Sonnets of Emptiness

by Jim Wilson

These sonnets were originally published in my commentary on the Heart Sutra, Facets of Emptiness. I have extracted them from that commentary and offer them here for your enjoyment.

Take enough vitamin C, they tell me,
and you can end up living forever.
However, leaving aside forever,
you can, they say, live a very long time.

Taoist immortals ate cinnabar,
many searched for the fountain of youth,
many prayers to heaven beg for more years,
such endeavors bring only dust and tears.

Where the soaring rocky mountains now stand
grand ocean waves once shifted shore side sand.
Where the desert heat now endlessly shimmers
once a green fern forest quivered with life.

The mayfly lives but a single season,
can you tell me the seasons of a star?


Sparkling starlight on cold October nights,
a planet whirling through unending space,
a bubble moving in a crystal glass,
moving through clear, silent vibrating space.

A moth glides in a cloudless summer sky,
absorbed by shimmering blue endlessness.

The sharp echo of a shout - vanishing,
the sound of autumn windchimes - disappears,
pine incense rising in the air - fading.

And all these images, like tears in rain,
a brief wave on the empyrean sea,
gone and gone, the light of a burned out star.

Deep and deep the well of infinite space,
a swan crosses the sky and leaves no trace.


From the 7th Dalai Lama:

Morning fog dispersed by the heat of day,
my thoughts turn to my own death and passing.

The grass turns brown in sizzling summer sun,
my thoughts turn to my own death and passing.

A memory from long ago drifts by,
my thoughts turn to my own death and passing.

The ruins of Nineveh and Athens,
my thoughts turn to my own death and passing.

A dusty fossil and a baby’s cry,
my thoughts turn to my own death and passing.

Mountains to dust, rain to flowing rivers,
my thoughts again return to my own death.


I hear the wind chimes in the summer breeze,
a gentle wind triggers the melody,
a curious jay pausing on the chimes,
a mid-day thief so cautious he’s clumsy.

Calm and clear, I perceive appearances,
as the dance and display of my own mind.

The river flowing swiftly past my home,
where does it come from, whither does it go?

Child like, my mind provides an answer,
dust dancing in rays of summer sunlight.

A dog barks, the leaves rustle, clouds go by,
a shimmering wind in a field of dreams.

The cornucopia of emptiness
endlessly manifesting her mercy.


I sit upon a chair, I feel it there.
Does it lie within the norm of its form?,
or perhaps within its precise function?,
or perhaps its parts reveal its nature?

Where does its essence hide and who made it?,
Where does it come from and who named it ‘chair’?
How to grasp its substance and pin it down?,
what words precisely specify chair’s realm?

I keep looking at this chair -- no result.
It doesn’t tell me anything of note.
No matter how long I quizzically stare,
The chair’s silence seems to lead me nowhere.

I sit upon a chair, I feel it there.
It supports me in writing useless poems.


The cool mountain stream slipping through your hands,
embracing the wind at the ocean shore,
white clouds vanishing from a sun bright sky, 
a fallen tree turning quickly to dust,
a rain of starlight on a moonless night,
the last fading note of a symphony.

Can you hold a stream in your empty hand?
Can you embrace the wind of endless space?
Can you keep the clouds shining in the sky?
Can you prevent the returning to earth?
Do you think that a star shines forever?
The music of time, the music of life.
Clear and free, the realm of infinite space,
vast, without boundaries, the sky of mind.


The flowing bridge over the fall river,
clouds drifting through a star filled moonless night,
cliffs of granite dancing before my eyes,
flowing mountains beneath an amber sky.

The river streams through my open fingers,
clouds appearing and then disappearing,
desert ruins of bygone dynasties,
mountains sit for a brief eternity.

Where dwells the youngster who giggled at dawn?
Where lie the plans so carefully contrived?
Where can one find the causes of past wars?

Gone -- like morning mist and morning coffee.
All resembles a bubble in a stream,
the flimsiest fantasy,
the echo of a dream.


The mountain flows over the granite lake,
and diamonds like dust vanish in the wind.

From noon to midnight the flowers blossom
on the shifting edge of orange laden clouds
the jackal sings a lullaby and sighs
on the high valley floor ringed with starlight
the radio blares an urgent newscast
from long ago and very far awhen.

Across a desolate rock strewn landscape
I follow a muscle bound silent guide
(blue eyes, a 3 day stubble, and hairy).

Passing a fallen, deserted ruin,
he turns to me and looks into my eyes,
“That building housed the library of lies.”


I saw you last night, again, in a dream.
We stood hand in hand by a forest stream
that meandered gently to pine and pond.

The light of the sun sparkled in your hair,
mingling with a ray of blue from your eyes,
Showing that smile of which I felt so fond.

Morning came and I found myself in bed,
I turned to face the clock and felt the dread
of another ashen day without you.

Steam patterns on the mirror as I shave,
the sky slowly turning from night to dawn,
across the street a neighbor starts his car.

A dream of seven years remains a dream,
A dream of seven hours lasts just one night.


The ribbon road, slate gray pre-dawn light,
caresses the edge of the forest night.

The river, glass smooth, silent, fog shrouded,
holds the featureless clouds in its surface.

Moisture clings to my beard and empty space,
my footsteps echo softly everyplace.

Deep silence caresses the sleeping leaves,
no sound disturbing this still morning’s dream.

The river in the sky in the clouds.
The silence in the dream in the sleep.
The clouds in the river in the dream.
The sleep in the silence in the sky.

A chord of sun striking the river shore,
into the blueing sky, a bird rides the wind.


On the corner of Thirty-fifth and Park,
a typical, busy, New York corner,
I saw the buildings turn to streaming sand,
slipping through my hands like a mountain stream.

My body falls away breeze sparkling light,
my mind falling open into deep night.

And even the earth upon which I stand,
disintegrated, vanished, collapsing,
as a roaring wind blows dusty remnants,
into a radiant blue endlessness.

Stars sparkling in the fog of winter nights,
Blossoms fall through the canyon of the sky.

Floating on the hub of the cycling moon,

so fit for eternity

pathnimosity’s songs


Every morning in the old coffee shop,
among newspapers and old memories,
they lecture each other the same old truths.

It seems they don’t know how to listen much,
as their voices merge in strange counterpoint,
muzak and radios in shopping malls.

Coffee steam rising into the cool air,
toast and eggs vanish between conclusions,
all around them the world disappearing,
but words hang like shields in front of their eyes.

Even now, how many friends can they name,
gone like morning fog or breakfast coffee?

Their passionate politics do not leave
even an echo among the mountains

and stars


Dusk now absorbs the shadows of the day,
before the rising moon can light our dreams,
I pause and remember the way you smiled.

A buzzard eats a possum by the road,
at the edge of a clearing in the woods,
a grandfather clock strikes the wrong half hour.

A withered apple tree sends forth blossoms,
for the last time and for the last season,
an old man reads a book of poetry.

Walking through the quiet ancient graveyard,
a moss covered unreadable marker,
disintegrates into the yielding earth.

Wading into the river of vast space
I embrace the place of your begoning.


A full moon rising means eternity,
a stream of tears from the fountain of grief,
a bell sounding in a mountain temple,
all of this and all means eternity.

The sound of spring rain means eternity,
a skeleton sitting by the ocean,
lighting pine incense at a household shrine,
all of this and all means eternity.

The sound of traffic means eternity,
a fossil embedded in a glacier,
the dark shadow of a solar eclipse,
an empty chair where once you sat with me.

All of this and all means eternity.

All of this and all means eternity.

Notice: Copyright 2000 by Jim Wilson, also known as Dharmajim. All rights reserved. Permission is given to download and copy this document, provided this notice remains a part of the document.
Dharmajim hopes that you enjoy his Sutra Salon. If you have comments or questions, please feel free to post them at the Dharma House Blog.
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