Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Feb 24 2017

Shankara – Nirvana Shatakam

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Nirvana Shatakam
by Shankara

English version by Ivan M. Granger

I am not mind, not intellect, not ego, not thought.
I am not the ears, the tongue, the nose or the eyes, or what they witness,
I am neither earth nor sky, not air nor light.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I am not the breath of prana, nor its five currents.
I am not the seven elements, nor the five organs,
Nor am I the voice or hands or anything that acts.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I have no hatred or preference, neither greed nor desire nor delusion.
Pride, conflict, jealousy — these have no part of me.
Nothing do I own, nothing do I seek, not even liberation itself.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I know neither virtue nor vice, neither pleasure nor pain.
I know no sacred chants, no holy places, no scriptures, no rituals.
I know neither the taste nor the taster.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I fear not death. I doubt neither my being nor my place.
I have no father or mother; I am unborn.
I have no relatives, no friends. I have no guru and no devotees.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Free from doubt, I am formless.
With knowledge, in knowledge, I am everywhere, beyond perception.
I am always the same. Not free, not trapped — I am.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Truly, I am Shiva, pure awareness.
Shivo Ham! Shivo Ham!

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


/ Image by Ernesto /

In the Hindu calendar, this is Maha Shivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva, honoring the god Shiva and the awakening of life and light and enlightenment in the world. So I thought we should honor this special night with one of the great poems in the Shiva tradition by one of the most important philosopher-saints of Hinduism, Adi Shankara.

These lines are a distillation of Advaita Vedanta, the vision of non-dual reality. Advaita is the realization that underlying the complex diversity of creation is a single Unity. And within that Unity, even the individual is in no way separate or different from that vast Divine. This is why Shankara keeps returning to his refrain:

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

You might ask, why Shiva? If all is One, why then identify with just one god from among the many gods in the Hindu pantheon?

Some schools of Advaita Vedanta do, in fact, avoid the theistic language of gods and, instead, speak only of the Self — the immense Self that is at once the heart of every individual and also the heart of all Being.

But when adherents of Advaita do speak of gods, they often speak of Shiva. Shiva is the favored god of meditators, yogis, ascetics, those on the path of gnosis. Shiva is seen as pure Being, the fountain of all being. When Shankara repeats, “I am Shiva!” he is declaring that he finds no separation between his individual self and the center of all selves.

I am…

Shankara asserts, “I am,” throughout. By reading this poem, we repeat with him, “I am… I am…” Doing so, we enter into his realization. We take on his awareness. His declaration of what he is and is not becomes our own.

I am not mind, not intellect, not ego, not thought…

Much of this poem is a list of what Shankara realizes we are not.

This is an expression of the ancient practice of neti neti — not this, not that. It is a spiritual examination of everything, while slowly recognizing that no single thing contains the full Reality we seek.

We are not the mind or intellect. We are not the senses or the organs through which we perceive the world. We are not the elemental building blocks of the body or thought.

He also states we are not the qualities or preferences of the personality. The things that tug at us or repel us, they are not what we are, and they are not fundamentally real. Relationships, family, even life and death—none of these things define us or truly tell us who we are.

Shankara has basically negated everything: the body, the mind, desires and fears, relationships, even the hope for liberation itself. What then is left? That’s the question that resonates throughout. Superficial ideas of identity would tell us that nothing remains and one has hit a dead end. Not so. Something remains. When all the rest has been swept aside, something remains. All the things we thought we were can be lost, yet what we are fundamentally remains. Beneath it all there has always been that glowing Self, steady, aware, at rest, blissful, invulnerable. And it says simply, “I am.”

Free from doubt, I am formless.
With knowledge, in knowledge, I am everywhere, beyond perception.
I am always the same. Not free, not trapped—I am.

In celebration, we can sing with Shankara—

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Truly, I am Shiva, pure awareness.
Shivo Ham! Shivo Ham!


Recommended Books: Shankara

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination Upadesa Sahasri: A Thousand Teachings Shankara and Indian Philosophy Ramana, Shankara and the Forty Verses: The Essential Teachings of Advaita
More Books >>


Shankara, Shankara poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Shankara

India (788 – 820) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Feb 22 2017

Angelus Silesius – So many droplets in the sea

Published by under Poetry

So many droplets in the sea, in bread so many grains
by Angelus Silesius

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

So many droplets in the sea, in bread so many grains;
So too of our multiplicity, nothing but God remains.

— from Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing, by Gabriel Rosenstock


/ Image by alexandre-deschaumes /

Short poem, short commentary: Many < -> One


Recommended Books: Angelus Silesius

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing
More Books >>


Angelus Silesius, Angelus Silesius poetry, Christian poetry Angelus Silesius

Poland/Germany (1624 – 1677) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Feb 17 2017

Hakuin – Hakuin’s Song of Zazen

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Hakuin’s Song of Zazen
by Hakuin

English version by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki

All beings are primarily Buddhas.
It is like water and ice:
There is no ice apart from water;
There are no Buddhas apart from beings.

Not knowing how close the truth is to them,
Beings seek for it afar — what a pity!
They are like those who, being in the midst of water,
Cry out for water, feeling thirst.

They are like the son of the rich man,
Who, wandering away from his father,
Goes astray amongst the poor.
It is all due to their ignorance
That beings transmigrate in the darkness
Of the Six Paths of existence.

When they wander from darkness to darkness,
How can they ever be free from birth-and-death?

As for the Dhyana practice as taught in the Mahayana,
No amount of praise can exhaust its merits.
The Six Paramitas–beginning with the Giving, Observing the Precepts,
And other good deeds, variously enumerated,
Such as Nembutsu, Repentance, Moral Training, and so on —
All are finally reducible to the practice of Dhyana.

The merit of Dhyana practice, even during a single sitting,
Erases the countless sins accumulated in the past.
Where then are the Evil Paths to misguide us?
The Pure Land cannot be far away.

Those who, for once, listening to the Dharma
In all humility,
Praise it and faithfully follow it,
Will be endowed with innumerable merits.

But how much more so when you turn your eyes within yourselves
And have a glimpse into your self-nature!
You find that the self-nature is no-nature –
The truth permitting no idle sophistry.
For you, then, open the gate leading to the oneness of cause and effect;
Before you, then, lies a straight road of non-duality and non-trinity.

When you understand that form is the form of the formless,
Your coming-and-going takes place nowhere else but where you are.
When you understand that thought is the thought of the thought-less.
Your singing-and-dancing is no other than the voice of the Dharma.
How boundless is the sky of Samadhi!
How refreshingly bright is the moon of the Fourfold Wisdom!
Being so is there anything you lack?
As the Absolute presents itself before you
The place where you stand is the Land of the Lotus,
And your person — the body of the Buddha.

— from Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series, by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki


/ Image by Ed Schipul /

After Wednesday’s epic rambling Zen-Beat “scripture”-poem by Kerouac, I thought it might fit to follow up today with a more traditional, highly revered poem by the great Zen master Hakuin Zenji.

You will see that several of the ideas Kerouac was exploring are expressed here, as well, though in a much more contained and elegant manner. The essence of the two poems might be summed up as everything is already That, or, as Hakuin starts us off–

All beings are primarily Buddhas.

It is simply ignorance about one’s own nature that keeps us blind to our inherent enlightenment.

Not knowing how close the truth is to them,
Beings seek for it afar — what a pity!

It is not that we acquire enlightenment. Anything that can be gained, that has a beginning, necessarily has an end and is, therefore, not lasting. It is not that we are unenlightened and, at some point, become enlightened. The point here is that we — and all beings — are enlightened all along. What is necessary is not to become enlightened, but to stop clinging to the idea that we are not enlightened.

They are like those who, being in the midst of water,
Cry out for water, feeling thirst.

We can see this insight as absurd, even offensive to all of our struggles — or it can be the key that brings us immediately into the awareness of our own enlightened nature, right now.

A few terms that might help to appreciate this poem more fully:

Dhyana – Meditation. Read this not simply as the act of sitting still, but as the inner state of deeply collected awareness.

Dharma – Can be translated as the Way, the Path, the Law, Righteousness. We might think of it as the directional flow of universal consciousness and how we, through our focus and actions, enter into that flow.

Samadhi – The blissful union of the individual awareness with the Eternal, often considered the mark of enlightenment.

The Six Paramitas – These are six qualities or “perfections” that naturally appear along the spiritual path: generosity, morality, patience, joyful action, concentration, and wisdom.

Nembutsu – The practice of chanting the names of the Buddha.

As the Absolute presents itself before you
The place where you stand is the Land of the Lotus,
And your person — the body of the Buddha.


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

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Feb 15 2017

Jack Kerouac – The Scripture of the Golden Eternity

Published by under Poetry

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity
by Jack Kerouac

1
Did I create that sky? Yes, for, if it was anything other than a conception in my mind I wouldnt have said “Sky”-That is why I am the golden eternity. There are not two of us here, reader and writer, but one, one golden eternity, One-Which-It-Is, That-Which- Everything-Is.

2
The awakened Buddha to show the way, the chosen Messiah to die in the degradation of sentience, is the golden eternity. One that is what is, the golden eternity, or, God, or, Tathagata-the name. The Named One. The human God. Sentient Godhood. Animate Divine. The Deified One. The Verified One. The Free One. The Liberator. The Still One. The settled One. The Established One. Golden Eternity. All is Well. The Empty One. The Ready One. The Quitter. The Sitter. The Justified One. The Happy One.

3
That sky, if it was anything other than an illusion of my mortal mind I wouldnt have said “that sky.” Thus I made that sky, I am the golden eternity. I am Mortal Golden Eternity.

4
I was awakened to show the way, chosen to die in the degradation of life, because I am Mortal Golden Eternity.

5
I am the golden eternity in mortal animate form.

6
Strictly speaking, there is no me, because all is emptiness. I am empty, I am non-existent. All is bliss.

7
This truth law has no more reality than the world.

8
You are the golden eternity because there is no me and no you, only one golden eternity.

9
The Realizer. Entertain no imaginations whatever, for the thing is a no-thing. Knowing this then is Human Godhood.

10
This world is the movie of what everything is, it is one movie, made of the same stuff throughout, belonging to nobody, which is what everything is.

11
If we were not all the golden eternity we wouldnt be here. Because we are here we cant help being pure. To tell man to be pure on account of the punishing angel that punishes the bad and the rewarding angel that rewards the good would be like telling the water “Be Wet”-Never the less, all things depend on supreme reality, which is already established as the record of Karma earned-fate.

12
God is not outside us but is just us, the living and the dead, the never-lived and never-died. That we should learn it only now, is supreme reality, it was written a long time ago in the archives of universal mind, it is already done, there’s no more to do.

13
This is the knowledge that sees the golden eternity in all things, which is us, you, me, and which is no longer us, you, me.

14
What name shall we give it which hath no name, the common eternal matter of the mind? If we were to call it essence, some might think it meant perfume, or gold, or honey. It is not even mind. It is not even discussible, groupable into words; it is not even endless, in fact it is not even mysterious or inscrutably inexplicable; it is what is; it is that; it is this. We could easily call the golden eternity “This.” But “what’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare. The golden eternity by another name would be as sweet. A Tathagata, a God, a Buddha by another name, an Allah, a Sri Krishna, a Coyote, a Brahma, a Mazda, a Messiah, an Amida, an Aremedeia, a Maitreya, a Palalakonuh, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 would be as sweet. The golden eternity is X, the golden eternity is A, the golden eternity is /\, the golden eternity is O, the golden eternity is [ ], the golden eternity is t-h-e-g-o-l-d-e-n-e-t-e-r- n-i-t-y. In the beginning was the word; before the beginning, in the beginningless infinite neverendingness, was the essence. Both the word “god” and the essence of the word, are emptiness. The form of emptiness which is emptiness having taken the form of form, is what you see and hear and feel right now, and what you taste and smell and think as you read this. Wait awhile, close your eyes, let your breathing stop three seconds or so, listen to the inside silence in the womb of the world, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, re-recognize the bliss you forgot, the emptiness and essence and ecstasy of ever having been and ever to be the golden eternity. This is the lesson you forgot.

15
The lesson was taught long ago in the other world systems that have naturally changed into the empty and awake, and are here now smiling in our smile and scowling in our scowl. It is only like the golden eternity pretending to be smiling and scowling to itself; like a ripple on the smooth ocean of knowing. The fate of humanity is to vanish into the golden eternity, return pouring into its hands which are not hands. The navel shall receive, invert, and take back what’d issued forth; the ring of flesh shall close; the personalities of long dead heroes are blank dirt.

16
The point is we’re waiting, not how comfortable we are while waiting. Paleolithic man waited by caves for the realization of why he was there, and hunted; modern men wait in beautified homes and try to forget death and birth. We’re waiting for the realization that this is the golden eternity.

17
It came on time.

18
There is a blessedness surely to be believed, and that is that everything abides in eternal ecstasy, now and forever.

19
Mother Kali eats herself back. All things but come to go. All these holy forms, unmanifest, not even forms, truebodies of blank bright ecstasy, abiding in a trance, “in emptiness and silence’ as it is pointed out in the Diamond-cutter, asked to be only what they are: GLAD.

20
The secret God-grin in the trees and in the teapot, in ashes and fronds, fire and brick, flesh and mental human hope. All things, far from yearning to be re-united with God, had never left themselves and here they are, Dharmakaya, the body of the truth law, the universal Thisness.

21
“Beyond the reach of change and fear, beyond all praise and blame,” the Lankavatara Scripture knows to say, is he who is what he is in time and time-less-ness, in ego and in ego-less-ness, in self and in self-less-ness.

22
Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.

23
Things dont tire of going and coming. The flies end up with the delicate viands.

24
The cause of the world’s woe is birth, The cure of the world’s woe is a bent stick.

25
Though it is everything, strictly speaking there is no golden eternity because everything is nothing: there are no things and no goings and comings: for all is emptiness, and emptiness is these forms, emptiness is this one formhood.

26
All these selfnesses have already vanished. Einstein measured that this present universe is an expanding bubble, and you know what that means.

27
Discard such definite imaginations of phenomena as your own self, thou human being, thou’rt a numberless mass of sun-motes: each mote a shrine. The same as to your shyness of other selves, selfness as divided into infinite numbers of beings, or selfness as identified as one self existing eternally. Be obliging and noble, be generous with your time and help and possessions, and be kind, because the emptiness of this little place of flesh you carry around and call your soul, your entity, is the same emptiness in every direction of space unmeasurable emptiness, the same, one, and holy emptiness everywhere: why be selfy and unfree, Man God, in your dream? Wake up, thou’rt selfless and free. “Even and upright your mind abides nowhere,” states Hui Neng of China. We’re all in heaven now.

28
Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind. Now that we know this, throw the raft away.

29
Are you tightwad and are you mean, those are the true sins, and sin is only a conception of ours, due to long habit. Are you generous and are you kind, those are the true virtues, and they’re only conceptions. The golden eternity rests beyond sin and virtue, is attached to neither, is attached to nothing, is unattached, because the golden eternity is Alone. The mold has rills but it is one mold. The field has curves but it is one field. All things are different forms of the same thing. I call it the golden eternity-what do you call it, brother? for the blessing and merit of virtue, and the punishment and bad fate of sin, are alike just so many words.

30
Sociability is a big smile, and a big smile is nothing but teeth. Rest and be kind.

31
There’s no need to deny that evil thing called GOOGOO, which doesnt exist, just as there’s no need to deny that evil thing called Sex and Rebirth, which also doesn’t exist, as it is only a form of emptiness. The bead of semen comes from a long line of awakened natures that were your parent, a holy flow, a succession of saviors pouring from the womb of the dark void and back into it, fantastic magic imagination of the lightning, flash, plays, dreams, not even plays, dreams.

32
“The womb of exuberant fertility,” Ashvhaghosha called it, radiating forms out of its womb of exuberant emptiness. In emptiness there is no Why, no knowledge of Why, no ignorance of Why, no asking and no answering of Why, and no significance attached to this.

33
A disturbed and frightened man is like the golden eternity experimentally pretending at feeling the disturbed-and-frightened mood; a calm and joyous man, is like the golden eternity pretending at experimenting with that experience; a man experiencing his Sentient Being, is like the golden eternity pretending at trying that out too; a man who has no thoughts, is like the golden eternity pretending at being itself; because the emptiness of everything has no beginning and no end and at present is infinite.

34
“Love is all in all,” said Sainte Therese, choosing Love for her vocation and pouring out her happiness, from her garden by the gate, with a gentle smile, pouring roses on the earth, so that the beggar in the thunderbolt received of the endless offering of her dark void. Man goes a-beggaring into nothingness. “Ignorance is the father, Habit-Energy is the Mother.” Opposites are not the same for the same reason they are the same.

35
The words “atoms of dust” and “the great universes” are only words. The idea that they imply is only an idea. The belief that we live here in this existence, divided into various beings, passing food in and out of ourselves, and casting off husks of bodies one after another with no cessation and no definite or particular discrimination, is only an idea. The seat of our Immortal Intelligence can be seen in that beating light between the eyes the Wisdom Eye of the ancients: we know what we’re doing: we’re not disturbed: because we’re like the golden eternity pretending at playing the magic cardgame and making believe it’s real, it’s a big dream, a joyous ecstasy of words and ideas and flesh, an ethereal flower unfolding a folding back, a movie, an exuberant bunch of lines bounding emptiness, the womb of Avalokitesvara, a vast secret silence, springtime in the Void, happy young gods talking and drinking on a cloud. Our 32,000 chillicosms bear all the marks of excellence. Blind milky light fills our night; and the morning is crystal.

36
Give a gift to your brother, but there’s no gift to compare with the giving of assurance that he is the golden eternity. The true understanding of this would bring tears to your eyes. The other shore is right here, forgive and forget, protect and reassure. Your tormenters will be purified. Raise thy diamond hand. Have faith and wait. The course of your days is a river rumbling over your rocky back. You’re sitting at the bottom of the world with a head of iron. Religion is thy sad heart. You’re the golden eternity and it must be done by you. And means one thing: Nothing-Ever-Happened. This is the golden eternity.

37
When the Prince of the Kalinga severed the flesh from the limbs and body of Buddha, even then the Buddha was free from any such ideas as his own self, other self, living beings divided into many selves, or living beings united and identified into one eternal self. The golden eternity isnt “me.” Before you can know that you’re dreaming you’ll wake up, Atman. Had the Buddha, the Awakened One, cherished any of these imaginary judgments of and about things, he would have fallen into impatience and hatred in his suffering. Instead, like Jesus on the Cross he saw the light and died kind, loving all living things.

38
The world was spun out of a blade of grass: the world was spun out of a mind. Heaven was spun out of a blade of grass: heaven was spun out of a mind. Neither will do you much good, neither will do you much harm. The Oriental imperturbed, is the golden eternity.

39
He is called a Yogi, his is called a Priest, a Minister, a Brahmin, a Parson, a Chaplain, a Roshi, a Laoshih, a Master, a Patriarch, a Pope, a Spiritual Commissar, a Counselor, and Adviser, a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, an Old Man, a Saint, a Shaman, a Leader, who thinks nothing of himself as separate from another self, not higher nor lower, no stages and no definite attainments, no mysterious stigmata or secret holyhood, no wild dark knowledge and no venerable authoritativeness, nay a giggling sage sweeping out of the kitchen with a broom. After supper, a silent smoke. Because there is no definite teaching: the world is undisciplined. Nature endlessly in every direction inward to your body and outward into space.

40
Meditate outdoors. The dark trees at night are not really the dark trees at night, it’s only the golden eternity.

41
A mosquito as big as Mount Everest is much bigger than you think: a horse’s hoof is more delicate than it looks. An altar consecrated to the golden eternity, filled with roses and lotuses and diamonds, is the cell of the humble prisoner, the cell so cold and dreary. Boethius kissed the Robe of the Mother Truth in a Roman dungeon.

42
Do you think the emptiness of the sky will ever crumble away? Every little child knows that everybody will go to heaven. Knowing that nothing ever happened is not really knowing that nothing ever happened, it’s the golden eternity. In other words, nothing can compare with telling your brother and your sister that what happened, what is happening, and what will happen, never really happened, is not really happening and never will happen, it is only the golden eternity. Nothing was ever born, nothing will ever die. Indeed, it didnt even happen that you heard about golden eternity through the accidental reading of this scripture. The thing is easily false. There are no warnings whatever issuing from the golden eternity: do what you want.

43
Even in dreams be kind, because anyway there is no time, no space, no mind. “It’s all not-born,” said Bankei of Japan, whose mother heard this from her son did what we call “died happy.” And even if she had died unhappy, dying unhappy is not really dying unhappy, it’s the golden eternity. It’s impossible to exist, it’s impossible to be persecuted, it’s impossible to miss your reward.

44
Eight hundred and four thousand myriads of Awakened Ones throughout numberless swirls of epochs appeared to work hard to save a grain of sand, and it was only the golden eternity. And their combined reward will be no greater and no lesser than what will be won by a piece of dried turd. It’s a reward beyond thought.

45
When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you cant understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.

46
O everlasting Eternity, all things and all truth laws are no- things, in three ways, which is the same way: AS THINGS OF TIME they dont exist because there is no furthest atom than can be found or weighed or grasped, it is emptiness through and through, matter and empty space too. AS THINGS OF MIND they dont exist, because the mind that conceives and makes them out does so by seeing, hearing touching, smelling, tasting, and mentally-noticing and without this mind they would not be seen or heard or felt or smelled or tasted or mentally-noticed, they are discriminated that which they’re not necessarily by imaginary judgments of the mind, they are actually dependent on the mind that makes them out, by themselves they are no-things, they are really mental, seen only of the mind, they are really empty visions of the mind, heaven is a vision, everything is a vision. What does it mean that I am in this endless universe thinking I’m a man sitting under the stars on the terrace of earth, but actually empty and awake throughout the emptiness and awakedness of everything? It means that I am empty and awake, knowing that I am empty and awake, and that there’s no difference between me and anything else. It means that I have attained to that which everything is.

47
The-Attainer-To-That-Which-Everything-Is, the Sanskrit Tathagata, has no ideas whatever but abides in essence identically with the essence of all things, which is what it is, in emptiness and silence. Imaginary meaning stretched to make mountains and as far as the germ is concerned it stretched even further to make molehills. A million souls dropped through hell but nobody saw them or counted them. A lot of large people isnt really a lot of large people, it’s only the golden eternity. When St. Francis went to heaven he did not add to heaven nor detract from earth. Locate silence, possess space, spot me the ego. “From the beginning,” said the Sixth Patriarch of the China School, “not a thing is.”

48
He who loves all life with his pity and intelligence isnt really he who loves all life with his pity and intelligence, it’s only natural. The universe is fully known because it is ignored. Enlightenment comes when you dont care. This is a good tree stump I’m sitting on. You cant even grasp your own pain let alone your eternal reward. I love you because you’re me. I love you because there’s nothing else to do. It’s just the natural golden eternity.

49
What does it mean that those trees and mountains are magic and unreal?- It means that those trees and mountains are magic and unreal. What does it mean that those trees and mountains are not magic but real?- it means that those trees and mountains are not magic but real. Men are just making imaginary judgments both ways, and all the time it’s just the same natural golden eternity.

50
If the golden eternity was anything other than mere words, you could not have said “golden eternity.” This means that the words are used to point at the endless nothingness of reality. If the endless nothingness of reality was anything other than mere words, you could not have said “endless nothingness of reality,” you could not have said it. This means that the golden eternity is out of our word-reach, it refuses steadfastly to be described, it runs away from us and leads us in. The name is not really the name. The same way, you could not have said “this world” if this world was anything other than mere words. There’s nothing there but just that. They’ve long known that there’s nothing to life but just the living of it. It Is What It Is and That’s All It Is.

51
There’s no system of teaching and no reward for teaching the golden eternity, because nothing has happened. In the golden eternity teaching and reward havent even vanished let alone appeared. The golden eternity doesnt even have to be perfect. It is very silly of me to talk about it. I talk about it simply because here I am dreaming that I talk about it in a dream already ended, ages ago, from which I’m already awake, and it was only an empty dreaming, in fact nothing whatever, in fact nothing ever happened at all. The beauty of attaining the golden eternity is that nothing will be acquired, at last.

52
Kindness and sympathy, understanding and encouragement, these give: they are better than just presents and gifts: no reason in the world why not. Anyhow, be nice. Remember the golden eternity is yourself. “If someone will simply practice kindness,” said Gotama to Subhuti, “he will soon attain highest perfect wisdom.” Then he added: “Kindness after all is only a word and it should be done on the spot without thought of kindness.” By practicing kindness all over with everyone you will soon come into the holy trance, infinite distinctions of personalities will become what they really mysteriously are, our common and eternal blissstuff, the pureness of everything forever, the great bright essence of mind, even and one thing everywhere the holy eternal milky love, the white light everywhere everything, emptybliss, svaha, shining, ready, and awake, the compassion in the sound of silence, the swarming myriad trillionaire you are.

53
Everything’s alright, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and we’re here forever, in one form or another, which is empty. Everything’s alright, we’re not here, there, or anywhere. Everything’s alright, cats sleep.

54
The everlasting and tranquil essence, look around and see the smiling essence everywhere. How wily was the world made, Maya, not-even-made.

55
There’s the world in the daylight. If it was completely dark you wouldnt see it but it would still be there. If you close your eyes you really see what it’s like: mysterious particle-swarming emptiness. On the moon big mosquitos of straw know this in the kindness of their hearts. Truly speaking, unrecognizably sweet it all is. Don’t worry about nothing.

56
Imaginary judgments about things, in the Nothing-Ever-Happened wonderful void, you dont even have to reject them, let alone accept them. “That looks like a tree, let’s call it a tree,” said Coyote to Earthmaker at the beginning, and they walked around the rootdrinker patting their bellies.

57
Perfectly selfless, the beauty of it, the butterfly doesnt take it as a personal achievement, he just disappears through the trees. You too, kind and humble and not-even-here, it wasnt in a greedy mood that you saw the light that belongs to everybody.

58
Look at your little finger, the emptiness of it is no different than the emptiness of infinity.

59
Cats yawn because they realize that there’s nothing to do.

60
Up in heaven you wont remember all these tricks of yours. You wont even sigh “Why?” Whether as atomic dust or as great cities, what’s the difference in all this stuff. A tree is still only a rootdrinker. The puma’s twisted face continues to look at the blue sky with sightless eyes, Ah sweet divine and indescribable verdurous paradise planted in mid-air! Caitanya, it’s only consciousness. Not with thoughts of your mind, but in the believing sweetness of your heart, you snap the link and open the golden door and disappear into the bright room, the everlasting ecstasy, eternal Now. Soldier, follow me! – there never was a war. Arjuna, dont fight! – why fight over nothing? Bless and sit down.

61
I remember that I’m supposed to be a man and consciousness and I focus my eyes and the print reappears and the words of the poor book are saying, “The world, as God has made it” and there are no words in my pitying heart to express the knowless loveliness of the trance there was before I read those words, I had no such idea that there was a world.

62
This world has no marks, signs, or evidence of existence, nor the noises in it, like accident of wind or voices or heehawing animals, yet listen closely the eternal hush of silence goes on and on throughout all this, and has been gong on, and will go on and on. This is because the world is nothing but a dream and is just thought of and the everlasting eternity pays no attention to it. At night under the moon, or in a quiet room, hush now, the secret music of the Unborn goes on and on, beyond conception, awake beyond existence. Properly speaking, awake is not really awake because the golden eternity never went to sleep; you can tell by the constant sound of Silence which cuts through this world like a magic diamond through the trick of your not realizing that your mind caused the world.

63
The God of the American Plateau Indian was Coyote. He says: “Earth! those beings living on your surface, none of them disappearing, will all be transformed. When I have spoken to them, when they have spoken to me, from that moment on, their words and their bodies which they usually use to move about with, will all change. I will not have heard them.”

64
I was smelling flowers in the yard, and when I stood up I took a deep breath and the blood all rushed to my brain and I woke up dead on my back in the grass. I had apparently fainted, or died, for about sixty seconds. My neighbor saw me but he thought I had just suddenly thrown myself on the grass to enjoy the sun. During that timeless moment of unconsciousness I saw the golden eternity. I saw heaven. In it nothing had ever happened, the events of a million years ago were just as phantom and ungraspable as the events of now, or the events of the next ten minutes. It was perfect, the golden solitude, the golden emptiness, Something-Or- Other, something surely humble. There was a rapturous ring of silence abiding perfectly. There was no question of being alive or not being alive, of likes and dislikes, of near or far, no question of giving or gratitude, no question of mercy or judgment, or of suffering or its opposite or anything. It was the womb itself, aloneness, alaya vijnana the universal store, the Great Free Treasure, the Great Victory, infinite completion, the joyful mysterious essence of Arrangement. It seemed like one smiling smile, one adorable adoration, one gracious and adorable charity, everlasting safety, refreshing afternoon, roses, infinite brilliant immaterial gold ash, the Golden Age. The “golden” came from the sun in my eyelids, and the “eternity” from my sudden instant realization as I woke up that I had just been where it all came from and where it was all returning, the everlasting So, and so never coming or going; therefore I call it the golden eternity but you can call it anything you want. As I regained consciousness I felt so sorry I had a body and a mind suddenly realizing I didn’t even have a body and a mind and nothing had ever happened and everything is alright forever and forever and forever, O thank you thank you thank you.

65
This is the first teaching from the golden eternity.

66
The second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure.

— from The Scripture of the Golden Eternity: (City Lights Pocket Poets Series), by Jack Kerouac


/ Image by Cyron /

I am the golden eternity in mortal animate form.

It’s sometimes difficult to recognize the revolutionary spiritual vision of the Beats from this side of the 20th century. In the aftermath of the hippie generation and the subsequent explosion of spiritual questing and art, we sometimes forget how much is owed to the Beat poets and seekers of the 50s and early 60s. In the midst of the post-WW II Eisenhower era of suburbs and the company man (“modern men wait in beautified homes and try to forget death and birth”), these noncomformists were seeking the marrow of life in city streets, jazz clubs, and along the open road (“Because we are here we cant help being pure”). We also forget that they were intensely interested in Eastern spirituality, reading books on Zen and sitting in meditation. We can thank the Beats for much of the Western spiritual renaissance still taking place today (“It came on time”).

Just read Kerouac’s “Scripture of the Golden Eternity.”

There is a blessedness surely to be believed, and that is that everything abides in eternal ecstasy, now and forever.

It certainly has his typical manic genius of words, but there is real wisdom here too (“Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling”). These lines are not simply amphetamine inspired word dance. Golden nuggets of genuine spiritual insight are scattered throughout. Read it. See for yourself…

It is not even discussible, groupable into words; it is not even endless, in fact it is not even mysterious or inscrutably inexplicable; it is what is; it is that; it is this.


Recommended Books: Jack Kerouac

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity: (City Lights Pocket Poets Series) Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Jack Kerouac in the Cascades Kerouak Angelheaded Hipster: A life of Jack Kerouac
More Books >>


Jack Kerouac, Jack Kerouac poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Jack Kerouac

US (1922 – 1969) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Feb 10 2017

Mirabai – No one knows my invisible life

Published by under Poetry

No one knows my invisible life
by Mirabai

English version by Willis Barnstone

No one knows my invisible life.
Pain
and madness for Rama.
Our wedding bed is high up
in the gallows.
Meet him?
If the dark healer comes,
we’ll negotiate the hurt.
I love the man who takes care
of cows. The cowherd.
Cowherd and dancer.
My eyes are drunk,
worn out from making love
with him. We are one.
I am now his dark color.
People notice me, point fingers at me.
They see my desire,
since I’m walking about like a lunatic.
I’m wiped out, gone.
Yet no one knows I live with my prince,
the cowherd.
The palace can’t contain me.
I leave it behind.
I couldn’t care less about gossip
or my royal name.
I’ll be with him
in all his gardens.

— from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone


/ Image by Cia de Foto /

Tonight is the full moon. And an eclipse. And a comet will be seen in the sky, as well. It should be power packed, a time for transformation.

I couldn’t pick just any old pleasant poem. We need something intense, passionate, with a hint of danger, and the determination that leads us into new awareness…

If the dark healer comes,
we’ll negotiate the hurt.

Isn’t that a great line?

This is a stunning love poem by Mirabai, erotic and dangerous in its passion for God.

I love the man who takes care
of cows. The cowherd.
Cowherd and dancer.

The cowherd and “dark healer” mentioned here is, of course, Krishna (often equated with the other great Vaishnava figure of Rama).

Our wedding bed is high up
in the gallows.

When Mirabai says their wedding bed is “high up in the gallows,” Mirabai is referring to the mystic’s marriage bed or bridal chamber — the point of union between the individual awareness and the Divine, which takes place “high up” within the chamber of the crown.

Of course, a gallows is not the same as a marriage bed. It is where people are hanged. It is where one goes to die… It is where you go to utterly lose yourself. In other words, this is both the place where the old ego-self is lost, but where supreme delight and fulfillment is found.

To be “worn out from making love” is a reference to the divine union of mystical ecstasy, when the individual identity completely disappears in the divine embrace. That old identity is “worn out,” replaced by the mystic’s bliss.

…We are one.
I am now his dark color.

Darkness, dark color, is associated with many Hindu gods, representing the vastness of mystery, the Eternal in its mysterious, invisible, undefinable form beyond manifestation. When Mirabai says she is now Krishna’s dark color, she suggests that her individuality has been so intimately and profoundly touched by divine union, that she has utterly become the same, taking on that vast, unfathomable quality.

The palace can’t contain me.
I leave it behind.

The “palace” most obviously suggests her early life among royalty, but it can also be understood as representing her body, her name, her limited identity, which can no longer contain her newly awakened awareness, so she leaves all of those self-limiting definitions behind.

Mirabai doesn’t care what people say about how she may step beyond social norms or how other people want to define her, for she is at rest with the Divine One within the eternal garden that is everywhere present.

Flow with the changes, embrace the unexpected, and have a magical weekend.


Recommended Books: Mirabai

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light Songs of the Saints of India The Winged Energy of Delight
More Books >>


Mirabai, Mirabai poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Mirabai

India (1498 – 1565?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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Feb 03 2017

Wu Men Hui-k’ai – Moon and clouds are the same

Published by under Poetry

Moon and clouds are the same
by Wu Men Hui-k’ai

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Moon and clouds are the same;
mountain and valley are different.
All are blessed; all are blessed.
Is this one? Is this two?

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


/ Image by mikelehen /

The world, all of life, is like one of those games of visual perspective. Do we see mountains and a valley, or do we see mountains-and-valley? It is all one continuity, but with our mind we separate them into distinct objects of perception. Where is the point of separation? We become so convinced by our own mental concepts of distinction that we hardly ever think to search for the borderline that separates things. Put on your hiking boots and go find the exact point at which mountain becomes valley, always asking yourself, “Is this one? Is this two?”

It is both one and two. In two there is identity and capacity, but in one there is unity and rest.

All are blessed; all are blessed.


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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Feb 01 2017

Wendell Berry – To Know the Dark

Published by under Poetry

To Know the Dark
by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

— from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds, Edited by Neil Astley / Edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce


/ Image by Nelleke /

I have been thinking a lot about the dark recently, staring into the heart of darkness, so to speak.

Many of us who see ourselves as being on a “spiritual” pathway have a real difficulty with this — really looking at darkness, in ourselves and in others. We often want everything to be about light, light. But that can lead to a sort of frailty. To really witness the horror of a cruel heart in action can be devastating. Multiply that many times over when the cruelty is ingrained into a bureaucratic system.

For the kind hearted, that terrible recognition becomes a shattering confrontation with the abysses that humanity is capable of. To see another human heart turn cold and hard in the face of the suffering inflicted on others or, worse, to see a heart revel at that suffering, is a hellish vision that we instinctively seek to deny and unsee. This is partly because it whispers to us that we are capable of such cruelty ourselves. It also nags us with the thought that such cruelties have been taking place all along and we, in our complacency, did not acknowledge it before. It all becomes too much and we want to turn away.

But the job of engaged spirituality is not to paper over the world with flowers and happy faces so that we can breathe a sigh of relief. Real spirituality, deep spirituality requires seeing reality, all of reality, as it is, from its most luminous to its bleakest black and everything in between.

Whether we speak of Christian traditions of “witnessing” or Buddhist practices of holding a steady gaze in the presence of suffering, seeing the fullness of reality, the dark with the light, is essential for one to cultivate a deep, full, and strong spirituality. Though it breaks our hearts and fractures open fissures in our image of the world, it is necessary.

This fierce willingness to see everything is necessary to be fully present within the fulness of reality. It is necessary so that we do not wither in the face of confrontation. We must see suffering if we are to soothe wounds. And we must recognize cruelty that we may protect the vulnerable. To summon strength, we must recognize that conditions require strength. To express kindness and connection, we must see clearly who has been labeled an outsider.

Today I will practice holding an unwavering gaze in the dark so that I may see what I see, whatever changes that may bring in me…

…and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.


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

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Jan 23 2017

Gabriela Mistral – Those Who Do Not Dance

Published by under Poetry

Those Who Do Not Dance
by Gabriela Mistral

English version by Helene Masslo Anderson

A crippled child
Said, “How shall I dance?”
Let your heart dance
We said.

Then the invalid said:
“How shall I sing?”
Let your heart sing
We said

Then spoke the poor dead thistle,
“But I, how shall I dance?”
Let your heart fly to the wind
We said.

Then God spoke from above
“How shall I descend from the blue?”
Come dance for us here in the light
We said.

All the valley is dancing
Together under the sun,
And the heart of him who joins us not
Is turned to dust, to dust.


/ Image by tasiaraye /

I thought this poem might be a good choice in honor of the weekend’s Women’s Marches across the world.

With this poem, the great Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral, through simple language, is exploring how we move beyond our assumed limitations and express joy, creativity, life. How do we dance when the body does not respond? When we have grown dry and prickly and lost most of our substance, is it possible we can fly? Even God, at least the God of our imaginations, needs an invitation in which we gather together in the light.

The more we remember, as we see our limitations as new pathways rather than roadblocks, we begin to come alive, reconnect, and dance, until all valley is in movement with us under the sun.


Recommended Books: Gabriela Mistral

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral


Gabriela Mistral, Gabriela Mistral poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Gabriela Mistral

Chile (1889 – 1957) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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Jan 23 2017

The Power of Poetry — and “Nasty Women”

I posted this on the Poetry Chaikhana’s Facebook page over the weekend, but I thought I should share it here, as well. This is a video of the actress Ashley Judd reciting a poem by a 19-year-old young woman about “Nasty Women.” As she speaks this poem, she stalks across the stage and channeling the shared experience of outrage combined with a renewed spirit of self-assertion. It is blunt, the language and imagery will be uncomfortable for many. But I share it for this reason: This poem, and the way it is delivered, is undeniably powerful. This poem has become one of the focal points of this massive movement. Refusing to mince words, this poem gives voice to the feelings of so many women who participated in this weekend’s events.

That is the power of poetry. Crystalizing and magnifying the sense of identity and purpose within the collective awareness.

Whether or not you like the poem or the mood it represents, I encourage you to watch in order to see the power of poetry as it operates within society.

Ashley Judd’s “Nasty Woman” Speech

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Jan 18 2017

Muso Soseki – Satori Poem

Published by under Poetry

Toki-no-Ge (Satori Poem)
by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me
until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

— from Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu


/ Image by Questavia /

Don’t you like the way this short Zen poem says so much?

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven

The spiritual quest is first seen as some sort of construction project, but he doesn’t really know what to build or what he’s doing so he just digs deeper.

He is digging into the earth searching for heaven. We might take this to mean that he is delving into worldly, material existence. Or perhaps it is merely to suggest the heavy effort of spiritual striving. Either way, the effort, rather than freeing him is choking him.

only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me

It is as if he has been digging his own grave. Even then he doesn’t know what else to do.

But insight, that moment of satori or enlightenment, comes almost by accident.

until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air

Though it may be an accident, it is not random. If he hadn’t been digging in the first place, he never would have stumbled. So, in an ironic way, the effort has served its purpose, but not in the purposeful cause-and-effect manner he imagined.

Significantly, it is “in the dead of night” when he stumbles and falls, what we might interpret as the dark night of the soul when he feels most hopeless and drained.

and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

Yet in falling on his back he is face up and finally sees the sky. He’s stunned into silence (“without a thought”). The sky itself shatters. He pierces through the false sky, which is a construction of his mind — his thoughts about the sky and the heavenly realms, his concepts and assumptions of all that encompasses his world. He finally sees clearly sky, as it is, the living, empty spaciousness that overarches and permeates everything.

A reminder to us that earnest seekers labor hard, but the masters know how to fall back — and so see the sky.

=

Big energies are circulating because of the inauguration this week in the US. It’s okay to not go along with the pretense that things are okay.

The challenge going forward — cultivating a peaceful heart in coordination with a strong voice and a willing hand.


Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons East Window: Poems from Asia Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader


Muso Soseki, Muso Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Muso Soseki

Japan (1275 – 1351) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 12 2017

John O’Donohue – For Light

Published by under Poetry

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

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


/ Image by Darren Bertram /

After the holidays I have been having difficulty getting back into a regular rhythm of work and poetry and life in general. Do I need to refocus? Should I intensify my spiritual practice? Fast for a day or two? Should I be spending more time with poetry and writing, or should I let it sit until it bubbles up inside me? Do I push or do I putter?

There’s a part of me that starts to spin in agitation when I feel like the rhythm of my life has shifted and I don’t know my next step. But then there is also a nameless part of my awareness that finds a certain pleasure at resting in that uncertain space. That feeling of being out of sync and uncomfortable, as if I’m an alien in the center my own life, is also an opportunity to forget what it means to be “me.”

It can feel like a period of darkness, but it also allows us to see by a new light. When our accustomed patterns of feeling and activity shift, there is a period of time before we settle into the forward focus of new rhythms when the alleyways and secondary spaces of our lives become visible. Some of these are the most fascinating quirks of who we are. Here we may find troubled spaces, secret wounds, but also immense creativity, playfulness, and forgotten treasures and inner life.

O’Donohue’s poem seems like the perfect meditation. Light and darkness. The illumination of awareness and the shadow that allows us to see what is missed in the glare of too much light. How both shadow and light reveal in different ways. How light can be gentle or harsh, how the light and the dark can interact to shape the quality of the light and affect not just what we see but how we react to what is seen.

And just as important as seeing is how we choose to see.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.


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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Jan 04 2017

Shah Nematollah Vali – The Point of the Circle

Published by under Poetry

The Point of the Circle
by Shah Nematollah Vali

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves
In the eyes of him
Who a circle draws.

When the point
Completed the circle
Its beginning and end
Were one.

When the compass
Did the circle complete
It was wrapped up
And rested its feet.

Without existence
Not-being are we;
We who are Not
And You existence free.

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.
Sweeter than the words of our guide,
Nimatullah knows no other words.

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal


/ Image by ratravarman /

When I was in high school I loved geometry. Something about the visual, spatial nature of geometry just clicked for me. This poem reminds me of the way I’d get lost in geometrical contemplations on hot afternoons in the classroom…

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves…

In geometry, a point has no dimension. It has no diameter, no depth. It does not really exist in space; it is only an idea, a point of reference. Yet when you start to move it in a single direction, its trail creates a line. Move it around another point, you create an arc. Continue describing that arc, and its end will eventually meet its beginning, and form an endless circle.

From nothing, something has taken form. From the point, a circle emerges. It is the existence of the circle that proves the existence of the point. The point is not-being; the circle is being.

Here’s another image: A circle encloses a limited area. We can calculate the area with the formula pi multiplied by the radius squared. Yet, although the area is limited and specific, we can still fit an infinite number of points within the circle. Since a point does not take up space but can still have a location, its possibilities within the circle are unlimited.

Let’s meditate on this for a moment. Imagine that you are that point and the circle is the canvas of reality — your life. Your life has a limited number of years to it, a limited number of places you can go, people you will meet, experiences you will have. Being human, we instinctively rebel against that feeling of limitation. But we are like the point within the circle: Within the limited area of our lives, the possibilities available to us are, in reality, without limit. Just the slightest shift in point-of-view, and everything around us is made new. So, is our limited life really limited?

These are the sorts of things nerdy teenaged Ivan used to daydream about in geometry class…

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.


Recommended Books: Shah Nematollah Vali

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi


Shah Nematollah Vali, Shah Nematollah Vali poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Shah Nematollah Vali

Iran/Persia (1330 – 1431) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Dec 28 2016

Joseph Gikatilla – The Nut Garden

Published by under Poetry

The Nut Garden
by Joseph Gikatilla

English version by Peter Cole

The Nut Garden holds things felt and thought,
and feeling for thought is always a palace —

Sinai with flames of fire about it,
burning though never by fire devoured.

On all four sides surrounded so,
entrance is barred to pretenders forever.

For one who learns to be wise, however,
its doors are open toward the East:

he reaches out and takes a nut,
then cracks its shell, and eats…

— from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, Edited by Peter Cole


/ Image by Tatters /

I was trying to think of a poem in honor of Hanukkah today. This short selection by Joseph Gikatilla doesn’t directly deal with the traditional themes of Hanukkah like light, endurance, and renewal, but it came strongly to mind this morning, and so I thought I would share it with you…

This poem is from Rabbi Gikatilla’s major philosophical work of the same name — Ginnat Egoz or the Nut Garden. The title itself is imbued with layers of meaning — the nut (“egoz”) being a symbol for esoteric knowledge, and the word “ginat/GNT” being an acronym composed of the three main elements of his school of Kabbalah: Gematria (numerology of sacred texts), Notarikon (use of sacred acronyms), and Temurah (rearranging the letters of words in sacred texts to gain deeper esoteric insight).

But also, and perhaps most important, the reference to the “nut garden” or “nut orchard” evokes lines from the Song of Solomon :

I went down to the nut orchard,
to look at the blossoms of the valley,
to see whether the vines had budded,
whether the pomegranates were in bloom.
Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.
(Song of Solomon 6:11-12)

In other words, this reference to a nut garden is also associated with a chariot. That image of a chariot is especially significant in Jewish mysticism. It is the Merkavah, the vehicle that transports the awareness to the eternal realms of the “prince” or the Messiah.

So, in the title alone, we have the “nut” of esoteric knowledge — difficult to open, but sweet and nourishing. It is discovered within the “nut garden” — the inner world, the psychic and spiritual landscape of the mystic. (And for the practitioner of this school of Kabbalah, this landscape is especially revealed through meditation on the permutations of letters and words within the sacred texts.) Entering this garden of secret, sacred knowledge, we discover the inner life budding and blossoming… and we find ourselves aboard the chariot of divine communion.

Sinai with flames of fire about it,
burning though never by fire devoured.

These lines are a reference to the overlapping Biblical images of the burning bush encountered by Moses, and the description of Mt. Sinai being surrounded by fire and lightning. These, too, are important images for mystics, interpreted by some to be a reference to the blissfully burning fire that often marks deep communion. When the mystic experiences that purifying and refining fire, it is as if the entire world is consumed, even one’s own outer self, and all that remains is what is eternal and lasting within — the inner Mt. Sinai.

On all four sides surrounded so,
entrance is barred to pretenders forever.

For one who learns to be wise, however,
its doors are open toward the East…

The summit of this inner mountain is holy ground that cannot be entered under false pretenses or with a selfish heart. One must approach in all humility, purity, and honesty, barefoot, without buffer or separation.

And then, “for one who learns to be wise,” the entrance is found to the East. The East is the direction of the rising sun, dawning awareness, the light of enlightenment. This the direction of awakening and new vision. This is why many sacred traditions pray and meditate facing East… it is the direction of opening.

he reaches out and takes a nut,
then cracks its shell, and eats…


Recommended Books: Joseph Gikatilla

The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 Gates of Light: Sha’are Orah


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Spain (1248 – 1325?) Timeline
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Dec 21 2016

Symeon the New Theologian – We awaken in Christ’s body

Published by under Poetry

We awaken in Christ’s body
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Stephen Mitchell

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

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


/ Image by obsidian-blade /

Since it is the Solstice and we are coming into the Christmas season, I thought I would take the opportunity to share one of my favorite poems by Symeon the New Theologian.

Symeon doesn’t urge us to merely honor or love the Beloved (Christ within the Christian tradition) from a distance. We melt into the Divine, become one with the Divine, share the same body.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

Some of these lines remind me of the poem attributed to Teresa of Avila, You Are Christ’s Hands with it’s lines– “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, / no hands but yours…”

This poem by Symeon is one I just want to drink in — it feels so deeply healing and generous to the soul.

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Thinking of Christmas, I have always felt a particular love for manger scenes, ceramic, porcelain, or carved wooden figurines of the Christ Child laid in a bed of straw, Mary knelt over her new child, Joseph with his lamp, the Three Magi holding their gifts, a shepherd with a few sheep, an ox and an ass at rest. Often the scene has a hut-like manger as background, the roof covered with moss — with the announcing angel and the Christmas star shining above. That iconic scene has always felt magical and alive to me, rich with unspoken meaning.

And it is. We can read the gospel stories of the birth of Christ as simply describing events, or we can read it more deeply as being imbued with spiritual meaning.

In the Nativity, we discover the pure spark of light that is the Christ child — also represented by the star — surrounded by the emptiness of the night. The Nativity is an image of light in the darkness. A small child, vulnerable, humble, poor, a tiny point of existence, surrounded by the immensity of the night… but with the promise that the light will increase until it floods the world with its light. (It is no accident that Christmas occurs near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the rebirth of the sun.)

Looking at Mary and Joseph, one way to understand Mary in the Nativity story is that she represents the heart or the soul, while Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.

In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers through every outer experience, and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural “untouched” state (Mary’s virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, “untouched” by the experiences of the outer world. Mary’s virginity is a virginity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life (the Christ child in Christian tradition) is formed within the individual. The overwhelming sense of joy and spiritual bliss that is felt becomes a new presence in the body and mind.

But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but through direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, ‘I do not know that child’ and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.

In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn’t something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience…

In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

There is, of course, much more to explore. The cave or manger of the birth. The three Magian wise men from the east. But I hope I have suggested some good ideas to contemplate and inspire a bit more spiritual connection this Christmas.

he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice. May this time when the light renews itself amidst the darkness also bring a renewal of the light and life within you and everyone your life touches.


Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Hymns of Divine Love: Songs of praise by one of the great mystics of all church history
More Books >>


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Dec 14 2016

Buson – winter moon

Published by under Poetry

winter moon
by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

winter moon —
bowing to a monk
on the bridge

— from The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson, Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock / Translated by John McDonald


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

I couldn’t help but notice the full moon last night hovering in the cool winter sky.

Something about a “winter moon” seems more moon-like, evoking the moon at its brightest, purest, and perhaps most aloof. There is a crystalline clarity to the moon in a winter sky.

This is the moon of awakened awareness, shining sartori.

But with the closing lines, who is bowing to the monk on the bridge? One way to read it is that the moon is bowing to the monk. Perhaps the moon is heavy and low in the sky. So perhaps heavenly enlightenment is quietly acknowledging the noble journey of the monk.

We can also read these lines as we ourselves are bowing to the monk, which seems to transform the monk into the moon itself. So perhaps we are bowing to the embodied enlightenment of the monk.

The bridge itself seems significant. In Asia, we have “moon bridges,” highly arched bridges that form a full (moon) circle when seen in reflection upon the water’s surface. So, is the bridge the moon? Or is the moon a bridge?

A bridge is an interstitial space, joining two realms separated by flowing water, yet the bridge itself belongs to neither side. It represents a pathway between worlds and states of mind. The bridge is connection, pathway, and transformation.

Let’s bow to that winter moon-bridge. Perhaps it will bow back to us.


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


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Dec 09 2016

William Stafford – Any Morning

Published by under Poetry

Any Morning
by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

— from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford


/ Image by incolor16 /

I think there is a great deal of wisdom in this poem. It is a reminder of how to conduct oneself while pretending to be part of the world. Yes, at work, at the store, saying hello to neighbors, do be practical, be responsible, be concerned. Or at least, appear to be.

But in those private moments, perhaps early in the morning before others have awakened, before the “important” activity of the day, before the clock has begun to tick, find those languid moments where sweetness abounds in the tiny movements and forgotten corners. On some fundamental level, this is our real job as human beings, to discover these moments, to bathe in them, to gather them like pollen — and then, to go about our lives making honey.

You can frown, if it is expected of you. But it is hard to do with the sweetness still on your tongue.


Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems Even in Quiet Places Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford
More Books >>


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Dec 02 2016

Thich Nhat Hanh – Please Call Me by My True Names

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Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh


/ Image by AlicePopkorn /

This is a lovely, unflinching meditation on how all of being and all of human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. It can even draw comparisons with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where everything, terrible and beautiful, is one, is witnessed, and is found within oneself.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Most of us have learned to anticipate what will happen next, and we end up mentally dwelling in our fantasies and fears about the future. But the future is merely an idea; it never has reality. The present moment is all that is ever real. And that is where we must dwell if we want to truly be alive and know what is real.

The present is a state of “still arriving.” Because the present moment is not a fixed space in time, we can’t say that anything encountered in the present is fixed and settled either. The present is a gossamer thin and moving thread of light where all things are just barely stepping into the visibility of being… as the moment keeps moving. Everything, everyone, in every second is always just arriving. The present is a continuous becoming.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest…

Another fascinating thing is discovered when we truly, deeply perceive the present moment: Not only are we and all things “still arriving,” but the illusion of boundaries and separate being falls away. The notion of identity expands and recognizes itself just as naturally in all things witnessed. We find we are not just the person watching the bud on the Spring branch, but in our arriving we are equally the Spring bud, the young bird, the caterpillar in the flower, the jewel waiting in the stone. This is not some poetic game of words; it is what we actually perceive.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

When we finally see this truth, for the first time we can truly witness the world as it is. And that is what this poem is most about: witnessing. Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to courageously witness the panorama of life, wonders and horrors alike. Through this honest witnessing, we are not spectators watching others from a distance; no, it all unfolds upon us and in us. We are witnessing ourselves in many forms. We recognize that anything that happens anywhere in the world, is actually happening to us. Everything done, is done by ourselves… to ourselves. There is no unfolding experience in the world that we are not participants in.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

This is why compassion is not altruistic. This is why service is no effort. When we finally see things as they are, it is all part of our own selves. When we offer our heart, when we offer our hand, we are simply helping ourselves. Who among us, when he touches a hot iron, doesn’t immediately pull back and then soothe the burn under cool water? That’s not altruism, it is the natural response to pain in one’s body. When we see clearly, we see we are all of one body, and the joys and pains of any other is our own as well.

Compassion and a heart that has broken open are the natural result of being awake to this truth, and they are no effort at all.


Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation


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