Oct 18 2017

Jacopone da Todi – Love beyond all telling

Published by under Poetry

Love beyond all telling (from Self-Annihilation and Charity Lead the Soul…)
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

Love beyond all telling,
Goodness beyond imagining,
Light of infinite intensity
Glows in my heart.

I once thought that reason
Had led me to You,
And that through feeling
I sensed Your presence,
Caught a glimpse of You in similitudes,
Knew You in Your perfection.
I know now that I was wrong,
That that truth was flawed.

Light beyond metaphor,
Why did You deign to come into this darkness?
Your light does not illumine those who think they see You
And believe they sound Your depths.
Night, I know now, is day,
Virtue no more to be found.
He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

On achieving their desired end
Human powers cease to function,
And the soul sees that what it thought was right
Was wrong. A new exchange occurs
At that point where all light disappears;
A new and unsought state is needed:
The soul has what it did not love,
And is stripped of all it possessed, no matter how dear.

In God the spiritual faculties
Come to their desired end,
Lose all sense of self and self-consciousness,
And are swept into infinity.
The soul, made new again,
Marveling to find itself
In that immensity, drowns.
How this comes about it does not know.

— from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes


/ Image by Sacha Fernandez /

Love beyond all telling,
Goodness beyond imagining,
Light of infinite intensity
Glows in my heart.

Too often statements like this can sound like a formula of religious piety, but it is more than that. These are the direct experiences of the mystic. The heart grows warm and blossoms, opening until it seems to encompass all of creation. This is not just an idea or some philosophical notion — it is felt tangibly in the body as well as the soul. Love floods in, and a sense of utter harmony, rightness, the “goodness” of being. Often one witnesses a dazzling golden-white light like a radiant ocean that flows through everything, showing the multiplicity of creation to secretly be a shining unity.

It is this that Jacopone da Todi is writing of.

I once thought that reason
Had led me to You,
And that through feeling
I sensed your presence…

I know now that I was wrong,
That that truth was flawed.

These verses are a call to the religious minded to not be content with thinking one has found the truth on assertions of belief alone. (“Your light does not illumine those who think they see You / And believe they sound Your depths.”) Or even to imagine that it is felt through elevated or refined emotions. He is proclaiming that the real truth is somehow more direct and surprising than that. All mental conceptualization is limited by the intellect and imagination, yet the reality we seek is beyond the thinking mind’s ability to conceive of…

Light beyond metaphor…

He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

Here, words fail. The mind can only become a mute witness.

The very notion of self melts amidst that immensity…

In God the spiritual faculties
Come to their desired end,
Lose all sense of self and self-consciousness,
And are swept into infinity.
The soul, made new again,
Marveling to find itself
In that immensity, drowns.
How this comes about it does not know.


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality) All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time


Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Oct 18 2017

Don’t strain

Don’t strain toward enlightenment.
Relax into it.

No responses yet

Oct 13 2017

Lu Tung Pin – What is Tao?

Published by under Poetry

What is Tao?
by Lu Tung Pin

English version by T. C. Lai

What is Tao?
It is just this.
It cannot be rendered into speech.
If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.


/ Image by legends2k /

What is Tao?
It is just this.

I remember the first time I tried to navigate through the Tao Te Ching as a teenager. There was undeniably something beautiful and poetic about it, but it was so infuriatingly vague! What is “the Tao”? Calling it the Way doesn’t help. Are we talking about God? Something else? Other Taoist writings were the same, taunting me with endless non-definitions. (I wanted clear goals I could aggressively pursue!)

It took me years to begin to appreciate this approach…

It cannot be rendered into speech.

There’s a real dilemma at the heart of religion and spiritual endeavor. The Eternal, the Whole cannot be adequately held by such small containers as words. Yet we humans are instinctively communicators and word-makers. What are the sages and saints to do with what they witness? How do they render the Eternal comprehensible to others and inspire new seekers? Describe the profound love and bliss and unity, and we naturally name it Mother. Convey the immensity and power, we name it Father. Or we say Beloved. Or Friend.

All of these are valid ways to begin to form a notion of the Eternal. Through these words we as individuals can form a relationship to this vast Reality. And through this relationship we can be drawn into deeper awareness, into deeper opening, and into our own direct encounter… at which point we realize how inadequate all words are.

The problem arises when the mystics are no longer heard or are relegated to history, when too few people have their own direct wordless encounter. Then we end up with entire religions stuck at the level of words. No matter how sacred and truth-filled those words may be, words are always incomplete. Words alone are soon taken literally, and then true knowledge is lost. Not knowing what is real, religion becomes embalmed, self-protective, sectarian, and sometimes violent.

The wounds of religion are healed through compassion and through direct perception. Instead of forcing meaning, we settle into ourselves and come to see things as they are.

If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.

Have a beautiful, vaguely defined day!


Recommended Books: Lu Tung Pin

The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life The Eight Immortals of Taoism: Legends and Fables of Popular Taoism Tales of the Taoist Immortals Tao of Health, Longevity, and Immortality: The Teachings of Immortals Chung and Lu


Lu Tung Pin, Lu Tung Pin poetry, Taoist poetry Lu Tung Pin

China (755 – 805) Timeline
Taoist

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4 responses so far

Oct 13 2017

Where bliss begins

Where bliss begins

everything else ends.

No responses yet

Oct 11 2017

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – The sum total of our life is a breath

Published by under Poetry

The sum total of our life is a breath
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

The sum total of our life is a breath
spent in the company of the Beloved.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Image by Cochalita /

I find it fascinating that “breath” and “life” and “spirit” are synonyms in many languages and cultures. When you read sacred writings and the word “spirit” is used, substitute the word “breath” and see how the meaning changes and expands.

This connection between breath – life – spirit is much deeper than the simple observation that the living breathe and the dead do not.

We tend to think in terms of borders and boundaries, constantly noting what separates ourselves, mentally and physically, from everything else. But the reality is that there is a constant flow of awareness across those borders. Every one of us has the unseen movement of the breath. Through the breath, what is outside becomes inside; what is non-self becomes self. And what was self is released again out into the world. This is communion, nothing less.

That inbreath of yours is the outbreath of another. The air we breathe is the breath of all.

A deep breath opens the chest and expands the heart. A full breath requires us to feel. We feel ourselves, and we feel others. Feeling, too, is communion. When feeling is shut down, the breath is shut down, and life has become limited.

The current of the breath continuously teaches us that the boundaries of self exist only in the mental map. In reality, we flow out into the universe, and the universe flows back in. The only way to secure our borders is to stop breathing, which is, of course, death. Life requires breath, and we live in each other, in the same breath.

When we really breathe, with a sense of the fulness of life, we might just come to the same conclusion that Sheikh Abu-Said Abil-Kheir came to: An individual’s lifetime may be brief or long, the experiences of life may be tangible or fleeting, but this communal breath – life – spirit in which we participate, is the very breath of the Beloved.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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2 responses so far

Oct 11 2017

make a fool of yourself

If you don’t occasionally
make a fool of yourself,
you’re not fully alive.

No responses yet

Oct 06 2017

Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet (and thoughts on the Las Vegas shooting)

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Alastair Reid

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

— from Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition, Translated by Alastair Reid


/ Image by Maks Karochkin /

I live in Colorado, a state with lots of guns. Most of those guns are used in hunting and kept locked away and out of sight. But I have had the distinctly frightening experience of seeing someone walk into a local grocery store with a handgun strapped to his hip. This was not a police officer, not someone in uniform, but a “gun activist” asserting his “right” to walk around in public spaces with a weapon. When we later contacted the store manager to insist that they publicly declare themselves to be a weapons-free safe zone (as other stores have done in the state), the manager responded that the man was not breaking the law by openly carrying a gun into the store.

Another time, I found myself in the surreal position of holding a friend’s (unloaded) M-16 rifle while being told how simple it would be to convert it from semi-automatic to fully automatic, all while surrounded by several other rifles, handguns, and knives.

I don’t know what to make of this aspect of American culture. There is this sense that manhood is marked by the hard embrace of violence and death. And when that manhood is thwarted in its other social expressions, it then acts out through that violence and death. In that person’s dark moment, Lord help the society that makes these weapons of instant death and mass murder easily available.

Obviously, I have been meditating on this latest mass shooting in the United States, along with the fact that we seem to be getting used to this pattern in recent years. There is a certain comfortable insanity that is taking the place of problem solving in this country.

We accept shooting after shooting, rather than face difficult questions of gun control, underfunded mental health care, widespread economic desperation, re-emerging racism, and an increasingly dangerous cultural divide. Not all of those issues necessarily apply to the recent Las Vegas shooting, but they all add to the pressure cooker that keeps producing these terrible events.

We don’t need to “put our differences aside and come together as a nation.” Those differences are there. We need to be honest about it. We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to look at the full picture, look at it honestly. And then we need to engage in real conversation, uncomfortable conversation. Only then can we begin to formulate practical measures of responsibility and prevention, rather than after-the-fact prayer.

That’s what we need.

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

…nine…ten…eleven…


Recommended Books: Pablo Neruda

The Book of Questions Neruda: Selected Poems On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition
More Books >>


Pablo Neruda, Pablo Neruda poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Pablo Neruda

Chile (1904 – 1973) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Pablo Neruda

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Oct 06 2017

retrain

We need to retrain our eyes to see
the spaces between and the secrets behind.

No responses yet

Sep 29 2017

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Love plays its lute behind the screen

Published by under Poetry

Love plays its lute behind the screen
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Love plays its lute behind the screen —
where is a lover to listen to its tune?

With every breath a new song,
each split second a new string plucked.

The world has spilled Love’s secret —
when could music ever hold its tongue?

Every atom babbles the mystery —
Listen yourself, for I’m no tattletale!

— from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein


/ Image by DakKap /

I like the way this poem starts out by teasing us with a riddle that can be read in two different ways–

Love plays its lute behind the screen —
where is a lover to listen to its tune?

On the one hand, Iraqi is chiding the world for not producing enough lovers of God. Love is eternally calling to us with its soft music “behind the screen” of reality, but few are actually listening; lovers can’t be found.

On a deeper level, it is understood that the true lover has no substance, because he or she is utterly merged into the Beloved, God. So, even where there are lovers, there are no lovers found.

The world has spilled Love’s secret —

Whoever thinks divine love is just a philosophical notion, isn’t really listening.

All of reality is filled with an inner music…

Every atom babbles the mystery —

…and that music is a song of love.

Listen yourself, for I’m no tattletale!


Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition


Fakhruddin Iraqi

Iran/Persia/India/Turkey (? – 1289) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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2 responses so far

Sep 29 2017

on course

As long as you have compassion
you can’t be far off course.

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Sep 22 2017

Wu Men Hui-k’ai – Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn

Published by under Poetry

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
by Wu Men Hui-k’ai

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

— from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

The flowers say it, the moon, the breeze, the snow. Each time we pause to notice the living world around us it blesses us and says, May your mind be unclouded, and may every season be the best season of your life!

A good meditation for us as we rest upon the cusp of autumn.

Wishing you all a blessed time of transitions– autumn equinox, Rosh Hashanah, and Navaratri.


Recommended Books: Wu Men Hui-k’ai

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Gateless Gate: The Wu-men Kuan The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan The World: A Gateway: Commentaries on the Mumonkan


Wu Men Hui-k’ai

China (1183 – 1260) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Sep 22 2017

silent witness

Finally, finally we fall silent.
Finally, we witness ourselves as we are.

One response so far

Sep 20 2017

Denise Levertov – Witness

Published by under Poetry

Witness
by Denise Levertov

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

— from Denise Levertov: Selected Poems, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by notnyt /

The miraculous, the eternal, the mountain. Sometimes (briefly) it hides from us. Sometimes (often) we simply don’t look.

It begs the question: that terrible empty ache at the rootstalk of the heart, is it because there is a great gaping hole in the world? Or is it that we have not yet decided to look?

Some fine clear day soon, let us walk up the road, leaving the rest of the day behind. Let us find a good spot, and there sit down. With nothing else to do, let us see the mountain.

=

To all my friends in Mexico recovering from the earthquake, and to my friends in the Caribbean and Gulf states hunkering down against one more hurricane — my thoughts are with you. Be safe.


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>


Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

More poetry by Denise Levertov

4 responses so far

Sep 20 2017

A miracle

A miracle isn’t an event or an experience.
It is a moment of recognition:
We glimpse the wider reality,
and what we witness washes us away.

One response so far

Sep 08 2017

Milarepa – The Profound Definitive Meaning

Published by under Poetry

The Profound Definitive Meaning
by Milarepa

English version by Marpa Translation Committee

For the mind that masters view the emptiness dawns
In the content seen not even an atom exists
A seer and seen refined until they’re gone
This way of realizing view, it works quite well

When meditation is clear light river flow
There is no need to confine it to sessions and breaks
Meditator and object refined until they’re gone
This heart bone of meditation, it beats quite well

When you’re sure that conducts work is luminous light
And you’re sure that interdependence is emptiness
A doer and deed refined until they’re gone
This way of working with conduct, it works quite well

When biased thinking has vanished into space
No phony facades, eight dharmas, nor hopes and fears,
A keeper and kept refined until they’re gone
This way of keeping samaya, it works quite well

When you’ve finally discovered your mind is dharmakaya
And you’re really doing yourself and others good
A winner and won refined until they’re gone
This way of winning results, it works quite well.


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

A seer and seen refined until they’re gone…

Witness and thing witnessed. Look deeply enough, with your whole being, and the two merge. The object disappears into you. You disappear into it. Seer and seen are gone! What is left but a field living awareness?

…it works quite well.

A few words of special meaning–

Samaya are the vows of initiation within Vajrayana Buddhism. The phrase about keeping samaya is a reference to upholding one’s spiritual vows. But the poet is speaking of the vows as mental and energetic discipline. Seeing how all the categories of mind and philosophy vanish into space, one is no longer a keeper of vows and the vows are no longer there to be kept. Those vows are a way of navigating the confusions of the mind. When the mind settles, the truth simply is and there are no misperceptions to stumble through. That is the real way to fulfill the vows of samaya.

Dharmakaya can be translated as the “body of truth.” It is the perceived re-integrated wholeness of reality. Discovering that your mind is dharmakaya is the goal. One who attains this state of realization might be said to have “won.” Not just glimpsing this goal, but refining self and experience until the artificial distinction is lost. One becomes it, and it becomes oneself, until there is no goal and no separate self that attains. We are left with a boundless Reality that simply is, everywhere, and no artificially separate viewpoint that claims victory.

This way… it works quite well.

Who knows what adventure an open glance at the world might initiate?


Recommended Books: Milarepa

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teachings of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism Songs of Milarepa: (Dover Thrift Edition) Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan
More Books >>


Milarepa, Milarepa poetry, Buddhist poetry Milarepa

Tibet (1052 – 1135) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

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3 responses so far

Sep 08 2017

exercise

Everything is an exercise
in awareness.

One response so far

Sep 06 2017

Koan: Tipping Over a Vase

Published by under Stories

I thought I’d feature a koan, rather than a poem, today. This is something I posted on the blog a about five years back, and it’s been in my mind this morning. A koan today, poetry later in the week.

Koans are riddle-like sayings or short tales used in Zen practice to startle the listener out of the linear mind and into open awareness…

Two of the most famous collections of Zen koans are The Gateless Gate and The Blue Cliff Records. Here’s a koan I like from The Gateless Gate:


/ Photo by BotheredByBees /

Tipping Over a Vase

Master Hyakujo decided to found a new monastery, but he had the difficult task of selecting from among his disciples the right person to be the new monastery’s abbot. Then he came upon a solution.

Hyakujo called all his disciples together and told them that the person who best answered his question would be named the new abbot. Hyakujo filled a vase with water and set it on the ground before the assembled monks. “Who can tell me what this is without naming it?” he challenged.

The senior disciple stepped forward and answered accurately, “No one can call it a wooden shoe.”

Then Isan, the lowly cook, stepped forward and knocked the vase over with his foot, and walked out of the room.

Master Hyakujo smiled and declared, “My senior disciple has been bested.” Isan the cook was named the new abbot.

==

What just happened in this story?

One way to understand the meaning of this story is that the water represents Truth or the Dharma. The vase is the vessel that holds that truth, it is the teaching, it is the tradition.

That truth cannot be told, however. Sure, you can use simple words like “Truth” or “Reality,” or you can fill books with complex philosophical explanations. But ultimately those are all words and don’t truly convey what the Truth is. The “water” cannot be named. That is why Master Hyakujo gave this challenge to his disciples.

The lead disciple, clearly a cunning man, sees this as a test of his mental dexterity. If he cannot name the water-filled vessel, he will say what it is not, thus suggesting it by negation. But he has only negated one object in a world of infinite objects. A person can spend a lifetime listing all the things something is not, and never come to the point where only the unnamed thing remains. The lead disciple is trapped on the endless road of the intellect.

But the cook, Isan, understood the situation simply and clearly. He tipped the vase over, emptying the vessel and revealing the water. The truth cannot be told, it can only be shown.

What’s more, the truth cannot be held, it cannot be contained, it can only be poured out. The vase itself, the spiritual tradition, is empty and only has meaning as a vessel to transport the truth. By tipping over the vessel, he is suggesting that we must not worship the tradition itself. Religion, philosophy, spiritual tradition — these are not an end to themselves; they should be respected for their function as a delivery vehicle, but nothing more.

These are the insights that mark one for spiritual authority.

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