From Daichidoron: 32 Ways of Looking at the Buddha, with 13 Buddhas of My Own

for Hiromi Ito

(1) When the Buddha walks. his feet are so close to the ground that there is not even a hair’s space between his soles & the earth;

(2) the imprint of a wheel appears on the soles of the Buddha’s feet;

(3) the Buddha’s fingers are exceptionally long & slender;

(4) the Buddha’s heels are broad, round & smooth;

(5) the Buddha has a web-like membrane between his fingers & toes;

(6) the skin of the Buddha’s hands & feet is soft & smooth;

(7) the Buddha’s feet have unusually high insteps;

(8) the Buddha’s calves are rounded & firm like those of a stag;

(9) exceptionally long arms,when standing, the Buddha’s hands reach his knees;

(10) the Buddha’s genitals are hidden inside the body;

(11) the Buddha’s body height is equal to his armspread, considered to give a classically proportioned body;

(12) the Buddha’s body hair grows in an upward direction;

(13) one hair grows from each pore on the Buddha’s skin;

(14) the Buddha’s body gleams with a golden light;

(15) the Buddha emits a halo of light which frames his body & extends outward about three metres;

(16) the Buddha’s skin is extremely smooth;

(17) seven regions of the Buddha's two feet, shoulders, & neck are full & rounded;

(18) the sides of the Buddha’s body under the Buddha’s arms are full, not hollow as on an ordinary person;

(19) the upper part of the Buddha's body is majestic, like a lion;

(20) the BuddhaÆs posture is firm & perfectly erect;

(21) the Buddha’s shoulders are full & rounded;

(22) the Buddha has forty teeth, as white as snow;

(23) the Buddha’s teeth are straight, without gaps, & equal in size;

(24) the Buddha also has 4 canine teeth which are larger, whiter, & sharper than the rest;

(25) the Buddha’s cheeks are full & firm like those of a lion;

(26) the Buddha's saliva imparts a delicious taste to everything he eats;

(27) the Buddha’s tongue is long & flexible, when extended it reaches to the Buddha’s hairline;

(28) the Buddha’s voice is pure, strong & deep, has an exceptional ability to communicate to the listener, & can be heard from a long distance;

(29) the pupils of the Buddha’s eyes are a deep blue color, like the blue lotus flower;

(30) the Buddha’s eyelashes are long & regular;

(31) the Buddha has a protuberance on the top of his head, representing wisdom;

(32) the Buddha has a light emitting clockwise curls of hair on his forehead.

NOTE. The lead to the poem came, like much else, from conversations with Hiromi Ito, herself a major figure in contemporary Japanese poetry & for some years a neighbor & close friend in southern California. I had recently written & published a series of poems, The Treasures of Dunhuang, many of which were my own takes on images of the Buddha from the great painted caves of Dunhuang in western China. My first sighting of those was in an exhibit of that name at the Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, in 1996, reenforced by a visit to Dunhuang in 2002. What struck me then was the surprising twist given to images that we thought of as familiar – much like images of Jesus when one sees them in out-of-the-way regions of the Christian world. I had long had in mind, & more so recently, perceptions about the nature of poetry enunciated by poets like Novalis – “The art of estranging in a given way, making a subject strange and yet familiar and alluring, this is romantic poetics” – & referential too, I thought, to how we come at poetry today.

It was Hiromi’s sense of other images, other places, though, that led me to the Daichidoron - the Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra, discourses on the-Great Wisdom Scriptures, attributed to the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (circa 150-250 a.d.). The 32 lines, as they appear here, are a found poem that in some sense completes the work for me. The following from The Treasures of Dunhuang is a response of my own to similar promptings.

From The TREASURES OF DUNHUANG
Performance Version

a faceless buddha

.

a black buddha

.

buddhas with silver mustaches
& chin hairs

.

three transvestite buddhas

.

buddha with heads
around his head –
dozens of whirling heads

.

2000 buddhas

.

crouching buddha –
slits for eyes –
looks sleepy

.

a buddha with a dozen faces
& a thousand hands with eyes

.

buddha holds a fern –
he wears a scabbard
& the scabbard grows a hand

.

rays stream from buddha’s eyes
– or tears

.

eyes wide in terror
open anguished mouth with fangs
he holds a dish with flaming ryes
but haloed

can this be buddha too?

.

thin buddha
starving buddha

sitting hand to chin
& smiling