Notes to Poem:
The Spring Geese Are Flying North

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: On Friday, August 20, 2010, a friend and I walked around Lake Lagunita (6:40-7:10 pm). Halfway around the Lake, near the bench under a California Live Oak by Elliot Program Center, a flock of Canadian Geese flying in V-formation landed in the dried lake. This poem was inspired by the sight of geese making that arrowhead landing. Suddenly I realized that the geese were flying not in the V but the Λ-formation, that Plato called "Soul of the Universe". This happened around 6:50 pm and I felt so ecstatic at this ephiphany that a jack rabbit hopped out 15 minutes later at 7:05 pm to greet me. It sat for three minutes so I got several good photos of him. Two doves were also sitting in the background. The rabbit was sitting still when we left him at 7:07 pm in order to make the 7:30 pm showing of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in Easter Parade at the Stanford Theatre. The poem "The Spring Geese Are Flying North" was written five weeks later. I've added photos of geese flying in V-formation with my commentaries in these Notes. Sources for the photos may be found by clicking on the images. Photo of geese flying to the Lake was montaged in Photoshop.

Commentary to "The Spring Geese Are Flying North"

Halfway around Lake Lagunita
near the bench under a live oak
a gust of wind and flapping of wings—

Lake Lagunita is an artificial lake on the southwestern side of the Stanford University campus. Unless there's heavy rain, the lake is usually dry. Many students like to jog and others walk their dogs around the lake. On Friday, August 20, 2010, a friend and I walked around Lake Lagunita (6:45-7:15 pm). Halfway around the Lake, near the bench under a California Live Oak, I felt a gust of wind and heard flapping of wings. (Photo: Lake Lagunita, 6-18-2010)

a flock of Canadian geese flying
in V-formation makes their landing
calmly on the dried lake bed

This happened at 6:50 pm but I didn't have my camera out to capture the image. Google Images have 16,600 photos of geese flying in V-formation. However only one image showed geese flying in the direction as I saw them that day. The photo "Canada Geese flying in a V-shaped formation" was taken by John Benson (Nov. 25, 2007) and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (March 12, 2008). Using Adobe Photoshop, this photo was combined with a 7-25-2010 photo of Lake Lagunita. The resulting geese montage is at right.

Scientists wondered why the geese
fly that way and have found it's
for aerodynamic reasons— provides this answer— Scientists who have studied formation flight believe that birds fly in this way for two reasons. The first reason is that the shape of the formation reduces the drag force that each bird experiences compared to if it were flying alone. This decrease in drag occurs thanks to the formation of wingtip vortices. A second reason is that this orientation allows birds to communicate more easily. The birds have good visual contact and won't lose each other along the way during long migration.

Geese conserve energy when flying
in a V than when flying alone,
reducing wind resistance

Flying in the V-formation conserves energy for the geese. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. In a 2001 Nature article, scientists found that pelicans that fly alone beat their wings more frequently and have higher heart rates than those flying in V-formation.

so they can glide longer and
increase their range by 70%—
Nature's way to boosts efficiency.

Birds that fly in V-formation glide more often and reduce energy expenditure using the other birds' air streams. All the birds except the first fly in the upwash from the wingtip vortices of the bird ahead. The upwash assists each bird in supporting its own weight in flight, in the same way a glider can climb or maintain height indefinitely in rising air. Each bird can achieve a reduction of induced drag by 65% and increase their range by 71%. [Henri Weimerskirch, et. al., Nature, 413, 697-698 (2001); Wikipedia: V Formation]

Corporations have adopted
this formula of teamwork
to prosper more in business.

David Schaefer coaches clients to achieve their goals and optimal performance. He uses the V-formation of migrating geese as a lesson in leadership and teamwork. Like geese, people who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier than those who try to go it alone. One realizes that ultimately success depends on working as a team, taking turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. (Synergy/Leadership)

But today seeing these geese making
that tranquil landing on the lake,
I recall the ancient Zen koan—

T'ang dynasty Zen Masters tested monks' understanding of spiritual awakening not by their rote memory of Buddhist sutras. They devised koans— illogical puzzles which students could not find the answers in books but only within themselves. After Swami Chinmayananda's talk on the Kena Upanishads in 1975, I sent him a letter “When asked the koan 'If all things return to the One, where does the One return?' Zen master Mang Gong replied 'The spring geese are flying north.' Since enlightened masters agree on truth, how would a Hindu master respond to the Zen Master's answer?” Swamiji's responded from Los Angeles within a week— “Who is seeing the One? If you don't know, fly north with the spring geese! HA! HA! HA!” Suddenly I had satori and knew the answers of many koans that had eluded me earlier. I thanked Swamiji and sent him my poem "Where Does the One Return?" on 8-22-1975.

"If all things return to the One,
where does the One return?"
Mang Gong
said "The spring geese are flying north."

Zen Master Seung Sahn gave a Dharma Speech at the opening ceremony of the International Zen Center of New York on April 20, 1975— Therefore an eminent teacher said, "All things in the universe return to the One." But where does this One return? Once somebody came up to the great Zen Master Mang Gong and asked him, "If all things return to the One, where does this One return?" Mang Gong said, "The spring geese are flying north." What do you think this means - "the spring geese are flying north?" Even though you may understand enough to smash Mount Sumeru into a million pieces and swallow the ocean in one gulp, you will not understand this. Then how can you understand the true meaning of "The spring geese are flying north?" Only keep don't-know mind. Throw away Small I and enter Empty I. Zen Master Mang Gong said, "The spring geese are flying north." The truth is just like this.

Suddenly an eureka moment
that the geese were not flying
in V but the Λ-formation—

Recalling the koan "Where does the One return?", Zen master Mang Gong's reply "The spring geese are flying north", and Chinmayananda's 1975 letter, may have made my mind leap to a different level of awareness. Just like seeing the Platonic Lambda in Giacometti's Walking Man (Feb. 3, 2010) made me aware that the soul's form (Λ) supports our body when we walk, these geese are really flying not in V-formation but in the Λ or soul-formation.

Aha!— the Platonic Lambda,
Soul of the Universe— the geese
have purpose, a sense of direction

The Platonic Lambda, Soul of the Universe, is the sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus 35b):
1+2+4+8 = 15 and 1+3+9+27 = 40. See also Speculations on the Soul; Number 55; Dante's 55 & Platonic Lambda; Notes to Walking Man

making that arrowhead landing—
aiming always for the Soul's
flying— soaring to the One.

The English letter "V" is better known than the Greek letter "Λ", so the image of "geese flying in V-formation" stuck. But closer look of geese's actual flying pattern shows it's the Λ shape rather than the V-formation. The geese leading the pack resembles the number "1" at the apex of the Platonic Lambda from which the double & triple interval series follow. While Platonists adhered to "One Over Many", Plato himself had a vision of both— "From the gods a gift to the human race: thus I reckon the gift of seeing the One in the many and the many in the One." (Philebus, 16d) Socrates tell Parmenides "The All is one." (Plato's Parmenides) Plotinus writes "The One does not bear to be numbered in with anything else... it refuses to take number because it is measure and not the measured... in the realm of Being, The One establishes reality: existence is a trace of The One. (Enneads V.5.4-5). Nature of the One

Jacques-Louis David
Death of Socrates (1787)
Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York

Raphael Sanzio
Plato in School of Athens (1508)
Stanza della Segnatura,
Vatican Museum
      John the Baptist

      Leonardo da Vinci
      St. John the Baptist (1516)
      The Louvre, Paris
            — Peter Y. Chou
                Mountain View, 10-6-2010

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P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (10-6-2010)