“Moth Koan” by Richard Schiffman

Richard Schiffman


You say that you are troubled
by your own thoughts. Listen,
even the moth casts a shadow
when it flies before the sun.
Do you think the sun is troubled,
or the ground, or the moth,
for that matter? No, what is
troubled is the shadow thinking
it’s the moth that has fallen
to the ground, where the sun
will never shine again. The moth
that understands this
flies straight to the sun.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Tribute to Buddhist Poets


Richard Shiffmann: “When I first read Whitman in eighth grade, it blew my mind. He seemed to speak from some primordial, heart space where all of us—animals, grass, rivers, stars—participate with, and are ultimately contained within, one another. This was my first taste of the spiritual power of poetry to reflect a level of inner experience that is largely unacknowledged in our rationalistic culture. I discovered that great poetry, like scripture, has the potential to reawaken wonder and a sense of gratitude, and longing for the ‘Greater than self,’ which the Buddha and others have taught is also, paradoxically, the most essential nature of ourselves. When I read or write a poem like this, it can be better than sex! Of course, not all sex is great, and not all poems come from a particularly deep place. There is a Hindu story about a poet who, in a mood of discouragement, threw his entire life’s work into a river. Most of the poems sank immediately to the bottom. A few stayed on the surface for awhile, then disappeared under the waves. But a handful, miraculously, remained afloat. The poet realized that these were the poems that God had accepted, or, to put it in secular terms, the poems that had come from the core of his own being, and were, therefore, in a sense indestructible, because they did not reflect a fleeting mood or emotion, but arose directly out of the changeless Spirit. I think that, as poets, we hope that some few poems will remain afloat and speak authentically to that place where all of us are One.” (website)

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