My Life as a Zen Failure

  • Posted on: 15 April 2023
  • By: Joe

                My Life as a Zen Failure

                    Joe Shakarchi


I tried to meditate 

sitting in lotus position 

on a cushion on the floor 

my knees kept aching 

getting up was hard 

my chiropractor gave me two choices: 

keep sitting in lotus 

or continue to be able to walk —

now I meditate in a chair 

or lying down in bed 


This began my career as a Zen Failure


I tried studying dharma 

and sutra philosophy 

attempted to understand emptiness and void 

but I kept returning to fullness— 

tried to become no-self 

but no matter how hard I tried 

when I looked in the mirror 

there I 



I tried non-attachment to my desires 

it worked for a while 

I gave up drugs 

stopped thinking about money— 

but I continued to hunger 

for love, food, sex, poetry, beauty 

not always in that order


I tried living in a monastery 

became kinder and gentler 

surrounded by robes, bows and smiles 

but there was drama in the dharma 

monks, nuns and priests still human 

broken hearts, broken vows 

addicts and depressives

far from enlightenment 

and I was still 




I tried to reach enlightenment 

to find Nirvana in this lifetime 

but darkness kept entering the light 

yin always took turns with yang 

the moon kept turning in its phases


I finally gave up trying— 

gave up meditation, dharma, philosophy 

detached from non-attachment 

lost my desire to have no desires 

accepted my fate as a 

Zen Failure


I have now achieved my goal 

of no longer having 

a goal


My final failure— 

in the face of a life of endless suffering 

I found a life of endless joy:  

lazy man's meditation 

blissful lack of understanding 

embracing my desires 

living with my loved one 

finding the beauty in twilight

seeing the miracle in all things


So ends my journey as a Zen Failure—

smiling into the sunset 

laughing all the way 

to the Land of the Jewel 

in the Lotus 

What I Left Behind

  • Posted on: 5 October 2020
  • By: Joe

    “I used to be somebody else, but I traded myself in”

            —Antonioni’s The Passenger


I left so many things behind 

I had another world to explore 

another lifetime to begin


I left a huge apartment in San Francisco's North Beach

gave away the multicolor jackets from Kathmandu 

the Tibetan dragon rug 

the painting of the cycle of existence 


I gave away the Hindu statuettes 

Shiva in a circle of fire dancing through destruction and rebirth 

Krishna the romantic playing his flute as a cowherd 

Saraswati the goddess of education and the arts 

I carry them all inside me now


I gave away a lifetime’s worth of books and records 

I had memorized all the songs 

and all the poems worth remembering


I gave away my bed my futon 

where I slept and made love 

the table where I ate the fish and rice 

I cooked in the kitchen 

the clothing that I wore through the fog in winter

everything that kept my body alive


I gave away my Thai furniture 

the case with the elephant paintings 

the letter holders and wall hangings —

I would find them again in Bangkok


I left so many people behind 

the Sufis spinning at the Mentor Garden 

the monks bowing to each other at the Zen temple 

the poets at the open mic nights 

at the Sacred Grounds Café 

and on the bookshelves in City Lights


All the old friends I would never see again 

all the ex-lovers who still hold a place in my heart 

and in my arms

I left my family 

never to see my brother or sister again 

their graying curly hair 

their shouts and their frowns of disapproval

left my orthodox religion 

the stained glass windows of

the domed temple in Brooklyn

left behind what I was taught in public school 

about patriotism and money —

And about America


I left so much of myself behind—

What parts got washed away by the Pacific Ocean?


Now I live in a tiny apartment in Bangkok 

with a beautiful woman with dark straight hair 

and dark almond eyes 

we eat fish and rice 

that we cook in our kitchen

walk through the night market 

go to glittering temples 

take off our shoes and bow


All we have now is a statue of the Buddha 

a painting of the rivers and mountains of Guilin 

a candle holder from Jerusalem 

a tapestry of Sufis turning 

a Japanese picture of Bodhidharma—

All we have now is all I need


I write poems and stories 

all around the world 

and live 



I remember thinking years ago  

that I would be ready to die at any time

if it was my time to go


now I would not want to leave this life— 

this love 


There are still more worlds to explore

More new lifetimes to begin


  • Posted on: 25 March 2014
  • By: Joe

While others were searching for the Holy One
I came searching for you

you took me in and fed me
you accept me the way that I am

to you all my faults are a grain of sand
being washed by the Ganges

to you all my pain is a drop of water
floating in the Pacific

what I offer you in return
is my love

and all I ask of you
is the thorn

that's been buried deeply
in your flesh

If the Buddha Was a Woman

  • Posted on: 8 May 2014
  • By: admin

Buddhas at Angkor Wat
with red lipstick and white powder
on their faces

What if the Buddha was a woman?

would she have worn makeup
and a white dress

would she have shaved her head
and worn a saffron robe

would she have said that only women
could be buddhas

would she have darkened her eyes
and whitened her skin

would she have taken the form
of a half-male half-female
walking through the world with
a thousand arms

If the Buddha was a woman
would she still have smiled
that same slight smile
with her red lips

or would she have asked us
to take our own makeup off
to let our hair grow long
to bare ourselves to the sunlight

would the glow of her beauty
have lightened the world
when she rose to dance
like a deva?

Poet's Walk

  • Posted on: 8 May 2014
  • By: admin

on the walk
across the Brooklyn Bridge
I lost the group
when they turned off
and I
hurrying to catch them
on the Bridge
somehow passed them
walking by myself
arriving in Brooklyn
ahead of them all

sometimes you think
you've fallen behind
when you're just somewhere else
on the road--
you think you're lost
when you're already

perhaps at the point
of the Bridge
where you first see
or when you are no longer
on one island
but not yet
on the other

you're afraid you've lost
the way
when the way is right
before you
winding back
to where you began:

the child rocking
in the cradle--
the boy standing
on the beach--
the man swimming
toward the shore--

swimming still

Indonesian Dreads Singing Marley

  • Posted on: 8 May 2014
  • By: admin

under a bare 100 watt bulb
in an old hotel in Yogyakarta
on the island of Java
paint peeling under exposed wires
laundry piled under
soot-coated pipes

filtered through cigarette smoke
and beer glasses
in the cool midnight air
to the rhythm of one guitar

in soft voices
filled with longing
we sing
long into the night
these songs of freedom

On the Rooftop

  • Posted on: 20 September 2015
  • By: Joe


On the Rooftop

in the center of the

in the center of the

surrounded by

and the far off invisible

standing on the rooftop
above the winding stair
I see in all directions:

the rising and crumbling

the smoky haze over the 

the five-colored prayer flags

the piles of broken wood and
    corrugated iron

and above it all

the curves of the stony
the sun setting
    behind them

with endless light

and endless