Zafu Limerick

There Once Was a Man . . .

OK, so perhaps this isn’t the finest moment in my career as a booster of meditation. I just happen to have a soft spot for limericks. And as anyone who knows something about limericks  will attest, one limerick deserves, nay demands, another.

Dear Reader, the snow is about to fall in Vermont. Potentially stressful holidays loom. The economy is poised on the brink of something, but it’s hard to tell what. In these moments the mind turns to meditation. Ah well, yes very important. This time however, the mind turned to limericks.

Please Post

My request is simple: compose a (traditionally) five-line limerick using the word “zafu.” The word “zafu” can appear at the end of a rhyming line or in the body of the limerick. Comment on this blog post with your limerick and anything else you would like to share. If your limerick is “family friendly”, we will print it here. Traditionally limericks are opportunities to uncork profanity in unexpected ways. We respect this tradition but can only follow it up to a point. Apologies in advance; if you send us a really dirty limerick, the chances of publication are well…severely diminished.

The Word

In case you have stumbled upon this challenge based upon your love of limericks rather than your pursuit of the noble path of meditation, we might explain. “Zafu” is a Japanese word for a round pleated cushion used originally in the Zen tradition for the practice of Zazen or meditation. The practitioner sits on the cushion, traditionally with legs crossed in the lotus position on a Zabuton Mat.

Some of you might have endeavored the lotus posture in an earlier, more limber, era. Unless you are an adept, I suggest you refrain from trying it now (unless under supervision.) Speaking of limber, part of the challenge with using “Zafu” at the end of the limerick line is that limericks typically rely on anapestic phrasing. That is, a set of words or a word comprised of three syllables with the accent on the last syllable – like seventeen or well, yes, Nantucket. Attempting to use the two equally accented syllables of “Za-Fu” at the end of a line  raises challenges to this convention.

Out of Time

This is a blog about meditation. If would be great if your limerick somehow addressed the subject, but we won’t insist. While nonsense has its place, limericks reach their apogee when word play and word meaning support each other. According to, the term limerick comes from a party game played (in Ireland or England) at the end of the 19th century. Participants would extemporize verse and their efforts would be followed by the chorus “Won’t you come up to Limerick”  — a town in the west of Ireland.

To extemporize means to recite spontaneously. How does one do this? The word’s roots here give a clue. Literally “ex-tempore” — is latin for outside of time. This time beyond time is the moment in which insights are born and also traditionally when true meditation is achieved. It may also be the only time when things happen. Speaking of out of time, when, you may ask, is there the time to compose this limerick? Commuting time, waiting in line, and while seeming to listen to someone complain are all great opportunities to turn your mind to the 5-lined monster.

A couple of limericks:

The Sound of One Cheek Sneaking

In Zazen, stuffed firm and sewn round,

A Zafu keeps your cheeks off the ground,

Not to be crass,

But if more than time you must pass,

Dense stuffing means no sound will be found.

(And a more solemn effort:)

The View of Meditation

From his black cotton buckwheat Zafu,

The Zen Master taught on the View,

He said, “Not as real as it seems,

Life’s like a Dream.

Zazen is no-thing to do.”

Editor’s Note: We have as yet no examples of the poetic tradition Mr. Greenleaf favors in our book inventory.  However, for other examples of poetic expressions of the spontaneous nature of insight see First Thought Best Thought by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche,  Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan, The Spring of My Life by Issa, or Narrow Road to the Interior by Basho.  Patricia Donegan’s instructional book Haiku is aimed at young writers but is eminently useful to all who wish to try their hand at that form.