Nov 25 2015

Han-shan (Cold Mountain) – Above Cold Mountain

Published by under Poetry

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all
precious heavenly priceless jewel
buried in the skandhas submerged in the body

— from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Translated by Red Pine

/ Image by Temporalvisions /

Something to celebrate this Thanksgiving full moon…

As a young man, Han-shan was apparently part of the privileged civil servant class, but he left his family and wealth at about age thirty to take up the life of a hermit poet, settling in a remote cave beneath a rocky overhang. It was from this natural retreat that Han-shan took his name, which means Cold Mountain or Cold Cliff.

Since Cold Mountain is Han-Shan’s name translated into English as well as the place where he lived, when he says “Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone” it has a double meaning: He could be describing a moment in nature being observed, but he is also saying that the moon is shining above himself.

The moon, especially the full moon, has a specific metaphoric meaning in the sacred poetry of Asia. It is often used to represent the fully awakened awareness, Buddha-mind. So this poem can be read as a declaration of enlightenment. This is made doubly clear in the final lines where he says that this “heavenly… jewel” is “submerged in the body.” That is, his real subject is the “moon” of enlightenment found within.

To say that the moon “shines alone” might suggest the recognition that there is nothing other than that enlightenment. This is a nondualist statement, understood to be saying there is only Buddha-mind, only enlightenment, and nothing else truly exists.

I especially like the second line:

in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all.

We might think of the sky is the mind, the canvas of awareness. When it is clear, the mind is free from thoughts, free from fluctuations and distracting movement. The mind is no longer agitated or trying to force reality into mental forms. Instead it finally sees reality unfiltered.

But, in that clear sky, the moon, the light of enlightenment, “illuminates nothing at all.” The moon that shines down on Han-Shan shines on nothing. In that moment of pure illumination, he recognizes the nonexistence of the objects of the mind. The only reality is the illumination itself. There is only the moon, quietly, blissfully shining…

He shifts the imagery and begins to use more technical language in the next two lines. The moon shining in the sky is now described as a “heavenly priceless jewel” that is hidden or buried in the body and something called the “skandhas.”

This might need a little extra explanation. The five skandhas, according to Buddhist thought, are the five aspects that make up a sentient being. They are material form, sensation, perception, mental tendencies, and cognition. While these allow for basic perception, understanding, and interaction with the world, they also limit the full and open awareness. They tend to reinforce the illusion of tangibility, a false idea of self, and they create attachment to an ephemeral and continuously changing phenomenal reality. All of this, in turn, leads to confusion and suffering.

But, here is their secret: Hidden within these problematic aspects of mundane consciousness is the glowing nugget, the heavenly jewel of radiant pure awareness.

Notice also the balance Han-shan gives us with these two images of enlightenment: On the one hand, enlightenment is like looking out at the full moon in the clear night sky — expansive, intangible, outward focused; on the other hand, it is discovering a jewel buried within the body and mind — contractive, internal, earthy. It is as if he has painted for us in words an image of Yin and Yang. Enlightenment is really the two recognized as one.

Recommended Books: Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry
More Books >>

Han-shan (Cold Mountain), Han-shan (Cold Mountain) poetry, Buddhist poetry Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

China (730? – 850?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Nov 25 2015


Never accept the logic of expediency
over compassion.
We need a world that’s less efficient
and more humane.

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Nov 21 2015

Holiday Poetry Book Recommendations 2015

Yesterday it occurred to me just how quickly the winter holidays are coming: Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day…

Perhaps a few of the gifts you give this year should wax poetic. 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:

== Poetry Chaikhana Publications ==

For the modern mystic…

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

Introduction by Andrew Harvey

The Poetry Chaikhana’s most recent publication…

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


also Amazon and Barnes & Noble

and wherever books are sold

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


also Amazon and Barnes & Noble

and wherever books are sold

For the modern mystic…

Given: Poems
by Wendell Berry

Few modern poets manage to view the world with the patient eye Berry does when contemplating the purposes of life, death, and the slow pulse of the natural world. This is a favorite collect, with his Sabbath poems, several haiku and short poems. A book to savor on a slow Sunday afternoon.

Why I Wake Early
By Mary Oliver

You can’t go wrong with anything by Mary Oliver, but if you’re looking for a good introduction to her poetry, Why I Wake Early is a good place to start. This collection is one to enjoy, one poem at a time, in those quiet moments before the busyness of the day starts.

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.

For Nourishment…

Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds
Edited by Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson-Pearce

I came across this collection by accident, through a random recommendation on the Internet — and it has quickly become a favorite! A rich, tasty mixture of poetry by ancient and modern visionaries, from Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry to Kabir and Dogen, and several you may not have heard of before. Open to any page and discover a new treasure.

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 Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition
Translated and Annotated by Peter Cole

Finally we have a truly excellent collection of sacred Jewish poetry. While T. Carmi’s Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole’s The Poetry of Kabbalah has more of a poet’s sense of language and even catches of few sparks from the mystic’s fire. This is poetry that startles and transports. The Poetry of Kabbalah has become my favorite source for Jewish mystical poetry in English. Very highly recommended.

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!


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Nov 15 2015

Sachal Sarmast – Friend, this is the only way

Published by under Poetry

Friend, this is the only way
by Sachal Sarmast

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Friend, this is the only way
to learn the secret way:

      Ignore the paths of others,
      even the saints’ steep trails.

            Don’t follow.
            Don’t journey at all.

Rip the veil from your face.

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


I know the terrible bombings in Paris and Beirut are weighing heavily on all of our hearts right now.

Here is something I wrote in 2010 in response to another religiously motivated terrorist attack that killed several dozen people at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. I thought it would be meaningful to share again at this moment.

Islamic extremists have certainly grabbed headlines in recent years, but the world also has its Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists… as well as plenty of atheist and non-religious extremist groups. Extremism is not a problem of a particular religion; it is a disruption in the human psyche in general.

Religious extremism has very little to do with religion, if you think about it. It is partly a reflexive response to the intensely fragmenting nature of the modern world. And it is partly a reaction against unavoidable, sometimes unsettling encounters with different peoples and cultures and beliefs in our ever more integrated and multi-layered world. But mostly—mostly it is an act of desperation when the heart of true religion has been lost. People become violently obsessed with rules and traditions and texts only when they have lost the sense of what they really point to.

If you know where the Beloved lives, you are content, no need to argue with others over street names. Conflict only arises when you aren’t so certain you know the way; that’s when another person’s map threatens your certainty. Fundamentalism and extremism are an admission of that spiritual uncertainty. Absolutism is not an expression of faith; it is a symptom of the lack of faith. It is a symptom of the lack of true spiritual experience and knowledge.

The real long-term solution to the problem of violent religious extremism in the world is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within ourselves, to gently and generously share it with others, and to create environments nurturing to that continuing quest. The more we fill the world’s dry troughs with fresh water, the less likely it is that people will go insane with blind thirst.

Recommended Books: Sachal Sarmast

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Sachal Sarmast: Sindhi Poet Yaar di Gharoli / Kaafi – Sachal Sarmast: From Songs of the Mystics (mp3 song) The Story of Melting: Sachal Sarmast’s Persian Masnavi Gudaz-nama

Sachal Sarmast, Sachal Sarmast poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Sachal Sarmast

Pakistan/India (1739 – 1829) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

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Nov 15 2015

Belief is not knowledge.

Belief is not knowledge.

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Nov 11 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – For your sake poets sequester themselves

Published by under Poetry

For your sake poets sequester themselves
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

For your sake poets sequester themselves,
gather images to churn the mind,
journey forth, ripening with metaphor,
and all their lives they are so alone…
And painters paint their pictures only
that the world, so transient as you made it,
can be given back to you,
to last forever.

All becomes eternal. See: In the Mona Lisa
some woman has long since ripened like wine,
and the enduring feminine is held there
through all the ages.

Those who create are like you.
They long for the eternal.
They say, Stone, be forever!
And that means: be yours.

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour.
They kiss an expressionless mouth into a smile
as if creating it anew, more beautiful.

Awakening desire, they make a place
where pain can enter;
that’s how growing happens.
They bring suffering along with their laughter,
and longings that had slept and now awaken
to weep in a stranger’s arms.

They let the riddles pile up and then they die
the way animals die, without making sense of it.
But maybe in those who come after,
their green life will ripen;
it’s then that you will inherit the love
to which they gave themselves so blindly, as in a sleep.

Thus the overflow from things
pours into you.
Just as a fountain’s higher basins
spill down like strands of loosened hair
into the lowest vessel,
so streams the fullness into you,
when things and thoughts cannot contain it.

— from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy

/ Image by Kathleen Maher /

I thought this poem by Rilke would be a good follow-up to Friday’s poem by Wendell Berry.

For your sake poets sequester themselves,
gather images to churn the mind,
journey forth, ripening with metaphor,
and all their lives they are so alone…

Poets and painters, each in their way are devotees, hermits, bringing what is within to birth in the world, always seeking something of the Eternal.

Those who create are like you.
They long for the eternal.

Even artists who reject classic ideas of beauty, form, structure, or balance are still seeking to express something resonant, a deeper truth, a forgotten honesty, a new awareness. Art is always concerned with the eternal. It is a holy endeavor.

And Rilke says that lovers are themselves artists, passionate seekers, creators…

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour…

It is as if the romantic lover catches a glimpse of the eternal in the smile of that cherished one. It is a fleeting sort of seeking, mixed with suffering, with unclear ends to the young lovers themselves, but with an evolving potential of new life and generationally expanding awareness.

But maybe in those who come after,
their green life will ripen…

Rilke seems to say that each work of art, each moment of uncovered beauty, is inherently a mystical act.

Thus the overflow from things
pours into you.

The outer form and shape suggests something eternal and ideal behind it, yet, at the same time, is unable to contain it. The more we contemplate that elegant verse, that framed image, the blossoming smile on the lover’s mouth, we witness the luminous fulness that inspired it.

Just as a fountain’s higher basins
spill down like strands of loosened hair
into the lowest vessel,
so streams the fullness into you,
when things and thoughts cannot contain it.

That transcendent ideal, uncontained by line or word, overflows and returns back to the Eternal. If we have learned to pay attention, we too can follow.

The Mona Lisa is not a portrait of a woman who lived and died centuries ago. It is the embodiment of something more lasting than the painting itself. When we truly look, the Mona Lisa’s smile whispers to us secrets of the Eternal.

All becomes eternal.

Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
More Books >>

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke

3 responses so far

Nov 11 2015

the greatest teacher

The greatest teacher
is what is
immediately in front of you.

No responses yet

Nov 06 2015

Video: Hafez, Tongue of the Hidden

Published by under Poetry,Videos

A truly stunning short film from Iran combining poetry of Hafez and animated Persian calligraphy. Watch and enjoy!

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Nov 06 2015

Wendell Berry – How to Be a Poet

Published by under Poetry

How to Be a Poet
by Wendell Berry

(To remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry

/ Image by Louis Vest /

Surprising, but I only discovered this poem by Wendell Berry a few months ago. Oh, I like it, don’t you?

One doesn’t have to be a poet to carried away by it. In fact, it’s not really about writing poetry at all, is it? It’s really about how to perceive and how to inhabit each moment of each day. That is when the best poetry is born.

The first verse invites is to settle down. Reading those first few lines, I feel my own slightly aging bones settling awkwardly into a state of rest and stillness. And there is the slow interior work of reading, cultivating inspiration, the private work on the blank page. I love that he lists “growing older” as one of the necessary tasks of the poet. And patience–

for patience joins time
to eternity.

The second verse seems to be more about our relationship to place, both exterior and interior space. In recent years I haven’t done so well with avoiding electric wire and screens, but there was a time some years ago when I did just that, literally. It does shift one’s sense of reality and connection to the world. The transition feels stressful at first, and then, slowly, the world around us starts to take depth and life, becoming a slow-speaking friend in constant, quiet communication.

What are the ways we have been taught to sever that connection?

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

And he concludes with that wonderful meditation on silence. We think a poem is a collection of words, but the best poetry simply gives shape to silence.

Accept what comes from silence…

make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Have a beautiful weekend, remembering to breathe the unconditional breath!

Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>

Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

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Nov 06 2015


Real mountaineers love the mountain
more than the map.

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Nov 04 2015

Thank you – and an update

I want to say how truly thankful I am for your generous response to my request for support. Just look at this amazing list of people who have already donated online:

– Jim S., Pat J., John P., Dyan H., Theresa S., Sylvia F., Kathleen H., Mattheus N., Beth U., Susan T., Harvey G., Bill F., Linda T., Gary D., Merrilee M., David J., Deborah C., Kellie M., Anne B., Doug B., Stella M., Kris H., Julia J., Ken M., Vicki G., Joanne L., Jane W., Anne M., John H., Beki H., Monika H., Marie-Christine dK., Sue W., John W., Megha D., Jennifer T., Rosalind W., Helen G.

And I am well aware that several of you have chosen to send a contribution through the mail, which may need a few more days to arrive.

I am fully aware what a profound and personal contribution each and every one of your donations is. Considering that this is poetry and commentary you can enjoy for free, so many of you have chosen to step out of your comfort zone and fill out a donation form online or address and stamp an envelope and then, of course, offer some of your own money — $2, $10, $20, $50, in a few cases more! I never have the words to properly express my gratitude, when your donations obviously come from the heart.

Thank you, everyone!


We are still well short of even one-quarter of our goal of $5,000. I knew that amount was an ambitious goal, perhaps too ambitious, though we may still be surprised by further donations yet to come in.

Whatever the final result of this fundraising drive, know that it is already a huge help. The closer we can get to the goal of $5,000, the quicker I can make some of the changes that will allow me to focus more time and energy on the Poetry Chaikhana. But, if we have less to work with, I will still move toward that transition, it may just take longer.

Again, thank you!

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Nov 04 2015

Imadeddin Nasimi – Both worlds within my compass come

Published by under Poetry

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me
by Imadeddin Nasimi

English version by P. Tempest

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me.
An omnipresent pearl I am and both worlds cannot compass me.

Because in me both earth and heaven and Creation’s “BE!” were found,
Be silent! For there is no commentary can encompass me.

Through doubt and surmise no one came to be a friend of God and Truth.
The man who honours God knows doubt and surmise cannot compass me.

Pay due regard to form, acknowledge content in the form, because
Body and soul I am, but soul and body cannot compass me.

I am both shell and pearl, the Doomsday scales, the bridge to Paradise.
With such a wealth of wares, this worldly counter cannot compass me.

I am “the hidden treasure” that is God. I am open eyes.
I am the jewel of the mine. No sea or mine can compass me.

Although I am the boundless sea, my name is Adam, I am man.
I am Mount Sinai and both worlds. This dwelling cannot compass me.

I am both soul and word as well. I am both world and epoch, too.
Mark this particular: this world and epoch cannot compass me.

I am the stars, the sky the angel, revelation come from God.
So hold your tongue and silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.

I am the atom, sun, four elements, five saints, dimensions six.
Go seek my attributes! But explanations cannot compass me.

I am the core and attribute, the flower, sugar and sweetmeat.
I am Assignment Night, the Eve. No tight-shut lips can compass me.

I am the burning bush. I am the rock that rose into the sky.
Observe this tongue of flame. There is no tongue of flame can compass me.

This selection reminds me of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

What a wonderful, swirling, kaleidoscopic sense of the self as being all things until it ultimately resolves into a vision of unified totality. Nasimi gathers everything into his sense of self until he is beyond definition, beyond form. For Nasimi, all things are recognized as being within until all descriptions fail:

Explanations cannot compass me.

In reality, we are all like that — too vast to be corralled into some safe, limited notion of what we are. Whatever we think we are, we are greater still. The limited mind cannot conceive of something so limitless as one’s full being. In our deepest self, we are too big to be a ‘thing’, too big to be anything. Instead, there is something of all things in us. Realizing this, we settle into a state of pure witnessing (“I am open eyes”), free from the faulty effort of endless self-definition.

Silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.

I’ll take some good advice and say no more…

Recommended Books: Imadeddin Nasimi

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey

Imadeddin Nasimi, Imadeddin Nasimi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Imadeddin Nasimi

Azerbaijan (1369? – 1418) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Nov 04 2015

not your suffering

Even your suffering
is not your suffering.
It all belongs to the one
who lives through you.

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Nov 02 2015

Support for Changes

Life is this simple:
We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent
& the Divine is shining through it all the time.
~ Thomas Merton

I haven’t been a very good correspondent lately.

I feel badly about how many of your emails I haven’t responded to in recent weeks. Almost every day I receive at least one email telling me how much the Poetry Chaikhana means to you. The daily poem brings a moment of calm to the morning, inspires creativity at work, offers comfort in a period of crisis, carries hope when assaulted by the headlines, suggests a focus for meditation or prayer before bed. These notes from you continuously remind me why the Poetry Chaikhana is so important. And I am so grateful to be able to share my love of this poetry with such an engaged community.

Often your notes, even when brief, touch on something deeply personal and meaningful in your life and how that day’s poem spoke just the right words to you. Many of you send me your own poems in response. I know how much heart and attention you put into your correspondence with me, and I don’t like to let those pass without a reply. I have always felt that communication is essential to the vitality of the Poetry Chaikhana. For me, the emails I send out and your responses to me feel personal, a long-term conversation between us all on the nature of spirit and art and daily life, and how these interweave and contribute to each other — enlivening us all in the process

In the past year I have had to significantly increase my work hours in my day job to make up for rising expenses and lower income with the Poetry Chaikhana. All of that extra work gets tricky with my ongoing ME/chronic fatigue syndrome challenges. Unfortunately, that means I have very little extra focus for the Poetry Chaikhana beyond sending out the emails themselves once or twice a week. Not only is my communication with all of you suffering, new book projects are also on hold. I have halted plans for a few speaking engagements. The website itself isn’t getting updated or maintained properly.

I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but I consider the Poetry Chaikhana to be sacred work. And I don’t feel this sacred work is getting the attention it deserves from me. Without enough community support, my work with the Poetry Chaikhana may have to be trimmed back further, which would be a shame.

I think, instead, that it’s time to make some changes in order to restore balance, return more of my focus to the Poetry Chaikhana, and revitalize communication within this wonderful community we have built over the years.

That’s why I am reaching out to you for help.

I need to significantly cut expenses in order to lessen my work requirements. That requires a few big changes on my part, as well as a certain amount of extra income to help with the transition.

I have set a big goal: I would like to see if we can raise $5,000. I know that sounds like a big number, though it shouldn’t be for a group as large as ours. With a community of several thousand people across the globe, don’t you think that together we can raise that sum?

If you feel a connection to the Poetry Chaikhana, please consider making a donation.

Ways you can help:

– You can make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button on the Poetry Chaikhana home page at

– You can sign up for a voluntary monthly donation of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button.

(A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook — and easier to justify as less than the cost of one snack per month.)

– You can send a check or money order in US funds, addressed to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306

I am also grateful for your help through supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, financial and energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

There. That’s my pitch. If you have thought about making a donation to the Poetry Chaikhana in the past, if you have been touched by a poem or commentary featured in one of the Poetry Chaikhana emails, if you would like to help more people to discover this amazing poetry… now is an especially helpful time to make a donation.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~ Rumi

/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

Do you wonder what my work with the Poetry Chaikhana looks like?

I realize that most of my work with the Poetry Chaikhana goes on behind the scenes and few of you have a clear sense of what I really do. Here is a slightly updated version something I wrote a while back that should give you a better sense of my daily work with the Poetry Chaikhana. I thought you might find this interesting reading…

I often start my morning off with a meditation, and then I see which poem seems eager to speak that day. I let my computer suggest a poem at random, and then I try to sense if the poem is “right” for the day. Some mornings I select the first poem that comes up. Other days I’ll spend an hour sorting through possibilities. I try to make sure I have a good balance of spiritual traditions represented over the month. I also make a point of including women’s voices regularly. Occasionally I look for a series of poems that follow a sacred theme or metaphor.

Once I’ve selected the daily poem, I often spend a little time researching the life of the poet so I can pass along a few notes with the poem.

Then I sit with the poem, contemplate it, speak it aloud, let it dance in my mind, and I watch the ideas rise for my commentary. Occasionally I slip back into meditation and when I emerge the commentary is just waiting to be written out.

Some mornings I feel I’ve said too much in recent commentaries, and I just send the poem with a short, friendly note. And sometimes I come across a poem with a comment I wrote a couple of years ago, and I think, “I have to share that with everyone again!”

Then I spend a while searching through photos and art among the Flickr or Deviantart “Creative Commons” libraries and look for one that somehow expresses an image or feeling from the poem.

I also select a “Thought for the Day” from among the many I’ve written over the years, also by feel for the day.

Then I update the Poetry Chaikhana home page and post the poem and commentary to the Poetry Chaikhana blog. I spend a while adding new sign-ups and removing cancellations from the email list. Finally, I format everything and send out the poem email.

The Poetry Chaikhana poem email now goes out to about 9,000 people! It used to take my computer more than 4 hours to send the poem email out each day, but now I use an email service so my computer is free for other work while it is sending.

Most days I also select a short poem or excerpt to post on the Poetry Chaikhana Facebook page. Sometimes two posts. I often post accompanying artwork, as well. We’ve got another 6,000 fans there.

I spend time each month looking for new voices of wisdom in books and on the Internet. I try to add new poems and poets regularly. I’ve become quite a speedy typist!

Some weeks I also have to spend time maintaining and troubleshooting the Poetry Chaikhana database and website. Occasionally, I have to wrangle with spam-blocker sites to convince them that the Poetry Chaikhana emails are not spam.

I get dozens of emails each week, sometimes hundreds — which I love! I read every email and, when I can, I send responses.

When I am working on a new book for publication, there is a whole additional ‘to do’ list involving reprint permission requests, editing, proofreading, layout work, and lots of correspondence with poets and translators.

…And then I start my day job. Whew!

Poetry and Personal Transformation

We forget how fundamental poetry is, not only to culture, but to consciousness. Poetry is meditation in the form of words. I posted this on the Poetry Chaikhana website years ago, and it’s just as true today:

“Poetry has an immediate effect on the mind. The simple act of reading poetry alters thought patterns and the shuttle of the breath. Poetry induces trance. Its words are chant. Its rhythms are drumbeats. Its images become the icons of the inner eye. Poetry is more than a description of the sacred experience; it carries the experience itself.”

The Politics of Poetry

In addition to the spiritual importance of this sacred poetry, there is also a cultural, even a political motivation behind the Poetry Chaikhana. Here’s how I described it in a interview a few years ago:

“Sacred poetry has the unique benefit of being a deeply personal expression of spiritual truth while, at the same time, being largely free from dogma. In the United States, for example, there is an increasing prejudice and fear about the Muslim world. But who can read Jelaluddin Rumi without immediately recognizing the deep truth that Islam can express? The same is true for a non-Hindu reading Lal Ded or a non-Christian reading St. John of the Cross. Sacred poetry is the natural goodwill ambassador for the world’s religions. Poetry can reach across cultural divides, soften prejudices, and shed light on misunderstandings. I hope the Poetry Chaikhana can help to facilitate that process.”

Sacred poetry is transformative on both a personal and a global level.

The Poetry Chaikhana has become a community that reaches across the globe. We have visitors from every continent and more than 220 countries and territories! (See Poetry Chaikhana Around the World.)

The Poetry Chaikhana is an important resource for people all over the world seeking to more deeply understand their own wisdom traditions as well as the spirituality of other cultures in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

Thank you so much! I know that a number of you have already given your support to the Poetry Chaikhana, both financially and through your heartfelt good wishes. I want you to know that whatever help you can offer is sincerely appreciated. So I thank you for your help past and present in continuing to build the Poetry Chaikhana as an online resource and community, a publisher, and a voice for art, balanced esoteric exploration, and cultural respect.

While reason is still tracking down the secret,
you end your quest on the open field of love.
~ Sanai

3 responses so far

Oct 30 2015

John O’Donohue – In Praise of the Earth

Published by under Poetry

In Praise of the Earth
by John O’Donohue

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

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

/ Image by Katie Tegtmeyer /

There was a time when I lived on Maui, without much money but surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I stayed in a place half-way up Haleakala Volcano, at the edge of a eucalyptus forest. I fasted a lot in those days, and several times a week I would walk barefoot into the woods. Hidden among the trees was a small rock cave, just large enough for me to sit upright in meditation. To sit quietly in the cool, silent embrace of the Earth — a true blessing!

Though I now live in a small city, in a computer-powered world, I still carry that time with me in my heart. That memory continuously reminds me that, in spite of skyscrapers and the Internet, the world is not man-made. All the works of humanity are small accomplishments compared with the panoramic living miracle of the Earth.

The ground below us, sky above us, breath within us — all is the living Earth.

The Earth is the stage for our dramas.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And hold our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Not only could we not act without the Earth, we could not dream. The images, the objects, the colors that populate the human psyche, they are all of the Earth too. The Earth speaks to us, and gives us a vocabulary to speak back.

The Earth is the place of birth, the stuff of life, and rest in death.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

The Earth is our everything.

While we as individuals live out the span of years alotted to us, the Earth is the full embodiment, the whole multiplicity of Life.

The tangible hints at the intangible. Matter expresses spirit. Earth gives form to heaven. How can we not honor that form? It is sacred. And it is us. You and I emerge to incarnate that form. Our challenge is to awaken and incarnate the secret light it suggests.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

Take some time today to sit on the Earth. Run your fingers through the grass. Feel the quiet strength filling your bones. Know you are home.

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>

John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

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Oct 30 2015

to find perfection

To find its perfection
the soul must reveal
its imperfections.

No responses yet

Oct 28 2015

Ansari – Give Me

Published by under Poetry

Give Me
by Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

English version by Andrew Harvey

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.
Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

/ Image by Cristian Bernal /

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people and communities affected by the recent earthquake in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. We have several people on this mailing list from those regions. I hope you and your loved ones are safe.

With the region strongly in my mind, I thought I would select a poem by Sheikh Ansari of Herat (in western Afghanistan).

There is something so simple and profound… and universal in this prayer-poem. These words were given to us by a devout Muslim Sufi, but they could as well have been spoken by a Hindu satyagrahi, a Catholic liberation theologian, a Buddhist peace worker, a Protestant homeless advocate, or any sincere soul striving to awaken the Divine within ourselves and our world.

Notice that Sheikh Ansari gives us two parallel statements, and they balance each other.

The first statement–

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.

–addresses our interior state. It is a prayer to be given a heart, or to recognize our heart, awakening it. It is a prayer of centering, of coming to know the center of one’s being… and allowing that self to flow.

That flow naturally expresses itself through gratitude, thanksgiving. The flow of the heart is a gift we pour out into the world. It is the offering of one’s self.

So, first he asks for self-recognition, centering, and a gratitude which can be shared with the world.


Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

–the poet turns that awareness outward through action. He requests life, but not to bolster his ego or rack up good stories to tell; he asks for life that he may be of service.

Now, that phrase “working for the salvation of the world,” may make some of us cringe. The term “salvation” has been abducted by rigid religious literalists, equating salvation with subscribing to their specific belief systems. But, despite what is thundered from the pulpits and the minbars, salvation has little to do with belief or which group one joins. It is about healing, the easing of pain, the renewal of hope, and a deepening relationship with truth. On a social level, this is best expressed through selfless, nonjudgmental service. On the spiritual level, working for salvation is about humbly peeling away the obstructions that keep individuals and the world as a whole from recognizing their inherent beauty and heavenly potential.

On a certain level, service in the world is a sort of religious ritual, an outward enactment of an inner process. We may help one person or a hundred or a thousand, but suffering continues in the world. The numbers game leads to discouragement. But with each kind act, small or large, we give away a little more ego, we open our eyes a little more, we feel a little more connected, and more and more we come to discover that serene, heavenly Self at rest within.

Ansari seems to be saying to us, when we discover beauty within, it naturally flows out of us into the world. And when we pour ourselves out for the healing of the world, we find wholeness within.

Recommended Books: Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations Munajat: The Intimate Invocations
More Books >>

Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Afghanistan (1006 – 1088) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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