Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Oct 18 2017

Jacopone da Todi – Love beyond all telling

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by Sacha Fernandez /

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

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

It is this that Jacopone da Todi is writing of.

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

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

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

Light beyond metaphor…

He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

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

The very notion of self melts amidst that immensity…

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


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

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


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

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Oct 13 2017

Lu Tung Pin – What is Tao?

Published by under Poetry

What is Tao?
by Lu Tung Pin

English version by T. C. Lai

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


/ Image by legends2k /

What is Tao?
It is just this.

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

It took me years to begin to appreciate this approach…

It cannot be rendered into speech.

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

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

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

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

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

Have a beautiful, vaguely defined day!


Recommended Books: Lu Tung Pin

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


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

China (755 – 805) Timeline
Taoist

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Oct 11 2017

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

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Vraje Abramian

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

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


/ Image by Cochalita /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

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


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 06 2017

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

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Alastair Reid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by Maks Karochkin /

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what we need.

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

…nine…ten…eleven…


Recommended Books: Pablo Neruda

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


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

Chile (1904 – 1973) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Sep 29 2017

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Love plays its lute behind the screen

Published by under Poetry

Love plays its lute behind the screen
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by DakKap /

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

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

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

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

The world has spilled Love’s secret —

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

All of reality is filled with an inner music…

Every atom babbles the mystery —

…and that music is a song of love.

Listen yourself, for I’m no tattletale!


Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

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


Fakhruddin Iraqi

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

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Sep 22 2017

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

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

English version by Stephen Mitchell

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

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


/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Wu Men Hui-k’ai

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


Wu Men Hui-k’ai

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

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Sep 20 2017

Denise Levertov – Witness

Published by under Poetry

Witness
by Denise Levertov

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

— from Denise Levertov: Selected Poems, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by notnyt /

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

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

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

=

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


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

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


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

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

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Sep 08 2017

Milarepa – The Profound Definitive Meaning

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The Profound Definitive Meaning
by Milarepa

English version by Marpa Translation Committee

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

A seer and seen refined until they’re gone…

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

…it works quite well.

A few words of special meaning–

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

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

This way… it works quite well.

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


Recommended Books: Milarepa

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


Milarepa, Milarepa poetry, Buddhist poetry Milarepa

Tibet (1052 – 1135) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

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Sep 01 2017

Mary Oliver – What I Have Learned So Far

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What I Have Learned So Far
by Mary Oliver

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

— from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by Hamed Saber /

This, to me, is an interesting poem, the way it wrestles with that age-old question of spirituality: faith or works, jnana or karma… indolence or action.

Does the seeking of wisdom lead one into such an internalized state that one abandons the world to its confusion and suffering? Even when we awaken profound compassion within ourselves, is compassion enough without action to back it up? Ultimately the question boils down to, is enlightenment a good in and of itself, or does it only fulfill itself through service?

Different traditions and teachers give us different answers. Many teachers will say that trying to “do good” without first achieving some measure of inner clarity cannot achieve its full potential. Some even say that spiritual opening has a natural resonance; the enlightened are like radio transmitters, apparently doing little, apparently silent, they broadcasting powerful waves into the world. They argue that there can be action that is good intentioned, but meaningless or unstable. And there can be apparent inaction that shakes the universe.

Others say that spirituality and compassion without heartful action is anemic at best, that the physical and social world are themselves part of our spiritual landscape, that we must embody our spirituality on that level too. This criticism can go so far as to say that spirituality in a cave is easy, spirituality in the world is hard; that’s where we truly prove our awakening love. They argue that action always exists, even the avoidance of action is action. One must always seek to express the inner state with outer action. And for the spiritually minded, that action must be in the form of compassionate service to a struggling world.

Mary Oliver seems to, gently, favor the latter philosophy:

Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

Me? I have a fiery nature, and I like a statement like Mary Oliver’s. I see too much passivity in good-hearted people, myself included sometimes.

But I don’t ultimately see a great conflict with any of these philosophies. The universe is a big universe, with endless pathways for the human spirit to travel. The more we release our enlightened selves, the more we naturally embody who we naturally are.

For some, that resolves itself into a profound stillness that is outer as well as inner. And do they not ring out from their mountaintops and closets? Do we not, on some level, hear them and ring out a little more ourselves?

For others, stillness and love seeks a pathway of expression through action and service. The way they use the same two hands we all possess — doesn’t it make our own fingers a little itchy for their own movement?

=

Sending out a special note of love and blessings to regions so affected by floods recently — Texas, and Northern India and Nepal. Sadly, these extreme weather patterns are becoming the new normal. Both as individuals and as a society in general, we need to adjust our thinking and preparations to expect more of these sorts of events. The most important lesson is that we come together, that we help when we can, and that we minimize suffering and destruction as much as possible through forethought and necessary changes in entrenched ways of doing things.


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

New and Selected Poems Why I Wake Early Dream Work House of Light Thirst: Poems
More Books >>


Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Aug 25 2017

William Butler Yeats – Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

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Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by William Butler Yeats


/ Image by René Schröder /

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I had heard this line long before I discovered it was from a poem by Yeats — this poem.

Isn’t that a wonderfully evocative line? So vulnerable, yet as wide open as the world of dreams. The statement invites us to be gentle and to be aware, for who knows what has been laid before us and with what care?

Go back and reread the entire poem. Read it aloud.

Notice how it feels like it rhymes, but it doesn’t actually rhyme. The poet instead is repeating words at the end of his lines: cloths… light… cloths… light.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,

But we get that powerful alliteration in the fourth line: night… light… half light. It is simple, almost a child’s rhyme, but it has impact. It is more like a chant, as if the poet is casting a spell on the child’s mind within us.

And again, he repeats the ending phrases: under your feet… my dreams… under your feet… my dreams.

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

With that we are witness to magic, sealed with a child’s singsong repetition. A healing spell that breaks the heart with such vulnerability, and heals it again with hope and the heavens.

May as well chant it again.

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Recommended Books: William Butler Yeats

The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats Byzantium The Secret Rose
More Books >>


William Butler Yeats, William Butler Yeats poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Butler Yeats

Ireland (1865 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

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Aug 23 2017

Rabindranath Tagore – I touch God in my song

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I touch God in my song
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

I touch God in my song
      as the hill touches the far-away sea
            with its waterfall.

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
      and has time enough.

Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
      and yet give you illumined freedom.

Love remains a secret even when spoken,
      for only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
      is no freedom for thee.

In love I pay my endless debt to thee
      for what thou art.

— from The Fugitive, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by Edgar Pierce /

…only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

In this poem’s few short lines, Rabindranath Tagore marries the bhakti path of utter love for God with the heart of karma yoga’s union through service and action.

In traditional Indian metaphysics, the goal is usually understood to be enlightenment and freedom from the karmic tug that traps us in the cycle of earthly embodiment, “emancipation from the bondage of the soil.” But here Tagore challenges the otherworldliness that often engenders.

Even the spiritual idea of liberation can become a selfish goal. For one utterly in love with God, the paying of that “debt” is simply a labor of love. Every effort, every experience, even suffering, is simply an expression of one’s love for God. That is enough right there for the true lover of God. Rather than seeking escape from “the soil,” the world is seen as a panorama that offers endless opportunities to worship and experience the Divine.

This is the great vision of karma yoga.

It is also the attitude that finally allows us to be at rest on our spiritual journey, rather than live as a convict on the run. What some see as the prison yard, becomes instead an exercise yard… or a playground! It is a courageous way of acknowledging that freedom is not escape, it is deep presence.

And we find that we live not in fleeting time, but in the ever expanding present moment.

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
      and has time enough.


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>


Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Aug 16 2017

Meng Hao-jan – Master I’s Chamber in the Ta-yu Temple

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Master I’s Chamber in the Ta-yu Temple
by Meng Hao-jan

English version by J. P. Seaton

I-Kung’s place to practice Ch’an:
a hut in an empty grove.

Outside the door, a single pretty peak.
Before the stair, deep valleys.

Sunset confused in footprints of the rain.
Blue of the void in the shade of the court.

Look, and see the lotus blossom’s purity:
know then that nothing taints this heart.

— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by toehk /

The first several lines of this poem paint for us serene, somewhat lonely images:

a meditation hut in an empty grove…
a mountain peak spied through the doorway…
stairs descending into valleys…
rain puddles reflecting the sunset…
space enclosed by a shaded court…

(By the way, isn’t that a wonderful phrase, “footprints of the rain”? As if the rain — or some spirit of the natural world — is walking toward us in reflections upon the earth…)

Besides the peace and stillness suggested by these images, what else do you notice? These are human spaces at the edge of the natural world… but there is no human presence here.

These are all images of meditation: harmony, simplicity, nature, and no agitated ego there to stir up the dust.

That last couple of lines–

Look, and see the lotus blossom’s purity:
know then that nothing taints this heart.

The purity of the lotus blossom is an important esoteric theme in the poetry of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Picture a lotus flower for a moment. The lotus rises through the murky waters of ponds and lakes yet, when it blooms, it floats upon the surface, its petals shining and untainted by the mud from which it emerged. In the scriptural language and sacred poetry of Hinduism and Buddhism, the lotus perfectly embodies the soul, rising up through the murkiness of worldly experience until it reaches the surface of the spiritual realm and blooms, vibrant and pure, free from all taint and attachment.

This is why Meng Hao-jan immediately follows his mention of the lotus blossom’s purity with his reference to the untainted heart. No matter what the heart experiences, loss, sorrow, suffering, disgrace, when it truly opens, it is surprisingly untouched. So much of life wounds. Who can deny it? Yet somehow the battered heart blossoms with such beauty and love, no hint of past hurts.

This untainted opening of the heart is not an emotion, not even something one works at. This is simply what happens. With meditation or prayer, the cultivation of inner quiet and generosity and humility, the heart surprises with its unexpected budding and blossoming. Just wait and watch.


Recommended Books: Meng Hao-jan

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan


Meng Hao-jan

China (689 – 740) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Aug 09 2017

Emily Dickinson – Always Mine!

Published by under Poetry

Always Mine!
by Emily Dickinson

Always Mine!
No more Vacation!
Term of Light this Day begun!
Failless as the fair rotation
Of the Seasons and the Sun.

Old the Grace, but new the Subjects —
Old, indeed, the East,
Yet upon His Purple Programme
Every Dawn, is first.

— from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson


/ Image by capt_tain Tom /

When I was first introduced to Emily Dickinson’s poetry as a teenager, I immediately responded to the power of her writing. Her short, staccato lines, words and phrases connected by dashes and strange punctuation. Statements filled with intensity, as if she can barely get the words out. But it wasn’t always clear to me what she was really saying.

It wasn’t until much later, re-reading her writing as an adult, that a light went off in my mind, and I realized that much of the commentary I had read of her poetry had missed the essential element of her poetry — that Emily Dickinson was, in fact, a mystic describing ecstatic states of awareness.

Don’t take my word for it, just consider the possibility. And then reread her poetry with that idea in mind.

This poem, for example. Why does she rapturously proclaim, “Always Mine!” Something or someone she had been passionately seeking is discovered to already belong to her, to have always been hers. There is “no more vacation,” no longer a sense of separation or distance. For her, it is as if a new day has begun, filled with light, as dependable as the seasons.

I especially respond to the line:

Old the Grace, but new the Subjects —

The sense of grace that fills her is “old,” ancient, familiar, as if it has always been there, yet she notices for the first time how it shines anew on everything. Everything is new when seen in this new light.

She expands on this with:

Old, indeed, the East,
Yet upon His Purple Programme
Every Dawn, is first.

The East, the direction of the sunrise, the direction of enlightenment, has always been there, yet amidst its royal purple majesty, every dawn is new and wondrous.

Re-reading this poem, does it seem like a lonely recluse’s breathless praise of the morning or perhaps a secret love, or is it genuinely ecstatic, describing an awareness that is profound and alive?


Recommended Books: Emily Dickinson

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words
More Books >>


Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Emily Dickinson

US (1830 – 1886) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Protestant

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Aug 04 2017

Li Bai – You ask why I make my home in the mountain forest

Published by under Poetry

You ask why I make my home in the mountain forest
by Li Bai

English version by Sam Hamill

You ask why I make my home in the mountain forest,
and I smile, and am silent,
and even my soul remains quiet:
it lives in the other world
which no one owns.
The peach trees blossom,
The water flows.

— from Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry, Translated by Sam Hamill


/ Image by neil alejandro /

I thought I’d share a moment of peace…

I smile, and am silent,
and even my soul remains quiet…

These lines bring me to rest.

The mind at rest, the entire self at rest, all silt having settled, leaving only quiet clarity. One becomes empty, a spacious, silent witness to the world’s unfolding.

The peach trees blossom,
The water flows

Have a beautiful weekend!


Recommended Books: Li Bai

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry Li Pai: 200 Selected Poems A Feast of Lanterns
More Books >>


Li Bai, Li Bai poetry, Taoist poetry Li Bai

China (701 – 762) Timeline
Taoist

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Jul 28 2017

A. R. Ammons – Eyesight

Published by under Poetry

Eyesight
by A. R. Ammons

It was May before my
attention came
to spring and

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring: but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

— from Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971, by A. R. Ammons


/ Image by Warren Rohner /

I quite like the way this poem reminds us to pay attention, to be present.

It was May before my
attention came
to spring…

It is easy to get so busy with our lives that we miss life. Too much dedication to the minutia and the demands of each day can cause our peripheral vision to collapse. And then too often we miss the important stuff. We lose context and meaning. It is as if we go on a journey and then train ourselves to only stare down at our moving feet. Continuing this metaphor, we certainly can’t ignore our feet, particularly on difficult or uneven terrain. But if we don’t regularly look up we are more likely to lose our way… and the joy of the journey itself.

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

I love the poet’s phrase, that the spring came and went before he “got right to see.” Seeing is not simply a mechanical action, is it? It requires an inner readiness, a willingness to be open to the encounter of what is witnessed. We have to be receptive, and ready for surprise. We don’t just look, we have to get right to see.

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring…

I’m not sure if the meaning of this is obvious to everyone. In the natural world, seasonal patterns are cooler and move in reverse as we go away from the equator or higher in elevation. I live near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. If, like Ammons, May has come and I have forgotten to pause and appreciate spring — the wildflowers, the new grasses, the birdsong in the cool mornings — I can drive up into the mountains and find it all there waiting for me.

In other words, many of the things we were too preoccupied to recognize and appreciate at the right moment in life can still be found with a little “climbing,” a little effort, a change in perspective. If we missed it when it came to us, we can go to it.

…but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

But not all things are so. Some things, when they are gone, they are gone. We might say that this is closer to the greater truth, that all things, really, when they go are gone. Even an experience repeated is entirely new the second time. That first experience is gone. And, once experienced, that second experience is gone too.

This may sound tragic, but it is not really so. It is simply the nature of the flow of reality. Nothing is truly stable or repeatable. Everything, every encounter, every moment is entirely unique to itself. This is the blessing and the challenge of life. When we feel trapped in a sameness, we are simply not seeing. There is constant change and mystery unfolding within that apparent sameness.

The ephemeral, flowing nature of experience invites us to keep paying attention. Because that is what we truly have. We don’t “have” experiences. They can’t be grasped or held. We can catalog them, list them as part of our personal histories, but that doesn’t truly make them ours. All we truly have is our awareness of experiences as they pass through our lives. If our awareness isn’t engaged, then those experiences were never truly experienced.

So, yes, let’s climb the mountains to find the wildflowers, but better still not to miss them when they sprout in our own back yards.


Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons Uplands: New Poems by A R Ammons
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A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jul 26 2017

Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky) – The Great Religions

Published by under Poetry

The Great Religions
by Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky)

The
Great religions are the
Ships,

Poets the life
Boats.

Every sane person I know has jumped
Overboard.

That is good for business
Isn’t it

Hafiz?

— from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master, by Daniel Ladinsky


/ Image by Erik Hansen /

This is one of my favorite poems by Ladinsky. It winks knowingly at us, inviting us in on the joke. Without saying much, it suggests a lot about the relationship between formal ideas of religion, genuine insight, freedom, and the poetic impulse.

Ready, one, two, three — JUMP!


Recommended Books: Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky)

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West The Subject Tonight Is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz


Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky)

US (1945? – )
Muslim / Sufi

People sometimes wonder why I don’t feature more of Hafiz’s poetry from Daniel Ladinsky’s book, The Gift. They are such delightful, ecstatic, irreverent poems that have inspired so many people…

Ladinsky’s books put me in an awkward spot. I really like the poetry from Ladinsky’s books… but, well, they aren’t actually by Hafiz. His collection of poetry entitled The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master actually contains no lines of poetry written by the great Sufi poet Hafiz!

Daniel Ladinsky seems to acknowledge this in his introduction to the book, when he writes, “I feel my relationship to Hafiz defies all reason… I had an astounding dream in which I saw Hafiz as an Infinite Fountaining Sun (I saw him as God), who sang hundreds of lines of his poetry to me in English, asking me to give that message to ‘my artists and seekers.’”

You might say that Ladinsky’s poetry is “inspired by” Hafiz. Or, if you prefer a broader interpretation, you could say Ladinsky channels Hafiz. But his “translations” are not the historical writings of Hafiz. From the more limited scholar’s definition, these are poems by Daniel Ladinsky, not Hafiz.

So here’s what I do: I enjoy Ladinsky’s playful, profound poetry, but I look to other books to savor the historical poetry of Hafiz that Sufis and seekers have delighted in for centuries.

If you’d like to explore and compare them, here are some links to start with:

More of Ladinsky’s Hafiz
Historical Hafiz.

More poetry by Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky)

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Jul 21 2017

Shabkar – The mind has neither color nor form

Published by under Poetry

The mind has neither color nor form
by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard

The mind has neither color nor form.
Search for it: it is nowhere.
Emptiness!

— from Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar, Translated by Matthieu Ricard


/ Image by Venu Gopal /

[Fair warning: I ramble on a bit here…]

Something in human instinct recoils from statements like this: “The mind is… nowhere.” It’s a reflex of psychic self-preservation. Consciously or unconsciously we assume that we are the mind. So to say that the mind is nowhere and to speak of emptiness feels like we are marching headlong into our own negation.

It’s especially fascinating to watch earnest seekers become mental contortionists, trying in such creative ways to integrate this notion into their worldview, while still rejecting it in their gut. The mind can perform some amazing acrobatics while trying to comprehend its own non-existence!

This gets down to fundamental ground in the process of spiritual awakening. Trying to accept this because a respected teacher or text has told you it is so will only carry you so far. You must investigate yourself.

Here’s one way to understand this: The mind must begin the search, but it cannot complete it. At a certain point the mind — well, aspects of the mind — are recognized as being a hindrance to full, clear perception. Then there is usually a long process of trying to figure out how to sidestep the mind. This leads only to limited success; we begin to conceive that we are not the mind, but we have no real idea how to get around this uncertain thing we call the mind.

Eventually we begin to wonder, What is the mind anyway? We begin to watch it, observe it’s thoughts and images and feelings. We question: Is that me? That thought, this collection of thoughts, are they somehow what I am? What part of me feels that feeling? That image hovering at the back of my awareness, did I conjure it? I see a thing and then I form a mental image of the thing and then I think about the mental image I’ve formed; do I ever really see a thing as it is? This constant flow of intangibles that endlessly occupies my awareness and populates the world I perceive, what is it all really, and what is my relationship to it?

This is not some heady, intellectual process. We don’t necessarily even formulate these questions into words. We just watch. Through watching, we grow quiet Through watching, we learn to see.

A curious thing begins to happen: We become more stable, while the mind dissipates. It’s not even really that the mind fades; its reality fades. We begin to see that the mind is not a sustained thing at all. It has no existence in and of itself. It is found to be like ripples upon the surface of a running stream, simply the result of movement. When the movement stops, the water remains, but the ripples are gone.

Awareness remains. You remain. You are, in truth, more yourself. But what you always thought you were is gone — nowhere. Imagine what that means; you stand there finally witnessing yourself and everything, but without the intervening disruption of your thoughts about your thoughts about your thoughts. Rather than a universe filled with an endless catalogue of objects and experiences, there is seen to be a single radiance. Because this deep level is free from “things,” we might call it Emptiness. But the life, and the presence, and the beauty we find is so immense that you’d never make the mistake of describing it as a negation; it is a summation.

So that impish mind, search for it. Laugh at its escapes and evasions. You’ll find you can’t find the mind. And you’ll find so much more.


Recommended Books: Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat


Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol), Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol) poetry, Buddhist poetry Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Tibet (1781 – 1851) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

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