Aug 09 2019

Lalla – Learning the scriptures is easy

Published by at 8:30 am under Poetry

Learning the scriptures is easy
by Lalla

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Learning the scriptures is easy;
but living them, that’s hard.
Far easier to read words on a page
than to seek the living heart of things.


Fumbling through the fog of study,
stumbling, I lost my last words.
      — And my vision cleared.
      Oh the sight that met me then!

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

It has been a heartrending week if you follow the news. Here in the US, we had two mass shootings in a row last weekend perpetrated by racist right-wing extremists. The governmental response has been one of dogged inaction, despite huge support among the population for reinstating the assault weapons ban.

To heighten the sense of cruelty this week, there have also been a series of brutal raids on immigrant families by ICE in several US states.

I tend to feel these public traumas in very personal, physical ways. More than once I have woken up in the middle of the night flooded with a nameless agitated energy just hours before one of these events. It happened to me on the morning of 9/11. It has happened with several previous mass shootings. Needless to say, it has been a restless week.

I tend to see public violence like these events as dark rituals. They evoke darkness in the cultural consciousness, summoning fear in most and vicious exhilaration in a few. Each of these public rituals of violence and cruelty makes similar actions more conceivable, as if a doorway is being forced opened. The way to respond is not through fear but through engaged compassion. Feeling compassion in the midst of trauma, feeling anything in the midst of trauma, can be excruciating at first and requires immense courage — but it is the way of life, to keep life flowing within us and within the world. Preventing the heart from shutting down is just the first step. Our compassion must be engaged. It must be active. The energy of compassion naturally wants to act, to move through us and reach out into the world in order to help, to heal, and to protect the vulnerable. As more and more people light up with this compassion and offer their hands in genuine service, that doorway to violence and cruelty is again closed.

I have been talking about American events, but let’s not overlook the ratchetting up of tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which is perhaps the most concerning on the global stage. While the two nations have been skirmishing over the region since Partition, a genuine war between the two would be catastrophic, not just for them but for the planet.

I thought some words of clarity and wisdom from the great Kashmiri poet-saint Lalla might help–

Learning the scriptures is easy;
but living them, that’s hard.

Too often people slip into the bad habit of fundamentalism, confusing the ability to quote scripture and rules with actually embodying that truth in their daily lives. Memorization and carefully controlled behavior doesn’t do the job. It keeps things safely in the intellect and then we never have to truly confront the heart’s urge to open.

But Lalla reminds us:

Far easier to read words on a page
than to seek the living heart of things.

Not only is it not easy to seek the deep reality, it’s messy. We are confronted by aspects of ourselves that are frightening and frightened, hidden even from our own awareness. History, hopes, angers, ambitions…

Each human life is far too rich and multi-layered to be truncated into the safe, neat, predefined stories we are told to live out. The human soul is not a cartoon, without depth or detail. No, a full spirituality incorporates all that we are. To be holy is to be whole — nothing left out. The map of the human soul is a topographical map, with mountains and valleys, and rivers of life everywhere. Until we’ve acknowledged that entire landscape, we only have an incomplete sense of all that we are, and all that humanity is — that’s when compassion collapses, the world appears fragmented, and the vision of the the living heart of things is lost in the cracks.

Fumbling through the fog of study,
stumbling, I lost my last words.

After learning the scriptures, Lalla has swept her mental space clean. Now that’s real work! Instead of just memorizing the words of scripture, she has become the blank page that effortlessly displays them.

— And my vision cleared.
Oh the sight that met me then!

Sending love out into the world in the form of awakening empathy and compassion and self-awareness… and the will to act in their service.


Recommended Books: Lalla

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Naked Song
More Books >>


Lalla, Lalla poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla

Kashmir (India/Pakistan) (14th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Lalla, also affectionately called Lalli, Lal Ded, Lal Diddi (“Granny Lal”), or Lalleshwari, was born near Srinagar in Kashmir in northern India/Pakistan.

Little is known with certainty about her life, other than hints that come to us through her poetry and songs.

She was a young bride, married, tradition says, at the age of twelve. After moving into her husband’s family home, she was abused by her mother-in-law and ignored by her husband.

A story is told about “Lalla’s Lake” — one day when returning from the well with a clay water jug on her head, her husband lost his temper over her delay and struck the jug in his anger. The clay vessel broke but, miraculously, the water held its shape above her head. This becomes an important symbol of the heavenly nectar that rains down from the crown.

Finally, Lalla could endure no more mistreatment and, in her early 20s, she left. She became a disciple of a respected saint in the Kashmir Shaivism tradition of yoga and she took up the life of a holy woman dedicated God in the form of Shiva. Lalla began wandering about, village to village, going naked or nearly naked, and singing songs of enlightenment.

Lalla’s songs are short, using the simple, direct language of the common people, yet she touches on complex yogic techniques and the most elevated states of awareness.

The name Lalla can be translated as either “seeker” or “darling.”

Lalla is deeply loved by both Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir today, even amidst the terrible fighting ravaging the land. There is a saying that in Kashmir only two words have any meaning: Allah and Lalla.

More poetry by Lalla

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Lalla – Learning the scriptures is easy”

  1. Jean Goldenon 09 Aug 2019 at 10:37 am

    On the Moment Before Lalla Awakens

    Deep
    in the beating
    heart of Lalla
    lies a world
    of swirling mystery
    no song
    of love, however
    beautifully sung,
    can reach.
    A cavern,
    pulsing.
    A universe,
    plunging
    into a black hole
    where love,
    rage,
    joy,
    terror,
    drawn deep,
    molten,
    animate
    each moment,
    manifest
    across twisting
    grids of time
    and space.

    Murder in El Paso.
    Kashmir set afire.
    Tongues
    of lies lick
    the faces
    of the dead
    and living
    alike.
    Vampires feed.
    Darkness
    rushes
    in bloody
    torrents.
    Triggers squeeze.
    Staccato bangs.
    Life ebbs
    beneath
    the Seeker’s
    skin.
    Her heart
    ceases.

  2. Elaon 10 Aug 2019 at 3:13 pm

    hi ivan,

    when we read your comments
    it seems these are coming from
    a deep understanding.

    saint lalla’s appealing divine thoughts were as
    beautiful as the place, kashmir, she lived in.

    India is proud of its
    innumerable great saints,
    some became known to the world and
    many more remained incognito.

    even an ordinary looking person there,
    used be a real ruhani philosopher, but
    it is different now and cruel partition of the
    country was mostly not a welcome, still
    it is a dream of the general public that
    some day both parts of the country
    will unite and become one again!

  3. Annaon 17 Aug 2019 at 5:33 am

    Hi Ivan

    I was looking for Lalla,
    but she wasn’t there,
    she has gone,
    together with the ‘me’,
    that was looking for her…
    Both has dissolved…

    Many people(including me) from long time
    are wondering, why they haven’t any interest
    towards anything in this known world and
    suffering and pain sometimes are unbearable…

    Did you noticed lately how the known reality,
    slowly and subtle, but surely is replacing with unknown?

    Very, very subtle…it seems known only on the surface,
    but there are differences,
    when observe with the inner eye and listen with the heart…

    There is SO MUCH and “nothing” all at the same time…
    from one phase of the ‘illusion’ to another one,
    but our head is no more ‘in the way’…and
    the old models of existence has gone

    And to finish, every time we watch ‘the fake news’ on TV,
    we triggers the old reptilian brain program ‘Fight or Flight,
    and it triggers the ‘victim/victimizer’ program,
    and the chain of the interconnected programs is going on and on
    in loop cycles…

    I hope I didn’t shocked you lately too much … or am I? 🙂

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