Notes to Poem:
Why Everything Begins with M?

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: While typing my notes to Telo Tulku Rinpoche's February 28th Stanford talk "The Power of Compassion" (March 6, 2013), I pondered on the last question during the Q & A session: "Is too much attachment to compassion good?" and wrote a poem on this topic "Attachment to Compassion" (March 9). However, in searching for a story on attachment to enlightenment, I came across a web site Cosmic Forest People posting the Buddhist belief— "compassion is key: the only attachment Gautama Buddha ever had was his attachment to compassion". This led to more drawings and to "Green Tea" painting and to Erika Yamashiro who painted it in 2005. Erika's painting with the cute white rabbit in the teapot stirred up the childlike wonder within me that I read Chapter 7 "A Mad Tea Party" in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (March 8, 2:00 am-4:30 am) which inspired the poem "Why Everything Begins with M?". Just found my poem "The M Showed Me" (6-4-1992) after completing these notes.

Commentary on Poem "Why Everything Begins with M?":

The rabbit is in my teapot
when the Zen master tells me
"Have a cup of green tea!"

Rabbit in Teapot (detail)
from painting "Green Tea"
by Erika Yamashiro (2005)
After seeing Erika Yamashiro's fantasy painting of "Green Tea", I imagined myself having tea with the cute white rabbit in the teapot. I admired Erika's surrealistic artwork with the girl's brown hair spreading out as the lawn of the landscape. With her eyes to the sky, what is she seeing or daydreaming? Since John Tenniel has a drawing of the March Hare and Hatter putting the Dormouse in a teapot in Alice in Wonderland, I wondered if Erika was inspired by the "Mad Tea Party" in that book (Chapter VII). Lewis Carroll wrote in his dairy (February 9, 1856): "We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality: 'Sleep hath its own world', and it is often as lifelike as the other (The Annotated Alice, Notes by Martin Gardner, 2000, pp. 67-68); (See Chuang Tzu's Butterfly Dream).
Dormouse in Teapot
from Alice in Wonderland
Illustrated by John Tenniel
For many years, anytime someone asked Zen Master Joju a question, he would always answer "Go drink tea." It is very high-class teaching because it points directly to the functioning of our everyday mind. A monk once asked Joju "What is Buddha?" Joju replied "Go drink tea!" (Zen Master Seung Sahn, The Compass of Zen, Shambhala, Boston, 1997, p. 312). Photo Source: "Green Tea" (; Dormouse in Teapot (

I couldn't answer his koan—
"Why everything begins with M?"
so I ask the March Hare

March Hare (Chapter VII)
(Alice in Wonderland)
Koans are stories or questions, given to students and monks by Zen Masters to discipline them and to test their understanding of Zen (Gyomay M. Kubose, Zen Koans, 1973, p. xi). T'ang dynasty Zen Masters tested monks' understanding of spiritual awakening not by their rote memory of Buddhist sutras or Confucian sayings. They devised koans— those illogical puzzles which students could not find the answers in books but only within themselves. Some koans are "What's the sound of one hand clapping?" and "What is your face before your parents were born?" Alice had already been confounded with Zen-like questions (koans) by the Cheshire Cat (Chapter VI) who told her that she was mad and directed her to the March Hare's house. It's interesting that Alice nibbled on some mushroom (psilocybin?) before the tea party. While Alice was having tea with the March Hare, the Hatter, and Dormouse, they drew all manner of things— everything that begins with an M—" "Why with an M?" said Alice. "Why not?" said the March Hare. (Note: The White Rabbit appearing at the beginning of Alice in Wonderland whom Alice follows down the rabbit hole, is not the March Hare at the Mad Tea Party). Since the March Hare seems to know the mystery of M, perhaps he could help me with this koan. Photo Source: March Hare (

who tells me about the moon
and memory and muchness
at his mad tea-party where

Alice at a Mad Tea Party (Chapter VII)
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
Illustrated by John Tenniel (1865)

Hare and Harvest Moon
by Claire Barker
"Easter Bunny Hunt"

Jade Rabbit
on the Moon pounding
the Elixir of Immortality
The Dormouse dozed off, but when pinched by the Hatter, it woke up and went on: "— that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness— you know you say things are 'much of a muchness'— The hare is a lunar animal, attribute of all moon deities; as closely connected with the moon, it represents rebirth, rejuvenation, resurrection, intuition, and 'light in darkness'. It is often associated with sacrificial fire and 'life through death'. It is a fertility symbol and typifies feminine periodicity; it is a love gage; crafty wisdom; fleetness. The hare in the moon acts as an intermediary between lunar deities and man. In the West, white hare symbolizes snow; March hare madness (J.C. Cooper, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, 1978, p. 79). The Hare in the Moon, Moon Rabbit, or Jade Rabbit is an image of a rabbit that lives on the moon in Chinese folklore. It is based on pareidolia of moon markings showing a hare or rabbit pounding in a mortal with his pestle creating the elixir of immortality for the Moon goddess Chang-O. Interesting footnote from Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice (1960)— "The British dormouse is a tree-living rodent that resembles a small squirrel much more than it does a mouse. The name is from the Latin dormire, to sleep, and has reference to the animal's habit of winter hibernation. Unlike the squirrel, the dormouse is nocturnal, so that even in May (the month of Alice's adventure) it remains in a torpid state throughout the day.
Photo Source: Alice at Mad Tea Party (; Hare & Harvest Moon (; Jade Rabbit (

I find a little golden key
that unlocks the tree door
leading to a beautiful garden

The Golden Key (1867)
by George MacDonald

Door in the Tree
for the Golden Key
The Golden Key is a fairy tale written by George MacDonald. It was published in Dealings with the Fairies (1867). A woman tells her great-nephew of a golden key found at the end of a rainbow. One day, he sees a rainbow and sets out to find the end. The sun sets, but as the forest is in Fairyland, the rainbow only glows the brighter, and he finds the key, and it dawns on him that he does not know where the lock is. The boy Mossy is accompanied by a girl Tangle as they wander through the woods in search of the golden key. After finding it, they came to a door that his key unlocks, leading to the land from which the shadows fall. They start to climb a stairway, at which point the story ends. Photo Sources: The Golden Key (; Tree Door (

among bright flower-beds
with deer in the forest and
music of cascading waterfalls.

"Green Tea" (2005)
by Erika Yamashiro
The Dormouse asked Alice: "Did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?" "Really, now you ask me," said Alice, very much confused, "I don't think—" ("Keep Don't Know Mind"). Seeing Erika's "Green Tea", I feel that this is indeed a drawing of muchness. There is much imagination in this fantasy landscape that can transport us all to fairyland. At the end of Chapter VII "A Mad Tea Party", Alice noticed that one of the trees had a door, and went in— she began by taking the little golden key, and unlocking the door that led into the garden... she walked down the little passage: and then— she found herself at last in the beautiful garden, among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains." I'm honoring Lewis Carroll by borrowing his words in the last two stanzas of this poem. I've replaced "cool fountains" with "music of cascading waterfalls". The photograph shown above is Rainbow Falls (Waianiwaniwa), a single-drop waterfall near Kerikeri in New Zealand. Photo Source: Green Tea" (; Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri, New Zealand (

Birds and butterflies surround me—
everything so calm and peaceful
in sleep, dream, wakefulness

"Birds & Butterflies"
by Shannon Berrey
There is a bird on a branch in the teapot of Yamashiro's "Green Tea". Two butterflies are hovering over flowers in the teapot. Birds symbolize spirits of the air, ascent, freedom, the soul, and transcendence. Beryl Rowland (1918-2003) wrote a book Birds with Human Souls: A Guide to Bird Symbolism (University of Tennessee Press, 1978) covering 57 birds from Albatross to Wren (plus Harpy & Siren). More than fifty illustrations from medieval manuscripts accompany her discussions on the allegorical meanings and symbolisms of these birds. The Greek word for Psyche means butterfly, and also means soul. The transformation of the fuzzy caterpillar into the colorful beautiful butterfly is indeed a miracle. In Yamashiro's "Green Tea", we see a caterpillar crawling on the lower branch in the teapot toward the butterfly as a symbol of transformation. The Romance of Cupid and Psyche is a tale of spiritual transformation. Gerard's painting "Cupid Kissing Psyche" shows a butterfly hovering over Psyche's head, symbolizing that the soul is immortal. Chuang Tzu's "Butterfly Dream" tells about the Taoist sage wondering whether he's a man dreaming that he's a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that it is a man. His doubt is precisely what Lewis Carroll referred to in his dairy that events in dream and waking appear similar. Photo Source: Birds & Butterflies (

stars sing twinkle, twinkle, twinkle
all of nature is blooming—
grass is green, the rose is red

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
by Iza Trapani (1994)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince (1943)

"Grass is green, rose is red"
Zen Master Seung Sahn

Bone of Space (1992)
by Zen Master Seung Sahn
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is a children's book (1994) by Iza Trapani. A little girl sings the traditional rhyme to the stars to grant her wish, and a star comes to her window to take her on a magical ride through the sky. The lyrics to the popular English nursery rhyme is from "The Star" by 23-year old British poet Jane Taylor first published in 1806. The image of stars singing is from Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince: "at night I love to listen to the stars. It is like five hundred million little bells..." (Ch. 27). In Bone of Space: Poems by Zen Master Seung Sahn (1992)— Spring comes. Flowers bloom everywhere." (p. 6) and "Spring comes. The willow is green, The flower is red." (p. 73) were response poems to students, the Korean Zen Master used to teach them spiritual awakening. Photo Sources: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (; The Little Prince (; Red rose in green grass (; Bone of Space (

Spring is here— suddenly
I realize the universe is me—
and everything begins with Mind.

"Spring is here"
Lovely Nature

Ascension: 5-D Body of Light
Posted by Anna Izzo

Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Seung Sahn

"Tao has no gate"
Poem by Seung Sahn
On April 10, 1980, after my interview with Zen Master Seung Sahn at the Cambridge Zen Center, he signed my copy Dropping Ashes on the Buddha (1976) and wrote this poem in Chinese: "Great Tao has no gate / The tongue has no bone / Spring is already here / Grass is green, flower is red." Later, I composed this response poem: "The Mind has no date / Space has no zone / Tao is always near / Seer is the seen, flour is bread." Lu Hsiang-shan or Lu chiu-yüan (1139-1193) lived in Hsiang-shan (Elephant Mountain) in Kiangsi where he lectured and taught philosophy. He led a simple life and thousands of scholars gathered to listen to his simple and straight lectures. In his lecture on righteousness versus profit (1183), he moved his audience to tears. Hsiang-shan ch'üan-chi (Complete Works of Lu Hsiang-shan) "The four directions plus upward and downward constitute the spatial continuum. What has gone by in the past and what is to come in the future constitute the temporal continuum. The universe is my mind, and my mind is the universe." (Section #13, Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 1963, p. 579). Lu's idea of the universe as a space-time continuum predates Einstein's by 720+ years. On March 14, 2013 (Einstein's 134th birthday and Pi Day), I wrote this haiku— Baby's first word is Ma— / Universe is born with Music— / Everything begins with Mind." Zen Master Seung Sahn would have struck me thirty blows for saying "Everything begins with Mind" because it is like "The mind is Buddha." (Ma-tsu's teaching). However Baso (aka Ma-tsu) also told a monk "The mind is not Buddha" (Gateless Gate #33). When another monk asked "Is there a teaching no master has ever preached?" Nansen replied "It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things." (Gateless Gate #27). Since sound came before light ("Sweetest Sacred Sound"), this Universe began with Music, or perhaps even better with Mu (nothingness). This agrees with the cosmological view that our universe was born from a single point (Euclid's Elements I: "a point has no dimension"). It is interesting that Zen Master Joshu begins the koans with "Mu" (Gateless Gate #1). This poem was written because Alice wondered "Why everything begins with an M?" It now occurs to me that Alice knew the answer (Chapter VII, p. 47)— "Alice was silent" (Zen Master Joshu's Mu) and Alice said "I don't think—" (Zen Master Seung Sahn: "Keep Don't Know Mind"). In support of Alice's enlightenment, she unlocks the door with a golden key that led to a beautiful garden. And in Persian, garden = Paradise. Photo Sources: Lovely Nature (; Body of Light (; Dropping Ashes on the Buddha & "Great Tao has no gate" (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 3-14-2013

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