Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Apr 27 2016

Chogyam Trungpa – The Education of the Warrior

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Education of the Warrior
by Chogyam Trungpa

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

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

/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Books: Chogyam Trungpa

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

Chogyam Trungpa, Chogyam Trungpa poetry, Buddhist poetry Chogyam Trungpa

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

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Apr 22 2016

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

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely

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

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

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

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

/ Image by Sydnee Leveston /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

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

Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

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

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Apr 20 2016

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – The day Love was illumined

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The day Love was illumined
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

The day Love was illumined,
Lovers learned from You how to burn, Beloved.
The flame was set by the Friend
to give the moth a gate to enter.
Love is a gift from the Beloved to the Lover.

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

/ Image by deskridge /

What a wonderful pair of lines–

The day Love was illumined,
Lovers learned from You how to burn, Beloved.

–passionate, startling, disturbing, and somehow inviting, all at once.

Many of the great spiritual poets, from various religious traditions, write of a divine fire, blissful, all-consuming. These lines from Sheikh Abu-Said Abil-Kheir are among my favorites on the subject.

Why this fascination with fire among mystics? In deep states of spiritual opening there is often a powerful, rising sense of heat — filled with immense love — that permeates the body. This warmth seems to emerge from the seat, flares in the belly, and rises upward, fanning out at the heart.

As this fire moves through the body, it also moves through the awareness, consuming all thoughts (or, more accurately, the tremors from which thoughts emerge). This fire burns away even the thought of “I” — only the sense of this living flame remains.

The flame was set by the Friend
to give the moth a gate to enter.

This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as a flame of love, so enchanting that, like the moth, we want to dart in and be utterly consumed.

Practitioners of yoga identify this spiritual fire with the release and rising of the Kundalini energy. But we find similar descriptions among Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish mystics. This experience of fire during deep opening and transformation is a widely experienced state shared by mystics of all traditions. It is not a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian experience; it is a human experience… or, rather, an experience of the human yielding into the divine.

Love is a gift from the Beloved to the Lover.

Every lover wants to learn how to burn in the presence of the Beloved.

Have a wonderful, illuminated day!

Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

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

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Apr 15 2016

T. S. Eliot – At the still point

Published by under Poetry

At the still point of the turning world (from The Four Quartets)
by T. S. Eliot

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

— from Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot

/ Image by David Spender /

This is one of those powerful poems. These lines can catch us in a dark moment, uplift when we feel stuck or lost, lead us into greater presence…

At the still point of the turning world.

That image of movement, dancing amidst stillness, right at the center point. The meeting point, not only of past and future, but of all things.

Certain ideas — important ideas — are spoken of so often within spiritual and religious dialog that the words start to lose their meaning. Words like “the present,” “centering,” “here and now…” After one has read enough books or listened to enough talks, phrases like that become expected and slip by without really registering any more.

That is when poetry comes to the rescue.

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…

New reformulations of words and images, unexpected and lovely, gives us new eyes and new ears. We are pleasantly startled out of our mental insulation and the truth behind the word touches us anew, more deeply, with new suggestions of meaning.

A really good poem startles us out of our endless thoughts and brings us into an open state in which we encounter meaning more directly and immediately.

A truly masterful poem brings us to the still point. And there, we dance.

Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

For me, this is one of those poems.

Recommended Books: T. S. Eliot

Four Quartets Collected Poems, 1909-1962 Complete Poems and Plays,: 1909-1950 The Waste Land and Other Writings T. S. Eliot: The Poems
More Books >>

T. S. Eliot, T. S. Eliot poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry T. S. Eliot

US/UK (1888 – 1965) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Apr 08 2016

Buson – spring rain

Published by under Poetry

spring rain
by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

spring rain —
pond and river
are one

— from The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson, Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock / Translated by John McDonald

/ Image by BoxTail /

I actually woke up to a brilliant, sunny day here in Colorado, but this poem still spoke to me. I think it reminds me of my childhood in rainy Oregon. Even though I have lived in sun-filled Colorado for years, in some secluded corner of my mind the rain still drums down. I carry it with me, a place of comforting shadows and quiet inturning, where everything has depth but not distinction.

This haiku by Buson reminds me of that sense– A spring shower, soft, then heavy, then light again. We hunch our shoulders against it, find shelter beneath the branch of a tree. We grow quiet and peer out through the curtain of rainfall to see a world bathed in shifting gray and deep green and milky whites. The pond nearby is barely visible in the downpour. The stream that runs by is shushed by the all-encompassing sound of the falling rain. Water from the pond, water flowing through the stream, water endlessly descending from heaven and running in rivulets everywhere, connecting it all. A unity that drenches us and invites us in.

Whether you have sun or rain, I hope you have a chance to be drenched in this beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Buson

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

Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

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

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Apr 06 2016

Devara Dasimayya – To the utterly at-one with Siva

Published by under Poetry

To the utterly at-one with Siva
by Devara Dasimayya

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

To the utterly at-one with Siva
there’s no dawn,
no new moon,
no noonday,
nor equinoxes,
nor sunsets,
nor full moons;

his front yard
is the true Benares,

O Ramanatha.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Image by whologwhy /

To the utterly at-one with Siva…

That line stops me in my tracks each time I read it. Do you have that same reaction?

there’s no dawn,
no new moon,
no noonday…

Time and the phenomenal experiences that move through time are seen as glimmerings on the surface of the immense, still sea of the Eternal. Days and seasons, action and reaction exist only for the unsettled ego-self. For the true Self, which is “utterly at-one with Siva,” there is only Siva, there is only the Eternal. Dawn and sunset, new moon and full moon, time and motion, all of these are simply Siva’s ornaments fluctuating in timelessness.

This is another way of saying there is no separation in Reality. The new moon pours into the full moon, the glow of dawn naturally builds to noon’s blaze and fills the sunset with its sleepy glory. They are not separate objects or events, but a single continuity witnessed from different perspectives. They are one, shifting glimmerings upon the surface of the Eternal.

Truly realizing this, we recognize that wherever we are is the holiest place in the universe: right here, right now. There is no fundamental difference or distance between the ground under our feet and the most sacred pilgrimage spot. They are the same, part of the same continuity of existence. Your “front yard / is the true Benares,” or Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca…

Recommended Books: Devara Dasimayya

Speaking of Siva

Devara Dasimayya

India (10th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Apr 01 2016

Shabkar – See how, shaped by the excellence of the path

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See how, shaped by the excellence of the path
by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard

See how, shaped by the excellence of the path,
I walk now without effort
toward the Buddha state.
I dance, I sing, I play!

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

/ Image by gilad /

We are all feeling it right now, the pressures and worries of the world, building tensions. Things feel as if they are no longer contained by the old ways of doing things. Changes and new directions are unavoidable. But the question that haunts us is — What next?

Elections, politics, war, economics, injustice…

How do we steer things in the directions of life and hope and a more just world? Structures of power, normally rigid and well-fortified, are in flux throughout the world right now. More than at most times, they are susceptible to change and reform — for better or for worse. We’re seeing examples of both, some dismal, some profoundly uplifting.

Because of this unusual world moment of societal malleability, it is a very good time to be engaged. Individual and collective input are magnified and will immensely influence world society in the coming years.

But this raises the question, what does such “engagement” look like for an individual of good heart? I won’t imply that I have a simple answer. We each have unique skills and tendencies, and, therefore, unique ways to contribute.

I would suggest that we approach the question as one of spiritual practice. We may need to challenge ourselves. Being a source of positive change may require action, courage, possibly even self-sacrifice. It also requires joy, kindness, and heart. But consider the possibility that it does not require “effort.” We tend to imagine anything big and worthwhile requires force and will. But when the moment is ripe, change wants to happen. The only real “effort” needed is to figure out in which direction it wants to go, and then clear its path. We don’t have to “make” the change, we just have to allow it. Like a midwife, we enable the natural process already taking place and so help the new life to enter into the world well.

This is how the spiritual path, personal and global, ushers in profound change with no “effort.”

I walk now without effort
toward the Buddha state.
I dance, I sing, I play!

Recommended Books: Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

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

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

Tibet (1781 – 1851) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

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Mar 30 2016

Elizabeth Reninger – Dawn

Published by under Poetry

by Elizabeth Reninger

at this time
when the light is not yet
useful, merely

when a bright
honey pours
nectar over a curved
horizon, into a nameless

chalice, and your vision
wakes also, as if
to meet it, touching

when for an endless
moment all
colors are

color a shimmering
fabric an infinite
wisdom this

of pure love, so suddenly

your own. . .

— from And Now the Story Lives Inside You, by Elizabeth Reninger

/ Image by e2micha /

I’m back. It has been a little while since we last had a poem by Elizabeth Reninger, and I thought this one just felt right.

Each time I read this poem, feeling for an image or idea to hook my attention and suggest something to write in commentary, I find myself transported, line-by-glowing line, through to the end. I’ll sit silent today and reread this poem once more. My advice? Do the same.


I hope you had a special Easter-Equinox-Nawruz-Holi-Shivaratri-Purim.

And I want to send out a special blessing to the world reeling from the recent bombings in Brussels, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, among too many others. May each of us, each in our own unique way, be a force for healing, integrity, and wisdom so craved by the world.

Recommended Books: Elizabeth Reninger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) And Now the Story Lives Inside You

Elizabeth Reninger

US (1963 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 18 2016

A. R. Ammons – Still

Published by under Poetry

by A. R. Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I’ll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

— from Selected Poems, by A. R. Ammons

/ Image by Lee Nachtigal /

What a stunning poem! It brings our awareness down, down into the root of being.

There are several wonderful lines, but I want to explore where A. R. Ammons has chosen to break his lines.

I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence…

Read each line separately. “I can find nothing,” he says, and only parenthetically adds, “to give myself to.”

He doesn’t simply say, “everything is magnificent with existence.” He breaks the line emphatically. “Everything is!” he proclaims. Being, the pure existence of things, is itself what is “magnificent.” His strong line break drives home this truth by requiring us to read the line as two distinct statements which the mind only later pieces together to form a single sentence.

Another line break to contemplate:

nestling in I

He is saying two things at once with the line break here. The surface reading could be paraphrased as, “I found while I was nestling in…” But another reading is, “Nestling in myself, I (am) found.”

The final stanza might encourage the second, more mystical reading:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

I don’t want to pass by the line about the beggar — “there, love shook his body like a devastation.”

though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe…

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons Uplands: New Poems by A R Ammons
More Books >>

A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by A. R. Ammons

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Mar 16 2016

Ibn Ata’ Illah – A feeling of discouragement when you slip up

Published by under Poetry

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
by Ibn Ata’ Illah

English version by Victor Danner

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
      is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.

Your desire to withdraw from everything
      when Allah has involved you in the world of means
            is a hidden appetite.

Your desire for involvement with the world of means
      when Allah has withdrawn you from it
            is a fall from high aspiration.

Aspiration which rushes on ahead
cannot break through the walls of destiny.

Give yourself a rest from managing!
      When Someone Else is doing it for you,
            don’t you start doing it for yourself!

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

/ Image by CasheeFoo /

This is a really interesting set of aphoristic verses to contemplate:

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
      is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.

We have this idea, particularly in the modern era, that the strong individual must aggressively forge his or her path through life. There is a sense that it is a fight, that only the strong will succeed, and unhappiness is a sign of weakness and inaction. It is the idea that fulfillment comes through force of will.

But Sheikh Ibn Ata’ Illah gives us a very different point-of-view. Throughout these lines Ibn Ata’ Illah seems to be reminding us that, if we are pushing for a life that is not ours, and feeling frustration because it is not happening, then it is a sign that we are still serving the nafs (ego).

Your desire to withdraw from everything
      when Allah has involved you in the world of means
            is a hidden appetite.

When we have a life of activity in the world but all we want is to withdraw, that isn’t necessarily a sign of spiritual virtue that has somehow been thwarted by circumstances. Instead, our lack of inner peace and desire to be elsewhere is a reflection of self-will and misdirected desire — products of the false self which wants to tell its own story rather than participate in the real story unfolding through us.

Your desire for involvement with the world of means
      when Allah has withdrawn you from it
            is a fall from high aspiration.

And, by the same token, when we are genuinely called to a life a withdrawal but keep turning our attention outward and getting caught up in the dramas and hooks of worldly activity, then just as much have we lost a sense our true nature.

It is not that one manner of life is right and the other wrong. It is not that one is “spiritual” and the other “profane.” Ibn Ata’ Illah speaks of destiny: the soul has a path that naturally unfolds as we move through life.

When we understand life this way, there is an immense sense of relief — and rest.

Give yourself a rest from managing!
      When Someone Else is doing it for you,
            don’t you start doing it for yourself!

Most of us imagine that we have to somehow do life, that it is an immense effort. Now, there may be many activities to engage in, some that can be profoundly exhausting or require vigorous determination, but, on a spiritual level, life itself is not something we do or make for ourselves. No, it flows through us and is not of our making. Sheikh Ibn Ata’ Illah seems to be saying that what is required is not a great battering ram of willpower, not some total life revolution, but simply to come to know ourselves, to feel the deep currents flowing through our lives, and then to fully live the life that naturally emerges with heart and awareness… and contentment. In this way, we stop obstructing the divine will with our endless frustrated efforts and, instead, we allow ourselves to become expressions of that heavenly flow that has always been eager to pour through us.

Read the wrong way, this can sound like it is encouraging passivity, or even acceptance of terrible life circumstances. That’s not it at all. We may need to be intense, passionate, even forceful, but to be effective those energies must be aligned with our deepest sense of who and what we are, in harmony with that great current flowing through us unseen. Even when we make big changes in our lives, it is not that we are forcing movement; we are simply maneuvering things to allow what is ready to happen happen.

The real issue the poet is highlighting is the distinction between self-will, the will that serves the nafs/ego, and divine will, or what he calls destiny. We can reformulate this into saying it is the distinction between willfulness and willingness. Knowing the difference, being able to utilize willingness in a non-passive, positive, and transformative way, this is surprisingly deep work for the soul.

…That is what I understand the poet to be saying. Do I absolutely agree with this perspective? I’ll go along with it most of the way, but I suppose I still put some faith in the importance of deeds.

As a younger man I was big on effort. My mantra was, “Push, Ivan. Push harder.” And then, in a moment of sweet opening, I had the startling and humbling realization that that eternal moment of delicious fullness had nothing to do with me or my exhausting efforts. I saw that my entire life itself was, strangely, not the result of my own efforts. It was as if it had been unfolding and would continue to unfold with or without my constant pushing. I saw the humorous image of a duck paddling down a stream. The duck imagined that its paddling feet kept the current of the stream running, and so it paddled its legs harder and harder. Finally, the poor duck became so tired that it collapsed in exhaustion upon the stream’s surface… and felt the current for the first time carrying him along.

I think Ibn Ata’ Illah is saying that we are all that duck. We may have reason to paddle on occasion to reorient and redirect ourselves, but the current is there and all we really need to do is to ride it.

Recommended Books: Ibn Ata’ Illah

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

Ibn Ata’ Illah

Egypt (1250 – 1309) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Mar 11 2016

Kobayashi Issa – Where there are humans

Published by under Poetry

Where there are humans
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Where there are humans
You’ll find flies,
And Buddhas.

— from A Box of Zen: Haiku the Poetry of Zen, Koans the Lessons of Zen, Sayings the Wisdom of Zen, Edited by Manuela Dunn Mascetti / Edited by Timothy Hugh Barrett

/ Image by Samcatt /

This haiku has me chuckling.

That’s what is so infuriating and wondrous about this creature we call the human being. While a deer is utterly and profoundly a deer, and a lion a lion, every human carries the whole menagerie of earth and host of heaven in tow.

I’d just add that, to the Buddhas, the flies too are Buddhas. And so are the humans… So where exactly does that leave us?


PS- I want to thank you all for the many wonderful responses I received to Wednesday’s poem and commentary. There were too many messages for me to respond to them individually, but I have been reading all of your emails and blog post comments, and I am moved by how many of you felt inspired to send me stories from your own personal journeys and experiences. It is magical the many ways the human soul unfolds.

Recommended Books: Kobayashi Issa

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment
More Books >>

Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

Japan (1763 – 1828) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Mar 09 2016

Rabia – Through and Through

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Through and Through
by Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Steadfast friend,
You have hewn me
      through and through!

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.
And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

/ Image by Marc Brueneke /

In my youth, I tended toward extremes. Perhaps it was that Aries flame that only my wife seems to recognize in me these days. I so wanted that intangible thing we might call spiritual awakening, but how does one attain something so evanescent and undefined? For most people, it is pure fantasy, if it is thought of it at all, so I decided that following the common life and the common mind was clearly useless. I imagined that only by going to ever greater extremes might I step free from the mundane and, perhaps, achieve my goal. I pushed and strained and isolated myself until I became a fragile young man, barely holding myself together. Still I stumbled forward in meditation and prayer, fasting and reading and walking in the woods, while locked in a resentful tug-of-war with the daily requirements of work and relationship and home.

Steadfast friend,
You have hewn me
      through and through!

One day, I found myself sitting there at the age of thirty-three, trying unsuccessfully to calm my mind in meditation, lost in my confused life. I had steady work alongside kind people, but I did it minimally and with little interest. I had a loving, patient wife who put up with my moods and odd practices. I lived, at the time, in a small cabin in a gorgeous and remote corner of the island of Maui. I had all of these blessings in my life, yet I fought them constantly, as if they were hinderances. And my spiritual practices, which were my entire focus, seemed to have led me nowhere. I was lost.

It was a devastating moment of self-assessment. I admitted to myself something I had been fighting my entire life to ignore: I wasn’t special. I didn’t know what I was doing in life. And, frankly, I was a bit of a flake. Oh, sure, I was kind. I genuinely cared about people. I was reasonably intelligent and insightful. And I was sincere. But all in all, I was not the spiritual superman of my fantasies.

Looking at myself and my life in that way, I finally saw myself honestly, as I was. And I was surprised by the thought that followed, that it was all okay.

And that’s when it hit me, the most profound wave of bliss. All of my thoughts fell utterly silent. I let the current of that upward welling delight wash over all that I was until there was nothing left. All that remained was a spacious, blissful silence. And I floated in that bliss for months.

When I chose to think, one of the thoughts I had was that all of the suffering and struggle, all of my extremes were worth it. Though that’s not quite it, since that suggests that strain was somehow the payment required. No, it was more the sense that the struggle was actually inconsequential, just a story I told myself until I finally gave myself permission to settle into the expansive bliss that always awaited. So were those extremes ever necessary?

Here’s the thing about this poem that sparked this entire story, those final lines:

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.
And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

As the months passed and I resumed the rhythms of my life, I began to notice that I was no longer continuously resting in the blissful open state. There were times I was once again hooked by old mental habits and fixations. Thoughts arose once again, unbidden and uncontrolled. That tension in the awareness, that old ego-self, subtly reemerged. Not entirely, and not at all times, but it came and went, and if I wasn’t paying attention I sometimes missed the shift in my own awareness.

And I was confronted with a new challenge: Do I pretend that fluctuation in my level of awareness is not occurring? I could have fooled myself if I chose. I could have held the memory of bliss in my mind and savored it as if it was the sweet substance itself. I had been doing a little bit of that already without being fully aware of it. But, no, I had always resolved that total honesty with myself was the only way.

That didn’t mean those beautiful months in the sea of bliss were a phase of my life that had now past. I decided, instead, to discover what this bliss was, to find out how it released itself into my awareness… and how I could more consciously yield myself into its embrace. I became a student of myself.

And, the other thing, after a lifetime of unbalanced extremes, I resolved to cultivate balance, and to integrate my inner life with my outer life. I decided to figure out what it means to be a married man with a job and rent to pay, someone with a few health challenges, an American man moving into the middle age of life, and yet remain someone with a rich inner life who makes room for blissful moments. How does one not only cultivate inner peace but also embody that peace in the thousand small actions that make up the day of a normal life? And, being fully honest with myself, on this pathway I am still a clumsy beginner in so many ways. But I am learning.

Perhaps the most essential thing I have learned is that, for me, at this stage at least, the goal is not all bliss all the time. In recent years I am not so much trying to be a holy man as to be a wholly honest man. I try to use everything my life offers. When bliss and egolessness offer themselves to my awareness, I try to let them flow unhindered. I try to let them speak through my words.

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.

But those spiritual dry spells, perhaps unavoidable in the midst of a busy life, when they come, I don’t fight them either. I let them ache and sear their way through me. They re-magnetize the soul, keeping it oriented toward its source and its purpose. And, what’s more, when we let it, that ache itself reveals itself to be another doorway to the Eternal.

And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

That ache reveals itself to be one more point of contact, a gentle touch, a kiss of remembrance when the psyche has grown tense and distracted. See for yourself. Grow silent. Feel that ache. Relax into it and see what happens.

Part of the art is to recognize connection in everything. We can discover union even in the midst of separation.

This is what I have come to see as balance, to not run from spiritual emptiness and, at the same time, to not become brittle or false in the pursuit of spiritual fulness. To embrace both and use both fully. Balance instead of my youthful extremes. That life rhythm of full to empty, empty to full, like a tidal current working together they carry us out to sea when we let it.

Recommended Books: Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality)
More Books >>

Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Iraq (717 – 801) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Mar 02 2016

Wang Wei – Cooling Off

Published by under Poetry

Cooling Off
by Wang Wei

English version by Willis Barnstone

Clear waters drift through the immensity of a tall forest.
In front of me a huge river mouth
receives the long wind.
Deep ripples hold white sand
and white fish swimming as in a void.
I sprawl on a big rock,
billows nourishing my humble body.
I gargle with water and wash my feet.
A fisherman pauses out on the surf.
So many fish long for bait. I look
only to the east with its lotus leaves.

— from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone

/ Image by mckaysavage /

One way to understand this poem is to read the “clear waters” as the mind when it is still and pure. The mind becomes free from the silt of projections, it becomes clear, empty, the “void” in which the fish swim.

The sand and the fish are white, hinting at the golden-white radiance often perceived in meditative ecstasy.

He “gargles” with water, suggesting the sense of drinking or swallowing a pure substance — the celestial drink. And he washes his feet, the foundation of awareness, in the purity of this “water.”

“So many fish long for bait.” The fish, here, are the remnants of darting thoughts. They long for “bait,” to be fed with constant attention, the busyness of the discursive mind. But the “fisherman,” the meditator, simply pauses, watching them without hooking them.

Wang Wei looks to the east, the direction of the rising sun and spiritual illumination, where the “lotus leaves” of the awakened consciousness open.

Recommended Books: Wang Wei

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry Three Chinese Poets: Translations of Poems by Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911

Wang Wei, Wang Wei poetry, Buddhist poetry Wang Wei

China (699? – 761) Timeline

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Feb 29 2016

Mary Oliver – Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?

Published by under Poetry

Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?
by Mary Oliver

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
      but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

— from West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver

/ Image by Torpe /

Somehow I thought this would be a good poem to honor Leap Day…

This poem speaks to us on so many levels, and it is telling us that the living world of nature does so as well.

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.

Trees and fields, flowers and stones, they embody the outer world, yes, but they are also the doorway to the inner. The natural world is the doorway to ourselves.

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

We’ve trained ourselves to glance and not see. But that is precisely the purpose of the human soul, to deeply witness. Anything less, anything too busy to see, becomes mere existence.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window…

And that leaves us terribly bereft, living in a world devoid of depth, alienated from our own purpose and true selves…

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

The solution is to slow, to stop, to look, and finally to see. Seeing, we connect — with each other, and with the earth, the earth and her multiform mystery.

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

The process of being an individual trying to find a place in the human world can be exhausting, but we can never forget that we must first find a place in the community of life upon the earth. The human endeavor, rich and tragic and wonderful, loses its meaning — and its ability to continue — when separated from its larger family of living beings and its mysterious mother, the living earth.

I ramble my way home.

Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
More Books >>

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

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 26 2016

Abhishiktananda – Arunachala is a symbol

Published by under Poetry

Arunachala is a symbol
by Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

Arunachala is a symbol
and Arunachala is a Reality,
a high-place of the Dravidian land,
all ruddy, aruna, in the rays of the rising sun,
where is worshipped the linga of fire,
the elemental sign of the Living God,
he who appeared to Moses in the burning bush
and on the summit of Mount Horeb,
Fire that burns and Fire that gives light,
Deus Ignis consumens
Lux mundi
Phos hilaron

the joyful light of the immortal glory
of the Blessed One,

For there at the dawn of time was standing
the column of fire
of which Brahma could not reach the summit
nor could Vishnu find its foot,
symbol as it was of unfathomable Love–
Anbe Shivam
which is the very ground of Being.

Later it took the form of a sapphire;
and then, in the evil times of our kaliyuga,
the Linga of fire became stone
for the blessing of mankind,
the sacred Mountain,
which the Lord set firmly on its foundation
and which is never shaken.

To its caves, age after age, there has come a succession
of those who are hungry for wisdom and renunciation,
whom the Mountain, the divine Magnet,
draws to its bosom,
to teach them in its own silence
the royal path of the supreme Silence,
and how to be established in the Self–
achala, atmanishtha.

From its sides there flow springs
sublimely named–
“The spring of the milk of grace”
“Milk from the breast of the divine Mother”–
where pilgrims come
to bathe and drink.

And finally, from its crest on the great day of Thibam,
when the Sun sinks in the west,
and the full moon of Karttiki
rises above the horizon,
there shoots up the Column of Fire,
which reveals the secret of Light.
hidden in the heart of the Mountain!


From the very Depth of Arunachala’s Heart
there sounds a call
to him who speeds towards the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala;
but he who enters into the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
has lost even his own name
and all that till then he was;
so that henceforth he is only the dweller in the Depth,
the one who lives within the Cave
of the Heart of Arunachala;
he has entered his own Depth,
has been swallowed up in the Self,
having discovered at the deepest centre of himself
the secret of Arunachala.

But for him who at last reaches the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
does there still remain a Depth?
Is there still an Arunachala?
What has become of the Mountain,
rosy-coloured Arunachala?
Where now are the springs
on the sides of Arunachala?
What has happened to the Light,
on the crest of Arunachala?

The caves themselves have vanished,
and with them the hermits of Arunachala;
has not he himself also disappeared,
swallowed up in the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
merged in the Self,
the Unique Arunachala?

— from The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva’s Holy Mountain, by Swami Abhishiktananda

/ Image by prem /

Arunachala is a symbol
and Arunachala is a Reality…

Arunachala is a sacred mountain in the Tamil regions of southern India. It is said to be an embodiment of the god Shiva, and has attracted the spiritually minded for centuries. It is the site of an ancient temple and several ashrams.

It is said that a dispute once arose between the three gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva over who was greater. Lord Shiva, to prove is endlessness, manifested as an immense column or Lingam of light, and the other gods were unable see his beginning or end.

For there at the dawn of time was standing
the column of fire
of which Brahma could not reach the summit
nor could Vishnu find its foot…

As the ages passed and the materialistic Kali Yuga came, Shiva’s column of light took on the material form of a mountain — Arunachala — so spiritual seekers caught up in the increasingly materialistic world would still be able to witness divinity.

the Linga of fire became stone
for the blessing of mankind,
the sacred Mountain…

In this way, spiritual seekers understand Arunachala to be both a symbol of God and also an embodiment of the Ultimate Reality.

In recent times Arunachala has become especially associated with the greatly revered nondualist sage Ramana Maharshi, who took up residence at the holy site at the end of the 19th century until his death in 1950.

From the very Depth of Arunachala’s Heart
there sounds a call…

This poem uses so many Sanskrit and Latin phrases, that you may have to approach it like a puzzle, filling in the pieces using the following notes. It may require a bit of extra work, but it’s worth it. Some beautiful and profound concepts are being suggested with these words…

aruna — “Reddish brown” or “ruddy.” This can be used as a reference to the sun god Surya.

achala — “Immovable” or “mountain”

The name Arunachala can be understood to suggest that the mountain is the light of the sun standing still — Lord Shiva’s column of light.

As a Catholic priest, Abhishiktananda naturally gives us a few elevating Latin phrases:

Deus Ignis consumens – “God the consuming Fire”

Lux mundi – “The Light of the world”

Phos hilaron – “The joyful Light”

And back to his adopted Hindu Sanskrit:

Paramjyoti – Jyoti means light and param means the ultimate or supreme, so paramjyoti means “the supreme Light”

Bhagavan – “Lord” A respectful title used for divine figures and spiritual masters, often bestowed on Ramana Maharshi, the sage most associated with Arunachala.

Anbe Shivam – “Shiva is Love” or “God is Love”

atmanishtha – The atma is the true Self, the divine Self realized in enlightenment. Nishtha implies fullness, faith, steadiness. So atmanishtha means to be “established or abiding in the divine Self.”

Karttiki & Thibam – Karttiki or Kartikai is the month between mid-November and mid-December. Thibam (more commonly written today as Deepam) is a Hindu Tamil Festival of Lights that occurs in the month of Kartikai. He is describing a specific full moon night of the year during a holy celebration of lights when Arunachala itself is seen as a living embodiment of “the secret light.”

When we follow Abhishiktananda’s trail around the mountain of immortal light with its secret springs and sacred depths, along with him we discover a unity beyond self and beyond place.

he has entered his own Depth,
has been swallowed up in the Self,
having discovered at the deepest centre of himself
the secret of Arunachala.

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

Continue Reading »

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Feb 24 2016

Yoka Genkaku – The hungry are served a king’s repast

Published by under Poetry

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 am back. I appreciate you patience with me. Another challenging period with chronic fatigue. Each time I learn a few new steps in the dance…

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 verse, 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 recognize 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. It is the very delusion that King Midas himself suffered from.

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 suggested by this powerful 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 demeanor, she ran into his arms… and, yes, was turned to gold. The gods, in order to prevent the entire world being turned into gold — which would be its destruction — eventually intervened and removed the power from King Midas’s touch, but leaving him a broken man.

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 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 King 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, inherent dignity– 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. People end up starving, not from lack of food, but because the food, which is widely available, remains unseen.

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 real value against the measure and aspiration of the human spirit. In this way, slowly, steadily, we recover the full vision of ourselves and the world as an interwoven living panorama rich with endless shadings and illuminations of meaning and value.

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

Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen

Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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

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Feb 12 2016

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 eager eyes 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.” 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


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

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