Jan 17 2019

Hakuin – The monkey is reaching

Published by under Poetry

The monkey is reaching
by Hakuin

English version by Norman Waddell

The monkey is reaching
For the moon in the water.
Until death overtakes him
He’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and
Disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine
With dazzling pureness.

— from Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, by Norman Waddell


/ Image by NinjaRisu /

Hakuin paints for us an elaborate picture. First, we have the moon. It is reflected in water. A monkey hangs from a branch above the water, and it yearns for the moon that it sees reflected in the water. The monkey continually reaches into the water to grasp the moon, but the prize eludes his grip. He has constructed for us a Zen allegorical image.

Who is the monkey? Well, we are. Or, more specifically, it is the busy, grasping mind — the monkey mind. It is that chattering, erratic aspect of the awareness that we most often identify with.

The moon, as I have often pointed out, is a common representation in Zen poetry of enlightened awareness.

So the monkey, the mind, is seeking enlightenment, though it fails to understand what it is really grasping at. It just notices something shiny, and desires to possess it. The mind is not truly reaching for enlightenment; instead it grasps at a mere reflection of that light in the water below it.

What is this water? It can be understood as the world of manifest reality. It reflects the light of enlightenment. In fact, that is the world’s purpose. But while it appears to be real, it is fleeting, changing, ultimately intangible.

The monkey mind never tires of grasping at what shines and shimmers in reflection. This is partly because, in addition to the moon, the monkey sees itself reflected as well — and it loves its own face.

Hakuin laughs and gives us the solution: The monkey mind must let go of the branch it clings to and “disappear into the deep pool” of reality. The monkey’s fall represents the insight that the way is not attained through effort but through supreme yielding. When the mind stops grasping at reflections and, instead, fades into stillness, only then does the whole world shine “with dazzling pureness.” In other words, the mind can never possess enlightenment; it can only lose itself within it. When it finally yields itself, then enlightenment is discovered everywhere.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Hakuin

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei The Zen Koan


Hakuin, Hakuin poetry, Buddhist poetry Hakuin

Japan (1686 – 1768) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jan 17 2019

the solution

The solution
is in the present.

One response so far

Jan 09 2019

Yunus Emre – Those who became complete

Published by under Poetry

Those who became complete
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

Those who became complete
didn’t live this life in hypocrisy,
didn’t learn the meaning of things
by reading commentaries.

Reality is an ocean; the Law is a ship.
Many have never left the ship,
never jumped into the sea.

They might have come to Worship
but they stopped at rituals.
They never knew or entered the Inside.

Those who think the Four Books
were meant to be talked about,
who have only read explanations
and never entered meaning,
are really in sin.

Yunus means “true friend”
for one whose journey has begun.
Until we transform our Names,
we haven’t found the Way.

— from The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre, Translated by Kabir Helminski / Translated by Refik Algan


/ Image by Jono Colliver /

The Poetry Chaikhana is back! I hope you had a magical, renewing holiday and new year.

Let’s start the year off with something feisty–

Those who became complete
didn’t live this life in hypocrisy,
didn’t learn the meaning of things
by reading commentaries.

I love these cantankerous mystic poets. They come in all shades of religious sentiment, but they do tend to congregate outside the halls of orthodoxy. Most are profoundly devout and fiercely focused in their spirituality. But for the mystic to truly open to the Divine, one must clearly see the nature of reality and the nature of one’s very self — without blinders or pretense.

Reality is an ocean; the Law is a ship.
Many have never left the ship,
never jumped into the sea.

That’s why mystics don’t write poems in praise of rules, hierarchies, or secondhand knowledge. They want the wide ocean, not the creaking ship.

For this very reason, I often find myself more in alignment with the viewpoints of atheists than with religionists. I share the atheist ideal of questioning, critical thinking, testing and examination, a basic distrust of institutions, and an awareness of the danger of “true believers.” Whether we call ourselves theists or atheists, we must never settle into unquestioning belief.

There is a superficial way of being religious, joining the right group, following the right rules, reading the right sacred texts and commentaries, performing the right rituals and prayers. Don’t get me wrong, those practices can be important, but if our spiritually goes no deeper, then it becomes increasingly brittle and slips into pretense. That’s what happens with fundamentalism.

They might have come to Worship
but they stopped at rituals.
They never knew or entered the Inside.

The problem is that there is an increasing assumption that that is what religion is. Both religious-types and their atheist critics tend to define religion by that depthless definition. In that cultural debate, I have to side with the critics of religion. Superficial, rule-following religion lacks integrity and it tends to be sectarian in ways that can be goaded into violence.

But there has always been a deeper form of religion in every culture, an engaged spirituality that transforms the awareness in ways that awaken clarity and compassion. This is not a religion of blind faith or adherence to formulaic creeds; it is about direct experience of a wider reality, profound personal transformation… and bubbling joy.

This is where the common atheist critique of religion falls apart, especially the more strident voices of the so-called New Atheists. They tend to acknowledge only the most superficial and, frankly, idiotic expressions of modern religion. There is a willful blindness to the full spectrum of religious life and experience.

The argument I hear put forward by the New Atheists is that all religion is founded on a mythological fantasy at odds with firm reality, which results in a schizophrenic mindset which, in turn, leads to dysfunctional society. If only people would drop their attachment “made up men in the sky,” we could then start building a sane and rational world. That sounds like a pretty good argument, doesn’t it? If that was truly all that religion was, I might agree with their argument. But because they are so convinced that religion is nothing beyond fantasy and social control, they don’t feel the need to actually try to understand actual religious belief or history or what it means to people, let alone genuine mystical experience. There is no knowledge about religion in their argument, only disdain. And there is an underlying threat of force, as well: The religious delusion must be crushed in order to give us the sane world we deserve. It’s no coincidence that many prominent New Atheists have been vocal advocates for the recent wars in the Middle East, as they see Muslim Jihadist sects as the embodiment of their worst religious nightmares. The New Atheists have, in effect, become an increasingly violent fundamentalist sect of atheism.

There are certainly serious problems in religion, ranging from mere superficiality to violent extremism (in all religions). But those problems are not religious problems, they are human social problems. They are not problems that occur because of religion itself; they are manifesting because of complex social, political, economic, and even environment stresses, where very few authoritative institutions are addressing them honestly or coherently. Under those unrelenting stresses, people turn to religion, but not for religious reasons. Religion then becomes more extreme because other, more healthy responses are not available in society. We see the same toxic patterns in non-religious institutions, as well. It’s not a religious problem, but the resulting religious extremism grabs the headlines.

We don’t need enforced religion or non-religion. Instead, we need engaged hearts. We need minds that explore and question. We need a willingness to seek truth above approval. Whether we belong to a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, an atheist discussion group, or stand alone beneath the night sky — it’s not a question of belief or faith, but of what is, who we truly are, and the kindness we show in the world.

Yunus means “true friend”
for one whose journey has begun.


Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey
More Books >>


Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jan 09 2019

new way

Find a new way each day
to let love pour
through your being.

One response so far

Dec 13 2018

Dogen – The true person

Published by under Poetry

True person manifest throughout the ten quarters of the world
by Eihei Dogen

English version by Steven Heine

The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

— from The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace, by Steven Heine


/ Image by hello, beautiful /

A beautiful morning here in Colorado. A cloudless blue sky fills every empty space and stretches its canopy across the heavens, reaching out in all directions…

True to Zen form, Dogen cuts right to the essential here.

Look for the true person deeply enough, and we find it. We find it in ourselves. But not in ourselves in a particular way. It is not in oneself while absent in another. We are quietly startled to discover that this true person is not contained by our skin. It does not stop at the edges of our lives. It does not even restrict itself to the borders of our far-flung thoughts. No, it flows out in all directions, utterly heedless of walls and distances and the greedy human mind.

But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

Find that one. Not only will you have found the true person, you will have discovered your very self spread out across existence!


Recommended Books: Eihei Dogen

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures


Eihei Dogen, Eihei Dogen poetry, Buddhist poetry Eihei Dogen

Japan (1200 – 1253) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Dec 13 2018

perfection

Stop struggling for perfection,
and recognize the perfection
you already are.

One response so far

Dec 10 2018

Holiday Book Recommendations 2018

Published by under Books

I sometimes make a particular effort to experience slow time. But the calendar seems to speed up each year. It’s easy to be surprised that the winter holidays are here. It is already the eight day of Hanukkah. Christmas is only a couple of weeks away. The Winter Solstice. New Year.

I have had a tradition in past years of sending out a list of recommended books around the holidays. In my mind, you received this email at least two weeks ago. Let’s just say that’s when this was sent out, shall we?

If you’re still looking for some gifts to give, to family, to like-minded friends, or even to yourself as a way to begin the new year, consider the gift of poetry and inspiration. Poetry lasts in ways few other gifts can. A really good poem unwraps itself a little more each time it is read, becoming a continuously opening gift to the mind and the heart.


Here is a a holiday sampler to consider as gifts for you and your loved ones:

Let’s start, of course, with some Poetry Chaikhana publicatons…

== Poetry Chaikhana Publications ==


This Dance of Bliss, Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger


This Dance of Bliss

Ecstatic Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This Dance of Bliss is an inspiring collection of poems and wisdom stories from the world’s great sacred traditions. Rumi, St. John of the Cross, Lalla, Goethe, Hildegard von Bingen, Dogen, Khayyam, and many others gather together within these pages to sing their ecstatic songs.

Ivan M. Granger accompanies each poem with his own reflections and meditative commentaries, inviting us to explore the insights and private raptures of these mystics, seers, and saints-until we too are swept up in this dance of bliss!

This book is a treasure, a feast, an oasis. Ivan M. Granger’s profound gift for selecting the kind of poetry that lights up the cave of the heart and melts the boundaries between the soul and the Divine is fully met by his lucid reflections on the soul-transfiguring power of each piece in this magnificent collection.

MIRABAI STARR
author of God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam


READ MORE

PURCHASE: Amazon or Wordery (free shipping worldwide)

To satisfy that longing (or awaken it)…

The Longing in Between
Sacred Poetry from Around the World
(A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology)

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

In many ways this is my most personal publication, combining favorite soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by the thoughts, meditations, commentary, and occasional tangents that have been central to the Poetry Chaikhana poem emails for years. Selections from Rumi, Whitman, Kabir, Machado, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Yunus Emre, John of the Cross, Lalla, and many others.

These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.


“The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing [these poems] to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”
~ ROGER HOUSDEN, author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series

READ MORE


PURCHASE: Amazon or Wordery (free shipping worldwide)

For the modern mystic…

Marrow of the Flame
Poems of the Spiritual Journey
by Dorothy Walters

Introduction by Andrew Harvey

Dorothy Walters explores the spiritual journey through its ecstasies, struggles, and vistas. Each step is observed with the keen insight and clear voice of a modern woman who is both a skilled poet and genuine mystic.

Dorothy Walters’s poems are immediate and inviting, transcendent and often playful. Many of these poems are in dialog, with Rumi and Rilke, Denise Levertov and Lalla, each poem contributing its own wisdom and humor to the ongoing conversation that passes between visionaries and sages through history and across cultures.


Marrow of Flame has already become a modern classic among spiritual seekers.

These poems make me gasp. Dorothy Walters–part buddha, part elf–weaves mythic literacy with subversive compassion.” ~ Mirabai Starr

READ MORE


PURCHASE: Amazon or Wordery (free shipping worldwide)

A few words to find silence…

Gathering Silence

Sayings by Ivan M. Granger
Collages by Rashani Réa

Gathering Silence is a collection of meditative sayings and bits of poetry, accompanied throughout by stunning full-color artwork by internationally-known collage artist, Rashani Réa.

Gathering Silence is a truly beautiful book, filled with color, creative thoughts, and meditative moments. Perfect for an altar or meditation space, by your bed or on a coffee table. A wonderful gift for family, friends, and fellow seekers!

I hope you will agree that this book is a work of art!


The individual is really
a magical act of seeing
with no fixed eye.

All of mysticism comes down to this:
to recognize
what is already
and always here.


Protect
the wild places
in yourself.

READ MORE


PURCHASE: Amazon or Wordery (free shipping worldwide)


For illumination…

The Illuminated Rumi
Translations by Coleman Barks
Art by Michael Green

Excerpts of Rumi’s poetry accompanied by amazing digital collage artwork that draws you deeply into each page. This book entrances on several levels. An excellent gift book.


For the wise woman…

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women
Edited by Jane Hirshfield

This is the first anthology I got years ago that made me say, Wow! Includes Sappho, Rabia, Yeshe Tsogyel, Hildegard von Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Lalla, Mirabai, Bibi Hayati, Marina Tsvetaeva. The best collection I’ve found of women’s voices in sacred poetry.

The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry
Edited by Aliki Barnstone

Another very good anthology of spiritual poetry by women, from ancient to modern times. Poets like Mirabai, Mahadevi, Lal Ded, Sappho, Sun Buer, Dickenson, Tsvetaeva. The two books together — this with Women in Praise of the Sacred — make a good collection.

The Kundalini Poems: Reflections of Radiance and Joy
by Dorothy Walters

The continuing poetic dialog between Dorothy Walters and the unfolding dance of the Kundalini. Words of a modern mystic to be savored.


For the prayerful heart…

Heaven on Earth: Timeless Prayers of Wisdom and Love
Edited by Stephanie Dowrick

Prayers as poems. Poems as prayers. A wonderful selection from Rumi to Rilke, from the Buddha to the Bible. Prayers of celebration. Prayers that heal. Prayers for sorrow. Prayers for daily life. Whether we formally pray or not, whether we connect to a personal sense of God or not, these prayer poems awaken the heart and revitalize the spirit, reconnecting us to life all around us.


A Sampling of Sufi Wisdom…

The Shambhala Guide to Sufism
By Carl W. Ernst, Ph.D.

Not a collection of poetry, but good book to help you begin to understand who the Sufis really are. An intelligent, insightful look at the history, practices, philosophies, schools, and even politics of Sufism. If you’ve loved the poetry of Rumi but only have a vague idea of how Sufism fits within the Islamic faith, this book is a good place to start.

Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years
By Idries Shah

Short wisdom stories from the Sufi tradition that surprise with unexpected insight, delightful humor, and enigmatic conclusions that invite deeper contemplation. I have been rereading this favorite collection for years.

Travelling the Path of Love: Sayings of Sufi Masters
Edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has gathered together an excellent collection of short sayings and poetic excerpts from many of the great Sufi masters throughout the centuries. Gathered together in themed chapters, such as The Longing of the Heart, The Path, Mediatation and Prayer, and The Valley of Love. Open this book to any page late at night and find a hidden gem to contemplate.

For the Christian contemplative…

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
by Roger Housden

This has quickly become one of my favorite collections of sacred poetry within the many Christian traditions. John of the Cross, Merton, Hildegard von Bingen, Gibran, Dante, Meister Eckhart, Blake… and Roger Housden’s brief, thoughtful insights.

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton
by Thomas Merton

I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. Merton, in addition to being a deep mystic, was a truly excellent contemporary poet. His poems feel entirely modern, yet touch on the eternal. While drawing on Catholic imagery, one can hear whispers of Eastern philosophy and insight in his words. Poems to reread and meditate deeply upon.


For the Jewish mystic…

The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain
Translated and Edited by Peter Cole

An excellent collection of the great Hebrew poets and writers who emerged from the flowering of Jewish culture in Medieval Spain. A nice sampling of important figures of Kabbalah, philosophy, and culture, like Hanagid, ibn Gabirol, Halevi, Abulafia, and many more. While T. Carmi’s Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole has more of a poet’s sense of language.


A little Zen in your pocket…

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter
Edited by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

A good collection without being overwhelming. I especially like it’s selection of Japanese haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, Masahide…

Haiku Enlightenment
By Gabriel Rosenstock

This book is an excellent sampling of haiku, traditional and modern, and, at the same time a wise and playful exploration of the essence of haiku insight. A bit pricey for this slim volume, but enthusiastically recommended for meditators, writers, and haiku enthusiasts. Also look for its companion volume Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing.


For the Rilke lover…

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

There are several very good translations of Rilke available, but I’ve slowly come to the opinion that Barrows and Macy, more than any others, get the tone just right. Their Rilke translations glow and uplift, but without losing the shadows that also haunt the spaces between his words. Perfect!

In the Company of Rilke
by Stephanie Dowrick

A lovely, insightful meditation of the poetry of Rilke and why it speaks so powerfully to us today. The perfect companion book to pair with your favorite Rilke collection.

Artist, Therapist, Shaman…

Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making
By John Fox

Not a book of poetry, but a book that belongs on every poetry lover’s bookshelf. This is a book about the transformational nature of poetry – reading it, speaking it, writing it. Poetry as therapy. Poetry as a pathway to self-exploration. Poetry to rediscover your true voice. I was surprised how much I liked this book.


Lover and the Beloved…

For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai
Translated by Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling’s translations embody that tension between heartbreak and ecstasy that runs through all of Mirabai’s poetry. These poems can be read as love poems or as spiritual poems — but, of course, they are both.

Love’s Alchemy: Poems of the Sufi Tradition
Translated by David and Sabrineh Fideler

Another very good collection of Persian Sufi poetry. This book focuses on poems and poets that are not as well known in the West. A good place to discover some new names.

Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan: A Spiritual Interpretation
by Omar Khayyam
Commentary by Paramahansa Yogananda

A 20th century Indian Yogi commenting on the spiritual meaning of an 11th century Persian Sufi’s poetry. That combination yields both perfume and controversy — but plenty to contemplate. Lovely artwork and border scrollwork. And Fitzgerald’s delightful translation of this classic. Recommended.

Transcendent Hindu verses…

Speaking of Siva
Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

This book became an immediate favorite of mine ever since I picked up a copy of it a few years ago. Stunning poems from the Shiva bhakti tradition of India. Basava, Devara Dasimayya, Akka Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu. The commentary in the book, though a little academic, is genuinely insightful. Enthusiastically recommended!

I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded
Translated by Ranjit Hoskote

There are several translations of the poetry of Lalla available in English now, good ones too, but Ranjit Hoskote’s versions are my favorite. They seem to marry a love of the original language with a poet’s sense of English, without ever losing the mystic’s fire at the center of each poem. Recommended.

And for blessings…

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
by John O’Donohue

I keep being told by people how much they love this book of poetic blessings from the Irish philosopher, poet, and mystic, John O’Donohue. These poetically crafted blessings and meditations on the passages of life manage to elevate the spirit, warm the heart, and, on occasion, bring a tear to the eye.

For even more book recommendations, click here.


(I let the list get a little long this year, but, even so, I had to leave off so many amazing books. The drawback to loving so much poetry.)


Let’s remember that, in the midst of winter’s dark, this is the time to renew the light — within ourselves and our world. Regardless of religion, may we recognize our shared brotherhood and sisterhood within the human family, all within the lap of the generous green earth that is our home.

I hope you and your loved ones have a special holiday season —

— and that the new year brings you bright blessings!

Ivan

One response so far

Dec 05 2018

Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov – Where I wander — You!

Published by under Poetry

Where I wander — You!
by Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov

English version by Perle Besserman

Where I wander — You!
Where I ponder — You!
Only You everywhere, You, always You.
You, You, You.
When I am gladdened — You!
And when I am saddened — You!
Only You, everywhere You!
You, You, You.
Sky is You!
Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, everywhere You!

— from The Way of the Jewish Mystics, Edited by Perle Besserman


/ Image by Lidusha /

Happy Hanukkah! I thought this poem would be a nice celebration for us during this season of light…

I love the way this simple poem fills us with the ecstatic recognition that God is in everything, IS everything. All of existence becomes a grand game of hide-and-seek.

A chant that can open the heart and eyes:

Only You, everywhere You!
You, You, You.


Recommended Books: Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov

Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry The Way of the Jewish Mystics


Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov

Poland (1740 – 1810) Timeline
Jewish

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Dec 05 2018

reach out

In every moment reach out
to the One
barely hidden
behind the kaleidoscopic many.

One response so far

Nov 21 2018

May Sarton – Unison Benediction

Published by under Poetry

Unison Benediction
by May Sarton

Return to the most human,
nothing less will nourish the torn spirit,
the bewildered heart,
the angry mind:
and from the ultimate duress,
pierced with the breath of anguish,
speak of love.

Return, return to the deep sources,
nothing less will teach the stiff hands a new way to serve,
to carve into our lives the forms of tenderness
and still that ancient necessary pain preserve.

Return to the most human,
nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
the bewildered heart;
the torn mind,
to accept the whole of its duress,
and pierced with anguish…
at last, act for love.

— from May Sarton, Collected Poems, 1930-1993, by May Sarton


/ Image by me3009 /

I came across this poem today in Roger Housden’s Living and Writing Wild email newsletter (which I highly recommend). It felt like the perfect poem for today, so I thought I’d share it along with some of my own thoughts…

Return to the most human,
nothing less will nourish the torn spirit

I am so aware of how much frustration people feel over the dark turn in politics in recent years. More than frustration, there is a sense of anguish, even betrayal. For many, it is as if our vision of who we are and the future we might achieve has been defiled and damaged to the point that we no longer recognize ourselves as decent people.

As an American, how do I understand the racist, proto-fascist, violent forces emerging within my own country? At the same time, similar tendencies are appearing in the UK, India, the Philippines, and we could add several other nations to the list.

How can people of good heart not feel horrified at these developments?

While harmful forces must be answered with courage in the public arena, I want to suggest that there is something important happening on another level, as well: an enforced awakening.

We are going through a collective process of disillusionment, whether we like it or not. We are being required to drop our illusions and witness unpleasant truths, about ourselves and about the world around us. What have we ignored that has allowed such fear and hatred to fester? How have our political and social systems become so damaged that they are unresponsive to the needs and demands of society? What cruelties are encoded in society that I have ignored or made excuses for? How did we imagine things were solid, when they are so fragile? How can my neighbor believe such things, and what is his hurt that I was blind to? These are the questions we are forced to ask now.

Painful though it may be, devastating in some cases, we can only be strengthened by the process of disillusionment. We want to drop our illusions. We want to see things as they are, as fully and as clearly as possible.

Return, return to the deep sources

We might think of it as a meditative exercise. Let’s look at reality, everything we see, the terrible and the beautiful together, and just sit with it. It may break our hearts. But we just sit with it. It may fill us with moments of pure joy. But we just sit with it. It may overwhelm us with its immensity. But we don’t run, we don’t seek to merely feel good. Instead, we just sit with it. We allow ourselves to see and feel fully. We watch our reactions too, but are not hooked by them. In this way, we begin to inhabit a bigger reality, a fuller reality. Our personal sense of reality becomes more integrated and a truer reflection of what actually is. As we do this, we become more capable of fashioning healthier lives and healthier societies.

Here’s the thing that I’ve noticed in my own life, when I stop trying to assert some idea of how reality should work, and just really notice what is, at first I feel heartbroken and even humiliated. Then I feel overwhelmed. And then… everything just opens up into a vision of stunning beauty and possibility. The heart opens in unexpected ways, making healing possible where only walls seemed to stand. It’s easy to think that reality is somehow broken, but when we really look, we discover that we inhabit an improbable wholeness instead. It’s not entirely logical amidst the world’s fear and suffering, so I encourage you to look for yourself and see. Really see. Seeing the full picture, our actions become more effective and lasting. Looking honestly, we become capable of compassion and connection, where we only felt anger before.

Combining action with an expanding awareness, we return to what is most human, and by that I mean we return to what is most divine.

Return to the most human,
nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
the bewildered heart;
the torn mind,
to accept the whole of its duress,
and pierced with anguish…
at last, act for love.

May Sarton, May Sarton poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry May Sarton

US (1912 – 1995) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by May Sarton

6 responses so far

Nov 21 2018

encounters of this moment

The encounters of this moment
fill the world.

No responses yet

Nov 15 2018

Naropa – The Summary of Mahamudra

Published by under Poetry

The Summary of Mahamudra
by Naropa

English version by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Erik Pema Kunsang

Homage to the state of great bliss!
Concerning what is called Mahamudra
All things are your own mind.
Seeing objects as external is a mistaken concept;
Like a dream, they are empty of concreteness.
This mind, as well, is a mere movement of attention
That has no self-nature, being merely a gust of wind.
Empty of identity, like space.
All things, like space, are equal.
When speaking of ‘Mahamudra’
It is not an entity that can be shown.
There the mind’s suchness
Is itself the state of Mahamudra.
It is neither something to be corrected nor transformed,
But when anyone sees and realizes its nature
All that appears and exists is Mahamudra,
The great all-encompassing Dharmakaya.
Naturally and without contriving, allowed simply to be,
This unimagined Dharmakaya,
Letting it be without seeking is the meditation training.
But to meditate while seeking is deluded mind.
Just as with space and a magical display,
While neither cultivating nor not cultivating
How can you be separate and not separate!
This is a yogi’s understanding.
All good deeds and harmful actions
Dissolve by simply knowing this nature.
The emotions are the great wisdom.
Like a jungle fire, they are the yogi’s helpers.
How can there be staying or going?
What meditation is there by fleeing to a hermitage?
Without understanding this, all possible means
Never bring more than temporary liberation.
When understanding this nature, what is there to bind you?
While being undistracted from its continuity,
There is neither a composed nor an uncomposed state
To be cultivated or corrected with a remedy.
It is not made out of anything
Experience self-liberated is dharmadhatu.
Thinking self-liberated is great wisdom,
Non-dual equality is dharmakaya.
Like the continuous flow of a great river,
Whatever you do is meaningful,
This is the eternal awakened state,
The great bliss, leaving no place for samasara.
All things are empty of their own identities.
This concept fixed on emptiness has dissolved in itself.
Free of concept, holding nothing in mind,
Is in itself the path of the Buddhas.
For the most fortunate ones,
I have made these concise words of heartfelt advice.
Through this, may every single sentient being
Be established in Mahamudra.

— from The Songs of Naropa: Commentaries on songs of Realization, Translated by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche / Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang


/ Image by Best Picko /

My wife and I first moved to Boulder, Colorado in the early 1990s. We were young and felt like adventurous vagabonds, exploring the world by moving around. Several things drew us to the area, including the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, better work opportunities than in our home state of Oregon, as well as the spirituality, creativity and health-focus of community.

One other thing drew us: Naropa University, a school in the area well known for its poetry and psychology programs, combined with classes on meditation and Eastern philosophies. Ironically, we never attended classes there, but we have friends who are graduates, and the school has helped to shape Boulder culture in beautiful ways.

Yet I don’t think I have ever featured a poem by the great Buddhist master Naropa, until today.

Concerning what is called Mahamudra

Mahamudra literally translates as “the Great Seal.” This term is rich in meaning, especially within Tibetan Buddhism. We might say that Mahamudra is the clear and enlightened recognition of all levels of reality.

We can think of it as a “seal” in that it has the stamp of confirmation. This is unfettered awareness of how reality really is.

Mahamudra is both the goal and it is also the practice or the pathway to reach that goal.

All things are your own mind.
Seeing objects as external is a mistaken concept

This is a difficult one for most of us reared within the Western mindset that has a primarily materialistic understanding of reality. Even if we hold to religious or spiritual ideals, that relationship to the world around us as a physical and sensory experience is often quite ingrained.

So what do we make of statements like “all things are your own mind”? How can external objects not be external?

We can read a lot of Eastern philosophy and begin to build a conceptual framework that allows a statement like that to seem less absurd, but at best it is a fragile idea that comes under heavy assault when we are confronted with life’s next intense, apparently external challenge. The conceptualizing mind can’t fully encompass this notion, no matter how subtle and refined we think it out.

The problem for the intellect is that, as our meditation deepens and the mind clears, this is precisely what we perceive. Everything we imagine to be outside of ourselves is actually within ourselves. And everything we think of as tangible, fixed, and “real,” is actually revealed to be merely a surface appearance that is part of a deeper, highly fluid reality.

Like a dream, they are empty of concreteness.

Naturally, we must explore what the mind is. We often imagine that we are the mind, that the mind is the self. Thinking that, we have little or no control over the mind. But the mind isn’t really a lasting “thing” is ourself or exists outside of ourself. What we think of as the mind only exists when the awareness is in motion.

This mind, as well, is a mere movement of attention
That has no self-nature, being merely a gust of wind.
Empty of identity, like space.

When we bring the awareness to deep stillness, we discover that the mind doesn’t exist at all. Awareness remains, but mind is nowhere to be found.

It is like the wind: The air is always there, but the wind only exists when the air is disturbed and in motion. Its true nature is wide open, reaching in all directions at once.

There the mind’s suchness
Is itself the state of Mahamudra.

In Buddhist writings, we often come across the odd word “suchness” or “thusness.” This is a translation of the word Tathata. Tathata is the way a thing truly is beyond the ability of names or concepts to define it. It is the true, radiant, blissful nature of reality.

Naropa is affirming that the mind’s true nature, that is, full and open awareness, is nothing less than the full embodiment of reality.

It is neither something to be corrected nor transformed,

So often in spiritual practice we try to bring the mind under control. We work so hard to keep the mind focused on “spiritual” things and away from distractions or fixations. And, yes, that can be important.

But Naropa is giving us a deeper teaching. The shifting surface focus we call mind is only problematic when we imagine that is all that mind is and all that we are. As we begin to recognize the full awareness, we see that its expanse already encompasses everything, needing nothing added or subtracted, while the phenomenon of “mind” is simply the shifting of currents that settles of its own accord when we let it.

But when anyone sees and realizes its nature
All that appears and exists is Mahamudra,

Another key Buddhist term is then mentioned: Dharmakaya–

The great all-encompassing Dharmakaya.
Naturally and without contriving, allowed simply to be,

Dharmakaya literally means “truth body.” It is one’s true spacious being underlying all appearance or phenomenal experience. It is the foundation ground of self and being experienced by awakened masters.

Naropa is showing how these important concepts are linked, that their elevated states actually flow into each other and reveal themselves to be the same.

No-Mind -> Full Awareness -> Inherent Being -> Truth Body

Letting it be without seeking is the meditation training

This, I think, is Naropa’s core statement for the seeker: Don’t seek. Instead, recognize the true nature of things already present. Don’t look to the horizon. Wherever we are, just stop and see. That’s the tricky part. Before we can see, we must first stop. We don’t need to dominate the mind and force it to stop, but we do need to stop being carried away by every little thing caught in the shifting movements of the mind. That’s when the vision clears and we see all around for the first time.

While neither cultivating nor not cultivating
How can you be separate and not separate!

We don’t actually need to change anything about ourselves. Rather, we need to settle into ourselves. We need to be as we are. When we do that, then our outer selves naturally become an expression of the true being we actually are — no effort required to coax or curtail our actions and energies.

Like the continuous flow of a great river,
Whatever you do is meaningful,

Rather than an endless effort of trying to catch and correct every thought and emotion (and the actions that proceed from them), Naropa’s teachings allow us to recognize our destination in this very moment, discovering our true nature in our very selves right now.

Through this, may every single sentient being
Be established in Mahamudra.

PS – To all of my friends near the fires in California, be safe.


Recommended Books: Naropa

The Songs of Naropa: Commentaries on songs of Realization Illusion’s Game: The Life and Teachings of Naropa


Naropa, Naropa poetry, Buddhist poetry Naropa

India (1016 – 1100) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

More poetry by Naropa

No responses yet

Nov 15 2018

pure wonder

Encounter every instant
entirely as it is,
in pure wonder.

No responses yet

Nov 09 2018

Yunus Emre – Let’s Take Yunus Emre

Published by under Poetry

Let’s Take Yunus Emre
by Yunus Emre

English version by Jennifer Ferraro & Latif Bolat

Let’s be companions, the two of us.
      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s be close intimates, the two of us.
      Lets go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s go before this life is over,
Before our bodies disappear,
Before enemies come between us —

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Come on, let’s go. Don’t remain alone.
Let’s be a chisel in the Friend’s hand.
The only stop will be our sheikh’s station.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s leave our towns and cities
and gladly suffer for the Friend.
Let’s wrap our arms around our Beloved’s waist.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s not be bewildered by the world.
Let’s not be cheated by its sudden dying.
Let’s not sit together never touching.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s give up this transient world
and fly to the lasting land of the Friend.
Let’s give up all the playthings of the nafs.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Be a guide to me on this journey.
Let’s set our destination at the Friend,
Not thinking where we begin or end.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

This world isn’t everlasting.
With eyes half-open it is tempting.
Be a companion of lovers and a lover.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Before the news of death reaches us,
Before the hour when he grabs us by the collar,
Before Azrail makes his sudden move,

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s arrive at the Divine Truth
and inquire there about Reality.
      Let’s take Yunus Emre with us —

            and go to the Friend, my soul.

— from Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey, Translated by Jennifer Ferraro / Translated by Latif Bolat


/ Image by Elizabeth Alice /

I like this image of calling to the soul to become a traveling companion on the road to the Friend.

Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

It’s humorous when you think about it. The soul is already a part of ourselves, why should we have to coax it? We might even say that the soul is who we are. Wouldn’t the soul already be on the journey to the Friend, perhaps already at the Friend’s door?

Let’s be companions, the two of us.
      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s be close intimates, the two of us.
      Lets go to the Friend, my soul.

On that journey, best to convince the soul to be a close companion.

And what other part of the self is speaking? It would seem to be the surface sense of self, the little self, the ego, the nafs. You get the feeling that the self doing the speaking is actually the hesitant one, trying to convince itself. There’s a sort of self-teasing here, a bit of bravado while gathering courage for the journey.

Who is this Azrail who will make a “sudden move”? Azrail or Azrael is the name sometimes given to the angel of death. Many religious types have an idea that, so long as they have subscribed to the “right” form of religion, they will magically end up in some heavenly realm after death, with no journey involved. Mystics like Yunus Emre remind us that the soul’s journey is the only way to the Friend and the entire purpose of life, something to be engaged in now in the midst of life.

Let’s arrive at the Divine Truth
and inquire there about Reality.

We all need a nudge, and the best nudge comes from within.

Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

And, oh yes–

Let’s take Yunus Emre with us

— take yourself with you.


Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey
More Books >>


Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Nov 09 2018

an offering

Make an offering:

Give up your most cherished obsession
and watch your life open.

No responses yet

Oct 31 2018

Abhishiktananda – Return within

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Return within
by Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

English version by H. Sandeman (?)

Return within,
to the place where there is nothing,
and take care that nothing comes in.
Penetrate to the depths of yourself,
to the place where thought no longer exists,
and take care that no thought arises there!
There where nothing exists,
Fullness!
There where nothing is seen,
the Vision of Being!
There where nothing appears any longer,
the sudden appearing of the Self!
Dhyana is this!

— from Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master, by Swami Abhishiktananda / Translated by H. Sandeman


/ Image by MikkoLagerstedt /

Return within…

A powerful description of deep meditation. (The word dhyana in the last line means meditation.)

There where nothing exists,
Fullness!

=

I have received several notes asking when the poem emails will resume. I had a particularly challenging chronic fatigue crash a couple of weeks ago, and I have been regrouping since then, recalibrating my health regime while doing my best to maintain my work hours with my day job. It may take me a couple more weeks to get into a regular pattern with the poetry emails once again. But I am generally improving and more Poetry Chaikhana will be coming your way soon!

I am also very aware of how much our attention here in the US and in the world is being taken up by the upcoming mid-term elections, by the terrible shooting of worshippers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and, for many, the sense of betrayal at the recent confirmation of Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. That’s just a partial list.

It is important that, in the midst of however we reach out to help in the world, we remember to regularly “return within.” It is that inner connection that imbues our outer action with its meaning and strength and resonance in the world.

Sending love to you all.


Recommended Books: Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva’s Holy Mountain The Further Shore Swami Abhishiktananda: Essential Writings Prayer
More Books >>


Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux), Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux) poetry, Christian poetry Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

France, India (1910 – 1973) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Oct 31 2018

find out

The question is not
whether or not you believe.
The real question is
whether or not you are determined
to find out for yourself.

One response so far

Next »