Inner Pilgrimage:

a Bardo Journey in Verse

In late Spring 2020, the father of a friend passed away. The friend, Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos (a practitioner of Shingon, talented multi-instrumentalist of both shakuhachi and shamisen, and shakuhachi craftsman), began a 49-night, live-streamed, Bardo-inspired ritual to honor (accompany) his father's spirit. He called it The Inner Pilgrimage. The poems below are all pieces inspired by Ryuzen's live musical journey.

Bardo: "the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth." In some schools of Buddhism, bardo (Classical Tibetan: བར་དོ་ Wylie: bar'do), antarābhava (Sanskrit), or chūu (Japanese: 中有) is an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth. At the time of death, it is believed the soul of "the traveler" embarks upon a journey of 49 days through various realms, levels, or states of consciousness before being reborn.

for Ryuzen-sama

Uchi Junrei / 内巡礼 / Inner Pilgrimage

In these swift dreamy days,

all manner of layers are being re-set.

Visible and invisible worlds

have resumed negotiations

amidst all of this billowing and hollowing out.

Unfurling leaves and blossoms

are faithfully expounding the sacred teaching:

*True and precious growth

is possible without artificiality.

Push through surfaces to locate the light.*

As the season slowly turns

toward steamy air and "cicada dharma,"

dappled sunlight on the shaded path

asks for our devotion.

The first line

of the long lost

Sutra of Travelers


'And thus I have heard,

with gladness in his heart-mind,

the bodhisattva Earth Storehouse

said to the assembled:

Even when you find yourself

in troubled times and places,

you are always on the path.'

You are always on The Path.


Oto no Mitsu / 音の蜜 / Nectar of Sound

What is this pure nectar we drink

in between breaths

bursts of air


The rattling scales of a midnight dragon.


Satogokoro / 里心 / Homesickness

(inspired by Ryūzen-sama's shamisen music on 4/30/2020, Day 31 of his inner pilgrimage)

There is an ache inside this heart

for a village in which I have never lived

for a love I have never known

for elders I have never had

for a song my soul knows

but which these ears have never heard.

Alas, the pluck of a string brings it all back.

Despite Buddha's teaching on non-attachment,

my spirit leaps toward old memories ---

a life before this one.

A blessing,

a curse,

my satogokoro: 里心

The village one carries inside the heart.


Kongō / 金剛 / Vajra Diamond Thunderbolt

we may have forgotten our earlier request.

it usually happens that way.

we develop amnesia from life to life it seems.

even the familiar sigh of the sea

doesn't stir the memory sometimes.

when the diamond-splitter

falls from the heavens

and cuts open the husk of the self,

the Thunder-Perfect Mind

makes it all clear just in time.


Hoshi Ki no Ryokō / 星気の旅行 / Starry Travel (Astral Journey)

this body

is made of ashes

in a world on fire.

let's travel

to the stars beyond

for our future job descriptions.


Hōrō Ishidōrō / 放浪石灯籠 / Wandering Stone Lantern

O, dear Wayfarers!

We are each unique.

Yet, when the Way-Seeking Heart-Mind

feels an ache for the spirit of the road,

we share in the same Traveling Lotus-Body.

Tonight, in dream, we take the road into the high hills

where towering star-crowned cedars lean closer

in their welcoming.

By the time we return,

we will have all become

wandering stone lanterns.


Kyūki / 吸気 / A Study in Inspiration, 1

Inspiration - Kyūki

Two kanji characters: “suck” + “ki” (intake).

Bringing ki-filled air into the lungs.

“Sucking-in” life-force

directly from the Mother Kami herself.

A Practice-Antidote for the exhaustion of these times.


Nyū Shin / 入伸 / A Study in Inspiration, 2

Inspiration - Nyū Shin

Two kanji characters: “enter” + “kami” (deity).

Stepping through the gate of time and place.

Entering the energy of Daishizen (Great Nature).

Cosmic Homecoming.


hikari no hashi / 光の橋 / bridge of light

every dream -- a bridge of light

every embrace -- a bridge of light

every honkyoku -- a bridge of light

every new season -- a bridge of light

every hazy moon -- a bridge of light

every journey -- a bridge of light

every birth,

every death

a bridge of light,

a bridge of light.


Jimoku / 耳目 / Attention

A tendril twines its way through all of this.

It is The Holy Attention.

It was there for you as you spun in your mother's womb.

It was there for your mother as she

-- hands on belly --

sent her quiet 'love-messages' to you

deep in your watery dreaming.

Now, here we are

out and navigating

this imperfect world.

"World" is not "Earth."

You can't be faulted

for losing your breath in these times.

This time of fools and folly

is breath-taking,...heartbreaking.

Remember this:

There are places

where kami and buddhas

are one.

There are times

when ears and eyes

become enjoined.

This becomes the trailhead

of The Holy Attention.


Jikan no Kairo / 時間の回路 / Circuit of Time

(written on Ranjo - 40th Night - Ryuzen Inner Pilgrimage)

Soft rain speaks of it.

Cold surf speaks of it.

Worn-away rocks on the coast speak of it.

Sun-warmed pine needles on the path speak of it.

Thunder in the mountains speaks of it.

The wind-blown norito (prayers) of this

Flute-Priest of the Void

speaks of it.


Dragon scales are falling to earth.

Dented armor is falling to earth.

Tears are falling to earth.

Tender hearts bruised by loss are received by earth.

Bodies weary from age are received by earth.

With release (honoring)

and putting down (misogi, purification),

comes renewal.


Spine straight and unburdnened

lungs fully ‘inspirited’

line of sight...horizon-aligned,

move along this circuit of time

with full awareness of your own.

Sleep deeply.


Rise at dawn.

Present yourself to the sun, O Newborn One.

Draw in the light.

Breathe in the light.

Radiate the light.


This is how a human being

becomes a living shrine.


Kokatsu / 枯渇 / Exhaustion

Exhaustion combines two characters:

枯 = withered

渇 = thirst

Exhaustion is a "withered thirst for life".

May we all remember

the salt-sea prayers flowing in our spine.

May we all remember

the deep river of longing

that brought us into this,

the Earth-Womb Mandala.


Akarui Ito / 明るい糸 / Luminous Threads

Despite vast oceans,

despite national boundaries,

there are luminous threads

that connect all travelers of the Way.


Kotodama / 言霊 / word spirit


wind riding wind

cloud riding wind

a slight pulse in the air

molecules of sound and light

essence of water-blessings stir

raincloud pays homage to mountain

offerings of life cascade downward

kissing cypress, pine, cedar

through needles


to thirsty soil below

and flows


into the life-giving veins

of our mother the mountain


twitch of feathers

talon clutching branch

piercing eyes scan the horizon







green blades heavy with rice

swaying in the breeze





Inari watches

a great banquet is prepared

for the Moon Kami


Let there be no doubt about it…

...miracles happen.

A two-thousand-year-old rain cloud

has placed a blessing into this saké cup.

A sip.

A memory.

I gaze upon the surface.

A word-spirit leaps.


Takamagahara / 高天原 / Plain of High Heaven

The world of red dust blinds us.

Churning madness.

Spirits darkened, we quake in our deafness.

We fall silent in awe of the Unstitching.

A soft voice whispers:

"Listen deeply.

Chaos always precedes

the birth of a new world.

Go back to the beginning."

Like that first day

on the High Plain of Heaven,

suddenly our ears and eyes

are made fresh again.



particles of sound.

Master Basho's instructions still stand:

"Follow the Creative, Return to the Creative."


Tonbokiri / 蜻蛉切 / Dragonfly Cutter

In this fractal tapestry

constantly fraying

constantly being woven

our places

our selves

our hoops of connection

are but cells

within the body

of the Great Dharmakaya.

We wish we were steadfast

like one of Masazane's spears.


we are *all*

that dragonfly

landing on that infamous blade

being split in two.


Gōryū / 合流 / Confluence

cluttered mind suddenly stilled

no dreams tonight

THIS is the waking dream

Grandmother's lantern is bright

A wind in the pines whispers:

"Close your eyes. Have faith.

Your feet know the way."

Rising from the hot steam of our origins ---

a sudden hiss!

A dragon dances

in the humidity of remembrance.

All ways converge within The Way.


semi no kara / 蝉の殻 / cicada shell

now I see

now I hear

Amaterasu's bright rays

have made this heart clear

season after season,

we are all "cicadas"

constantly emerging

from our shells


the song never ceases

even when the breath does


when dragons come down to earth

riding the winds of heaven

even their slow-lightning

reminds us of the fruits of practice


melodies lifted up ---

comfort and guidance

to travelers traveling

it is not a one-way offering

the lantern-light of those who've gone on

shine upon us through the veil


a blank wall at night

pine branch brushes the window ---

first evening of May


Yūkyo / 幽居 / Hermitage

The sound arrives.

Echoes of thunder

and mountain waterfalls

drives us inward.

Suddenly, I'm reminded

of one of the old words

for 'hermitage' or 'retreat':

yūkyo (幽居) - "residence of a ghost"

the residence: these four walls

the "ghost": us

and all we are letting go.


Kettō / 血統 / Lineage



this heart

that beats within all hearts



this heart

lit aflame

as a lantern in the dark

A great spiral binds us

those on this side

those traveling on the other side

breath extends outward

multiple realms align

a feeling of 'home' permeates the veil.

Long the road

fierce the churning waves

and we,...

we who are the dreams of ancestors,

walk onward.

At the threshold of seasons,

in between passing storms,

long after first blossoms have dropped,

a different blooming begins.

This is how sound becomes fragrance and vision.

This is how the silence becomes a doorway.

O, how we tumble.

Thanks be

to the unseen powers

that hold our tumbling.


Fukukaze Nembutsu / 吹く風 念仏 / Wind-Blown Prayer

Ryūzen’s flute guides us

across Samsara’s ocean ---

wind-blown nembutsu


Jiko no Genryū / 自己の源流 / Headwaters of the Self

Have we reached the end?

The end of melody and rhythm?

The end of verse and poetry?

The end of breath and dreaming?

The end of journeying?

The Sun

behind your ribs

will smile tomorrow.

The moon-disc


in The Great Eye

between your eyes

will glow.

We have reached the Headwaters of the Self.

We have tasted from The Source.

We have been guided

by a wind-spirit

beyond time...

beyond form...

into the Great Silence Behind the World.

Shingon Mandala