Moon Reflected on the Water: Buddhist Poetry Today

From the very beginning, Buddhists have expressed their philosophy and experiences in poetry. It is both a wisdom literature, akin to scripture, and an artistic tradition. It may (or may not) be a different literary genre from European lyric poetry, but it inspires poets throughout the English-speaking world today. Buddhist poems dwell on natural images, or they may describe the meditative work needed to attain enlightenment, or they may only glance indirectly at the tradition, but they are notable for their sense of humor, their free experimentation with form, and their interest in the exploration of consciousness itself.

Ezra Pound was one of the first American poets to look to China and Japan for new forms and subjects. After WWII, Gary Snyder, Jane Hirschfield, Alan Ginsburg, and many others actually became practitioners of Zen and other Buddhist forms of meditation. Today, in poetry written in English from many parts of the world, an extremely diverse group of writers has made this tradition their own. American poets such as Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, and Shin Yu Pai inherited the Buddhist culture of their ancestry and treat it as their subject, while others like Leonard Cohen seem to adopt Zen as part of their artistic development.

In this seminar we will read a selection of poems written in English, paying close attention to the words themselves. No knowledge or practice of Buddhism is expected, and the discussion will follow the usual practices of Classical Pursuits and Shared Inquiry.


“For Suzuki Roshi” by Diane di Prima

after you died I dreamed you were at my apartment
we ate soba together, you giggled and slurped a lot

you said, “Don’t tell them I’m not dead”
& pointed down the street toward the Zen Center
“I don’t want them to bother me.”
We laughed & drank the broth.

I kept that promise: I think they still don’t know.



Rosemary Gould has been leading poetry discussions for many years. She thinks great poetry takes the reader to a place of epiphany (assuming the reader is willing to go), as if a mystical experience could be contagious. She is a Quaker, has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia, and lives with her husband and three children.


Use to find the required edition.

The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry edited by Andrew Schelling (Wisdom Publications, 2005)
ISBN-13: 978-0861713929

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.

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