Friday, January 4, 2008


Siddhârtha Gautama or Shakyamuni – was it not a lotus that he held up before his disciples, smiling, in response to an inquiry concerning the nature of his awakening? So why, during the Flower Festival, is the Buddha showered with many colorful marigolds and other beauties to celebrate his birth?

Yeshu'a, during his Sermon on the Mount, alluded–not without awe – to "the lilies of the field," to a glory and liberty therein that surpassed the wisdom and wealth of Solomon. Was it not Yeshu'a who, in one of his many peregrinations, cursed the fig out of season, his impetuous anger leading the green-leafed branches to wither?

Questions of a middle-aged man in autumn, alone at a weathered and simple writing desk, seated upon a modest, hard-backed, wooden swivel-chair, the varnish rubbed wholly away in many spots to expose the ancient grain of the oak. Impertinent questions. Naive questions.

A lotus for the Buddha's India , a lily for the Rabbi's Galilee.

The imperial crest and official seal of the world's oldest monarchy, that of Japan's emperor – the vibrant yellow or orange chrysanthemum, now bordered in red, now bordered in black – a symbol, once aligned with the Emperor's Chrysanthemum Throne, of the unity of Earth and Heaven: is there any object, beyond the Chrysanthemum Throne, that might contrast more strikingly with my unstylish chair?

The concealed Emperor on his Throne and I, exposed, at my desk – the Emperor whose family line is traced far back to a Shinto god, the Emperor yet, one imagines, counseled by that heavenly forefather – and I without a lineage to remark or an airy informant to credit.

A lotus for enlightenment, a lily for liberty, a chrysanthemum for the unity of Above and Below. Why should anyone listen to the autumn ramblings of an aging man alone at his undistinguished desk? Why should anyone heed the creaking of a wooden chair?

a crumpled paper
on the writing desk —
white chrysanthemum

by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Contemporary Haibun Online, V3, N3, Sept. 2007

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