Search the Poetry Chaikhana site:
Commentary by Ivan M. Granger
In this brief, elegant poem, Yun-k'an Tzu is painting a scene for us of enlightenment. And he gives us several packed metaphors.
Let's have some fun unlocking this poem...
all karma stopped
We have a tendency to think of karma or sins as negative marks on an accounting ledger. Somewhere, somehow, all of our good actions and thoughts have to balance out with the bad. You don't want to end up in the red.
That's a helpful notion to start with. It encourages us toward service and good works and cultivating a compassionate heart.
How, then, can karma be "stopped"? The reality is that karma isn't simply a matter of continually making deposits into your spiritual bank account. The direct experience of karma is more like sustained points of tension in the awareness. Those tensions trap a great deal of our life energy. They are magnetized; the psychic tensions tend to attract certain experiences and compel certain behaviors and mental fixations. The tensions compel actions and initiate the dynamic of karma. Through balancing actions, karmic tensions can be loosened and finally released.
But, there is also an experience, sometimes temporary, sometimes lasting, where all karmic tensions just... fall away. The entire awareness has suddenly relaxed out of all of its karmic tensions at once, like shrugging off a heavy overcoat on a hot day. This is how some mystics can boldly claim that their karmas have "stopped." (But, beware. As I said, the experience can be temporary. Those tensions have a way of quietly reappearing. It's always best to continue making deposits into that bank account.)
But, wait a minute: Karma simply means "action." How can one "directly perceive" karma, action, as a tension in the awareness?
Here's how I would answer that: I understand karma (in the sense used by the poet) to be not simply action, but action tainted by ego or selfishness. That is, karma is action that leaves a trace. The trace that's left is the imprint of the ego-self. Through karmic actions, the ego attempts to insert itself into everything.
And there are points of tension in the awareness that compel that action. In yogic language, it probably would be more accurate for me to refer to those tensions as vasanas. But there's a direct connection between vasanas and karma. Karmic action is born of those tensions, the vasanas. When the vasanas fade, karmic action ceases. Then action becomes pure, traceless... and karma stops.
the monkey heart is skewered
Right in the middle of the verse, Yun-k'an Tzu gives us a strange and interesting line: "the monkey heart is skewered." But what does it mean? Monkeys dance and chatter, grasp and destroy and generally cause mischief. The "monkey" is the busy, grasping aspect of ourselves. It is that which never rests and is never satisfied, yet is almost impossible to catch. To pair this "monkey" with the "heart" suggests endless desires and wants. To have finally "skewered" this is to have brought those countless cravings to an end.
the moon bright...
The blissful state reveals itself as a shining light, as a luminescence permeating the still field of the mind. There is a sense of light from an undefined "above," silence, a fullness of vitality, and deep rest. This is often expressed as a bright or full moon in the night sky.
the breeze pure...
The breeze or wind referred to here might be understood as the thinking mind. It is "pure," free from the dust and debris of mental chatter, which obscures clear perception of reality.
alone I speak
In this enlightenment, we become supremely whole, complete. We are "alone" in the sense that we need nothing else to be complete. We are "alone" because the normal vision of multiplicity of beings and things is lost in the sense of unity.
of endless life
Virtually all sacred traditions have language around deathlessness, eternal life, endless life... Taoism often dwells on this. In some schools of Taoism, this is taken quite literally as seeking physical immortality. While a vital and long life can be valuable, physical immortality seems a rather materialistic goal that falls short of the true spiritual meaning that is intended.
In deep states of spiritual opening, an amazing thing happens: You are flooded with immense and unimpeded life. By comparison, all your experience up to that point seems like you were asleep, not really alive. There is the sense that the common experience of life is somehow encrusted with a layer of -- let's call it "death" -- that dampens the full awareness of life.
In the awakened awareness, the crust of death has left us. Only life remains. We finally recognize ourselves as the outpouring of that life. This doesn't mean that the physical body won't eventually grow old and cease to function. But none of those experiences need have the taste of death. The body is no longer seen as the self. The body may die, but what we are is life.
This is Yun-k'an Tzu's eternal life.
|Please support the Poetry Chaikhana, as well as the authors and publishers of sacred poetry, by purchasing some of the recommended books through the links on this site. Thank you!|
M. Granger's original poetry, stories and commentaries are Copyright ©
2002 - 2011 by Ivan M. Granger.
All other material is copyrighted by the respective authors, translators and/or publishers.