Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Apr 20 2018

Janabai – You must accept those who surrender to you

Published by under Poetry

You must accept those who surrender to you
by Janabai

English version by Sarah Sellergren

If the Ganga flows to the ocean
and the ocean turns her away,
tell me, O Vitthal,
who would hear her complaint?

Can the river reject its fish?
Can the mother spurn her child?

Jan says,
Lord,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.

— from Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion, Edited by Anne Feldhaus


/ Image by TheFoxAndTheRaven /

I wanted to highlight this poem today because of its emphasis on surrender.

The question of surrender is central to the spiritual journey, which is often a difficult idea for us to accept. The word “surrender” itself can seem terrifying or even hateful. Why surrender at all? Don’t we want victory and not surrender?

We need to surrender. Surrender is essential to the eventual victory of spiritual opening. Yet surrender can also be dangerous.

Different religious traditions frame the idea of surrender differently, but it is always present. There is the notion of submission to a guru or spiritual guide, which might make some of us wince. Or monastic vows of obedience, which probably makes even more of us cringe. Every tradition has some expression of surrender encoded within its practices. When both the seeker and the spiritual authority come to that relationship with pure intention, the dynamic of surrender becomes a very effective technique for swift unfolding.

The obvious problem is that surrender, particularly the profound forms of self-surrender that occur as part of the spiritual journey, make one deeply vulnerable to everything from mental manipulation to sexual abuse. Sadly, we can all cite several public examples of this very result.

So, we should never surrender, right? It’s not that simple. As I said, surrender is essential.

But to whom do we surrender? Why do we need to surrender? Leaving aside the religious trappings, let us first ask, what is the energetic purpose of surrender?

The surrender we need for success along our spiritual journey is the surrender of self — the little or false self, the ego. Not just the ego as an idea, but we must drop the limited reality the ego-self enforces upon our consciousness. We also need to surrender the ego-bolstering actions, or self-will, which continuously reaffirm the ego and its psychic hindrances.

Profound spiritual opening requires that we come to a place in which we deeply, utterly… let go. This does not even require effort. We merely have to cease all our efforts at maintaining the pretense of the little self. We have to give up what has, for most of us, become a lifelong endeavor. This may be disorienting or even frightening, so it should not be sought casually. But, done with determination and patience and balance, such surrender unlocks the doorway.

I have used rather solitary language so far. To whom do we surrender? A master or spiritual authority? Some would say yes. My personal perspective is that, such a figure can be helpful when, as I said earlier, everyone’s intentions are clear. But I still have trouble with that. Contrarian that I am, I tend to oppose most forms of authority, spiritual and secular.

What I have observed is that what we are surrendering to is not that teacher or guru or guide or institution. We are really surrendering to the universal divine spark that we have glimpsed in that person or ideal. That glowing essence is the real authority that we must surrender to. That is the real teacher. We may sense it in a guru or a saint or a teacher. We may recognize it in a spiritual organization or a holy book or a beloved icon. Or we may find it in a grove of trees, in the face of a homeless person on the street. When we are honest with ourselves, it is not the person or the institution or the teaching; they are its representatives or embodiments, but it is the shining spark itself that calls to us. It is to that do we bow. That is what we truly surrender to.

In this way, surrender need not be submission or the giving up of our critical faculties or appropriate forms of self-respect and self-protection. Perhaps it is appropriate to have an antiauthoritarian form of spiritual surrender.

Ultimately, that spirit-filled spark we see in some inspiration focus outside ourselves is what is trying to awaken within ourselves. This is really why surrender is required. We are dropping our resistance and allowing that ineffable presence to be born within. We surrender the small self as a sacred offering. Accepting this sacrifice, the divine Self, that sense of our being most deeply connected with God, steps forth. This is how surrender becomes victory.

Jan says,
Lord,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.


Recommended Books: Janabai

Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion Women Saints in World Religions


Janabai

India (1298 – 1350?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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Apr 13 2018

Denise Levertov – Looking, Walking, Being

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Looking, Walking, Being
by Denise Levertov

“The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in.”
— Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
looking,
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

— from Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by Amizyolaroid /

Okay, let’s start off with those wonderful lines:

Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.

This poem is a response to the Mark Rudman quote, “The World is not something to / look at, it is something to be in.” Denise Levertov answers that looking IS being.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch…

I suspect that Rudman was discouraging passivity and lack of presence, but Levertov, I think, is getting at something deeper still. Humans, all beings, in fact, are fundamentally beings of awareness. Each individual is a point of perception, a viewpoint in the universe. We are, each of us, “a pair of eyes walking.”

We are present through perception, not action. Yes, action and interaction can be a powerful way to force us to pay attention, but it is also common to use action to shut down the awareness. Whether in movement or in stillness, the real goal is to keep the eyes open and feel fully with the heart and with the gut. We want to do more than look, but to see and see deeply. We need to see what is ignored and glossed over, to “dig and burrow in the world.”

Even in complete stillness, truly seeing is one of the most profound actions we can engage in. People are brought to tears by a gentle gaze in the eyes. This is what the soul craves, to be seen, to be recognized, to be truly acknowledged. This is true not just of the human soul, but of the world soul. I think of this when Denise Levertov writes of how the world “looks at one looking.”

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

We forget that language is built of breath. We see the written word and we read it silently. Words become mental concepts, tools of the intellect. But words are not fundamentally discrete units of meaning. They flow and stop and flow again, as the breath does. Words aren’t inherently meaningful; they are the ornaments that accompany the flow of awareness.

Words affect breath. Thoughts affect breath. Breath guides awareness.

…breathing to sustain
looking…

Through the breath, we bring the outside world inside us, inside the body, inside the awareness. The boundary between self and the world is bridged by the breath. Through breath, we touch, we feel, we internalize, we connect, we participate, we come alive. Through breath we move and we see.

…walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

Vision, language, breath… communion.


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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Apr 06 2018

Buson – Clinging to the bell

Published by under Poetry

Clinging to the bell
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

Clinging to the bell,
he dozes so peacefully,
this new butterfly

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


/ Image by Rafaelfo /

This haiku is so precise and specific that you can’t help but step into the scene sketched for us: A butterfly dozing, at peace on an unstruck bell.

The moment suggests such stillness, yet there is that underlying tension and anticipation. That bell can be rung at any moment, startling the butterfly.

The bell might suggest a temple or monastery. It signals a change in awareness, the call to prayer or to duty.

Should we think of the butterfly as a butterfly? Or a monk, perhaps? Or ourselves? It is “new,” young, inexperienced. Is its peaceful rest naive? Or is it the natural result of its simplicity?

When the bell is struck, will the butterfly attain wakefulness, or lose its peace?

I really like the way this haiku can be turned around and around, yet we keep returning to that perfect still point, dozing on the unstruck bell.


Recommended Books: Buson

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


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Apr 04 2018

Rainer Maria Rilke – Sunset

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Sunset
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs –-

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

— from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Robert Bly


/ Image by MD. Hasibul Haque Sakib /

I love the duality of this poem, which is the duality of our own mental states.

In the painterly beauty of a sunset, we see a transfer occurring, the passing of colors from sky to earth.

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.

We start to notice the “two worlds”: the brilliant but fading sky descending to the earth, while the earth’s horizon rises up into the night sky. Sky into earth, earth into sky, separating, yet also revolving into each other.

You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

The fixed world of the day is now on the move, dividing and departing. Which one shall we ride into the evening? Which is our home?

leaving you, not really belonging to either,

While, in some mysterious way, these separate worlds of shifting earth and sky are also reconnecting and recombining to form a magical new reality at night that may lead to an unimagined world tomorrow.

Who and what are we as its witnesses? Are we silent, like the somnolent earth, or are we celestial and immense, like the star-strewn night sky, which speaks even in its silence?

Which are we, timid, contained, withdrawn, or standing up, reaching out, growing? Like the earth and the sky at brilliant sunset, we are all of these at once, intermingled.

We embody both the earthly and the heavenly, and perhaps they are not in opposition to each other. These qualities contrast and strengthen each other, together creating a wholeness within the world and within each of us as individuals journeying along the horizon where earth and heaven meet.

We are neither stone nor star, but both.

one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

Have a beautiful day, and a wondrous sunset!


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

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


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

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 28 2018

Thomas Merton – The Sowing of Meanings

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The Sowing of Meanings
by Thomas Merton

See the high birds! Is theirs the song
That dies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?
Or do they play in wheeling silences
Defining in the perfect sky
The bounds of (here below) our solitude,

Where spring has generated lights of green
To glow in clouds upon the sombre branches?
Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim?

More than a season will be born here, nature,
In your world of gravid mirrors!
The quiet air awaits one note,
One light, one ray and it will be the angels’ spring:
One flash, one glance upon the shiny pond, and then
Asperges me! sweet wilderness, and lo! we are redeemed!

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power —
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

Until, in the amazing light of April,
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring,
Creation finds the pressure of His everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited of men,
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.

And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition, turns within,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness and oblivion,
Dives after, and discovers flame.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Image by NemanjaJ /

It is a sleepy, overcast morning here in Colorado. Clouds have been alternating with brilliant blue skies for several days. Spring is eager to awaken. The reviving world calls me to step out my front door, to stroll…

Ponds full of sky and stillnesses

…to see what is secretly waiting to blossom…

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power —
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

The renewal of spring reminds us that so much life and possibility is buried just beneath the surface of the world. We move through our days glancing but rarely looking, brushing past but barely touching, all while a hidden green sap runs through everything, percolating, gestating, just awaiting its moment to blossom in a thousand forms into the world.

We can see a blade of grass or a flower on the branch, and smile but think nothing of it. Or we can really look, recognize the life behind its life, following its secret channels back to the pool of life. When we pay attention, we see not only the myriad expressions of lovely new life, we see life itself, that mysterious questing force that animates the entire universe.

When reading this poem, the question comes up: What does that line about “asperges” mean? “Asperges” is a reference to the Catholic rite of sprinkling holy water on the congregation, especially associated with Easter mass. It comes from the first word (in Latin) of Psalms 51:9, which is traditionally chanted in Catholic masses during Easter. So Merton is making a reference to anointing, sanctification, purification, and Easter…

I hope you find a way to step into the awakening world during this Passover and Easter season.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light…


Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study


Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Mar 23 2018

Dorothy Walters – After

Published by under Poetry

After
by Dorothy Walters

There is one thing certain.
Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain —

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light,
never to have gone there
to the top of the snow hung peak
and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

— from The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension, by Dorothy Walters


/ Image by JazzLoving Bastard /

Hold onto your doubt, if it serves you. Keep questioning even in the moment of your most radical transformation.

Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain —

But don’t think your disbelief can trump the reality you now see and know.

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light…

It may not fit our world view, it may not fit our religion, and we know all too well our foolish failings, yet still there is this flood of light eager to burst forth within us and overturn all our rock-solid understanding.

and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.


Recommended Books: Dorothy Walters

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension Some Kiss We Want: Poems Selected and New
More Books >>


Dorothy Walters, Dorothy Walters poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 21 2018

Ivan M. Granger – When the Spring Thaw Comes

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When the Spring Thaw Comes
by Ivan M. Granger

Something they
won’t tell you –

That book of sins
you hide
beneath your pillow
matters
not at all.

When the spring thaw comes
we all go mad
and shred it,
tossing love notes
left and right
scribbled on the scraps.

— from Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania, Edited by Andrew Harvey / Edited by Jay Ramsay


/ Image by Ana-mcara /

It has been a while since I last featured one of my own poems. Something to welcome spring.

We all do it, keep a hidden notebook detailing each and every failing. When it comes to that book of self-recrimination, we memorize each page with a cruel clarity. We can list each imperfection. The tally on the final page tells us in blunt mathematics how we are not who we imagine we should be. We brutalize ourselves with this book.

It is not that any line item in this ledger is untrue or that we should not feel remorse when we stumble or cause hurt.

But something happens. Spring’s first dawn breaks. The old self, in stunned silence, just falls away. And with it goes all those old calculations.

All that then remains of those countless self-cruelties are our secret love notes written to a new self and a new world filled with new life.

Happy spring! And to all of my Persian and Middle Eastern friends, Happy Nowruz!


Recommended Books: Ivan M. Granger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry
More Books >>


Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Mar 16 2018

R. S. Thomas – The Moor

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The Moor
by R. S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

— from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden


/ Image by xelcise /

It was like a church to me.

Isn’t this a wonderful way to step into the wild?

I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.

The proper approach to the natural world, with reverence and receptivity.

This is one of the great gifts of living nature, it can release us from our endless mental and social constructions. We receive the opportunity to witness the wider reality. The limitations of our thoughts, our lives, the ambitions of the human world, are revealed amidst the larger landscape.

It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to…

Nature offers us a direct experience of communion. These are not sermons or discourses that pass through the ear to be sifted and sorted by the brain before, hopefully, some truth trickles into the deeper awareness. This is the living stillness touching the heart.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom.

Notice the break in the first line of the verse above. “There were no prayers said. But stillness–” By ending the line on “stillness,” the mind contemplating these words naturally halts, finding its own stillness. The mind unconsciously reads the line as if it was a complete sentence, “There were no prayers said, but stillness.” Stillness, then, becomes the prayer.

And the powerful line break dividing the second and third lines. We read them as, “That was praise!” followed by “Enough.” On a certain level that isolated “enough” captures the essence here: He is speaking of the stillness of the heart’s passions and the mind finally yielding its control. “Enough!” Enough of the busy mind and the hungry heart.

The quiet breath of the natural world remind us that stillness is the real praise, and prayer, and presence.

I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

Mmm.


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds R. S. Thomas: Selected Poems R. S. Thomas (Everyman Poetry) R. S. Thomas: Collected Poems 1945-1990
More Books >>


R. S. Thomas, R. S. Thomas poetry, Christian poetry R. S. Thomas

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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Mar 09 2018

Anna Swir – Myself and My Person

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Myself and My Person
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tridimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now that has not happened
but it does not settle the question.

— from Talking to My Body, by Anna Swir / Translated by Czeslaw Milosz


/ Image by vanillapearl /

Something today by the wonderful Polish poet, Anna Swir.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

Whatever our background or belief system, we keep having this central encounter — that stranger, that shadow or twin, who is ourself.

Busy with our lives, we hunger for some experiences, struggle to avoid others, while some we just hope to survive. Then a moment comes, perhaps wondrous or utterly ordinary, and all our experiences fold in on themselves and there we discover our own selves for the first time experiencing them.

A strange division of self occurred somewhere in our forgotten formation, for we recognize that there are actually two “I”s: The “I” I assume myself to be, and the “I” that is “my own person,” who I really am.

It is absurd, really. We always know who we are, right? Who and what we are is the one constant in every instant of our lives. Yet somehow we encounter ourselves and it as if we are meeting a stranger for the first time. How can this self that I am be unknown to me? And how can this new self be so much bigger and less broken than I thought I was? Who is this stranger that I am?

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Just how different can this self of selves be from my daily self? Can it go one way, while I go another? What does that even mean? Can it be an “it,” separate from myself while still being myself? Which me is me, and which it is an it?

When we finally recognize our full selves, we have the opportunity to shift our identity. As this new self, we become immensely real in a way that the old, mundane self never quite was. The pretense of the prior self is revealed. The bigger self brightens and the old self is lost in the light.

So, my advice: If you stop at a street corner and notice your own person walking to the right, turn right and follow.


Recommended Books: Anna Swir

Talking to My Body Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems


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Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
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Mar 07 2018

Hakim Sanai – There is no place for place!

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There is no place for place!
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Ivan M. Granger

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space,
or the vast sky enclose
      the maker of heaven?

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Tell me, if the one you seek
is placeless,
why put your shoes on?
The real road
is found by polishing, polishing
      the mirror of your heart.

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


/ Image by RobertoBertero /

I’ve always loved these verses, but this morning it’s the middle verse that especially stands out to me–

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Mystics, through direct perception, often declare that there is a fundamental unity in existence. There is no real separation between beings. There is no separation between the individual and the Eternal.

But this raises a dilemma in the minds of some philosophers: In a reality where all is One, why then does the perception of separation and multiplicity emerge? Is that simply a false vision, a delusion, or does it serve a divine purpose, even if temporary? In other words, why does that externalized reality (“the world”) come into being?

One way this question is answered is to look at the journey of the individual human consciousness from birth, through individuation, to mature adulthood and, finally, hopefully, to wisdom and enlightenment. As newborn infants we don’t imagine ourselves to be separate from our mothers. There is hardly any self at all. Or, rather, self is so open that it is not a “self” in the normal sense. There is only Mother. And the wider reality is only the perception of sensation. This is a form of unity, but it is immature. This initial unity does not yet allow us to effectively interact with the wider, complex reality and embody our full potential.

Next, separation and individuation begins to occur. The toddler discovers a powerful word: “No!” A sense of self emerges. This is also when “the world” emerges. Wider reality becomes something outside ourselves, outside the self, separate. We get the dynamic of self and object, self and other.

That self-object dynamic is essential. It allows for interaction. It allows for experimentation and experience and growing comprehension. We gain a vantage point through which to perceive and understand reality. We gain a place to stand and to see.

As profound and necessary as this relationship with reality is, it is ultimately limited. It works well for the basic need of all beings to figure out how to survive and socially connect. But it is an incomplete picture, and it leaves us incomplete in ourselves. Even when, as mature adults, we learn the skills of the world, there is more. And we know it.

The wise woman or man is dedicated to continuing the maturation of the awareness, rediscovering that primal unity while integrating it with the hard-learned lessons of the world. This leads to true spiritual maturity, with vision and a place to stand, yet consciously connected to all things.

We need the world. We need a place to stand, so we can look and see. Eventually we once more see the One in the patterns of the many.

Then the idea of place falls away. Place only has meaning amidst the many, when seeking some segment of reality. But, when, in our full maturity, we seek the blissful vision of the Whole Reality, what meaning does place have anymore?

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space…?

Enough running about from place to place; we are on a journey to the placeless. Let’s kick off our shoes, sit down, and begin the quiet work of polishing that most secret center until we truly see, and know, and are lost in the vision…


Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi
More Books >>


Hakim Sanai, Hakim Sanai poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Hakim Sanai

Afghanistan (1044? – 1150?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 28 2018

Yuan Mei – Climbing the Mountain

Published by under Poetry

Climbing the Mountain
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

— from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei, Translated by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by serenity-temptations /

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

I think any artist can relate to this opening line. We have our rituals, half prayerful, half desperate, seeking to draw forth that intangible spark of inspiration.

And what is it we seek really? One more poem, one more compelling scene for our novel in progress, a new variation on a classic melody, just the right angle for our subject in charcoal? While important, those are details, not the art itself, not that intangible something we are really fishing for in the quiet tense moments before creation.

What we’re really seeking is a feeling, a sense of budding life and purpose behind the technique of our creation. It is not craft we seek, but the unnamed animating spirit that will bless our craft, bring it to life, and awaken something in everyone touched by this new creation.

But art itself can be a trap. At its best, it is a magical act, a shamanic endeavor that transforms and heals society, bringing forth new possibilities within the human spirit. But art can also be a bellows for the ego, a way to reinforce one’s self-importance and place in the world. Too often art starts to point back to the artist’s own face.

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

In such moments, perhaps it is best to step back from the busy work of one more creation and remember to widen our scope in order to restore perspective. Any human act of creation, no matter how filled with life and magic, can never match the artistry writ large in the world all around us.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

If we only recognize that spark when captured by a human hand, we have lost a vital connection to the greater reality.

We must regularly return to the pool of wonder itself, found most naturally where the human being is incidental. We must remember to recognize the real art everywhere present, unsigned, just the artist’s hidden smile.

That is where the real communication is happening. Where you and I are not the authors, but stand instead as quiet witnesses, that is where the most profound transformation occurs. That is the real magical encounter.

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

Restored, we then return to our own actions and creations as a modest reflection of the great artist’s work. Our work in the world becomes a form of participation rather than self-aggrandizement.


Recommended Books: Yuan Mei

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet Censored by Confucius: Ghost Stories of Yuan Mei


Yuan Mei, Yuan Mei poetry, Buddhist poetry Yuan Mei

China (1716 – 1798) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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Feb 23 2018

Philip Booth – How to See a Deer

Published by under Poetry

How to See a Deer
by Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You’ve come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You’ve learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

— from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999, by Philip Booth


/ Image by Iamidaho /

With its elusiveness and profound stillness even in movement, the way it appears in the mist or vanishes into the forest (perhaps beckoning us to follow), deer represent to us that intangible reality we all seek on some level. The doe’s gentle face, suggests to us peace, beauty, trust. The stag’s majestic stance displaying his antlers, naturally evokes a primal sense of kingship and otherworldly might.

Naturally, the deer becomes a symbol for God, the Divine Beloved, the Messiah. But even when we set aside our religious lenses, we can’t help but feel that the solitary deer, encountered in a quiet moment, is an ambassador between worlds, hinting to us of another reality.

How do we meet this quiet spirit? How do we have the sacred encounter? The poet says it so beautifully: We go elsewhere, our own way. Next to wild places, and spots that invite rest and contemplation. Without expectations. With patience and trust. Pay attention to the rhythms of life all around. Trust your own nature. Listen to the inner voice. Learn to see anew. See what you see.

(Special thanks to Lalita Vajra for introducing me to this poem.)


Recommended Books: Philip Booth

Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999


Philip Booth, Philip Booth poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Philip Booth

US (1925 – 2007) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 13 2018

Manikkavacakar – Becoming sky & earth

Published by under Poetry

Becoming sky & earth
by Manikkavacakar

Becoming sky & earth
Wind & light
Becoming flesh & spirit
All that truly is
& all that which is not
Becoming the Lord,
He makes those who say,
“I” & “mine”
Dance in the show
Becoming sky
& standing there…
How can my words
praise Him?


/ Image by Vik Nanda /

Today is the Hindu festival of Shivaratri in honor of the the god Shiva. Often Shiva is depicted as a meditating, long-haired ascetic, but another important expression of Shiva is as Nataraj, Lord of the Dance.

Shiva Nataraj is depicted with one foot raised in dance, the other foot treading upon a figure representing ignorance. In one hand he holds the drum that is the fundamental sound of creation. In another he displays the fire of destruction. A third hand expresses the mudra (hand position) of fearlessness, while the fourth hand points to his upraised foot, suggesting the path to liberation. His jata, matted locks, fly out about his head; in the wildness of his dance, they crash into the objects of existence, dispelling their illusory being. And flames emanate from his dancing body, representing manifestation, creation radiated out into being by the pure energy of his dance.

Shiva’s dance — called the Tandava — is the rhythm of the universe, the dance of creation, evolution, destruction, and renewal. The cycle of the seasons is in his dance, All patterns and rhythms emanate from Lord Shiva’s dance, from the ages of the world to the thrum of each person’s heartbeat.

All the dramas of existence are expressions of Shiva’s dance.

First, Manikkavacakar describes his expansive, blissful merging with all Being–

Becoming sky & earth
Wind & light
Becoming flesh & spirit
All that truly is
& all that which is not

Everything merging with the Eternal…

Becoming the Lord

From the egoless, all-permeating state, the yogin witnesses Lord Shiva’s dance play out. He sees people, creatures, all beings swept up in the rhythm of that great dance. From the yogin’s elevated state, the Tandava is an immense, colorful wonder of swirling movement, contact and conflict, birth and death, joy and suffering, rising and falling.

But to those swept up in the dance, the rhythms are overwhelming, the experiences can be terrifying. As beautiful as the great cosmic dance is, the individuals within it are engaged in exhaustive struggle, often disoriented, and sometimes touched by terrible suffering.

Why the disconnect between the macrocosmic majesty and the microcosmic misery?

He makes those who say,
“I” & “mine”
Dance in the show

Amidst the dance of being, people struggle because of the ego sense. They say “I” and “me” and “mine.” This creates an incomplete and fixed sense of self — very dangerous in a world defined by movement. The ego is a sort of spiritual temper tantrum, a child’s hot assertion that “this is what I am, and this is all that I am, and the world had better stay put!” But the dance continues. The universe is alive, and life moves.

The dance of existence is terrifying when we identify with all the tumbling bits and pieces. But when we come to know ourselves as flowing, spacious, subtle beings of pure dynamic awareness, we can then choose to participate or not, in service and in delight. We are no longer IN the dance, we have become the dance. We are not so much bodies or collections of experiences with a fixed point in the rhythm, we are the flow of rhythm itself. Free from the fixations and limitations of the little self, we now move with Shiva himself.

How can words manage to praise the Lord of the Dance?

Om Namah Shivaya!


Recommended Books: Manikkavacakar

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice


Manikkavacakar

India (9th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Feb 06 2018

Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca

Published by under Poetry

Ithaca
by Constantine P. Cavafy

English version by George Barbanis

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
 
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
 
Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
 
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.


/ Image by makithaca /

A little motivation to take down that old copy of Homer’s Odyssey, dust it off, and crack it open once again. It was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager, with gods, monsters, heroes, adventure… and a reminder of my Greek heritage.

In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus was returning home from the Trojan War to his island kingdom of Ithaca, but conflicts with gods and monsters and weather kept leading him off course into new adventures. It took him twenty years to finally return home!

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

Cavafy’s poem reminds us of the Odyssey’s hidden truth, that the hero’s journey to Ithaca is the soul’s journey home.

Ancient tradition says that Homer’s epics, the Illiad and the Odyssey, combine into a grand mystery tale, understood by initiates as describing the stages and struggles of the soul’s inner journey.

pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge…

Too often seekers disparage the road, its bumps and turns, impatient for the destination.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

But the stops along the journey are not roadblocks, they are stepping stones. Actually, even that’s not true. Seen clearly, the journey and the destination are a single continuum. The river pours into the sea, and they are one. Seated on the slow-moving river, we already touch the sea.

…and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can…

Cavafy suggests that worldly experience, the senses, a certain amount of materialism, these too are part of the journey. The physical world is the realm through which the soul journeys. Encountering marvels and terrors the soul strengthens and comes to know itself. Knowing itself in victory and adversity, the soul is finally ready to return.

But to navigate through such bewildering, overwhelming experiences, the destination must never be forgotten:

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.

Don’t rush through the journey, impatient only for its end. The adventure is our soul’s story.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

The wisdom you attain with each step reveals the destination’s true meaning.

And it is just as true to say that the destination’s gift is contained in the journey itself:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.


Recommended Books: Constantine P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems The Complete Poems of Cavafy: Expanded Edition Cavafy’s Alexandria Cavafy: A Biography


Constantine P. Cavafy, Constantine P. Cavafy poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Constantine P. Cavafy

Egypt (1863 – 1933) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 02 2018

Ghraib Nawaz – The Second Jesus

Published by under Poetry

The Second Jesus
by Gharib Nawaz

English version by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Nasrollah Pourjavady

O Lord, it’s me: blanked out in divine light
and become a horizon of rays flashing from the Essence.

My every atom yearned for vision
till I fell drunk on the manifestations of lordship.

Love polished the rust from my heart’s mirror
till I began to see the mysteries;

I emerged from the darkness of my existence
and became what I am (you know me) from the Light of Being:

blackened like charcoal dark soul’s smoke
but mixed with love fires and illumined.

Some say the path is difficult;
God forgive them! I went so easily:

The Holy Spirit breathes his every breath into Mo’in–
who knows? Maybe I’m the second Jesus.

— from The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady


/ Image by proama /

I love the phrase in which the poet describes himself as being “blanked in divine light.” This beautifully describes the loss of the ego self, the loss of the separate self. Instead we perceive ourselves as a point of awareness within a vast living radiance.

Another great line:

Some say the path is difficult;
God forgive them! I went so easily.

This reflects the sense that true spiritual striving must be crushingly difficult, and sometimes too vague to even comprehend. Yet, the sacred experience reveals itself as our natural state, effortless. In fact, effort implies that we are trying to attain something we don’t already have, making it even harder to recognize the state as being already present. We just have to get out of the way of the truth that is already present. That is all. We just make it seem difficult.

who knows? Maybe I’m the second Jesus.

Some Christians may be troubled by this final line. It is certainly provocative, but not necessarily intended to be blasphemous or offensive. Devout Muslims greatly revere the figure of Jesus but not in the absolute and iconic way that Christians do. In Muslim traditions, Jesus is often associated with the breath of God. This is why the reference to Jesus follows the recognition that the breath of the Holy Spirit flows uninhibited through him. That breath is there, so is Jesus. Gharib Nawaz is reveling in the giddy recognition of oneness with that subtle divine flowing Presence — the same as in Jesus, the same as in all of us.

Who knows, maybe we are all the second Jesus?


Recommended Books: Gharib Nawaz

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry


Gharib Nawaz

Iran/Persia & India (1142? – 1236?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 31 2018

Kalidasa – Exhortation of the Dawn

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Exhortation of the Dawn
by Kalidasa

English version by W. S. Merwin & J. Moussaieff Masson

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

— from Sanskrit Love Poetry, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by J. Moussaieff Masson


/ Image by Livin-Lively /

Now that’s the way to approach the day!

But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!


Recommended Books: Kalidasa

Sanskrit Love Poetry Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in Seven Acts Theatre of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa The Origin of the Young God: Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava


Kalidasa, Kalidasa poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Kalidasa

India (350? – 430?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Jan 26 2018

Buson – Miles of frost

Published by under Poetry

Miles of frost
by Buson

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Miles of frost —
on the lake
the moon’s my own.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto


/ Image by 4k1 /

This haiku doesn’t emphasize that pivot that startles the awareness into new insight. Instead, it offers us a pure moment of winter solitude at dusk.

Miles of frost —

This phrasing suggests not only a chilly evening, but a landscape of silence. No activity. No carts on the road. No animals scurrying in the underbrush. Nothing but untouched frost upon the land.

In the midst of this scene of chill stillness stands the implied observer — us. We stand there alone in the quiet scene, elevated as the solitary presence, wrapped in curling mist of our own breath.

And then we see the moon reflected upon the lake’s surface at twilight.

on the lake
the moon’s my own.

With no one else to witness it, the moon becomes a private gift. The moon and the observer share this moment of intimacy in the silent company of the lake.

We can, if we choose, read this in a more consciously spiritual light: The full moon is often used to suggest enlightened awareness. The lake is mind. When the surface is still, the mind has grown quiet and it reflects the serene light of the moon. The miles of frost can suggest the wider world as perceived by the senses has also been quieted through spiritual practice. In this unified state of stillness, the moon, enlightenment, becomes one’s own.

Or perhaps it is only a lake and the moon on a quiet night. Then again, perhaps the moon’s reflection whispers to us of enlightenment, whether we recognize it or not.


Recommended Books: Buson

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


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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