An excerpt from Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence: Approaching the Dharma as Poetry


Go to the Limit

go to the limit of loneliness;

puncture the crust of emptiness.

you will find the all-sustaining heart.

an endless flow of devices

occupies the mind. they are all

like false dogs baying.

there are no yonder mountains.

on a moonlit night we glide forth,

leaving the safety of the bank

to bask in the glory of the shoreless one.

each moment is the satisfaction of the world,

fulfilling our ancient wish.



Commentary: Go to the Limit

In our human experience we find ourselves ultimately alone. This can be either – or both – a fulfilled or a lonely experience. We cannot escape our loneliness, although, at its best, the life of the human community and of the natural world may preciously ease or heal that ache. That is the natural gift that family, friends, the earth, and true companionship provides. Yet it never meets our needs perfectly, as if it were the completing half of a puzzle piece. It is a random, creative, unreliable, and unpredictable process by which we consciously and unconsciously woo, and are wooed in turn, by joy and sorrow, togetherness and aloneness.


When we breathe deeply, and embrace the whole of that process, we allow our full humanity, and our full spirituality, to thrive. When we contract in the face of aloneness – or of our own incompleteness – or compulsively seek to fill, obscure, or medicate each lonely moment, we actually keep our life small and dependent; truly separate. What does it require to allow ourselves, with wholeness of heart, to go to the very edges of the experience of loneliness? To look deeply into the well of emptiness? To embrace in our own hearts that which we would instinctively push away? To embrace the parts of ourselves – including aloneness – that we instinctively retreat from. There, reflected back from that borderless pool of emptiness that is able to receive the whole sky, we may discover the all-sustaining Heart; the Heart that truly holds us and embraces all the contradictions of our human experience. It is a reflection of the essential openness of our own heart, which is designed to hold the universe; which has learned not to forfeit its integrity to fear or contraction or ambition, and has thus won the prize of its own abundant self.


The mind – which is not a creature of that abundance – is forever occupied with devices and solutions to our perceived separateness. They are false promises and false solutions based on false perception. They compromise rather than nourish the natural integrity of the heart, which, as Tao Yuan-Ming suggests earlier, when it discovers its own natural heights abandons the mirage of distant mountains.


Zen master Daryu, who took his name from the mountain he lived on, was asked “What is the most wonderful thing in the world?” He replied, “I sit alone on Daryu Mountain.” This might sound like a simple affirmation of solitude, separateness, or self-sufficiency. But if we look at the original Chinese characters, they read, “alone – sit – Daryu – Mount.” That is, there is just this mountain sitting alone. There is no separation between Daryu and mountainous reality. “I am intimately one with what is. There is only ultimate intimacy. That is the most wonderful thing in the world.” Or perhaps Daryu might have responded with the simple words, “Just this.”


This poem – Go to the Limit – is an old poem. And I discovered that I had unwittingly copied it long ago with two versions of the following line. And both are true. Originally it reads as I have it here: “On a moonlit night we glide forth, leaving the safety of the bank.” This version is a celebration of the moonlight revealed; of the abundance that bathes us. In this instance, we already perceive that same great radiance extending everywhere – making it natural to leave behind the safety of the bank and glide forth in the undefined and shoreless light of being.   But elsewhere I have copied it as: “On a moonless night we glide forth…” Sometimes it is a moonless night. We are in a deep unknowing. And still we walk with a tender presence of being, in the embrace of that unknowing; and we push off and leave the safety of the bank behind, letting the night take our little boat, trusting to the moon that is present in moonlessness, to the all-sustaining heart that is present in emptiness. We allow the dampness of the night to infuse the pores of our being. We allow the emerging moonlight to bathe the cells of our body. We relinquish our last commitment to separation.


It is here in this all-embracing capacity within the finite that the shoreless wonder of being manifests and bathes us. Then each moment is the fulfillment that all the karmic realms of existence have been crying out for. Each moment is the satisfaction of our most ancient wish: to be released from shadow into the interpenetrating reciprocity of light for light. That the cells of our true body may celebrate their hidden glory; that we may bask in the shoreless light of our hidden heart falling on our own shoreless sea.