Buddha’s Birthday Poem

by Gretchen Neuwald, Dharma Teacher

Buddha’s Birthday Poem, April 2020

2500 years ago
baby slips out from his mother’s side
“a tidal wave without wind”
baby breathes in his first breath
mother breathes out her last
Infinite Buddha breaths
reaching backward forward
through time

At the lakefront
green grass pokes
through decaying leaves
blue waves crash
in and out
a carp carcass bobs
up and down
in the wash

On the sidewalk
bikes zoom past
yellow police tape wraps
the playground
in the breeze

Walkers everywhere
sporting face masks
pushing strollers
chatting at arms length
approaching each other
then stepping

At the stoplight
a runner catches
her breath
Up on the hill
nurses pause
back tears
While black men die
for air

One breath all breath
In out in out in out
Is this living?
Is this dying?
What is this?
Sea gulls shrieking
eee eee eee


From the Dharma Talk, Gretchen Neuwald

The world seems turned upside down, living and dying at the same time. It’s at times like this that the world as we know it seems to be ending; the new reality uncertain.

What is this coming, this going? Is the gate swinging open or swinging shut? Isn’t this the very question that Buddha obsessed about, the question that drove him from his home and family? For seven years he sat examining life and death, breathing in, breathing out, asking “What is this?”

Then one morning, gazing up at the morning star, he attained the truth of life and death, of himself, of the universe. So he passed down this practice to us. Only breath in, breath out.

What am I? What is this?

When you attain the life and death of this moment you attain your true self which Zen Master Seung Sahn called great love, great compassion, only help this world.

It seems to be a “only help, not for me” moment right now. So much sickness, death, uncertainty, and fear, unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Yet unprecedented also is the “not for me, together action” across the globe. So many of us are staying home, social distancing, sewing face masks, and reaching out to those who are lonely and scared.

Certainly we do this to protect and help ourselves, but largely we do it to help others, those most at risk of falling ill and dying and also for all those risking their lives to care for them.

So thank you for joining us this morning. Thank you for being here for all of us.