Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Apr 03 2015

Ryokan – The I Ching States Happiness Lies in the Proper Blend

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The I Ching States Happiness Lies in the Proper Blend of:
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

Hot-cold
good-bad
black-white
beautiful-ugly
large-small
wisdom-foolishness
long-short
brightness-darkness
high-low
partial-whole
relaxation-quickness
increase-decrease
purity-filth
slow-fast.

— from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, Translated by John Stevens


/ Image by x-horizon /

A reminder for us today from that master of wisdom-foolishness, Ryokan, to walk the slim pathway between the extremes, to touch both but not be held by either.

Absolutes are for fundamentalists and those weary of the journey. The rest of us continue to navigate that hidden line where opposites meet. We learn the way by knowing our hearts.

Hot-cold
good-bad
black-white

This is a tension I myself have wrestled with in my own journey. As a passionate young seeker, I so wanted holiness, which I understood mostly in terms of physical purity and isolation from the world. I ate only very specific foods, not much of them, and often fasted. I lived much of my 20s and early 30s in retreat, seeking out remote, natural environments to call home.

And, you know what? It worked. My energies began to take on a more sustained, deeply meditative state. I found myself opening in profound ways. I found a way to embody holiness. It worked… for a while.

Sure, I could have continued living in that way, with ever more precise refinements in my practice, and possibly deepening the sense of holiness I felt, and that would have satisfied a certain hunger in my soul. But I started to see a problem with all of that. When I was entirely honest with myself, I noticed that I was becoming more brittle and ethereal, disconnected from people and less able to interact with society. I had created a safe bubble of “purity” around me, and I easily lost my balance whenever that was even slightly disrupted.

I came to the decision that true spirituality was not about some sort of aloof, fragile perfection, but must include an embodied mastery that required grounding and human interaction and the humility to be less than perfect. Much of my journey since then has been about strength, stability, and connection — facing my weakest qualities, instead of retreating into elevated states. I moved back to more populated areas. I began to eat more food, and eat more solid foods, which took a significant mental shift. I even went through a period of lifting weights in order to put some muscle on my overly thin body so I could feel more physically present in the world. And I created the Poetry Chaikhana as a way to connect and share with a much wider world.

Today, my path lacks the certainty it once had. And I am less likely to be floating in blissful states as often as I once did. There are days when I consider that perhaps I should return to the sweet intensity of that interiority. But I remain committed to the long journey — a more rounded sense of embodied mastery. And I am still a stumbling beginner in so many ways.

Like a tree, we need our roots to sink deep into the earth, thickening their grip; that gives us the strong foundation to grow and reach and spread new branches heavenward season after season and not fail at the first gust of wind.

brightness-darkness
high-low
partial-whole

We need to integrate it all. We need wholeness to experience lasting holiness.

We might just notice that opposites are not opposed, but joined. And we dance along the seam of connection.

One last bit of advice: When you dance, dance slow-fast!

(That’s the long and the short of it… :)

=

If you celebrate Passover, may it be a day of protection and liberation. If you celebrate Easter, may it be a day of renewal and new life!


Recommended Books: Ryokan

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing
More Books >>


Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

Japan (1758 – 1831) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Apr 01 2015

Jacopone da Todi – As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises

Published by under Poetry

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises,
And as wax melts from the heat of fire,
So the soul drawn to that light is resplendent,
Feels self melt away,
Its will and actions no longer its own.
So clear is the imprint of God
That the soul, conquered, is conqueror;
Annihilated, it lives in triumph.

What happens to the drop of wine
That you pour into the sea?
Does it remain itself, unchanged?
It is as if it never existed.
So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.
It has eyes only for this beauty;
It no longer seeks to possess, as was its wont —
It lacks the strength to possess such sweetness.
The base of this highest of peaks
Is founded on nichil,
Shaped nothingness, made one with the Lord.

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


/ Image by YorkshireSam /

As we approach both Passover and Easter, I thought this poem by the Franciscan monk, Jacopone da Todi, might give us some good things to contemplate…

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises,
And as wax melts from the heat of fire,
So the soul drawn to that light is resplendent,
Feels self melt away…

What I find fascinating about these opening images is how much they sound like the sort of metaphors Indian yogic masters use.

With these simple, comprehensible images, we can begin to get an idea of how the soul is transformed in exalted states. In nearness to the Eternal, the soul, like wax near a fire, melts. The self is no longer a fixed, hardened thing, but something fluid, formless, dynamic. And, in this responsive, formless state, the soul loses its dull opacity, becoming clear, allowing the light to shine through it.

Its will and actions no longer its own.
So clear is the imprint of God
That the soul, conquered, is conqueror;
Annihilated, it lives in triumph.

The old, inanimate self melts away, and this new fluid self moves. But it moves naturally, not of its own accord. The liquid self moves as it is moved.

In yielding, it discovers its own life.

So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

This concept of yielding, of freeing oneself of will, is a difficult one to understand and accept in any age, but especially so in the modern era when accomplishment through strong will is culturally idolized.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.

The most immediate objection is that without will, we can do nothing. On a certain level, we prove our existence by doing, by taking action in the world, right? There have been enough statements by mystics and saints throughout the world about the importance of non-will, that we should explore this question more deeply…

Deeply examined, we find that will is not what we thought it was. Or, rather, that there are different expressions of the will. We can say that will is volition or the impulse to action, or we might broadly define it as freedom of choice, as in “free will.”

Mystics often use phrases like “self-will” to express a more fundamental understanding of what the will is and how it works. You can say that self-will is selfish will, in opposition to the will to be of service, for example, but that doesn’t quite get at the heart of the matter. Self-will is will that is tainted by the petty self, the unmelted self, or the ego. Self-will is not just selfish will. It’s quite possible to perform great philanthropic works and have it still be from self-will. Self-will is will that is under the control of the ego, compels action that serves the ego, and compels action that reinforces the ego. Self-will renews the trance of the ego.

Consider, is there a way to drop this self-will, to be free from its clutches, without becoming an inactive lump on the couch? Is there a form of will that does not originate with the ego and constantly return our attention to it? Finding this second will, what is it like? This other will is profound, immense, powerful, yet not our own. It is a form of will that does not serve the little self. It is not possessed by us, and it does not concern itself with possession of things or experiences. To unleash this will in our lives requires an elegant balance between yielding and stepping forward, between passivity and attentive action, between selflessness and presence. Actions take place through us, but we are not the actors. What we normally think of as the self is not directing the action.

This frees up a great portion of psychic energy, and we become awestruck witnesses to life playing out through us and all around us — a vision of immense beauty!

It has eyes only for this beauty

Thank You

I want to again thank everyone who has made a donation recently in response to my request for help from the Poetry Chaikhana. I know that even sending a few dollars is an effort. It requires writing out and mailing a check or figuring out how to fill out the PayPal page. After all, the poetry emails themselves are free, there is no actual requirement to step out of our comfort zone and reach out in this way. So, to everyone who has willingly changed your day’s rhythm in order to make a donation and help me out, I truly thank you!


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

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


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

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Mar 27 2015

W. S. Merwin – Just Now

Published by under Poetry

Just Now
by W. S. Merwin

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever
believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks

— from The Pupil: Poems, by W. S. Merwin


/ Image by phuket /

A noticed moment. The noticed essence within the moment.

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment…

This is so often the way of it. Whatever it is we continuously search for, whether a spiritual recognition or merely contentment in the midst of a frantic world, we conceptualize this “thing” we want, we search for it, we strain for it… and it eludes us. But then, through weariness or surrender or silence, somehow we fall into the present moment, and there we discover what we have been searching for. But, while it is what we wanted, it is not what we imagined at all. It is simpler than the complicated fabrication of our minds, less defined, somehow just there.

and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever
believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for

It is strangely familiar, as if it has been quietly unnoticed all along. As if we just lacked the quiet eyes that could see it. “…remained with me unnoticed / something that was here unnamed…”

We so want a goal that we can acquire and claim, that we can name among our many named possessions. What do we do when the thing found is no thing at all, nameless, ungraspable, yet undeniably there in the still spaces?

by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks

We are left with a choice: We can name it nonetheless, expanding and refining our definitions, bringing it into the realm of what is known — yet haunted by the knowledge that it is but a thin sliver of what remains unnamed. Or we can yield into the mystery of it and dwell there, in the quiet unnamed spaces, taking its home as our own.

…Or we can play the game of poets, juggling words to hint at the wordless, taunting the known with the undefinable, making our home in the spaces in between.


Recommended Books: W. S. Merwin

East Window: Poems from Asia Migration: New & Selected Poems The Pupil: Poems Present Company Sanskrit Love Poetry
More Books >>


W. S. Merwin, W. S. Merwin poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry W. S. Merwin

US (1927 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Buddhist

More poetry by W. S. Merwin

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Mar 25 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – I find you, Lord, in all Things

Published by under Poetry

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

— from Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by Ben Frdericson /

First, let me say “thank you” to everyone who has sent in a donation in response to my request for help on Friday. And thank you, also, for the many notes of support and encouragement. I am deeply moved by the broad community response. Wow.

=

Now, for today’s poem. It has been too long since we had a poem by Rilke…

and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

Isn’t that a great line? But it’s not just a nice poetic turn of phrase. In the second verse Rilke is really saying something of deep insight about this:

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world…

The “power” he is talking about is obviously not power over; not the domination of the warlord or the predator. Following on his first verse, we can read power as the power of the Lord “in all Things.” It is the power of life itself, awareness, presence. The use of the word “power,” makes us question the assumptions of common language: Perhaps this is real power, rather than the fleeting hold of force and fear. How are life and presence the greater power…?

This real power plays a game in the world of things. It asserts its power through submission, rather than control. Like water, it yields and so finds its destination. It allows, and so fulfills its purpose. It is supremely humble, and so able to be humbly present everywhere, in all things, without prejudice or rejection. It rises from the lowest to the highest, vivifying everything it touches–

groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

This power flowing through us and all our “fellow creatures” binds us all with the same life. You’ll notice, it is not even our life at all. Rilke says “your life,” the Lord’s life. It is something we participate in, a current we ride as it flows through us and the world, but it is not our own. Rilke is hinting at a larger vision in which there is only one Life flowing through a million “Things.”

Hildegard von Bingen, the great medieval mystic, called this the Viriditas or Greening power of God.

Too much of our relationship with the natural world is built on ideas of separation and domination. Such foolishness can only ever harm us. When we see clearly, we see as Rilke does that we are part of the same shared Life. To harm the natural world is to rebel against God. Is that language too religiously loaded? Reread Rilke’s poem, and then think about it.

Have a lovely day in this lovely green world!


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

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


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

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 20 2015

Support Poetry on This Spring Day

To goslings
just hatched, the entire world
is a spring day

by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Tristam Brelstaff /

Ivan M. Granger
Happy spring! It is also the new moon and an eclipse today. A potent time to look up. Or look within. Or look around in appreciation of the new life emerging everywhere…

=

Among my deepest satisfactions in my Poetry Chaikhana work is being able to read the emails you send me. I get to savor your thoughts on spirituality, wisdom, enlightenment, and art. The most touching to me are your notes about how much a particular poem or commentary has meant to you. Even when I am unable to respond, I read and cherish your messages. That is a big part of what fuels my commitment to the Poetry Chaikhana.

But, although it is difficult to admit, I am struggling right now.

It always feels uncomfortable to bring up directly, but I need to request more financial support from the Poetry Chaikhana community.

While I do have a regular job, I can only work so many hours before chronic fatigue patterns kick in, especially when I also dedicate so much time and energy to the Poetry Chaikhana. During the past year, I have been pushing myself in my day job to work through exhaustion in order to meet my basic expenses. While exercising that sort of steely determination has its own practical and spiritual values, it also has made it difficult for me to focus with full energy on the Poetry Chaikhana.

You may have noticed that the Poetry Chaikhana emails have not been as regular in recent weeks.

Donations and Publications

I am working to shift the Poetry Chaikhana’s dependence on donations over to income from publishing, but that is a long-term goal. And while your enthusiastic reception of The Longing in Between was a huge help at the beginning of the year, book sales have dipped now that it has been out for several months — which is entirely natural. I do have plans for additional anthologies and future publications but, of course, those take time and significant energy to bring to completion.

For the moment, at least, the Poetry Chaikhana is still primarily dependent on your financial donations.

The Poetry Chaikhana Community

I am still amazed to be able to say that we have 9,000 people on this email list! Another 5,000 follow the Facebook page. With such a large community, I believe that collectively we can support my continuing work with the Poetry Chaikhana.

Without enough community support, I may have to drastically trim back the time I dedicate to the Poetry Chaikhana, which would be a shame. Even though I will continue forward with the Poetry Chaikhana in some fashion, such as future publications, I have always felt that the regular communication with you through these emails is the heart of the Poetry Chaikhana. For me, these emails feel personal, a long-term conversation with you on the nature of spirit and art, and how the two interweave and contribute to each other — enlivening us all in the process. While much of that conversation can take place through the patient medium of books, I would miss the immediacy and friendly dialog of our emails.

Around the World


/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

One of the purposes of the Poetry Chaikhana is to help us recognize the unity behind the world’s religions as expressed through the poetry of mystics. Poetry, being a very personal medium that is largely free from dogma, reaches across cultural divides, softens prejudices, and sheds light on misunderstandings. Sacred poetry can be a powerful healing balm when cultures clash.

Also, it is worth remembering that, through the Poetry Chaikhana’s global community, each of us is connected to people and places all over this world we share. The Poetry Chaikhana has had visits from more than 220 different countries and territories! That’s nearly every country in North America, South America, Europe, and across all of Asia. We’re only missing a few countries in central Africa, and we’re also waiting for that first visit from Antarctica. (Any poetic penguins out there?)

As I have said in a previous email… The next time a poem touches that warm ember deep in your chest, and your thoughts stop, and your mind clears, and a quiet smile spreads across your face… reach out and feel who else on this planet is feeling exactly the same thing. It could be someone who wears different clothes or has different colored skin, someone who speaks with a different accent or an entirely different language, someone who sits or kneels or bows to worship. Reach out and recognize that person as a brother or sister who, like us all, is walking through the human journey, pausing occasionally to sing songs of the Divine.

The Poetry Chaikhana is an important resource for people all over the world seeking to more deeply understand their own wisdom traditions as well as the spirituality of other cultures in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Your Help

It is a joy to do all of this, but it isn’t easy, and I can use your help.

For me to keep doing this work, I need the support of the Poetry Chaikhana community.

If you feel a connection to the Poetry Chaikhana, please consider making a donation.

Please, never contribute more than you can comfortably afford, however. A modest amount from many people is immensely helpful. Many contributions from many people makes the Poetry Chaikhana a stronger community project, maintained by many helping hands.


/ Photo by SaxX69 /

Ways you can contribute:

– You can make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button on the Poetry Chaikhana home page at www.poetry-chaikhana.com

– You can sign up for a voluntary monthly donation of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button.

(A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook — and easier to justify as less than the cost of one snack or drink per month.)

– You can send a check or money order in US funds, addressed to:


Poetry Chaikhana

PO Box 2320

Boulder, CO 80306

– Purchasing copies of The Longing in Between and Real Thirst is another excellent way to help. You also support the Poetry Chaikhana when you purchase other books through the links on the Poetry Chaikhana website.

I want to also make sure I gratefully acknowledge that several of you have been generous with your contributions to the Poetry Chaikhana in the past, through donations, through notes of thanks, through supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, whether financial or energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone! And have a beautiful beginning to your springtime!

Ivan M. Granger Ivan M. Granger

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

More poetry by Ivan M. Granger

6 responses so far

Mar 18 2015

Yuan Mei – P’u-t’o Temple

Published by under Poetry

P’u-t’o Temple
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

A temple, hidden, treasured
                        in the mountain’s cleft
Pines, bamboo
                  such a subtle flavor:
The ancient Buddha sits there, wordless
The welling source speaks for him.

— from A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry, Edited by J. P. Seaton / Edited by Dennis Maloney


/ Image by nurpax /

This poem feels like a brush painting. A few simple strokes suggest the scene: A temple. A mountain’s cleft. Pines, bamboo. A Buddha.

That’s all we need to be brought, with the Buddha, to wordlessness and the “welling source.” Mm.


Recommended Books: Yuan Mei

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


Yuan Mei, Yuan Mei poetry, Buddhist poetry Yuan Mei

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

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Mar 13 2015

Wendell Berry – The Real Work

Published by under Poetry

The Real Work
by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— from Standing by Words: Essays, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by myINQI /

Ooh, I just like this, don’t you? As I get older and encounter more of the world and more of myself, I grow increasingly wary of answers. It’s the questions that awaken the soul.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

Berry is reminding us that struggle and confusion — and wonder! — are signs that we are on a good path, that we are paying attention, that we are still seeking and discovering, that we are alive. The scariest people are those who’ve grown tired of questions and so brutalize the world with simple answers.

Okay, a poetic confession: This was not originally a poem in verse. I did a bit of research and found that this is actually an excerpt from one of Wendell Berry’s essays that someone later versified. It’s been circulating as a poem ever since. I guess you can’t trap a good poet in prose for long. My apologies to the poetry purists out there.

Now, let’s discover a new path through this magical, unknown day…


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Selected Poems of Wendell Berry Given: Poems A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

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Mar 10 2015

Ko Un – A Smile

Published by under Poetry

A Smile
by Ko Un

English version by Brother Anthony of Taize

Shakyamuni held up a lotus
so Kashyapa smiled.
Not at all.
The lotus smiled
so Kashyapa smiled.

Nowhere was Shakyamuni!

— from What?: 108 Zen Poems, by Ko Un


/ Image by GaryKo /

This poem recalls for us a famous story about the Buddha’s “Flower Sermon.” The Buddha (sometimes referred to by his clan name “Shakyamuni”) gave a sermon in which all he did was to hold up a lotus flower. All of the Buddha’s disciples were confused, except for his disciple Kashyapa, who smiled in understanding and enlightenment.

But, no, Ko Un says that’s not how it happened. “Not at all.” Here’s what really happened: The lotus smiled, so Kashyapa smiled back. The Buddha, being utterly free from the limits of self and identity, was not there at all.

The other disciples saw a man holding up a flower. Only Kashyapa saw an open field of spaciousness upholding the glow of enlightenment. And the enlightenment within himself reached out in self-recognition.

Instead of grasping at nowhere present Buddhas, like clutching at the continuously flowing river, perhaps we can, like Kashyapa, recognize the smile in all things until we feel it reflected back from within ourselves. Then, who knows, maybe we cease to be there too and, instead, we are wherever the smile goes.


Recommended Books: Ko Un

What?: 108 Zen Poems Ten Thousand Lives The Three Way Tavern: Selected Poems Little Pilgrim: A Novel Flowers of a Moment


Ko Un, Ko Un poetry, Buddhist poetry Ko Un

Korea (1933 – )
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Mar 04 2015

R. S. Thomas – Via Negativa

Published by under Poetry

Via Negativa
by R. S. Thomas

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

— from Through Corridors of Light: Poems of Consolation in Time of Illness, Edited by John Andrew Denny


/ Image by tanakawho /

This is a haunting poem, yet lovely and uplifting at the same time. God is a kind of a ghost in this poem, a tangible absence.

…God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within…

And that is really the poet’s point. So often we struggle to imagine what God is, the qualities and awareness associated with that immense… Something. But this poem is a meditation on the Via Negativa, that is, the recognition that the Eternal is not a “thing” at all. Every definition or description or quality we attach to the Divine is necessarily a limitation on the Divine Nature and, therefore, incomplete. To turn God into an object that can be described is to make God a subset of Existence, when the Eternal is the Whole of Existence and beyond. The idea behind the Via Negativa is that God cannot be adequately conceptualized by the limited human intellect with attributes of a limited physical reality, and so God is best discovered through negation. In other words, God is all-encompassing, and therefore perceived as a sort of vibrant Absence, a sort of haunting Presence within the empty spaces of our perception…

…He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow…

That ache we universally feel, that absence can feel to the soul like an existential betrayal inherent within reality. Most of us reflexively turn from that feeling and run from it, endlessly distracting our awareness so we don’t feel it so painfully. But, ultimately, that’s not very effective, and it is never satisfying.

We put our hands in
[the empty space that is the wound in Christ’s] side hoping to find
It warm.”

Mystics encourage us to look deeper, to sit with that ache, to embrace it. Eventually we discover to our surprise that that terrible void is, in truth, filled with immense life and bliss, and that our very being flows from its spacious no-thing-ness. This is the truth of the Via Negativa.

==

Apologies about the unexpected hiatus in the poem emails. I have been recovering from an injury. Those of you who have been receiving the Poetry Chaikhana emails for a while may remember that several years ago I broke my ribs in a martial arts class. (One reader quipped that I should be “more artsy, less martial.”) Well, a couple of weeks ago I reinjured my ribs. Nothing martial about it this time, however. I was playing with my dog, chasing him among some trees, when I took a bad step and tripped, falling hard on my side. I am fine, and the worst of the discomfort has passed, though I still notice it when I turn or bend at certain angles. The price paid for inhabiting an active body in a bumpy world.

Sending love to everyone! Take care.


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

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


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

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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5 responses so far

Feb 18 2015

Paramahansa Yogananda – Samadhi

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Samadhi
by Paramahansa Yogananda

Vanished the veils of light and shade,
Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.
Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
Waves of laughter, scyllas of sarcasm, melancholic whirlpools,
Melting in the vast sea of bliss.
The storm of maya stilled
By magic wand of intuition deep.
The universe, forgotten dream, subconsciously lurks,
Ready to invade my newly wakened memory divine.
I live without the cosmic shadow,
But it is not, bereft of me;
As the sea exists without the waves,
But they breathe not without the sea.
Dreams, wakings, states of deep turiya sleep,
Present, past, future, no more for me,
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
Creation’s molding furnace,
Glaciers of silent x-rays, burning electron floods,
Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
Each particle of universal dust,
Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
I swallowed, transmuted all
Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being!
Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
Blinding my tearful eyes,
Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
Thou art I, I am Thou,
Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever new peace!
Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
Not a mental chloroform
Or unconscious state without willful return,
Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond the limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in me.
The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without my sight.
All space like an iceberg floats within my mental sea.
Colossal Container, I, of all things made.
By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given meditation
Comes this celestial samadhi
Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
Aum blows upon the vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
Till, at last sound of the cosmic drum,
Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.
From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Lift aright.
Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

— from Whispers from Eternity, by Paramahansa Yogananda


/ Image by spisharam /

Yesterday was Mahashivaratri for Hindus, “the great night of Shiva,” a time to celebrate the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the balanced union of Male and Female within the universe. This is a time of year considered auspicious to elevate and focus one’s spiritual practice. It is fitting then that, for Christians, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, the time of prayer, penance, and purification in preparation for Easter.

I thought this poem on the rarified state of samadhi by Paramahansa Yogananda might be a good choice for today…

Something of my journey from childhood through adolescence: My early fascination with comic book superheroes was transformed in 1977 into an obsession with all things Star Wars. Jedi, lightsabers, the Force, Yoda. There was a unifying thread in these stories of mystic warriors, heroic figures with supernatural abilities standing up to protect the vulnerable. These heroes, by the very nature of their unique abilities and view of reality, were necessarily outsiders.

To a painfully shy young boy, these were powerful archetypes that leapt and fought and strutted through my youthful fantasies.

With the 80s and early adolescence came Dungeons & Dragons. (I know, I was a nerd.) I could imagine in ever more detail that I was a knight or a wizard. I quickly noticed something… as cool as swords were, the role I really wanted to play over and over again was the wizard. I mean, knights were just muscular guys wielding stylized meat cleavers, but wizards, well, wizards had mastered and transcended the very nature of reality itself. Wizards were the real superheroes.

But D&D was ultimately frustrating. Those long afternoons spent with friends rolling dice and casting imaginary spells in made up worlds began to feel as if, on some deep level, I was giving up on reality. I didn’t want to play at being a wizard; I wanted to be a wizard.

That’s when, at age 13, I discovered the writings of Carlos Castaneda. These were wild, mind-blowing stories of sorcery and alternate realities in the Sonoran desert. For the next several years I carried a beat up Castaneda paperback with me everywhere I went, reading and rereading those bizarre adventures. I so wanted to break into that world where I imagined that wizardry might just be real.

Those stories awakened a fierce determination within me to seek living truths behind what most people assumed to be immutable reality. They gave me permission to be odd, that is, wholly myself, and to see the world through my own eyes.

But– I finally came to the conclusion that those shadowy tales of desert sorcery were unbalancing. The philosophy was stark, at times cold-hearted. The universe of this semi-fictional reality was described in predatory terms, in which Indian sorcerers and astral beings preyed on one another while seeking greater power. To the uncritical glance of a 13 year old, that world was magical, dangerous, fascinating; but to a 17 year old stumbling his way into adulthood, it became a dead end.

It was at this time, in my late teens, when I first read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. With it’s adventure, philosophy, descriptions of mystical states, respect for the universality of all religions… and its compassionate outlook, that book reopened my spiritual horizon. It restored my breath to me when so much seemed stripped of purpose. It gave me the courage to hold a gentle heart, and begin to imagine a viable and inclusive path of spirit.

Yogananda’s Autobiography was also my first introduction to the yogic term ‘samadhi’ — the mystic’s total blissful absorption in the Divine.

Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.

‘Samadhi’ is one of Paramahansa Yogananda’s most loved poems describing the ecstatic, elevated spiritual state. There is so much to say here, but I think I’ll step back and let Yogananda’s words ring in the silence.

Present, past, future, no more for me,
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.

A poem is built of rhythm and words upon a foundation of breath. And breath guides the awareness. A poem like this can lead the reader into lands of sacred experience…

Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
Eternity and I, one united ray.

Those moments of pure insight, the recognition of one’s true being as it expands and melts into the vastness of Being, and discovering how that realization can be poured out into the mind of the world, that’s real wizardry. Striving for that truth, discovering it, sharing it with a desperately thirsty world, that’s real heroism.


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

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Feb 13 2015

Jayadeva – When he quickens all things (from The Gitagovinda)

Published by under Poetry

When he quickens all things (from The Gitagovinda)
by Jayadeva

English version by Barbara Stoler Miller

When he quickens all things
To create bliss in the world,
His soft black sinuous lotus limbs
Begin the festival of love
And beautiful cowherd girls wildly
Wind him in their bodies.
Friend, in spring young Hari plays
Like erotic mood incarnate.

— from Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller


/ Image by secret79998 /

Saturday is Valentine’s Day, the day for lovers. But, you know, there is more than one way to be a lover.

When he quickens all things
To create bliss in the world,
His soft black sinuous lotus limbs
Begin the festival of love…

This excerpt from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda strikes a surprisingly erotic note. Is it “spiritual” at all? Is it really just love poetry? The answer is that it is both.

The Gitagovinda is quite passionately erotic, but it is also considered a highly spiritual work, sung daily in many Indian temples dedicated to Krishna.

For many in the Krishna bhakti tradition, the Gitagovinda is read with a reverence similar to the Song of Songs in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Through song, it tells of the love play, separation, and union between Krishna (Hari) and the cowherdess Radha.

On an esoteric level, Radha is understood to be the individual soul that feels abandoned by God (Krishna/Hari) who, in turn, loves all souls (and is therefore accused of infidelity by Radha). But Radha finally overcomes her hurt and rejoins her lover in passionate union.

Using the hugely magnetic power of desire, this bhakti classic describes a pathway to return to Oneness with the Divine.

As a result, we can read this work as both an earthy, erotically charged song of love, and just as honestly it speaks deep truths about the journey of the soul through longing and integration to union and enlightenment. And it reminds us of the importance of intense passion, that it is meant to be fuel for awakening.

Whether or not your Valentine’s Day is a day of romance, I hope you find time for a passionate tryst with the Eternal! It can be your secret.


Recommended Books: Jayadeva

Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda


Jayadeva, Jayadeva poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Jayadeva

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)
Sikh

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Feb 11 2015

Hakim Sanai – Streaming

Published by under Poetry

Streaming
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Coleman Barks

When the path ignites a soul,
there’s no remaining in place.

The foot touches ground,
but not for long.

The way where love tells its secret
stays always in motion,
and there is no you there, and no reason.

The rider urges his horse to gallop,
and so doing, throws himself
under the flying hooves.

In love-unity there’s no old or new.
Everything is nothing.
God alone is.

For lovers the phenomena-veil is very transparent,
and the delicate tracings on it cannot
be explained with language.

Clouds burn off as the sun rises,
and the love-world floods with light.

But cloud-water can be obscuring,
as well as useful.

There is an affection that covers the glory,
rather than dissolving into it.

It’s a subtle difference,
like the change in Persian
from the word “friendship”
to the word “work.”

That happens with just a dot
above or below the third letter.

There is a seeing of the beauty
of union that doesn’t actively work
for the inner conversation.

Your hand and feet must move,
as a stream streams, working
as its Self, to get to the ocean.
Then there’s no more mention
of the search.

Being famous, or being a disgrace,
who’s ahead or behind, these considerations
are rocks and clogged places
that slow you. Be as naked as a wheat grain
out of its husk and sleek as Adam.

Don’t ask for anything other
than the presence.

Don’t speak of a “you”
apart from That.

A full container cannot be more full.
Be whole, and nothing.

— from The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia, with Lectures by Inayat Khan, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Image by morrbyte /

What a wonderful poem on the spiritual path.

For lovers the phenomena-veil is very transparent,
and the delicate tracings on it cannot
be explained with language.

Clouds burn off as the sun rises,
and the love-world floods with light.

There is so much to contemplate in this poem, but one of my favorite verses is: “The rider urges his horse to gallop, / and so doing, throws himself / under the flying hooves.”

That’s a striking image, but disturbing. What does Sanai mean by this?

The horse we ride might be understood as our love for the Divine. Urging that horse to a gallop is to raise that love to a high passion through spiritual practice. The “self” that we must throw under the “flying hooves” of divine love is the nafs, the ego-self that misperceives reality by slices it up and sorting the pieces into likes and dislikes, proclaiming, “I like this, this is mine. I dislike that, that has nothing to do with me.”

When that petty self is courageously thrown beneath the driving of divine love, we are surprised to find that our true Self lives. That self is actually the one riding the horse, it is the horse, it is the path the horse streams along. That greater self is not separate from anything; it is a part of the Divine Beloved. This is what Sanai refers to when, at the end he tells us, “Don’t speak of a ‘you’ / apart from That.”

Your hand and feet must move,
as a stream streams, working
as its Self, to get to the ocean.
Then there’s no more mention
of the search.


Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

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


Hakim Sanai

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

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Feb 08 2015

Video: Ivan M. Granger – Nonduality & Sacred Poetry pt 2

Part 2 of my conversation with Jerry Katz on sacred poetry and nonduality. Tasty stuff!

Nonduality Talk Radio – Host Jerry Katz in conversation with Ivan M. Granger, founder of Poetry Chaikhana (www.poetry-chaikhana.com) and author of The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World.
– Part 2: The centrality of longing within the spiritual journey. Sacred poetry lets one see the mystic heart of all religions. Poetry as the natural language of mystic insight. Poems by: Gabriel Rosenstock, Elizabeth Reninger, Lalla, and Ivan M. Granger.

Originally aired 1/7/2015
http://nonduality.org/2015/01/07/5269-ivan-m-granger/

More about Ivan M. Granger and Poetry Chaikhana:
http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com

…Part 1 http://youtu.be/z0-2WzycE2o includes a discussion of what defines “sacred poetry.” The alchemical nature of poetry. Metaphor as the language of sacred poetry. Poetry selections by Mahmud Shabistari (Persia, 14th century) and Kobayashi Issa (Japan, 19th century), with an exploration of the insight they can evoke in us.

…Part 2:

00:00 – 7:01 Poet Gabriel Rosenstock discussed. His haiku read and contemplated. The centrality of longing within the spiritual journey. Mysticism as “the science of longing.”

7:01 – 13:28 Poets Dorothy Walters and Elizabeth Reninger discussed. Ivan reads one of Elizabeth’s poems, Bird Bath. Assent and ascent.

13:28 – 14:20 Ivan talks about doing poetry readings.

14:20 – 18:17 Ivan reads a poem from Lalla and discusses it in relation to his own searching. Two types of longing: Longing that pulls us out of ourselves, and longing that “leads you right into your own feet.”

18:17 – 21:15 Ivan reads one of his poems, Parched, and talks about it. He also reads his poem Holy Ground and expands on its meaning in relation to the experience of emptiness rather than a structure of some sort.

21:15 – 28:33 Ivan talks about sacred poetry as culturally important, especially with regard to religion, as it lets one see the mystic heart of all religions. Poetry as the natural language of mystic insight.

28:33 – 30:05 Closing words and music.

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Feb 05 2015

Video: Gabriel Rosenstock – Haiku, Art, and Wonder

An excellent discussion by Gabriel Rosenstock on how haiku helps to tame that monkey mind and opens us to wonder of life… all in Irish (with English subtitles).

Oh, and we get paper airplanes delivering kamikaze poetry too!

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Feb 04 2015

Shiwu (Stonehouse) – To glorify the Way what should people turn to

Published by under Poetry

To glorify the Way what should people turn to
by Shiwu (Stonehouse)

English version by Red Pine

To glorify the Way what should people turn to
to words and deeds that agree
but oceans of greed never fill up
and sprouts of delusion keep growing
a plum tree in bloom purifies a recluse
a patch of potatoes cheers a lone monk
but those who follow rules in their huts
never see the Way or get past the mountain

— from The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit, Translated by Red Pine


/ Image by JeanFrancois /

I had to read this poem a few times and let it grow in my mind before I finally recognized just how much I actually liked it. If you didn’t have a strong reaction to this poem, try reading it again, savoring and contemplating the lines, and see if it grows on you…

To glorify the Way what should people turn to
to words and deeds that agree
but oceans of greed never fill up
and sprouts of delusion keep growing

These opening lines touch on one of the great challenges of the spiritual path: We all hunger for something… or many things — experiences, accomplishments, loves, money, stuff… Pursuing a certain amount of these aspects of life is normal, perhaps even healthy, but at some point the pursuit of these desires becomes a compulsion that distracts us from the deeper, more important goals of life. When do we have enough of those experiences and things we crave that we give ourselves to simply open? When are we satisfied?

There’s the rub! They aren’t satisfying, not in any lasting way. A great life goal is met, and a day, week, a month later, there is something new we hunger for. Ultimately, these sorts of psychological hungers are never fed through acquisition or experience. Craving is self-perpetuating and never satisfied though the experiences we feed it.

This discussion of hunger and greed inspires me to go off on a tangent… When I am out shopping at the supermarket, sometimes I will turn down the cereal aisle just to stare agog at the row upon row of brightly colored boxes of sugary cereals we market to our children. I can’t imagine eating a single bite of that stuff without shuddering at the intense sugar they contain. Yet, when I was a child, I was obsessed with sugary cereals. Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Crispies. (I know.) To keep my voracious hunger for sugar in check, my mother had a rule that I could only eat one bowl of cereal a day. I clearly remember one afternoon, when I was perhaps eight, desperately trying to convince my mother that she should let me eat all the sugary cereal I wanted. I reasoned that I would eat so much that I would get sick and never want to eat it again. My supremely reasonable logic of addiction did not move my mother, for which I am now thankful. She well knew that, to a child fixated on sugar, “oceans of greed never fill up.”

Whether we’re talking about addictive patterns or general desires in life, at some point we have to recognize that real fulfillment does not come in that way. We decide the amount of energy that is appropriate to the pursuit of surface goals and satisfactions, and beyond that we begin to learn new ways of inhabiting reality that awaken real fulfillment–

a plum tree in bloom purifies a recluse
a patch of potatoes cheers a lone monk

But, to make sure we haven’t missed the point, Stonehouse gives us one final twist:

but those who follow rules in their huts
never see the Way or get past the mountain

What is important is not that we construct the “right” rules for ourselves and then follow them perfectly. Guiding our behavior through rules and rituals may be helpful at certain stages of our growth, but simply adhering to rules alone cannot lead to either fulfillment or enlightenment. What is truly necessary is that we come to rest in the present moment, that we become present with awareness. The truly necessary element is ourselves. That is when a plum tree in bloom or a patch of potatoes reveals to us the full and blissful reality that is alive all around us.

Have a beautiful day. (And watch out for brightly colored boxes of sugary cereals.)


Recommended Books: Shiwu (Stonehouse)

The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit


Shiwu (Stonehouse)

China (1272 – 1352) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Feb 03 2015

Video: Ivan M. Granger – Nonduality & Sacred Poetry pt 1

The video version of my recent interview on Nonduality Talk Radio. I hope you enjoy it!

Nonduality Talk Radio – Host Jerry Katz in conversation with Ivan M. Granger, founder of Poetry Chaikhana (www.poetry-chaikhana.com) and author of The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World.

Part 1 topics: Is all poetry sacred poetry? The alchemical nature of poetry. Metaphor as the language of sacred poetry. Poetry selections by Mahmud Shabistari (Persia, 14th century) and Kobayashi Issa (Japan, 19th century), with an exploration of the insight they can evoke in us.

Originally aired 1/7/2015
http://nonduality.org/2015/01/07/5269-ivan-m-granger/

More about Ivan M. Granger and Poetry Chaikhana:
http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com

00:00 – 5:10 Introduction. Purpose and nature of Poetry Chaikhana. Ivan’s perspective on sacred poetry as personal, conversational, and mystically inclined.

5:10 – 7:56 Ivan’s view of sacred poetry as alchemical more than intellectual.

7:56 – 12:33 What is sacred poetry?

12:33 – 16:52 Ivan reads a poem by Shabistari and comments.

16:52 – 20:28 Coleman Barks discussed. Ivan’s desire to introduce the public to great sacred poetry besides the few that are well known such as those by Rumi. How Ivan started the Poetry Chaikhana project.

20:28 – 24:58 Ivan talks about his own poetry and writing journey, especially the nature of metaphors in sacred poetry.

24:58 – 30:24 Ivan reads and discusses a haiku by Issa.

…Part 2 includes a discussion of the importance of sacred poetry during periods of religious conflict, along with several poems by modern poet-mystics.

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Feb 01 2015

Collage: The Sum of Perfection

SumofPerfection_sm

I was going through some old files on my computer, and I found this art project I worked on several years ago. I thought I’d share it with you…

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