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“In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto.” – Basho

The sound of the cuckoo calling us home has been a topic in a couple of talks lately. John Tarrant brought it to a Sunday gathering as part of a poem composed by an old teacher named Dongshan: “For whom do you bathe and make yourself beautiful? The voice of the cuckoo is calling you home. Countless flowers have fallen, and that voice is not stilled—In the deep places in the craggy mountains, the call continues.” Jon Joseph took it up again during the recent retreat, which was the occasion for Basho’s poem about hearing a cuckoo in Kyoto to pay me a visit.

At first Basho’s poem seemed to be in opposition to Dongshan’s poem, but then it also seems to be saying the same thing, the sound of the cuckoo called me back from thinking they were in opposition. The cuckoo in Dongshan’s poem, calls me home from the deep places in the craggy mountains. Basho’s cuckoo calls me home from being at home, but not really, being here, but not really, being anywhere, but not really. Either way, the cuckoo calls me back to here…now. It is like when I’m meditating and then remember I’m meditating; something calls me back.

I was interested in knowing more about cuckoos and found them to be complicated, like us. The dictionary told me that a cuckoo was, “…a largely grayish-brown bird that is a parasite given to laying its eggs in the nests of other birds which hatch them and rear the offspring.” Hmmm, that’s what’s calling me home? A parasite? Great! As a somewhat sommelier of delusions, I found that wonderful. It matches my experience of my delusions being gateways to being here. I’m sure Dongshan and Basho both knew about the “shadow” of the cuckoo, as they knew about the “shadow” of their own awakenings. I think they both also knew how complicated cuckoos are.

Cuckoos are for the most part solitary birds that seldom occur in pairs or groups. However, there is a kind of cuckoo, which have evolved cooperative breeding habits, they lay their eggs in a communal nest, which is built by all members of the group. Incubation, brooding and territorial defense duties are shared by all members of the group. I am reminded of taking refuge in my companions and how those companions are not all human and not all sentient and koans are one of them.

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