Last poem of Hoshin

Hoshin dictated:

I came from brilliancy.
And return to brilliancy.
What is this?

The poem was one line short of the customary four, so the disciple said: “Master, we are one line short.”

Hoshin, with the roar of a conquering lion, shouted “Kaa!” and was gone.


Before I was born, there was nothing that distinguished me from the galaxy and after I die there will be nothing to distinguish me from it. But now there is something that separates us, but I don’t really know what it is.


Stephen Damon, a Soto Zen priest who leads a small Zen group in San Francisco writes:

“After settling into a daily home practice and attending monthly one-day sittings for a while I began to sense that the great question of life and death was my question. The question became my “center of gravity” around which the rest of my life—in the Zendo and out in the streets—revolved. Most important, I felt an urgency, not to find an answer but to become more intimate with question, until I became the question. In a very deep sense, I was no longer “Stephen” or “Korin” or a Buddhist, I was the question of what is life and death. Over the years this question has deepened and broadened to include everything. And every time I take my seat at home or in a zendo and every time I pick up a sutra or any book on Zen I am that question.

If a book does not offer a response to the question I file it away, but if it does offer something, or if it does open me up to a place in myself that can respond to the question I keep it close by to come back to often. I will keep Hoshin’s poem in my mind and heart always. While the three lines are powerful, what is even more powerful is the emptiness of the fourth line. Every Buddhist teaching is incomplete and must be completed in oneself. Hoshin’s poem, while eloquent in its succinctness was incomplete until he yelled “KAA!” Perhaps, a death poem should be only three lines to be completed by an expression of a person’s last moment. Some may yell out something, and some may gently and peacefully breathe out one last breath and watch it blend with the air around him or her—into the Great Silence behind everything.”

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