Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jul 01 2016

Mansur al-Hallaj – If They Only Knew

Published by under Poetry

If They Only Knew
by Mansur al-Hallaj

English version by Michael A. Sells

What earth is this
      so in want of you
they rise up on high
      to seek you in heaven?

            Look at them staring
                  at you
            right before their eyes,
                  unseeing, unseeing, blind.
. . .

            I was patient,
                  but can the heart
be patient of
      its heart?

                  My spirit and yours
            blend together
                  whether we are near one another
            or far away.

            I am you,
you,
      my being,
            end of my desire,

      The most intimate of secret thoughts
            enveloped
and fixed along the horizon
      in folds of light.

                  How? The “how” is known
            along the outside,
                  while the interior of beyond
      to and for the heart of being.

      Creatures perish
            in the darkened
blind of quest,
      knowing intimations.

                        Guessing and dreaming
            they pursue the real,
                  faces turned toward the sky
      whispering secrets to the heavens.

            While the lord remains among them
                  in every turn of time
abiding in their every condition
      every instant.

                  Never without him, they,
            not for the blink of an eye —
                  if only they knew!
            nor he for a moment without them.

— from Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality), by Michael A. Sells


/ Image by kayrey18 /

This is a great poem by the Sufi mystic and martyr, al-Hallaj.

A reminder to us all that, wherever we look, we are always staring at the face of God, “right before [our] eyes.” Everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, is always searching for the Eternal, but too easily we become lost in our search. The idea of a search is already to be lost — “a blind quest.” We imagine that the Goal will be found elsewhere, somewhere that we are not, and so we rush about looking, looking. “Guessing and dreaming,” looking for God in some distant heaven instead of beneath our feet and between the span of our arms, we blindly have our “faces turned toward the sky.” But doing that, we never recognize that “the lord remains among [us]” in our “every condition / every instant.” We are never without the Divine Presence, “not for the blink of an eye!”

Hallaj says it very simply, speaking to God as the Beloved who is everywhere and, at the same time, the heart of the heart:

My spirit and yours
blend together
whether we are near one another
or far away.

I am you,
you,
my being,
end of my desire.

And his conclusion:

Never without him, they,
not for the blink of an eye —
if only they knew!
nor he for a moment without them.


Recommended Books: Mansur al- Hallaj

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology
More Books >>


Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Jun 29 2016

Truth, Tea, and Poetry

Yesterday’s Istanbul bombing. The Brexit vote. The murder of Amjad Sabri, the Sufi qawwali singer, in Pakistan last week. We could add several things from the American scene to this list. While it is not always the role of the Poetry Chaikhana to dwell on these sorts of events in depth, I do hope my occasional comments inspire serious thought, new perspectives, and deep discussion with those around you.

Poetry, especially sacred poetry, has a way of bringing down barriers and sidestepping dogmas, guiding us to the hidden strands of unity. Sacred poetry reminds us of our shared humanity and our shared divinity.

The poetry of Muslim Sufis and Christian mystics, the songs of shamans and Hindu rishis, of Jewish rebbes and Zen Roshis — these outpourings from the enlightened heart heal the world in ways that politics and social institutions were never designed for. The right word moves from the heart to the tongue to touch a new heart, and so quietly spreads through the world. An elegant formulation of thought and feeling and breath, the poetic word is itself utterly insubstantial, a phantasm, yet somehow alive with truth and beauty… and the recognition of the underlying unity we all are part of. And so poetry, in its quiet way, flows on hidden currents through humanity, unaffected by borders or bullets.

I believe poetry, sacred poetry, is essential to the healing of this suffering world.

The Poetry Chaikhana seeks to honor the way the mystic’s ecstatic insight flows naturally into poetic utterance, doing away with all the dogma and internecine sectarian squabbling. This idea was central to my decision years ago to call this site a “chaikhana.”

Chaikhana

I often get asked what a “chaikhana” is. The short answer is that it is a tea house (chai = tea). The inevitable second question is, why a “poetry chaikhana”? What does poetry, especially sacred poetry, have to do with tea? The act of sipping tea naturally has a contemplative quality to it, but there’s a deeper reason why I chose the name Poetry Chaikhana all those years ago. I was inspired by a Sufi story–


/ Photo by Doubtful-Della /

The Story of Tea

In ancient times, tea was not known outside China. Rumours of its existence had reached the wise and the unwise of other countries, and each tried to find out what it was in accordance with what he wanted or what he thought it should be.

The King of Inja (‘here’) sent an embassy to China, and they were given tea by the Chinese Emperor. But, since they saw that the peasants drank it too, they concluded that it was not fit for their royal master: and, furthermore, that the Chinese Emperor was trying to deceive them, passing off some other substance for the celestial drink.

The greatest philosopher of Anja (‘there’) collected all the information he could about tea, and concluded that it must be a substance which existed but rarely, and was of another order than anything then known. For was it not referred to as being an herb, a water, green, black, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet?

In the countries of Koshish and Bebinem, for centuries the people tested all the herbs they could find. Many were poisoned, all were disappointed. For nobody had brought the tea-plant to their lands, and thus they could not find it. They also drank all the liquids which they could find, but to no avail.

In the territory of Mazhab (‘Sectarianism’) a small bag of tea was carried in procession before the people as they went on their religious observances. Nobody thought of tasting it: indeed, nobody knew how. All were convinced that the tea itself had a magical quality. A wise man said: ‘Pour upon it boiling water, ye ignorant ones!’ They hanged him and nailed him up, because to do this, according to their belief, would mean the destruction of their tea. This showed that he was an enemy of their religion.

Before he died, he had told his secret to a few, and they managed to obtain some tea and drink it secretly. When anyone said: ‘What are you doing?’ they answered: ‘It is but medicine which we take for a certain disease.’

And so it was throughout the world. Tea had actually been seen growing by some, who did not recognize it. It had been given to others to drink, but they thought it the beverage of the common people. It had been in the possession of others, and they worshipped it. Outside China, only a few people actually drank it, and those covertly.

Then came a man of knowledge, who said to the merchants of tea, and the drinkers of tea, and to others: ‘He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not. Instead of talking about the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea-drinkers. Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.’

The tea was brought from one stage to another along the Silk Road, and whenever a merchant carrying jade or gems or silk would pause to rest, he would make tea, and offer it to such people as were near him, whether they were aware of the repute of tea or not. This was the beginning of the Chaikhanas, the teahouses which were established all the way from Peking to Bokhara and Samarkand. And those who tasted, knew.

At first, mark well, it was only the great and the pretended men of wisdom who sought the celestial drink and who also exclaimed: ‘But this is only dried leaves!’ or: ‘Why do you boil water, stranger, when all I want is the celestial drink?’, or yet again: ‘How do I know that this is? Prove it to me. Besides the colour of the liquid is not golden, but ochre!’

When the truth was known, and when the tea was brought for all who would taste, the roles were reversed, and the only people who said things like the great and intelligent had said were the absolute fools. And such is the case to this day.

– Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani (1098 – 1131)

Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years
by Idries Shah

I hope the poems and thoughts I share through the Poetry Chaikhana bring a taste of that essential truth to your lips. This deep truth is loving and accepting, utterly unthreatened by the multiplicity of ideas, ancient and modern, that so threaten the rigid-minded. This truth permeates and enlivens the best of our notions and aspirations without being limited by them. And when a line of sacred poetry entrances us with its beauty, we have caught a holy glimpse of that truth, which is nothing less than the eternal Face of the Beloved, ever smiling just beneath the surface, drawing our spirits deeper, deeper into understanding, deeper into truth, deeper into compassion and connection.

Truth, tea… and poetry. Chaikhana.

He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not… Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.

One response so far

Jun 24 2016

Rabindranath Tagore – In one salutation to thee

Published by under Poetry

(103) In one salutation to thee, my God (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet.
      Like a rain-cloud of July hung low with its burden of unshed showers let all my mind bend down at thy door in one salutation to thee.
      Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.
      Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to their mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home in one salutation to thee.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by Muffet /

What a lovely outpouring of the heart to God by the great Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

Imagine the courage it takes for a poet, a singer of songs, to say, “Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.”

When a poet wants fame, he wants each line to make a great noise and proclaim his name. But when a poet is truly great, he wants each strain to lead to silence, the lines washing away all noise, even the voice of the poet himself!

That is the way, the only real form of prayer: One all-encompasing salutation to the Divine that leaves us utterly empty of self, that leaves us standing in spaciousness and silence. Such a pure yielding turns all of life into a voyage that continuously returns us to our eternal home.

In one salutation…


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

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

Jun 22 2016

Kelsang Gyatso – Little Tiger

Published by under Poetry

Little Tiger
by Kelsang Gyatso

English version by Thubten Jinpa and Jas Elsener

The honey bee, a little tiger,
is not addicted to the taste of sugar;
his nature is to extract the juice
from the sweet lotus flower!

Dakinis, above, below, and on earth,
unimpeded by closeness and distance,
will surely extract the blissful essence
when the yogins bound by pledges gather.

The sun, the king of illumination,
is not inflated by self-importance;
by the karma of sentient beings,
it shines resplendent in the sky.

When the sun perfect in skill and wisdom
dawns in the sky of the illuminated mind,
without conceit, you beautify
and crown the beings of all three realms.

The smiling faces of the radiant moon
are not addicted to hide and seek;
by its relations with the sun,
the moon takes waning and waxing forms.

Though my gurus, embodiment of all refuge,
are free of all fluctuation and of faults,
through their flux-ridden karma the disciples perceive
that the guru’s three secrets display all kinds of effulgence.

Constellations of stars adorning the sky
are not competing in a race of speed;
due to the force of energy’s pull,
the twelve planets move clockwise with ease.

Guru, deity, and dakini — my refuge —
though not partial toward the faithful,
unfailingly you appear to guard
those with fortunate karma blessed.

The white clouds hovering above on high
are not so light that they arise from nowhere;
it is the meeting of moisture and heat
that makes the patches of mist in the sky.

Those striving for good karma
are not greedy in self-interest;
by the meeting of good conditions
they become unrivaled as they rise higher.

The clear expanse of the autumn sky
is not engaged in the act of cleansing;
yet being devoid of all obscuration,
its pure vision bejewels the eyes.

The groundless sphere of all phenomena
is not created fresh by a discursive mind;
yet when the face of ever-presence is known,
all concreteness spontaneously fades away.

Rainbows radiating colors freely
are not obsessed by attractive costumes;
by the force of dependent conditions,
they appear distinct and clearly.

This vivid appearance of the external world,
though not a self-projected image,
through the play of fluctuating thought and mind,
appears as paintings of real things.

— from Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening, Translated by Thupten Jinpa / Translated by Jas Elsner


/ Image by chefranden /

It has been a while since we last explored a poem from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I love the wisdom poetry from that rich tradition, but to the casual reader they can feel rather technical. Often they are declarations of enlightenment through precise delineations of the nature of reality and perception. For the seeker who has been struggling to conceive of subtle and elevated concepts or, better still, who has begun to experience heightened states but doesn’t yet have the language for them, the poems of Tibetan masters are a delight of lucidity and elegance. But how to enter that world for the first time? I thought this poem might feel more approachable, inviting deeper exploration.

…when the face of ever-presence is known,
all concreteness spontaneously fades away.

I love that line!

There is a lot being explored in this wisdom poem…

In so many ways the “vivid appearance of the external world” can become a trap for the distracted mind. Through the intensity of contact we get caught in constant reaction, running after pleasure, running from pain.

But this poem reminds us that such experiences are not inherently ‘real.’ It is not so much that things are unreal; rather, we tend not to see reality directly and, instead, see our own mental reproduction of reality. It is like looking at “paintings of real things” without realizing it.

This vivid appearance of the external world,
though not a self-projected image,
through the play of fluctuating thought and mind,
appears as paintings of real things.

What we call “experience” is really a story we tell ourselves, a story reflexively created by “fluctuating thought and mind” when it reaches out and touches an object that it perceives to be outside of itself. “Experience” is a mental overlay, and not the thing or event itself.

In the truly natural state, the awareness is at rest, perceiving without tension, encountering reality without an overlay of stories, without attraction or repulsion. In that pure awareness, life becomes a flow of events and interaction, not pushed by the self-will of likes and dislikes. We no longer imagine, “I have done this” or “I have experienced that.” We are simply as we are, in our pure state. Actions are done, but we do not do them. Events still occur, but they don’t happen to us, they simply unfold. We are no longer addicted to the “hide and seek” of life experience; its “waning and waxing” is simply its natural flow.

Then we become like the sun, illuminating and beautifying “without conceit.” We are rainbows, not obsessed by our “attractive costumes,” yet beautiful nonetheless. And like the honey bee, the “little tiger”, we are fiercely true to our nature, gathering nectar, not because we are addicted to its sweetness, but because that is what is in our nature to do.

The honey bee, a little tiger,
is not addicted to the taste of sugar;
his nature is to extract the juice
from the sweet lotus flower!


Recommended Books: Kelsang Gyatso

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening


Kelsang Gyatso, Kelsang Gyatso poetry, Buddhist poetry Kelsang Gyatso

Tibet (1708 – 1757) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Jun 17 2016

Wislawa Szymborska – The Camel

Published by under Poetry

The Camel
by Wislawa Szymborska

English version by Joanna Trzeciak

Don’t tell a camel about need and want.

Look at the big lips
pursed
in perpetual kiss,
the dangerous lashes
of a born coquette.

The camel is an animal
grateful for less.

It keeps to itself
the hidden spring choked with grass,
the sharpest thorn
on the sweetest stalk.

When a voice was heard crying in the wilderness,

when God spoke
from the burning bush,

the camel was the only animal
to answer back.

Dune on stilts,
it leans into the long horizon,
bloodhounding

the secret caches of watermelon

brought forth like manna
from the sand.

It will bear no false gods
before it:
not the trader
who cinches its hump
with rope,
nor the tourist.

It has a clear sense of its place in the world:

after water and watermelon,
heat and light,
silence and science,

it is the last great hope.

— from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, by Wislawa Szymborska / Translated by Joanna Trzeciak


/ Image by Al-Shamary /

I like this poem because it gives us an opportunity to consider the energies embodied by the camel, what it represents, what we can learn from it.

The camel is one of my favorite symbolic representations of the spiritual seeker.

Don’t tell a camel about need and want.

First, the camel is a natural ascetic. It can survive on so little in the harshest desert environments.

The camel is an animal
grateful for less.

As such, the camel represents a purity and essentialism, needing nothing extraneous. It is a being complete and capable within itself.

It is also a good symbol for conservation. What little it needs it carefully gathers and stores within itself, wasting nothing.

And, of course, the camel is the quintessential journeyer:

Dune on stilts,
it leans into the long horizon…

It travels through the hidden and forgotten places with endurance and persistence, practically becoming part of the landscape it passes though.

The camel’s special gift is that, unlike other creatures, it discovers the desert’s secret places and hidden treasures, unrecognized and unappreciated by others.

It keeps to itself
the hidden spring choked with grass,
the sharpest thorn
on the sweetest stalk.

The camel is a knower of secrets, an imbiber of secret sustenance.

And let’s not forget that the camel has attitude. Unlike the docile horse, camels are famous for their rebellious nature. The camel is no meek follower of rules. The camel is an independent thinker.

It will bear no false gods
before it:
not the trader
who cinches its hump
with rope,
nor the tourist.

The camel knows itself and doesn’t try to conform to the demands and expectations of society.

It has a clear sense of its place in the world:

after water and watermelon,
heat and light,
silence and science,

it is the last great hope.

Seeker, become like the camel, a journeyer, far seeing, at ease in the open, solitary, silent spaces, drinking from secret springs, content and whole in yourself.


Recommended Books: Wislawa Szymborska

Poems New and Collected Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska Nothing Twice: Selected Poems Here Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts
More Books >>


Wislawa Szymborska, Wislawa Szymborska poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wislawa Szymborska

Poland (1923 – 2012) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Jun 13 2016

Rumi – (Orlando) We are the mirror as well as the face in it

Published by under Poetry

We are the mirror as well as the face in it
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute
of eternity. We are pain
and what cures pain, both. We are
the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.

— from Open Secret: Versions of Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks / Translated by John Moyne


/ Image by vanillapearl /

How dare a man call himself a Muslim or a Christian or a person of any faith with such hatred in his heart?

One man turns to mass murder and we rightly condemn such hideous actions. Yet his unbalanced mind and heart drank in the hatred served up by people who call themselves religious. I am tired of people justifying their hatreds by citing scripture or ancient tradition.

I will say bluntly what religious leaders of all faiths should be saying loudly: God does not condemn gay and lesbian people. I don’t care what you can quote from the Bible or the Quran or any scripture, the truth is the truth. Homosexuality is not a sin, it is not evil, it is not amoral, it is not against nature, it is not against God. Homosexuality is. Gay and lesbian people are. They are our brothers and our sisters, fellow children of God, made by God as they are. They have a place and a purpose in the world, bringing their unique balancing perspectives and energies and life into society.

All of my life I have had friends who are gay and lesbian. Some of the finest people I have been blessed to know are homosexual. I would go further still and say that some of the wisest and genuinely enlightened souls I have known are gay and lesbian.

The LGBT community, like any community, covers the whole range of human possibility and character. One can be gay and entirely in alignment with God. I say without any hesitation that one can be homosexual and holy — and without denying one’s homosexuality. I have been lucky enough to know a few such elevated souls. But we don’t have to reach for such heights, either; one can be profoundly good and moral, though still flawed and human, and be gay or lesbian. Why aren’t more religious voices speaking this obvious truth?

I will not sit by and listen to so-called religious people say with one breath that, of course the Orlando shooting are terrible, yet with the next breath say that the gay victims of those shootings were still sinners in the eyes of God. Unlike humans, the Eternal One sees clearly, completely unconstrained by history, prejudice, or religious dogma. The Eternal One sees the goodness of the heart wherever it exists, paying no attention to labels or the social categories of people.

Hatred, cold-heartedness, these are not the ways of God. Caring for the vulnerable and welcoming the stranger, keeping an open heart and a questioning mind, these are the ways of God. Enough religious justification for hatred of gay and lesbian people. Enough justification for cruelty and murder. Enough.

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute
of eternity. We are pain
and what cures pain, both. We are
the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.


Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Open Secret: Versions of Rumi
More Books >>


Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

9 responses so far

Jun 10 2016

Bulleh Shah – Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Published by under Poetry

Bulleh! to me, I am not known
by Bulleh Shah

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharaoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s intoxicated craze
Neither awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known


/ Image by firdausmahadi /

Bulleh Shah has given us a riddle to unravel today.

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Ask yourself, What or who is not known when he keeps saying that he is “not known”? How can he say to himself that he is not known?

The little self, the ego, the self of attributes with a place in the world, the self that answers to the name Bulleh (“I am not the name I assume”) — that self can’t know the deeper Self. Why? Because the True Self is far too immense. The True Self is “not a believer… nor a pagan.” The True Self is not involved “in happiness nor in sorrow.” The True Self is too big to be contained by those definitions; it permeates them and encompasses them, without being caught by them.

Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

The True Self is not hemmed in by beginnings and ending.

From Adam and Eve, I am not born

One’s True Self is eternal.

I am the first, I am the last

And utterly whole and all-encompasing, with nothing external.

None other, have I ever known

No surprise then that the little self that clings to definitions and boundaries cannot know the Self Bulleh speaks of. The great, flowing vastness one is, well, it is perceived, but it is not ‘known.’

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

To encounter the deepest mystery, we have only to look in the mirror.

Ivan

PS- A blessed Ramadan to all of my Muslim friends. Ramadan Mubarak!

PPS- And also let me quickly acknowledge the passing of Muhammad Ali. He gained fame as a boxer, but it was his greatness of spirit that made him an international icon. He was a verbal poet, a social activist, a courageous man nobly living with a debilitating illness. He was a genuinely kind and wise man… and, less well known, he was a follower of the Sufi path. His presence was a gift to the world. RIP.


Recommended Books: Bulleh Shah

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Bulleh Shah: The Love-Intoxicated Iconoclast (Mystics of the East series) Saint Bulleh Shah
More Books >>


Bulleh Shah, Bulleh Shah poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Bulleh Shah

Punjab (Pakistan/India) (1680 – 1758) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jun 03 2016

Yunus Emre – Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge

Published by under Poetry

Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge:
by Yunus Emre

English version by Namık Kemal Zeybek

Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge:
Knowledge means to know yourself, heart and soul.
If you have failed to understand yourself,
Then all of your reading has missed its call.

What is the purpose of reading those books?
So that Man can know the All-Powerful.
If you have read, but failed to understand,
Then your efforts are just a barren toil.

Don’t boast of reading, mastering science
Or of all your prayers and obeisance.
If you don’t identify Man as God,
All your learning is of no use at all.

The true meaning of the four holy books
Is found in the alphabet’s first letter.
You talk about that first letter, preacher;
What is the meaning of that — could you tell?

Yunus Emre says to you, Pharisee,
Make the holy pilgrimage if need be
A hundred times — but if you ask me,
A visit to the heart is best of all.


/ Image by Amosb /

Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge:
Knowledge means to know yourself, heart and soul.
If you have failed to understand yourself,
Then all of your reading has missed its call.

Sages of all lands keep reminding us that the spiritual journey is a journey of awareness, and specifically self-awareness. It is not a journey of acquisition. Or intellect. Or adherence to rules.

It is not a matter of how many books we’ve read. Or how many times we’ve read them. The only question of any value is whether we’ve yet recognized their truths… within ourselves.

It is not a matter of how often we pray. Or how perfectly we enunciate each prescribed word. The question is, have we discovered how true prayer wells up within us of its own accord.

This poem is clearly a mystic’s critique of the religious rule-follower, typically someone who favors a rigid understanding of religion that lacks depth or real insight. But, as I think about it, the words of this poem can also be turned around and cause us to question elements of our own spiritual seeking, as well. We may not approach the spiritual path as a matter of superficial actions or brittle creeds, but we also can become swept up in endless new ideas, new flashes of insight, new pathways, new teachers. This can lead to a culture of lifelong seeking that becomes our comfort zone — we seek and we seek, and perhaps we deepen and gain insight, but we can forget to actually find.

I think that is Yunus Emre’s real criticism here, not just directed at the superficially religious or the rigidly minded, but this idea of a culture that takes on the form of religion (or spirituality) without actually discovering the true center that gives it all meaning.

Make the holy pilgrimage if need be
A hundred times — but if you ask me,
A visit to the heart is best of all.

Follow each prescribed step of the journey, and bring books, but what we seek is found only and always in the heart of the heart.

A heart-healthy nudge to us all…


Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre
More Books >>


Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jun 01 2016

Paramahansa Yogananda – O Spirit, reveal Thyself as Thou art

Published by under Poetry

O Spirit, reveal Thyself as Thou art
by Paramahansa Yogananda

O Spirit, Thou art just behind my vision, with which I see Thine outward beauty. Thou art just behind my hearing with which I listen to the medley of earth sounds. Thou art just behind my touch, with which I feel the objects of Thy world.

Thou art just behind the veil of Nature’s splendors. In the sympathetic glances of flowers, in the zest of sustaining food, and in all Thine other bounties lies hidden the essence of Thy Being, Thine eternal sweetness.

As I invoke Thee, Lord, Thou art just behind my awe-trembling voice. Thou art just behind the mind with which I pray. Thou art just behind my deepest feelings. Thou art just behind my sacred thoughts. Thou art just behind my cravings for Thee. Thou art just behind my meditations. Thou art just behind my tender love.

Wilt Thou not come out from behind the screens of human feelings and creation’s elaborate displays? O Inscrutable by Mortals! open my divine eye that sees Thee as Thou art.

— from Whispers from Eternity, by Paramahansa Yogananda


/ Image by Garrett Charles /

A prayer-poem for us today from one of the great spiritual ambassadors of the 20th century, Paramahansa Yogananda.

O Spirit, Thou art just behind my vision, with which I see Thine outward beauty…

Yogananda seems to be describing a divine game of hide-and-seek. The Eternal Spirit is there, everywhere right there, just barely hidden behind “the screens of human feelings and creations elaborate displays.”

It’s not that we have to find the right place to look. It’s that we have to find the right way to look.

O Inscrutable by Mortals! open my divine eye that sees Thee as Thou art.


Recommended Books: Paramahansa Yogananda

Whispers from Eternity Autobiography of a Yogi The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained


Paramahansa Yogananda, Paramahansa Yogananda poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Paramahansa Yogananda

India (1893 – 1952) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

More poetry by Paramahansa Yogananda

2 responses so far

May 25 2016

Hildegard von Bingen – O ignis Spiritus Paracliti

Published by under Poetry

O ignis Spiritus Paracliti
by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Ivan M. Granger

O Spirit of Fire, O Guide,
life in the life of all life,
holy are you,
      enlivening all things.

Holy are you,
      a healing balm
      to the broken.
Holy are you,
      washing
      blistered wounds.

O Holy Breath,
O Fire of Life,
O Sweetness in my breast
infusing my heart
with the fine scent of truth.

O Pure Fountain
through which we know
God unites strangers
and gathers the lost.

O Heart Shield, guarding life
and hope, joining the many members
into one body;
Belt of Truth,
wrap them in beauty.

Protect those ensnared
by the enemy,
and free the worthy
from their fetters.

O Great Way that runs through all,
      from the heights,
      across the earth,
      and in the depths,
you encompass all and unify all.

From you the clouds stream
      and the ether rises;
from your stones precious water pours,
springs well and birth waterways,
      and the earth sweats green with life.

And eternally do you bring forth knowledge
by the breath of wisdom.

            All praise to you,
you who are the song of praise
      and the joy of life,
you who are hope and the greatest treasure,
      bestowing the gift of Light.


/ Image by Tommy Clark /

This week I have been translating some songs by the great Medieval mystic, Hildegard von Bingen, and I thought I would share this meditation on the universal flow of life today…

This song of praise is a beautiful vision of God — a maternal vision of God, earthy, yet transcendent — flowing with life, permeating all things, exuding a good and holy greenness everywhere.

This Spirit of Fire, the Holy Spirit, is “life in the life of all life.” It is the vivifying life behind all of life. This is the “Holy Breath” that breathes through all of manifest existence, everything in nature, every form, enlivening it, making it holy, sharing its divinity. Life and all creation emerges from Spirit. It is not created in some mechanical sense but flows naturally, organically, fluidly, like breath from the body or water from the spring.

Through this divine animating spirit, all separate things are actually one: “you encompass all and unify all.”

Especially notice the lovely lines:

From you the clouds stream
      and the ether rises,
from your stones precious water pours,
springs well and birth waterways,
      and the earth sweats green with life.

Throughout this song tangible, physical reality, the earth itself streams, pours, exudes, and permeates. All of physical reality, even in its most solid forms of earth and rock, all of ‘solid’ reality… flows. Nothing is as fixed or stationary as it may superficially appear. All forms possess a sort of divine inner ‘sap’ — the fluid Essence — that is its true being which shows itself as life:

…and the earth sweats her green life.

We have delightful language of both water and fire, and yet they seem complimentary. Why a “Spirit of Fire”? In Christian mysticism, the Holy Spirit is often associated with fire. In deep ecstasy, the awareness is flooded with a rising, blissfully searing heat, quieting the mind, opening the heart, filling one’s whole being with a sense of the interconnectedness of life. Adding to this, the inner vision is dazzled by a radiating golden-white light — “bestowing the gift of Light.” Paradoxically, amidst this inner fire of the illumination, there is the simultaneous descent of a trickling honey-like sweetness down the back of the throat, making one drunk on bliss and beauty. Thus Hildegard gives us images of water and flow and secret springs, as well. And throughout the mystic’s grand vision we find ourselves bathed in the most profound knowledge. This is not data or information necessarily, but in some indescribable way the living breath of knowledge itself, gnosis, fills us.

And eternally do you bring forth knowledge
by the breath of wisdom.

Yet clearly this is not a solitary vision confined to the mystic’s solitary self. This same spiritual vivification is taking place throughout the earth, through its good green life, through all things and all people, and we are all, in truth, one in that life and in eternal outpouring of that life-giving Spirit.

…wrap them in beauty.


Recommended Books: Hildegard von Bingen

Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs Women of Wisdom: A Journey of Enlightenment by Women of Vision Through the Ages The Book of the Rewards of Life: Liber Vitae Meritorum
More Books >>


Hildegard von Bingen, Hildegard von Bingen poetry, Christian poetry Hildegard von Bingen

Germany (1098 – 1179) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

May 20 2016

Antonio Machado – Songs

Published by under Poetry

Songs
by Antonio Machado

English version by Ivan M. Granger

I
      Against the flowering mountain,
the wide sea surges.
The comb of my honeybees
has gathered grains of salt.

II
      Against the black water.
Scent of sea and jasmine.
Malaga night.

III
      Spring has come.
No one knows what has happened.

IV
      Spring has come.
White hallelujahs
from the brambles in flower!

V
      Full moon, full moon,
so pregnant, so round.
This serene March night,
honeycomb of light
carved by white bees!

VI
      Castile night;
the song is said,
or, better, unsaid.
When all sleep
I’ll go to the window.

VII
      Sing, sing in clear rhyme,
the almond’s green arm
and the river’s double willow.

      Sing of the mottled oak,
the branch the ax cut,
and the flower no one sees.

      Of the garden pear’s
white flower, the peach tree’s
rosy blossom.

      And this perfume
the wet wind plucked
from the blossoming beans.

VIII
      The fountain and the four
acacias aflower
in the plaza.
The sun burns no more.
Twilight bliss!
Sing, nightingale.
This is the hour
of my heart.

IX
      White lodge,
traveler’s cell,
with my shadow!

X
      The Roman waterway,
— sings a voice from my homeland —
and the love we have for each other,
little one, what strength!

XI
      With words of love
a bit of exaggeration
just feels right.

XII
      In Santo Domingo,
the high mass.
Even though they call me
heretic and Mason,
praying with you,
what devotion!

XIII
      Celebrations in the green pasture
— fife and drum.
With his flower-draped crook
and golden sandals a shepherd came.

      Down from the mountain I came,
only to dance with her;
to the mountain I’ll return.

      Among the bower
there is a nightingale;
it sings of night and of day,
it sings of the moon and the sun.

      Husky from song:
to the garden goes the girl
and a rose she will cut.

      Between the black oaks,
there is a fountain of stone,
and a clay pitcher
that is never full.

      By the oak wood,
with the white moon,
she will return.

XIV
      With you in Valonsadero,
Feast of San Juan,
morning in the Argentine plain,
on the other side of the sea.
Keep faith in me,
that I will return.

      Tomorrow I’ll be the wind upon the plain
and my heart itself will go
to the banks of the High Douro.

XV
      While you are dancing in a circle,
girls, sing:
The fields are already green,
April in his splendor has come.

      At the riverbank,
near the black oaks,
his silver sandals
we’ve seen shine.
The fields are already green,
April in his splendor has come.

— from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Francois Schnell /

This is one of my favorite selections by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. It has a joyous, exuberant sense of springtime, but there is an underlying melancholy, as if the spring celebrations are just a bit forced to overmaster some quiet grief…

The implied woman he addresses in this poem is his wife.

and the love we have for each other,
little one, what strength!

She was raised in a traditional Catholic family, where only a churchgoer was considered a suitable match. When he was courting her, Machado started going to church regularly.

In Santo Domingo,
the high mass.
Even though they call me
heretic and Mason,
praying with you,
what devotion!

He says playfully, “praying with you / what devotion!” We can just picture his eyes turned from the altar to catch a glimpse of her face, as if she was the true altar in his private church. “Even though they call me / heretic and Mason…” Being a young poet and a freethinker in conservative Catholic Spain, he constructed an apparent faith, but his worship was reserved for her.

Sadly, Machado’s wife died as a young woman, soon after they were married. In Machado’s poetry, she takes on a ghost-like quality, haunting his memories, calling to him, perhaps becoming even more consciously an image of the Divine as a result. Machado seems to be deliberately cultivating a mystical connection with her otherworldly presence through the very pain of separation. His longing is itself the connection.

And so we get the painful irony of spring each year, a renewal of life, vibrancy, an irrepressible joy rising up from the earth itself, even when death is such a blunt reality. We get these beautiful lines–

Spring has come.
White hallelujahs
from the brambles in flower!

But we are in some sense haunted by them. He seems to be struggling against death, exhorting his own spirit to revive and join with the world’s celebration:

Sing, sing in clear rhyme,
the almond’s green arm
and the river’s double willow.

Sing of the mottled oak,
the branch the ax cut,
and the flower no one sees.

He tells the young girls to dance, to savor this blossoming moment when life has become new and filled with possibility. Is it because he sees the shadow of death hovering about even them, or because he sees in this glorious spring day and in the vital moment itself a sense of victory over death? I suspect the poet sees both.

And so we get a sense of bewilderment at even the existence of springtim, both hopeful and heartrending.

Spring has come.
No one knows what has happened.

And despite the terrible grief that weighs down on the world, we have the renewal of life and the reawakening of hope.

The fields are already green,
April in his splendor has come.


Recommended Books: Antonio Machado

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado
More Books >>


Antonio Machado, Antonio Machado poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Antonio Machado

Spain (1875 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

One response so far

May 18 2016

Ibn Ata’ Illah – How utterly amazing

Published by under Poetry

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
by Ibn Ata’ Illah

English version by Victor Danner

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
      to seek something that will not last!

“It is not the eyes that are blind,
      but the hearts in the breasts are blind.”

Do not travel from phenomenal being to phenomenal being.
You will be like the donkey going around at the mill.
      It travels to what it set out from.

Travel from phenomenal beings
            to the Maker of Being.

“And the final end is to your Lord.”

— from Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations, Translated by Victor Danner / Translated by Wheeler M. Thackston


/ Image by lostknightkg /

I’m back, following a challenging period of chronic fatigue/ME just in time to appreciate the rainy weather making way for sunshine…

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
      to seek something that will not last!

It’s easy to miss that the poet is making a joke and laughing hugely (at us? with us?)

What a strange and incomprehensible thing is the human being! We run from the Divine Presence and desperately seek fleeting things: wealth, passion, fame. Can one flee from what is eternal and all-pervasive? Absurd! Yet we believe it. And what do we run after? Things that are subject to time and the laws of physicality and therefore undeniably impermanent. Yet we convince ourselves that these phenomena are what is actually “real” and lasting. Tangible reality is fleeting and, in the long run, not tangible at all. Only that inner blissful Reality endures, only that intangible reality can be continuously held.

I suspect the joke is on us!

This is not to say that there is not meaning in the normal human pursuits of love and relationship and family, work and career and financial stability, it is just that we have to understand them for what they are and what they are not. Their true value is discovered in how they all fit within the larger picture, and how they fit us within the larger picture. We can become transfixed by the goals and desires of life, or we can, with gratitude, recognize in them a reflection of something deeper… and lasting.

Travel from phenomenal beings
            to the Maker of Being.

It’s a lovely spring day here after several days of rain. A good day for a walk to enjoy the passing phenomena and, perhaps, to catch a glimpse of the lasting smile beneath them.


Recommended Books: Ibn Ata’ Illah

Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations


Ibn Ata’ Illah

Egypt (1250 – 1309) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

May 06 2016

Ala al-Dawla Simnani – What Was

Published by under Poetry

What Was
by Ala al-Dawla Simnani

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

Once I was here,
but now “I” am not:

If there’s really a “me,”
      it could only be you.

If any robe warms
and encompasses me now,
that very robe —
      it could only be you.

In the way of your love,
nothing was left —
neither body nor soul.

If I have any body —
If I have any soul —
then, without question,
      it could only be you.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Image by ~W~ /

Once I was here,
but now “I” am not

Do you feel it? That sense of “I” and “me” how thin and intangible they are when you really look?

We spend most of our life energy asserting that this thing, this “me” is IMPORTANT. The problem is that that “me” is not real. The more we look for it, the more it retreats. When we finally corner it, it simply fades away, dispelled like a trick of light. What are we left with?

There is a self, but it is not a limited or selfish self. To some it borders on blasphemy to call this real Self a self at all, implying some personal possession of something so all-inclusive. Some prefer to call this center of being not “me,” but You — the Friend, the ever-present Beloved. While the “me” struts and shouts and grabs, it cannot make of itself a real and lasting thing. But that You remains, always there, waiting patiently for the braggart self to tire of its own voice and step aside.

In the way of your love,
nothing was left —
neither body nor soul.

Everything we thought we owned, everything we ascribed to that “me,”
even the body itself, they all ceased to be limited objects of the mind when the me itself is recognized as unreal. Body, self– these are seen, not as things that “I” am or possess, but as part of a fluid continuum of the greater You. Everything stops being things, and is, instead, a grand embodiment of the Eternal.

If I have any body —
If I have any soul —
then, without question,
      it could only be you.

Have a beautiful day enrobed in the Beloved.


Recommended Books: Ala al-Dawla Simnani

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and Thought of ‘Ala’ Ad-Dawla As-Simnani


Ala al-Dawla Simnani

Iran/Persia (? – 1336) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

May 04 2016

Daniel Berrigan – Credentials

Published by under Poetry

Credentials
by Daniel Berrigan

I would it were possible to state in so
few words my errand in the world: quite simply
forestalling all inquiry, the oak offers his leaves
largehandedly. And in winter his integral magnificent order
decrees, says solemnly who he is
in the great thrusting limbs that are all finally
one: a return, a permanent riverandsea.

So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable effortless form: wearing its heart
visibly, it gives us heart too: bud, fullness and fall.

— from Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters), by Daniel Berrigan / Edited by John Dear


/ Image by Proseuche /

This past Saturday we lost Father Daniel Berrigan. If you’re not familiar with who he is, I highly recommend you look him up — you’ll find several excellent memorial articles and repostings of past interviews. Daniel Berrigan was one of those great souls to whom we in the modern era owe so much, alongside other great spiritual figures like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, and Dorothy Day, people who put themselves on the line to transform society and awaken a wider compassion in the world. Father Berrigan was one of the early leaders in courageous protest against the Vietnam war and the draft. He worked throughout the Cold War against the proliferation and normalization of nuclear weapons.

He did that thing that makes us most uncomfortable about the Christian pathway: He actually lived it, not just in his head, but on the ground. He rolled up his sleeves and bore his chest as he embraced the poor, spoke up for the vulnerable, and opposed institutional cruelty and violence, done boldly, humbly, amidst the complexities of the modern world and dangers of modern power structures.

I continue to be inspired and challenged and humbled by Father Berrigan. His tireless work for peace and justice and humanity continues to reverberate and benefit us all.

And he was a poet…

In this poem, for example, we are given a couple of images to illustrate how we should understand ourselves and be in the world. In other words, what are our credentials? By what authority and quality do we come into the world and act in the world?

Like the oak tree, we should offer our leaves “largehandedly,” giving fully of ourselves and our very nature to the world. And, in winter, in bareness, the essential form that we are comes through. By not holding back our true nature, by being fully ourselves, even when when the world demands all of us, that is when we “return” and recognize that we are part of a grand, harmonious unity, “a permanent riverandsea.”

We are our own credentials. Our credentials, our spiritual stamp of approval, is there within us, in our most natural form. Like the rose, we must unfold, be as we are, allowing our innermost heart to become visible, to be seen, to let its beauty be present in the world, bringing healing to the world and to ourselves.

So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable effortless form: wearing its heart
visibly, it gives us heart too: bud, fullness and fall.

Have a beautiful day, with a blossoming heart.


Recommended Books: Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters) Prayer for the Morning Headlines: On the Sanctity of Life and Death And the Risen Bread: Selected and New Poems 1957-1997 Tulips in the Prison Yard: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan Prison Poems: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan


Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan poetry, Christian poetry Daniel Berrigan

US (1921 – 2016) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

More poetry by Daniel Berrigan

2 responses so far

Apr 29 2016

Lalla – I traveled a long way seeking God

Published by under Poetry

I traveled a long way seeking God
by Lalla

English version by Swami Muktananda

I traveled a long way seeking God,
but when I finally gave up and turned back,
there He was, within me!

O Lalli!
Now why do you wander
like a beggar?
Make some effort,
and He will grant you
a vision of Himself
in the form of bliss
in your heart.

— from Lalleshwari: Spiritual Poems by a Great Siddha Yogini, Translated by Swami Muktananda


/ Image by Spanishalex /

For so many mystics it is this way. After intense searching without success, what can be done but give up, or collapse? Yet a special thing happens at that very moment. We drop our expectations, our hopes, our projections about this external thing called “God.” For the first time we have truly let go of the story we’ve been telling ourselves about what God is and how we fit into the picture. It is only then that the scales fall from our eyes.

We stop straining to look, and finally see. And we see the Eternal already here, within.

Finally recognizing the all-engulfing presence of the Divine, the heart feels safe; the heart opens, it blooms, and we are flooded by indescribable bliss!

Even a spiritual mendicant like Lalla can no longer think of herself as a beggar when in possession of such wealth.


Recommended Books: Lalla

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


Lalla, Lalla poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla

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

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Apr 27 2016

Chogyam Trungpa – The Education of the Warrior

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Education of the Warrior
by Chogyam Trungpa

That mind of fearfulness
Should be put in the cradle of loving-kindness
And suckled with the profound and brilliant milk
Of eternal doubtlessness.
In the cool shade of fearlessness,
Fan it with the fan of joy and happiness.
When it grows older,
With various displays of phenomena,
Lead it to the self-existing playground.
When it grows older still,
In order to promote the primordial confidence,
Lead it to the archery range of the warriors.
When it grows older still,
To awaken primordial self-nature,
Let it see the society of men
Which possesses beauty and dignity.
Then the fearful mind
Can change into the warrior’s mind,
And that eternally youthful confidence
Can expand into space without beginning or end.
At that point it sees the Great Eastern Sun.

— from Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chogyam Trungpa, by Chogyam Trungpa


/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a hugely influential, though controversial Buddhist teacher who carried the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages within Tibetan Buddhism to America. In addition to his many talks and books on meditation, philosophy, and awareness, he also wrote about the notion of the spiritual warrior, inspired by the legendary kingdom of Shambhala.

While I am not a follower of Trungpa Rinpoche (although I live in the American city he made his home), and though I am highly critical of some of his methods and aspects of his private life, I recognize how important he has been, and continues to be, in the spiritual opening of the west. One of his teachings that I find especially fascinating is his notion of the spiritual warrior.

I am fascinated as much by our reaction within the “spiritual” community to the idea of the warrior as with the core idea itself. We can find it inspiring and energizing, especially when it remains conceptual, but just as often we find it uncomfortable or threatening to the ideal of being peaceful individuals within a peaceful world. I think those are all truly legitimate responses.

That mind of fearfulness
Should be put in the cradle of loving-kindness…

The idea of warriorship is about confrontation, with fear, with death. It is a mindset of bold action. Now, that can be immensely powerful as we maneuver though the challenges of life, or it can become quite the opposite, a pathway of brutality, domination, and self-centered purpose. Amidst the intensity of the warrior’s worldview, recognizing the difference is often difficult. That, I think, is the real measure of success in the warrior’s path, the ability to see clearly, keep the heart open and compassionate, and measure one’s true purpose while engulfed by the heat of struggle.

Nearly fifteen years ago, when I returned to the US mainland after several years living in semi-retreat on Maui, I made a conscious decision to become re-engaged with the world. Because of my extensive fasting and sparse diet, my body had grown extremely thin. I had cultivated an ethereal quality to my body and my entire energy. That may have been suited to a sadhu, but not to someone determined to participate in mainstream society. I decided to put on weight, literally and metaphorically, I changed my diet and began to eat more. I began to lift weights and, over the space of a year, put on nearly 50 pounds of muscle. And I started training in the martial arts. Ultimately, the form of martial art I settled on was — swordfighting. (I know. I’m weird.)

To most people this evolution is surprising, bizarre even. How does facing someone down with a Medieval longsword or Renaissance rapier fit in with the spiritual life, or poetry for that matter? To this day I consider myself to be essentially a pacifist, perhaps not absolutely, but in general orientation. How do I reconcile that with the violence inherent in the sword?

As someone who had spent the first three decades of his life trying to float away, I saw that I needed a practice that kept me rooted in my body. I also knew I needed to develop a hardier mindset to deal with the chronic health issues that were becoming more prominent at that time. And I had to acknowledge that I have a certain aggressive energy that I would be wise to befriend and express in healthier ways.

So why not a more “spiritual” martial art, like Tai Chi or Aikido? Part of it was that I wanted to be out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be a novice, uncertain, vulnerable, not the comfortable and confident “spiritual Ivan” in one more spiritual circle, however physically demanding. After experimenting with other martial arts, something just lit up in me at the touch of a sword. The sword is at the same time a thing of beauty and an object of fear. I felt I should explore that giddy attraction/repulsion.

Having lived so much in my mind and my ideals, I am, on a basic level, offended by the fact that just the slightest repositioning of leverage or position can mean the difference between lying dead on the ground or going on to live for another 40 years. Such a minute, physical difference just shouldn’t affect the journey of something so immense as the human soul, yet it does. And that, I suppose, is what fascinates me, that spiritual conundrum– how skill in something so specific and physical can hugely impact the unfolding experience of our being. Then the question becomes how do we face this dilemma, and how do we integrate it into our larger sense of self?

This is the difficult internal balancing act of the spiritual warrior. And everyone, regardless of lifestyle or philosophy is, in some sense, a spiritual warrior. The complex, often conflicting forces of physical, social, and spiritual life require a warrior’s approach to navigate effectively. Every action, internal or external, is a movement in harmony with some forces and in opposition to others. And, as much as we in spiritual culture love our moral and ethical purity, daily life for an adult constantly leads us into gray areas and imperfect decisions. Learning to navigate this unavoidable complexity without losing contact with our true ideals is precisely what we need and what the warrior’s path teaches us.

In other words, we all need to be warriors in some respects. We always need to remind ourselves that pacifism is not the same as passivism. I remember reading an interview years ago with another teacher on spiritual warriorship who made a critical comment about modern pacifism. The interviewer blurted out, “But what about Gandhi?” His response was, “Gandhi, what a fighter!”

I think that’s the point. And the point of Chogyam Trungpa’s poem, too. True warriorship isn’t inherently about violence, it is about facing one’s fears, possibly facing death itself, with a sense of courage, full awareness, while embodying the highest possible purpose.

Now, I am a historian, as well. I am fully aware of the terrible carnage and suffering created generation after generation by wars, fueled in part by naive, overly-romantic notions of the heroic warrior. I am not suggesting any superficial right or wrong perspective. I will say, however, that the solution to the war reflex within society is not to banish or suppress the warrior instinct. The warrior is an essential archetype within the human psyche. It is there, whether we are comfortable with it or not. What is necessary, as individuals and as a society, is to learn how to channel that intense, vigorous energy toward positive, non-destructive purposes — protecting people and endeavors that need protecting, while always questioning those who claim to speak with authority as well as our own methods.

The greatest vulnerability of the warrior mindset is falling into an ends-justify-the-means approach. As the spiritual warrior Gandhi pointed out, there are never truly any ends, only an ongoing chain of means that define the world we live in. But this potential weakness is also closely linked to the greatest strength of the warrior, which is to fully embrace the power of those means, through total dedication to the skill and action needed in any given moment as a method to embody the best possible world, within and without.

Then the fearful mind
Can change into the warrior’s mind,
And that eternally youthful confidence
Can expand into space without beginning or end.
At that point it sees the Great Eastern Sun.


Recommended Books: Chogyam Trungpa

Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chogyam Trungpa Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior Crazy Wisdom Training the Mind: And Cultivating Loving-Kindness
More Books >>


Chogyam Trungpa, Chogyam Trungpa poetry, Buddhist poetry Chogyam Trungpa

Tibet / US (1939 – 1987) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

More poetry by Chogyam Trungpa

4 responses so far

Apr 22 2016

Ramprasad – Tell me, brother, what happens after death?

Published by under Poetry

Tell me, brother, what happens after death?
by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

English version by Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely

Tell me, brother, what happens after death?
The whole world is arguing about it —
Some say you become a ghost,
Others that you go to heaven,
And some that you get close to God,
And the Vedas insist you’re a bit of sky
Reflected in a jar fated to shatter.

When you look for sin and virtue in nothing,
You end up with nothing.
The elements live in the body together
But go their own ways at death.

Prasad says: you end, brother,
Where you began, a reflection
Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.

— from Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen – Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess, Translated by Leonard Nathan / Clinton Seely


/ Image by Sydnee Leveston /

We have had several momentous events this past week — earthquakes and volcanoes, political and social events. It’s Earth Day today. Yet, with all of that, I feel it would seem odd if I didn’t comment about the unexpected death of Prince yesterday.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, and Prince was omnipresent. I have to admit that I was not a big Prince fan. I didn’t dislike him or his music, but I was purposefully out of step with my generation. I listened to music from the 60s and 70s at that age. But regardless of my contrarian tastes, Prince’s music — and style — dominated the 80s. Purple Rain. 1999. Little Red Corvette. When Doves Cry. Even when his wasn’t the music I put into my new Walkman, I heard it everywhere. Prince’s music runs through my adolescent years.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and reconsidering the 80s music I rejected as a teenager that I came to recognize how good much of it was. And Prince has to be at the top of that creative wave. The man wrote not just good music, but decade defining anthems, fusing pop, funk, soul, new wave, along with his own unique purple spice. Not just a songwriter, he was a magnetic performer, a stunningly creative innovator, a courageous businessman who thumbed his nose at corporate control of his art, and an amazing musician who played dozens of instruments. When we think of Prince, we don’t imagine a man, we think of a musical force with eyeliner. Prince was an icon, an archetype.

The passing of such an icon is always a significant moment within culture. I was inspired to track down something I wrote in 2009 about the death of Michael Jackson that applies equally well to Prince:

He is one of those rare figures, like Bob Marley, Elvis, John Lennon, a defining figure for the entire world. There is a reason that we call the ultra famous “stars.” They are like the planets in astrology; they embody for the world a certain archetypal energy… We relate to the archetypal aura and not the person…

This archetypal role they play is also why their deaths are so traumatic to the world. Archetypes are, by their nature, eternal energies of the soul. So when a person embodying a particular archetype dies, the world feels a rupture, the planetary psyche feels disoriented and fragmented. How can that which we instinctively know to be eternal disappear from our midst? But what really happens is that the archetypal energy is released, returned back to each of us. Having seen it enacted outside of ourselves, we are again reminded to look within ourselves for those same qualities.

It is something of a truism that many of the fast-living superfamous have died at age 28 or 29. Astrologers would say that this is because that is the age when the “Saturn return” occurs. That is, after approximately 29 years, Saturn returns to its original position as when the individual was born. Saturn (Shiva in Hindu Jyotish astrology) is associated with time, restriction, death, discipline, self-examination. The idea is that the Saturn return is a crucial threshold in each person’s life. At that point, one does a self-assessment on a soul level, and prepares for the next stage of life. Sometimes the soul has fulfilled its purposes, or perhaps the person is unwilling to leave the old stage and enter the next stage of life. This is why so many deaths occur at that age.

But the cycle repeats itself. The second Saturn return happens around age 57/58, when the more active parenting and career-focused phases of adulthood are typically completed and we enter into a more mature, elder role. This is often the age of mid-life crisis. As before, our prior life roles are wrapping up and we step into an unknown new phase of life. And sometimes we step out of life altogether.

I don’t know the details of Prince’s death or anything about his private life. But, the passing of a planetary icon whose gravity shaped so much of culture, affects us all on a certain level and worthy of a brief pause to contemplate.

The era of Prince was also, in my mind, the era of the Bloom County cartoon strip. I can just picture Opus, the ponderous-nosed penguin, saying something to the effect of, “Rest in peace, O Purple One…”

Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.


Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen – Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna
More Books >>


Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

India (1718? – 1775?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Next »