused off the personal, free of relationship
to the divine, theology’s ungainly nouns, instead
faced toward the Teacher; and when stumbling
in same heart-core, fullness now called emptiness,
love made passionless, when all that’s lost in translation
is suppressed, then here I stall, remembering a different liturgy.
Here is an icy paradox without the blessing or the kiss of peace.
Here are six realms of story, shame familiar, and guilt, rhetoric
dimly awash in solar lamps, life a cycle, with no way off,
or out, except in a kind of daring tangent, trap door
through which the ordained flit, gone off in a group to eat Thai.
Here I am dumb, not lost but tired,
aching to lie down between one faith and the other,
warm my hands in human need, heat stalled
in the hollow of my throat, words longing to unravel
like a skein of silk tossed carefully, fervently.

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