Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Mar 01 2019

Symeon the New Theologian – How is it I can love You

Published by under Poetry

How is it I can love You
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Ivan M. Granger

How is it I can love You
      within me,
      yet see You from afar?

How is it I embrace You
      within myself,
      yet see You spread across the heavens?

You know. You alone.
      You, who made this mystery,
      You who shine
like the sun in my breast,
      You who shine
      in my material heart,
            immaterially.

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


/ Image by JudiLiosatos /

The mystic’s riddle: How can such immensity be found within? How can the Eternal be discovered within such a limited space as the human awareness? And yet, at the same time, the Eternal permeates the vastness of creation, which itself is ultimately limited. How can this be?

How is it I can love You
      within me,
      yet see You from afar?

Symeon is not asking these questions as an intellectual game. This is not a dry theological exercise. His questions arise from the genuine surprise at this paradox as it reveals itself through direct perception: The Divine is both intimate and all-encompassing; within, yet everywhere

How is it I embrace You
      within myself,
      yet see You spread across the heavens?

In blissful states, we look within and see God. We look outside ourselves, and equally we see God. Near and far: God. Above and below: God. The mountain seats God, but so too does the pebble, and also the mote of dust that settles upon it. Friend–God; enemy–God; self–God.

It cannot be. And yet it is. The intellect balks at it, yet the mystic is confronted with it undeniably. This is not just a pleasant idea; when we really learn to look, this is what we see.

You know. You alone.
      You, who made this mystery,
      You who shine
like the sun in my breast,
      You who shine
      in my material heart,
            immaterially.

Let theologies try–and fail–to solve this riddle. Let us, instead, join with the world’s mystics and watch in wonder.


Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives
More Books >>


Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

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Feb 27 2019

Yoka Genkaku – The hungry are served a king’s repast (from The Shodoka)

Published by under Poetry

[56] The hungry are served a king’s repast (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

The hungry are served a king’s repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don’t they recover?
The practice of Zen in this greedy world —
This is the power of wise vision.
The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.


/ Image by ursrules1 /

I have passed over this verse from The Shodoka before without paying much attention, but reading it this morning it struck me as powerful for the first time. The words aren’t especially poetic, but it unlocks many thoughts as I read it.

The hungry are served a king’s repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don’t they recover?

I take the king here to refer to the Buddha. The “king’s repast” would be the teachings of the Buddha. The medicine offered by the “king of doctors” would be the relief from suffering as one walks the path of wisdom.

These gifts are available to all, yet most of humanity seems unwilling partake and unable to even recognize that it is what we all hunger for amidst our confusion and suffering. Sadly, this blindness to our basic need is the common state “in this greedy world.”

But, regardless of how few actively walk the path, regardless of how lost and chaotic the world may seem, the way of truth remains:

The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.

But also, reading this selection, do you by any chance think of the story of King Midas? The king’s repast that cannot be eaten and the mention of a greedy world… Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated with the Greek myths, and it seems to me that most people don’t quite understand the message of the Midas myth. It depends on how much of the story one knows and how deeply it has been contemplated.

Many just know the phrase that someone “has the Midas touch,” that is, everything they touch turns to gold. If that’s all one knows, then the Midas touch is imagined to be a good thing. Look at the businesses that foolishly incorporate Midas into their business name. The notion that turning everything into gold is a good thing is precisely the opposite meaning of the myth.

For those who know a little more of the story, they see it as a comical tale about the problems of greed. That is closer to the truth, but it still misses the world-threatening horror of uncontrolled greed evoked by this potent Greek myth.

A quick recap of the tale: Midas was a foolish, small-minded king who was granted a wish by one of the gods. He requested the boon that whatever he touched be turned to gold — which he immediately received. Thrilled with this new power, he raced back to his palace, touching trees and animals and everything as he went, turning all to gold. Arriving at his palace, he was famished, so he had food brought to him. But as soon as he put the food in his mouth, it turned to gold and became inedible. In desperation, he grabbed a flagon of wine to drink from it, but he nearly choked when it too immediately turned to gold. In his horror, he cried out, which brought his daughter running to him. Frightened by his obvious distress, she ran into his arms… and, yes, was turned to gold. The gods, in order to prevent the entire world from being being destroyed by being entirely turned into gold, intervened and removed the power from King Midas’s touch, leaving him a broken man in his palace of gold.

If we think about the implications of this story, especially in this modern era of hypercapitalism, it illustrates the terrible world created by commodifying everything and everyone. When people and things and all the natural world are only seen in terms of their quantifiable economic value, we end up turning living beings and the planet itself into dead wealth. When an entire society is built on the Midas model, the only question is, will Midas starve to death before he destroys the entire world?

When we are enthralled by the perspective of the “greedy world” we measure all of life’s pathways and experiences using a crippled calculus. Spiritual truths, deep meaning, living connection– there is no column on our ledger for these things, and so they become unreal to us, valueless, invisible. In the greedy world’s cost-benefit analysis, we become unable to eat the “king’s repast” or receive the medicine from the “king of doctors.” When we assign mere financial value to anything, any person or creature, any experience, we blind ourselves to its inner nature, rendering us unable to imagine genuine connection, starved for spiritual nourishment and healing.

We weaken our capacity to interact with the world or engage with our friends and loved ones in a meaningful way. We become blind to life itself. People end up starved for meaning and purpose, not from a lack of meaning in life, but because that meaning, which is inherent and everywhere, remains unrecognized in the Midas worldview.

What then is the solution? On the personal, most human level, we remember how to see what is commonly overlooked. We remember to feel what the inner heart tells us is worth feeling. And we learn to measure value with the scales of the heart. In this way, slowly, steadily, we recover the full vision of ourselves and the world as an interwoven living panorama rich with endless illumination of meaning and value.

The mindset of the “greedy world” leads to blindness and lack of meaning. The greed of King Midas would have destroyed the world. We must seek instead the touch that connects and enlivens. That is what allows us to awaken and see and finally enjoy the feast laid out before us.

The practice of Zen in this greedy world —
This is the power of wise vision.


Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Buddhism and Zen


Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

China (665 – 713) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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Feb 21 2019

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Love came and emptied me of self

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Love came and emptied me of self
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Love came and emptied me of self,
every vein and every pore,
made into a container to be filled by the Beloved.
Of me, only a name is left,
the rest is You my Friend, my Beloved.

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


/ Image by Olga-Zervou /

Long-time readers of the Poetry Chaikhana know that I have dealt with chronic fatigue/ME for a long time. It has generally been much better in the last couple of years — thankfully. My energies have been more steady and dependable for the most part. Still, it is something always in the background that must be carefully managed. Navigating my way through the activities of each day is often an exercise of careful strategy and measured choices.

I woke up this morning thinking about my journey along the way with that demanding teacher, and I returned to my commentary on this poem from several years ago. I share it again in the hopes that it is helpful to those of you who deal with difficult health issues or other challenges that can make life feel constrained. It’s easy to feel sorry for oneself, to rage at circumstance, to just give up. Or we can uncover hidden vistas within ourselves…

=

I have dealt with chronic fatigue on and off for years. As part of that pattern, I sometimes feel an intense sensation of tremors, even though my body is entirely still. Sitting on the couch with my wife, I’ll turn to see if she is shaking her foot, causing the couch to vibrate. But, no, she is quietly sitting there with no agitating movements. Each time this happens I’m surprised to find that nothing is actually shaking at all, neither my body nor the environment around me.

When the chronic fatigue symptoms are that strong I usually don’t have the energy to do a full day’s work, yet my body isn’t at rest enough to meditate either. What is a person to do who strives to be “spiritual,” when he can neither meditate nor take action? Interesting things happen at such moments.

When the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves can no longer be sustained, one option is to cling to the crumbling edifice and be injured by its collapse. Another option is to construct a new story. Or we can let all stories fall away. We can stop struggling to be either this or that. We can step beyond our stories. That is when we rediscover what we actually are. That is when hidden doorways open.
The little self is simply the sum total of all the stories we tell ourselves. When those stories fall away, the self becomes empty of itself. We then become a cup, empty and ready to be filled.

Of me, only a name is left,
the rest is You my Friend, my Beloved.

This is the hard wisdom that chronic illness teaches. Any life struggle—really any experience, pleasant or unpleasant—can be transformed into a teacher of wisdom when we stop taking it personally. Wisdom roots itself most deeply when we keep our hearts engaged and our eyes open in the midst of our shifting self-stories.

What can one do but stand in silent awe of the vision that emerges, showing us how much bigger we are than even our grandest stories?

Sending love!


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

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


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 15 2019

Ellen Grace O’Brian – Maya

Published by under Poetry

Maya
by Ellen Grace O’Brian

Buddha points to the earth
Zen master points to the moon
Arjuna points to the target
Mary points to her child
Jesus points to the heart
Rumi points to Shams


We all look
until we see

— from The Moon Reminded Me, by Ellen Grace O’Brian


/ Image by hapal /

I’m not quite sure why, but reading this poem this morning makes me want to laugh.

Everyone is pointing in all directions, yet they all somehow point at the same spot.

We all look until we see.


Recommended Books: Ellen Grace O’Brian

The Moon Reminded Me Living for the Sake of Your Soul A Single Blade of Grass: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Life Living The Eternal Way: Spiritual Meaning and Practice for Daily Life


Ellen Grace O'Brian, Ellen Grace O'Brian poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ellen Grace O’Brian

US (Contemporary)
Yoga / Hindu

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Feb 13 2019

Rasakhan – Nectar Radha

Published by under Poetry

Nectar Radha
by Rasakhan

English version by Shyamdas

When Radha’s eyes bashfully meet Hari’s,
      their delightful gestures
            entice His heart.

Her enchanting banter swindles His mind.
      Her words divulge an exquisite disposition.

She puts Her lips to His,
      filling that Abode of elixir
            with the nectar of Her very soul.

Although Krishna is an expert in all of love’s spells,
      Radha captivates God
            with a few soft syllables.

— from Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan, Translated by Shyamdas


/ Image by Vishnu108 /

How about some bhakti verses in honor of Valentine’s Day?

As with many bhakti poems, this is, on the surface, a poem of lovers, Radha and Krishna (also referred to as Hari). But these, like the Song of Songs in the Bible, are usually understood to reflect deeper spiritual truths. Radha is the soul, the spiritual seeker. Krishna is the one the soul seeks, the eternal Beloved, God. Radha’s yearning and seeking is the spiritual journey. Their love play is spiritual union.

Most bhakti poems dwell on how Krishna’s enchanting beauty draws Radha (the soul) to him. God/Krishna is, after all, “an expert in all of love’s spells,” for all sincere seekers are in love with the Divine One. In truth, every soul, no matter how closed off, has a deep-seated hunger for something, and that yearning, whether recognized or not, is ultimately for the eternal Beloved. Every single being is caught up in Krisnha’s love spell.

But these lines by Rasakhan point out that there is a reciprocal attraction, as well. The soul doesn’t just reach out to the Divine. Turning one’s attention eagerly toward the Beloved magnetically draws the Divine to the individual soul, as well. When done with total sincerity and with one’s full, unedited being, a response from the Beloved becomes unavoidable.

In this way, “Radha captivates God / with a few soft syllables.” We can be more specific and understand Radha’s “enchanting banter” and “few soft syllables” as being her use of mantra. The repetition of mantra helps the mind, the heart, all of our energies to be enlivened with a focused attention on the Divine. It awakens awareness of the inner mantra, the inner vibration. One’s whole being becomes a love song directed toward God. How can the Beloved not be lured by this enticing melody?

The soul and God draw each other, the two becoming enfolded within their mutual love.

Have a beautiful Valentine’s Day with your beloved / Beloved.


Recommended Books: Rasakhan

Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan


Rasakhan

India (1534? – 1619?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 30 2019

May Sarton – The Work of Happiness

Published by under Poetry

The Work of Happiness
by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall —
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

— from May Sarton, Collected Poems, 1930-1993, by May Sarton


/ Image by Holly Lay /

This morning I rediscovered this poem and thought, I have to share this with everyone.

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.

I like the poet’s vision of happiness as a quiet, steady reality that comes upon us almost unnoticed. Real happiness does not come upon us in a hot rush, only to leave just as unexpectedly. It is not dependent on what is happening to us; it is not the result of events or experiences.

Happiness is cultivated. It is nurtured. It grows from silence, from peace, and from inner strengthening and unseen growth.

No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

If we are constantly focused outward on action and accomplishment and experience, at best we find fleeting, overly caffeinated, under satisfying versions of the happiness we truly crave.

For Sarton, happiness is about quiet presence, that which is steady and always there, yet unnoticed in the background — like solid furniture. It is what supports us and makes our lives functional. It is what populates the corners of our homes, defining the spaces in which we live:

A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall —
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done…

She sees in furniture something of timelessness. The chest or table sits there, year after year, timeless in its unchanging presence, as the days wash over it.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place…?

And, when we think about it, our furniture, our rooms, our apartments and houses are where we do our growth. They are the outer containers of our inner worlds. We move amongst them as we feel and contemplate and realize.

Tables, chairs, and beds are our intimate companions, knowing our movement and our silences. They are bathed in our breath and our thoughts. Over time they take on our energies.

No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless

When we do our inner work to cultivate happiness, our mundane material world frames and focuses our inner contentment.

Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

=

To everyone affected by the intensely cold weather, stay bundled up and warm and safe.

May Sarton, May Sarton poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry May Sarton

US (1912 – 1995) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 23 2019

Mary Oliver

Published by under Poetry

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

— from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by AlicePopkorn /

Mary Oliver passed away last week. She is a favorite poet among the Poetry Chaikhana readers. When I feature her poems, I always receive lots of responses. Her sense of the natural world and how it opens us up and invites us into a deeper sense of self has made her poetry beloved the world over. Even when her poems contemplate difficult subjects, illness and death, she has a gentle touch, a universal kindness that comes from inner quiet and wisdom.

Thank you, Ms. Oliver, for your gift of poetry to the world. We are better people because you passed through…

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn

This poem is a meditation on death, but it isn’t really a poem that dwells on fear or loss. Instead, Mary Oliver uses death as a way to be present, to see, and to open to the big questions.

<I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

I love the lines–

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood

She gives us a wonderful vision in which all of existence is an interwoven tapestry. Without grand images, she suggests a communion of all things where every experience is recognized as a shared experience. Even crossing the threshold of death becomes part of that brotherhood and sisterhood of being.

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

These are words that make me giddy… and silent. These two lines are, for me, the heart of the entire poem. “Each name” is each individual person or thing, each unit of unique, life-filled identity. They have become “comfortable” and “music,” a sense of restful, meaningful harmony. Yet this symphony of life that is the music made by so many voices, that music tends to subside into silence. This is both a suggestion of death, but also a recognition that the real beauty of music is in how its vibration subtly reminds us of the grand silence it fills. We can expand this idea to say that all of life, all of manifestation, is a magical pageant that, through its moments of cruelty and compassion and grand dramas, eventually brings us to the recognition of the living stillness that underlies it all.

Sidestepping all fearful projections, death becomes a restful expansion, the embodiment of peace, the return to source.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

Now there’s a good motto to live by: I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. Satisfaction at the time of death isn’t about bucket lists or bank accounts. It’s not found through having possessed things or even experiences, nor by impressive accomplishments. I suspect, along with Mary Oliver, that real contentment is found at the end of a life when we can say that we lived our lives, that we gave it our full attention, embraced it, so that everything, the great and the terrible and all the mundane in between, revealed its wonder.

The goal isn’t to have had a perfect life but to have participated in life — with eyes and heart open.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

A reminder to us all to keep our curiosity and wonder — and to participate!

Have a beautiful day!

PS- I didn’t quite get things organized enough to send out a poem on Monday, as I had planned, in honor of Martin Luther King. I did, however, post a Langston Hughes poem on Facebook, along with some thoughts I shared last year about King’s powerful legacy and how we tend to get a comfortably sanitized version of his message in popular culture today.

If you’d like to read it, here’s the link to the Poetry Chaikhana Facebook page.


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

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


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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 17 2019

Hakuin – The monkey is reaching

Published by under Poetry

The monkey is reaching
by Hakuin

English version by Norman Waddell

The monkey is reaching
For the moon in the water.
Until death overtakes him
He’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and
Disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine
With dazzling pureness.

— from Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, by Norman Waddell


/ Image by NinjaRisu /

Hakuin paints for us an elaborate picture. First, we have the moon. It is reflected in water. A monkey hangs from a branch above the water, and it yearns for the moon that it sees reflected in the water. The monkey continually reaches into the water to grasp the moon, but the prize eludes his grip. He has constructed for us a Zen allegorical image.

Who is the monkey? Well, we are. Or, more specifically, it is the busy, grasping mind — the monkey mind. It is that chattering, erratic aspect of the awareness that we most often identify with.

The moon, as I have often pointed out, is a common representation in Zen poetry of enlightened awareness.

So the monkey, the mind, is seeking enlightenment, though it fails to understand what it is really grasping at. It just notices something shiny, and desires to possess it. The mind is not truly reaching for enlightenment; instead it grasps at a mere reflection of that light in the water below it.

What is this water? It can be understood as the world of manifest reality. It reflects the light of enlightenment. In fact, that is the world’s purpose. But while it appears to be real, it is fleeting, changing, ultimately intangible.

The monkey mind never tires of grasping at what shines and shimmers in reflection. This is partly because, in addition to the moon, the monkey sees itself reflected as well — and it loves its own face.

Hakuin laughs and gives us the solution: The monkey mind must let go of the branch it clings to and “disappear into the deep pool” of reality. The monkey’s fall represents the insight that the way is not attained through effort but through supreme yielding. When the mind stops grasping at reflections and, instead, fades into stillness, only then does the whole world shine “with dazzling pureness.” In other words, the mind can never possess enlightenment; it can only lose itself within it. When it finally yields itself, then enlightenment is discovered everywhere.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Hakuin

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei The Zen Koan


Hakuin, Hakuin poetry, Buddhist poetry Hakuin

Japan (1686 – 1768) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 09 2019

Yunus Emre – Those who became complete

Published by under Poetry

Those who became complete
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

Those who became complete
didn’t live this life in hypocrisy,
didn’t learn the meaning of things
by reading commentaries.

Reality is an ocean; the Law is a ship.
Many have never left the ship,
never jumped into the sea.

They might have come to Worship
but they stopped at rituals.
They never knew or entered the Inside.

Those who think the Four Books
were meant to be talked about,
who have only read explanations
and never entered meaning,
are really in sin.

Yunus means “true friend”
for one whose journey has begun.
Until we transform our Names,
we haven’t found the Way.

— from The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre, Translated by Kabir Helminski / Translated by Refik Algan


/ Image by Jono Colliver /

The Poetry Chaikhana is back! I hope you had a magical, renewing holiday and new year.

Let’s start the year off with something feisty–

Those who became complete
didn’t live this life in hypocrisy,
didn’t learn the meaning of things
by reading commentaries.

I love these cantankerous mystic poets. They come in all shades of religious sentiment, but they do tend to congregate outside the halls of orthodoxy. Most are profoundly devout and fiercely focused in their spirituality. But for the mystic to truly open to the Divine, one must clearly see the nature of reality and the nature of one’s very self — without blinders or pretense.

Reality is an ocean; the Law is a ship.
Many have never left the ship,
never jumped into the sea.

That’s why mystics don’t write poems in praise of rules, hierarchies, or secondhand knowledge. They want the wide ocean, not the creaking ship.

For this very reason, I often find myself more in alignment with the viewpoints of atheists than with religionists. I share the atheist ideal of questioning, critical thinking, testing and examination, a basic distrust of institutions, and an awareness of the danger of “true believers.” Whether we call ourselves theists or atheists, we must never settle into unquestioning belief.

There is a superficial way of being religious, joining the right group, following the right rules, reading the right sacred texts and commentaries, performing the right rituals and prayers. Don’t get me wrong, those practices can be important, but if our spiritually goes no deeper, then it becomes increasingly brittle and slips into pretense. That’s what happens with fundamentalism.

They might have come to Worship
but they stopped at rituals.
They never knew or entered the Inside.

The problem is that there is an increasing assumption that that is what religion is. Both religious-types and their atheist critics tend to define religion by that depthless definition. In that cultural debate, I have to side with the critics of religion. Superficial, rule-following religion lacks integrity and it tends to be sectarian in ways that can be goaded into violence.

But there has always been a deeper form of religion in every culture, an engaged spirituality that transforms the awareness in ways that awaken clarity and compassion. This is not a religion of blind faith or adherence to formulaic creeds; it is about direct experience of a wider reality, profound personal transformation… and bubbling joy.

This is where the common atheist critique of religion falls apart, especially the more strident voices of the so-called New Atheists. They tend to acknowledge only the most superficial and, frankly, idiotic expressions of modern religion. There is a willful blindness to the full spectrum of religious life and experience.

The argument I hear put forward by the New Atheists is that all religion is founded on a mythological fantasy at odds with firm reality, which results in a schizophrenic mindset which, in turn, leads to dysfunctional society. If only people would drop their attachment “made up men in the sky,” we could then start building a sane and rational world. That sounds like a pretty good argument, doesn’t it? If that was truly all that religion was, I might agree with their argument. But because they are so convinced that religion is nothing beyond fantasy and social control, they don’t feel the need to actually try to understand actual religious belief or history or what it means to people, let alone genuine mystical experience. There is no knowledge about religion in their argument, only disdain. And there is an underlying threat of force, as well: The religious delusion must be crushed in order to give us the sane world we deserve. It’s no coincidence that many prominent New Atheists have been vocal advocates for the recent wars in the Middle East, as they see Muslim Jihadist sects as the embodiment of their worst religious nightmares. The New Atheists have, in effect, become an increasingly violent fundamentalist sect of atheism.

There are certainly serious problems in religion, ranging from mere superficiality to violent extremism (in all religions). But those problems are not religious problems, they are human social problems. They are not problems that occur because of religion itself; they are manifesting because of complex social, political, economic, and even environment stresses, where very few authoritative institutions are addressing them honestly or coherently. Under those unrelenting stresses, people turn to religion, but not for religious reasons. Religion then becomes more extreme because other, more healthy responses are not available in society. We see the same toxic patterns in non-religious institutions, as well. It’s not a religious problem, but the resulting religious extremism grabs the headlines.

We don’t need enforced religion or non-religion. Instead, we need engaged hearts. We need minds that explore and question. We need a willingness to seek truth above approval. Whether we belong to a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, an atheist discussion group, or stand alone beneath the night sky — it’s not a question of belief or faith, but of what is, who we truly are, and the kindness we show in the world.

Yunus means “true friend”
for one whose journey has begun.


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 The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey
More Books >>


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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Dec 13 2018

Dogen – The true person

Published by under Poetry

True person manifest throughout the ten quarters of the world
by Eihei Dogen

English version by Steven Heine

The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

— from The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace, by Steven Heine


/ Image by hello, beautiful /

A beautiful morning here in Colorado. A cloudless blue sky fills every empty space and stretches its canopy across the heavens, reaching out in all directions…

True to Zen form, Dogen cuts right to the essential here.

Look for the true person deeply enough, and we find it. We find it in ourselves. But not in ourselves in a particular way. It is not in oneself while absent in another. We are quietly startled to discover that this true person is not contained by our skin. It does not stop at the edges of our lives. It does not even restrict itself to the borders of our far-flung thoughts. No, it flows out in all directions, utterly heedless of walls and distances and the greedy human mind.

But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

Find that one. Not only will you have found the true person, you will have discovered your very self spread out across existence!


Recommended Books: Eihei Dogen

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures


Eihei Dogen, Eihei Dogen poetry, Buddhist poetry Eihei Dogen

Japan (1200 – 1253) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Dec 05 2018

Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov – Where I wander — You!

Published by under Poetry

Where I wander — You!
by Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov

English version by Perle Besserman

Where I wander — You!
Where I ponder — You!
Only You everywhere, You, always You.
You, You, You.
When I am gladdened — You!
And when I am saddened — You!
Only You, everywhere You!
You, You, You.
Sky is You!
Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, everywhere You!

— from The Way of the Jewish Mystics, Edited by Perle Besserman


/ Image by Lidusha /

Happy Hanukkah! I thought this poem would be a nice celebration for us during this season of light…

I love the way this simple poem fills us with the ecstatic recognition that God is in everything, IS everything. All of existence becomes a grand game of hide-and-seek.

A chant that can open the heart and eyes:

Only You, everywhere You!
You, You, You.


Recommended Books: Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov

Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry The Way of the Jewish Mystics


Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov

Poland (1740 – 1810) Timeline
Jewish

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Nov 21 2018

May Sarton – Unison Benediction

Published by under Poetry

Unison Benediction
by May Sarton

Return to the most human,
nothing less will nourish the torn spirit,
the bewildered heart,
the angry mind:
and from the ultimate duress,
pierced with the breath of anguish,
speak of love.

Return, return to the deep sources,
nothing less will teach the stiff hands a new way to serve,
to carve into our lives the forms of tenderness
and still that ancient necessary pain preserve.

Return to the most human,
nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
the bewildered heart;
the torn mind,
to accept the whole of its duress,
and pierced with anguish…
at last, act for love.

— from May Sarton, Collected Poems, 1930-1993, by May Sarton


/ Image by me3009 /

I came across this poem today in Roger Housden’s Living and Writing Wild email newsletter (which I highly recommend). It felt like the perfect poem for today, so I thought I’d share it along with some of my own thoughts…

Return to the most human,
nothing less will nourish the torn spirit

I am so aware of how much frustration people feel over the dark turn in politics in recent years. More than frustration, there is a sense of anguish, even betrayal. For many, it is as if our vision of who we are and the future we might achieve has been defiled and damaged to the point that we no longer recognize ourselves as decent people.

As an American, how do I understand the racist, proto-fascist, violent forces emerging within my own country? At the same time, similar tendencies are appearing in the UK, India, the Philippines, and we could add several other nations to the list.

How can people of good heart not feel horrified at these developments?

While harmful forces must be answered with courage in the public arena, I want to suggest that there is something important happening on another level, as well: an enforced awakening.

We are going through a collective process of disillusionment, whether we like it or not. We are being required to drop our illusions and witness unpleasant truths, about ourselves and about the world around us. What have we ignored that has allowed such fear and hatred to fester? How have our political and social systems become so damaged that they are unresponsive to the needs and demands of society? What cruelties are encoded in society that I have ignored or made excuses for? How did we imagine things were solid, when they are so fragile? How can my neighbor believe such things, and what is his hurt that I was blind to? These are the questions we are forced to ask now.

Painful though it may be, devastating in some cases, we can only be strengthened by the process of disillusionment. We want to drop our illusions. We want to see things as they are, as fully and as clearly as possible.

Return, return to the deep sources

We might think of it as a meditative exercise. Let’s look at reality, everything we see, the terrible and the beautiful together, and just sit with it. It may break our hearts. But we just sit with it. It may fill us with moments of pure joy. But we just sit with it. It may overwhelm us with its immensity. But we don’t run, we don’t seek to merely feel good. Instead, we just sit with it. We allow ourselves to see and feel fully. We watch our reactions too, but are not hooked by them. In this way, we begin to inhabit a bigger reality, a fuller reality. Our personal sense of reality becomes more integrated and a truer reflection of what actually is. As we do this, we become more capable of fashioning healthier lives and healthier societies.

Here’s the thing that I’ve noticed in my own life, when I stop trying to assert some idea of how reality should work, and just really notice what is, at first I feel heartbroken and even humiliated. Then I feel overwhelmed. And then… everything just opens up into a vision of stunning beauty and possibility. The heart opens in unexpected ways, making healing possible where only walls seemed to stand. It’s easy to think that reality is somehow broken, but when we really look, we discover that we inhabit an improbable wholeness instead. It’s not entirely logical amidst the world’s fear and suffering, so I encourage you to look for yourself and see. Really see. Seeing the full picture, our actions become more effective and lasting. Looking honestly, we become capable of compassion and connection, where we only felt anger before.

Combining action with an expanding awareness, we return to what is most human, and by that I mean we return to what is most divine.

Return to the most human,
nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
the bewildered heart;
the torn mind,
to accept the whole of its duress,
and pierced with anguish…
at last, act for love.

May Sarton, May Sarton poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry May Sarton

US (1912 – 1995) Timeline
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Nov 15 2018

Naropa – The Summary of Mahamudra

Published by under Poetry

The Summary of Mahamudra
by Naropa

English version by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and Erik Pema Kunsang

Homage to the state of great bliss!
Concerning what is called Mahamudra
All things are your own mind.
Seeing objects as external is a mistaken concept;
Like a dream, they are empty of concreteness.
This mind, as well, is a mere movement of attention
That has no self-nature, being merely a gust of wind.
Empty of identity, like space.
All things, like space, are equal.
When speaking of ‘Mahamudra’
It is not an entity that can be shown.
There the mind’s suchness
Is itself the state of Mahamudra.
It is neither something to be corrected nor transformed,
But when anyone sees and realizes its nature
All that appears and exists is Mahamudra,
The great all-encompassing Dharmakaya.
Naturally and without contriving, allowed simply to be,
This unimagined Dharmakaya,
Letting it be without seeking is the meditation training.
But to meditate while seeking is deluded mind.
Just as with space and a magical display,
While neither cultivating nor not cultivating
How can you be separate and not separate!
This is a yogi’s understanding.
All good deeds and harmful actions
Dissolve by simply knowing this nature.
The emotions are the great wisdom.
Like a jungle fire, they are the yogi’s helpers.
How can there be staying or going?
What meditation is there by fleeing to a hermitage?
Without understanding this, all possible means
Never bring more than temporary liberation.
When understanding this nature, what is there to bind you?
While being undistracted from its continuity,
There is neither a composed nor an uncomposed state
To be cultivated or corrected with a remedy.
It is not made out of anything
Experience self-liberated is dharmadhatu.
Thinking self-liberated is great wisdom,
Non-dual equality is dharmakaya.
Like the continuous flow of a great river,
Whatever you do is meaningful,
This is the eternal awakened state,
The great bliss, leaving no place for samasara.
All things are empty of their own identities.
This concept fixed on emptiness has dissolved in itself.
Free of concept, holding nothing in mind,
Is in itself the path of the Buddhas.
For the most fortunate ones,
I have made these concise words of heartfelt advice.
Through this, may every single sentient being
Be established in Mahamudra.

— from The Songs of Naropa: Commentaries on songs of Realization, Translated by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche / Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang


/ Image by Best Picko /

My wife and I first moved to Boulder, Colorado in the early 1990s. We were young and felt like adventurous vagabonds, exploring the world by moving around. Several things drew us to the area, including the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, better work opportunities than in our home state of Oregon, as well as the spirituality, creativity and health-focus of community.

One other thing drew us: Naropa University, a school in the area well known for its poetry and psychology programs, combined with classes on meditation and Eastern philosophies. Ironically, we never attended classes there, but we have friends who are graduates, and the school has helped to shape Boulder culture in beautiful ways.

Yet I don’t think I have ever featured a poem by the great Buddhist master Naropa, until today.

Concerning what is called Mahamudra

Mahamudra literally translates as “the Great Seal.” This term is rich in meaning, especially within Tibetan Buddhism. We might say that Mahamudra is the clear and enlightened recognition of all levels of reality.

We can think of it as a “seal” in that it has the stamp of confirmation. This is unfettered awareness of how reality really is.

Mahamudra is both the goal and it is also the practice or the pathway to reach that goal.

All things are your own mind.
Seeing objects as external is a mistaken concept

This is a difficult one for most of us reared within the Western mindset that has a primarily materialistic understanding of reality. Even if we hold to religious or spiritual ideals, that relationship to the world around us as a physical and sensory experience is often quite ingrained.

So what do we make of statements like “all things are your own mind”? How can external objects not be external?

We can read a lot of Eastern philosophy and begin to build a conceptual framework that allows a statement like that to seem less absurd, but at best it is a fragile idea that comes under heavy assault when we are confronted with life’s next intense, apparently external challenge. The conceptualizing mind can’t fully encompass this notion, no matter how subtle and refined we think it out.

The problem for the intellect is that, as our meditation deepens and the mind clears, this is precisely what we perceive. Everything we imagine to be outside of ourselves is actually within ourselves. And everything we think of as tangible, fixed, and “real,” is actually revealed to be merely a surface appearance that is part of a deeper, highly fluid reality.

Like a dream, they are empty of concreteness.

Naturally, we must explore what the mind is. We often imagine that we are the mind, that the mind is the self. Thinking that, we have little or no control over the mind. But the mind isn’t really a lasting “thing” is ourself or exists outside of ourself. What we think of as the mind only exists when the awareness is in motion.

This mind, as well, is a mere movement of attention
That has no self-nature, being merely a gust of wind.
Empty of identity, like space.

When we bring the awareness to deep stillness, we discover that the mind doesn’t exist at all. Awareness remains, but mind is nowhere to be found.

It is like the wind: The air is always there, but the wind only exists when the air is disturbed and in motion. Its true nature is wide open, reaching in all directions at once.

There the mind’s suchness
Is itself the state of Mahamudra.

In Buddhist writings, we often come across the odd word “suchness” or “thusness.” This is a translation of the word Tathata. Tathata is the way a thing truly is beyond the ability of names or concepts to define it. It is the true, radiant, blissful nature of reality.

Naropa is affirming that the mind’s true nature, that is, full and open awareness, is nothing less than the full embodiment of reality.

It is neither something to be corrected nor transformed,

So often in spiritual practice we try to bring the mind under control. We work so hard to keep the mind focused on “spiritual” things and away from distractions or fixations. And, yes, that can be important.

But Naropa is giving us a deeper teaching. The shifting surface focus we call mind is only problematic when we imagine that is all that mind is and all that we are. As we begin to recognize the full awareness, we see that its expanse already encompasses everything, needing nothing added or subtracted, while the phenomenon of “mind” is simply the shifting of currents that settles of its own accord when we let it.

But when anyone sees and realizes its nature
All that appears and exists is Mahamudra,

Another key Buddhist term is then mentioned: Dharmakaya–

The great all-encompassing Dharmakaya.
Naturally and without contriving, allowed simply to be,

Dharmakaya literally means “truth body.” It is one’s true spacious being underlying all appearance or phenomenal experience. It is the foundation ground of self and being experienced by awakened masters.

Naropa is showing how these important concepts are linked, that their elevated states actually flow into each other and reveal themselves to be the same.

No-Mind -> Full Awareness -> Inherent Being -> Truth Body

Letting it be without seeking is the meditation training

This, I think, is Naropa’s core statement for the seeker: Don’t seek. Instead, recognize the true nature of things already present. Don’t look to the horizon. Wherever we are, just stop and see. That’s the tricky part. Before we can see, we must first stop. We don’t need to dominate the mind and force it to stop, but we do need to stop being carried away by every little thing caught in the shifting movements of the mind. That’s when the vision clears and we see all around for the first time.

While neither cultivating nor not cultivating
How can you be separate and not separate!

We don’t actually need to change anything about ourselves. Rather, we need to settle into ourselves. We need to be as we are. When we do that, then our outer selves naturally become an expression of the true being we actually are — no effort required to coax or curtail our actions and energies.

Like the continuous flow of a great river,
Whatever you do is meaningful,

Rather than an endless effort of trying to catch and correct every thought and emotion (and the actions that proceed from them), Naropa’s teachings allow us to recognize our destination in this very moment, discovering our true nature in our very selves right now.

Through this, may every single sentient being
Be established in Mahamudra.

PS – To all of my friends near the fires in California, be safe.


Recommended Books: Naropa

The Songs of Naropa: Commentaries on songs of Realization Illusion’s Game: The Life and Teachings of Naropa


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India (1016 – 1100) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

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Nov 09 2018

Yunus Emre – Let’s Take Yunus Emre

Published by under Poetry

Let’s Take Yunus Emre
by Yunus Emre

English version by Jennifer Ferraro & Latif Bolat

Let’s be companions, the two of us.
      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s be close intimates, the two of us.
      Lets go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s go before this life is over,
Before our bodies disappear,
Before enemies come between us —

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Come on, let’s go. Don’t remain alone.
Let’s be a chisel in the Friend’s hand.
The only stop will be our sheikh’s station.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s leave our towns and cities
and gladly suffer for the Friend.
Let’s wrap our arms around our Beloved’s waist.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s not be bewildered by the world.
Let’s not be cheated by its sudden dying.
Let’s not sit together never touching.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s give up this transient world
and fly to the lasting land of the Friend.
Let’s give up all the playthings of the nafs.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Be a guide to me on this journey.
Let’s set our destination at the Friend,
Not thinking where we begin or end.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

This world isn’t everlasting.
With eyes half-open it is tempting.
Be a companion of lovers and a lover.

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Before the news of death reaches us,
Before the hour when he grabs us by the collar,
Before Azrail makes his sudden move,

      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s arrive at the Divine Truth
and inquire there about Reality.
      Let’s take Yunus Emre with us —

            and go to the Friend, my soul.

— from Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey, Translated by Jennifer Ferraro / Translated by Latif Bolat


/ Image by Elizabeth Alice /

I like this image of calling to the soul to become a traveling companion on the road to the Friend.

Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

It’s humorous when you think about it. The soul is already a part of ourselves, why should we have to coax it? We might even say that the soul is who we are. Wouldn’t the soul already be on the journey to the Friend, perhaps already at the Friend’s door?

Let’s be companions, the two of us.
      Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

Let’s be close intimates, the two of us.
      Lets go to the Friend, my soul.

On that journey, best to convince the soul to be a close companion.

And what other part of the self is speaking? It would seem to be the surface sense of self, the little self, the ego, the nafs. You get the feeling that the self doing the speaking is actually the hesitant one, trying to convince itself. There’s a sort of self-teasing here, a bit of bravado while gathering courage for the journey.

Who is this Azrail who will make a “sudden move”? Azrail or Azrael is the name sometimes given to the angel of death. Many religious types have an idea that, so long as they have subscribed to the “right” form of religion, they will magically end up in some heavenly realm after death, with no journey involved. Mystics like Yunus Emre remind us that the soul’s journey is the only way to the Friend and the entire purpose of life, something to be engaged in now in the midst of life.

Let’s arrive at the Divine Truth
and inquire there about Reality.

We all need a nudge, and the best nudge comes from within.

Let’s go to the Friend, my soul.

And, oh yes–

Let’s take Yunus Emre with us

— take yourself with you.


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 The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey
More Books >>


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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 31 2018

Abhishiktananda – Return within

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Return within
by Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

English version by H. Sandeman (?)

Return within,
to the place where there is nothing,
and take care that nothing comes in.
Penetrate to the depths of yourself,
to the place where thought no longer exists,
and take care that no thought arises there!
There where nothing exists,
Fullness!
There where nothing is seen,
the Vision of Being!
There where nothing appears any longer,
the sudden appearing of the Self!
Dhyana is this!

— from Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master, by Swami Abhishiktananda / Translated by H. Sandeman


/ Image by MikkoLagerstedt /

Return within…

A powerful description of deep meditation. (The word dhyana in the last line means meditation.)

There where nothing exists,
Fullness!

=

I have received several notes asking when the poem emails will resume. I had a particularly challenging chronic fatigue crash a couple of weeks ago, and I have been regrouping since then, recalibrating my health regime while doing my best to maintain my work hours with my day job. It may take me a couple more weeks to get into a regular pattern with the poetry emails once again. But I am generally improving and more Poetry Chaikhana will be coming your way soon!

I am also very aware of how much our attention here in the US and in the world is being taken up by the upcoming mid-term elections, by the terrible shooting of worshippers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and, for many, the sense of betrayal at the recent confirmation of Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. That’s just a partial list.

It is important that, in the midst of however we reach out to help in the world, we remember to regularly “return within.” It is that inner connection that imbues our outer action with its meaning and strength and resonance in the world.

Sending love to you all.


Recommended Books: Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva’s Holy Mountain The Further Shore Swami Abhishiktananda: Essential Writings Prayer
More Books >>


Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux), Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux) poetry, Christian poetry Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

France, India (1910 – 1973) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Oct 12 2018

Kamalakanta – O Kali, my Mother full of Bliss!

Published by under Poetry

O Kali, my Mother full of Bliss!
by Kamalakanta

O Kali, my Mother full of Bliss!
Enchantress of the almighty Shiva!
In Thy delirious joy Thou dancest,
clapping Thy hands together!
Eternal One! Thou great First Cause,
clothed in the form of the Void!
Thou wearest the moon upon Thy brow.
Where didst Thou find Thy garland of heads
before the universe was made?
Thou art the Mover of all that move,
and we are but Thy helpless toys;
We move alone as Thou movest us
and speak as through us Thou speakest.
But worthless Kamalakanta says,
fondly berating Thee:
Confoundress! With Thy flashing sword
Thoughtlessly Thou hast put to death
my virtue and my sin alike!

— from Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, by Elizabeth U. Harding


/ Image by Chobist /

Many of my Hindu friends are celebrating Navratri right now, the nine nights of the Great Goddess. Some traditions divide Navratri into three sets of three nights: the first three dedicated to Durga or Kali, who clears out the old and out of balance to make way for more divine manifestations of life; the next three nights are dedicated to Lakshmi, who grants wealth, both spiritual and material; while the final three nights are dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom.

I thought I’d select this poem for us today…

To appreciate this poem we need to know a few things about the traditional Hindu representations of the Goddess.

In Hindu tradition and metaphysics, the Goddess represents many aspects of the Divine. The iconography we find in Hinduism gives us a fascinating kaleidoscope of meaning. The Goddess can represent Mother, the Great Source, the Void/Womb from which all are born, Manifestation, Creation, Vibration, Speech, Song, the Arts, Beauty, Darkness, Mystery, all of the World (and all its Illusions). But with birth, also comes death, with manifestation, also comes dissolution; anything with a beginning also has an end. Only the eternal is eternal. So the Goddess, Mother and Manifestor, is also sometimes portrayed as Destroyer. She is Life and Death both. She is the Power that brings all into being, animates and enlivens the universe, and also draws it back into non-being. But even in Her fiercest aspect, the Mother Goddess is loving. For Her, death is merely the death of illusion and the return to Self.

Many Westerners at first find the iconography associated with the goddess Kali unsettling and can’t understand why so many beloved saints, like the gentle Ramakrishna, were so deeply devoted to her. Let’s spend a few moments contemplating this powerful representation of the Divine Feminine…

Kali is sometimes called the Dark Mother: beautiful, wild, and terrible. She is depicted dancing in ecstasy upon a battle field, slaying demons in her fierce bliss.

Her skin is black and she is naked, symbolic of the Eternal Void with which she clothes herself.

Thou wearest the moon upon Thy brow.

She wears the moon upon her brow (as does her husband, Shiva), symbolizing the open spiritual eye and spiritual illumination. The crescent moon has the additional metaphorical meaning of mastery over the feminine, cyclical aspect of manifest nature, the way it ebbs and flows, grows full and then diminishes.

Where didst Thou find Thy garland of heads
before the universe was made?

Kali wears a garland of severed heads, a startling image, but one of deep spiritual significance. These are the heads of slain demons, each a spiritual impediment that she has removed. Well, she hasn’t really removed them; in slaying the demons, she has freed them, so that now their heads rest in bliss upon her breast.

Further, each head, severed at the neck, represents a specific sound; collectively, the heads represent the sound of divine speech, the foundational vibration or Eternal Word, through which the universe is manifested.

Confoundress! With Thy flashing sword
Thoughtlessly Thou hast put to death
my virtue and my sin alike!

We often get teasing lines like this in sacred poetry. In the deep spaces of bliss, when the ego identity has disappeared and thought has ceased, the tensions we associated with doing “good” or “bad” also disappear. This does not mean that one cannot distinguish between right and wrong, quite the opposite; one sees clearly for the first time. But there is no projection of “should” or “shouldn’t.” Instead, there is a profound sense of what simply is, and what is potential. The feeling of being caught in a tug-of-war between opposites and social compulsions vanishes. To the thinking mind, the mind chained to the ego, this is indeed confounding.

Kali can express a terrifying face of the Divine, but there is a reverse side to this. She may inspire terror, yes, but only in that which is out of harmony with the Eternal Will; seeing the Goddess, such energies know their end has come. If we ourselves cling to such disharmonious qualities, then we too may fear her. But when we let go of such clinging, approaching this great, formless Goddess with humility and courage, then terror is transformed into awe and overwhelming bliss.

You can say that this Dark Mother loves all her children so fiercely that she refuses to let any of us remain chained to comfortable but lethal delusions. Every soul needs such a loving, liberating mother, even when we don’t always appreciate her…

It’s a crisp autumn morning here. The snow from the last few days never quite stuck, the air is clear. The aspen leaves dance in green and gold, glistening in the light. Remember the beauty all around you!


Recommended Books: Kamalakanta

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar


Kamalakanta

India (1769? – 1821?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Oct 10 2018

Izumi Shikibu – Although the wind

Published by under Poetry

Although the wind
by Izumi Shikibu

English version by Jane Hirshfield

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

— from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield


/ Image by Manwathiell /

I have several loved ones feeling particular frustration and rage at how they have been treated after finding the courage to speak out about private traumas, only to be ignored and treated with contempt by a system that would rather maintain its fading myths than its heart.

An excerpt of something I posted on Facebook a few days ago–

I try to remind myself that the greatest healers in the world are often themselves wounded in some way. The ways we find to survive trauma can open us to deep truths about ourselves and the world, unlocking hidden strength. We might, for the first time, find our authentic voice. Sometimes our job is just to cry out with such a great pure ache that the world has no choice but to stop and let its heart break open. Survivors carry the medicine the world needs, whether or not the world is smart enough to recognizes it.


Recommended Books: Izumi Shikibu

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry


Izumi Shikibu

Japan (974? – 1034?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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