Something Fresh and Inspired

Excerpts from Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms by Norman Fischer:

Psalm 1

Happy is the one who walks otherwise
Than in the manner of the heedless
Who stands otherwise
Than in the way of the twisted
Who does not sit in the seat of the scornful
But finds delight in the loveliness of things
And lives by that pattern all day and all night —

For this one is like a tree planted near a stream
That gives forth strong fruit in season
And whose leaf doesn’t wither
And whose branches spread wide —

Not so the heedless

They are like chaff scattered by the wind
Endlessly driven, they cannot occupy their place
And so can never be seen or embraced
And they can never be joined

What you see is always lovely and remembered
But the way of heedlessness is oblivion


“I call them ‘Zen-inspired’ because I approach them the only way I can: as a Zen practitioner, with a Zen eye. But I have not tried to rewrite the Psalms as Zen philosophy. Quite the opposite. My intention has been to learn from them, to expand my own understanding under their influence. Nevertheless, although my way of life and understanding have been thoroughly saturated by Zen, I am still a Westerner, so I have found in the Psalms a very familiar music that seems to express my own approach to enlightenment: the passionate, prickly, and lively noise that naturally seems to rise from the silent depths of my own heart.”

“I do not think I am unusual. Western Buddhists are Buddhists, yes, but they are also Westerners. This makes a big difference. It is why Buddhism in the West is and will continue to be different from what it has been in Asia. No matter how much Westerners try to immerse themselves in the Buddhism presented to them by their Asian teachers (and expressed in the Asian texts), they will always see it colored by Western concepts and views and by a Western feeling for life. You could view this as a problem, a distortion of real Buddhism, and I know that many Asian Buddhist teachers think that Westerners just don’t ‘get’ Buddhism and that it will take several generations for them to get it. While this is a reasonable way to look at it, I prefer to see the problem as an advantage and to view the inevitable mixing of Western and Asian Buddhist perspectives as something fresh and inspired, rather than somehow incorrect.”


Psalm 23

You are my shepherd, I am content
You lead me to rest in the sweet grasses
To lie down by the quiet waters
And I am refreshed

You lead me down the right path
The path that unwinds in the pattern of your name

And even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will not fear
For you are with me
Comforting me with your rod and your staff
Showing me each step

You prepare a table for me
In the midst of my adversity
And moisten my head with oil

Surely my cup is overflowing
And goodness and kindness will follow me
All the days of my life
And in the long days beyond
I will always live in your house


Meredith Monk was inspired by these translations, “by the upward-seeking forms of spiritual structures around the world, and by Ann Hamilton’s Tower in Sonoma, California” to write her Songs of Ascension.