Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jan 20 2016

Mahmud Shabistari – The Marriage of the Soul

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The Marriage of the Soul (from The Secret Rose Garden)
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Florence Lederer

Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world
lurks in the elements of nature.

And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
becoming aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.

And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.

And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.

— from The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari, Translated by Florence Lederer / Edited by David Fideler


/ Image by LaurenCalaway /

Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world
lurks in the elements of nature.

To dive more deeply into the meaning of these verses, first we need to recognize who “that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world” is. Of course, Shabistari is referring to God, the subtle divine presence hidden within the seemingly tangible, concrete world of daily experience.

And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
becoming aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.

As we, through spiritual practice and intelligent yielding, attain “the rightful balance,” we can directly perceive that presence within everything, everywhere, most importantly within ourselves. And, perhaps surprisingly, we discover that it is a “joy.” Accompanying this recognition of the divine presence everywhere is a flood of bliss and delight. How can a lover of God not then be “enamored and bewitched”?

And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.

I think I particularly like these lines. This is the moment that various traditions refer to as the mystic marriage, the unio mystica — Union. This moment of profoundest Oneness between the individual soul and the universal divine is the root experience of all spirituality. You may be aware that the word “yoga” means to yoke or join… in union, but we forget that the word “religion” itself means to reconnect or rejoin; they are essentially the same word. All of these words speak to us of union. This is the core impulse of every religion and spiritual tradition: The Marriage of the Soul.

That mystic marriage is not just a giddy experience of bliss; something is unlocked within the individual. The mystic perceive oneself and reality differently, but also unexpected gifts and creativity are revealed within the renewed mind. Not uncommonly, mystics begin to write poetry… or, if they have been writing poetry all along, their poetry takes on a new life, a deeper resonance that carries the breath of the mysteries. (This is why there is such an overlap in the ancient world between poetry and mysticism.)

Mystics also speak of “knowledge” or gnosis, but it is not knowledge in the sense of information or data. It is true that one’s intuition may be heightened, but the inner knowledge referred to here is more of a sense of awareness. It is as if one floats in the vast ocean of knowingness. It is more of an all-encompassing recognition of meaning and interrelationship, the sense that this living meaning somehow flows through all of existence, unifying everything in a living self-awareness.

In mystical union, there is less separation between the conscious self and the heart of one’s being. In other words, that union is not just about the connection between the individual and some external sense of God or universal consciousness; all the disparate parts within the individual are unified, as well. It is an interior marriage as much as an exterior marriage. That spiritual union results in an interior harmony — which we might call “the fair child Beauty.”

And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.

That pervading beauty and harmony, that creativity and knowledge, that centering within the full self, all of that is the wedding gift the mystic receives, which, in turn, becomes the mystic’s gift to the world.


Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari Beyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari


Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 15 2016

R. S. Thomas – But the silence in the mind

Published by under Poetry

But the silence in the mind
by R. S. Thomas

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.
We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

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


/ Image by MindSqueeZe /

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best…

Isn’t this poem delightful in its stillness?

This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.

I particularly like the image of launching an armada of thoughts out on the bottomless ocean of silent mind.

We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

The silence is so vast that the thoughts can never arrive; they just fade into the misty distances. The image puts proper scale to our thoughts. They are tiny products that barely have substance amidst the great expanse we discover in silence.

The silence is seen, then, not as a negation or emptiness, but an overlooked, all-encompasing dimension of reality and being:

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins

And it is a challenge to us, a beckoning call…

that calls us out over our
own fathoms.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, when the first personal computers started to become available. And, yes, I was one of those nerdy computer kids, spending hours in front of the computer screen, when I wasn’t down at the neighborhood arcade feeding quarters into Pac Man and Space Invaders. It was a new medium, a new world built of light, different ways to display light, manipulate light, and finding meaning in that light. The mathematics, art, and movement of light were mesmerizing.

But once the giddiness and sense of power wears off, you realize how restless that world is. The human mind, never much at ease in any historical period, now has endless promptings to remain entranced and agitated.

I went through a period when I rejected computers and as many other elements of modern technology as I could. I desperately wanted to find out what it meant to live in the essential state of being human. What did it mean to be human 500 years ago? 5,000 years ago? What is the essential human experience of life and self-awareness?

I began to seek remote places in nature, where I could meditate and fast.

I wanted to discover that “silence in the mind” that brings us–

…within
listening distance of the silence
we call God.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m a modern person, a product of the modern era. I would greatly resent being thrust back into some previous era. I don’t take the freedoms and possibilities of my modern life for granted.

But we so miss having a place in society for silence. We are given very little encouragement to cultivate stillness. More than ever we must fight to create the space for silence in our lives. I feel great love and respect for all you misfits and spiritual revolutionaries out there quietly holding ajar the doorways to silence. You are the hope of the world.

What to do
but draw a little nearer…?

…All this, typed on a computer, sent out over the Internet. (Ivan, still trying to find ways to make light move, yet in ways that inspire peace.)


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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Jan 12 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke – A Walk

Published by under Poetry

A Walk
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

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


/ Image by Sergiba /

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.

This is a fascinating truth that we tend to forget in the hard materiality of the modern world-view: We do not only touch the things with which we come into physical contact. We are often just as profoundly affected by what we see, even when it is out of our reach or not yet within our reach in the physical sense. Sight is a form of touch. It is contact. We touch, and are touched by, what we see.

Rilke’s insight invites us to expand our understanding further still. If what we see with our eyes is a vital sort of contact, then, naturally, what we see, but not with our eyes is just as vital. What we imagine, what we daydream, what we plan, what comes to us in dreams and meditative vision, these touch us too. They affect us. We react to them. They nurture us, feed us, or they may unsettle us and break our hearts.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

Real touch is not about fingertips on skin or hard metal or stacks of money. Real touch is heart to heart, mind to mind. Real touch is a process within the awareness, not about dense matter encountering more dense matter.

What we seek is never what we seek, but the affect it has on us. With everything we seek, what we actually seek is self-transformation. And, of course, that transformed self is already within us, just awaiting our own permission to be that. That is why Rilke says–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are…

Whether we yearn for a beloved person or place or circumstance, that encounter always awaits us within.

a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

We can read his final lines as suggesting something about the ephemeral nature of reality, or it can be the dawning recognition that we are continuously receiving communication, encouragement, contact, we have just been missing it because of our fixed ideas about what we seek and what is real.

Sending love to you in this new year…


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 >>


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Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Dec 17 2015

Teresa of Avila – You are Christ’s Hands

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You are Christ’s Hands
by Teresa of Avila (attributed)

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
      no hands but yours,
      no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
      Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
      doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

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


/ Image by batega /

With Christmas coming up, I thought this might be a poem one to contemplate. While this poem is popularly attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, it is not among her officially recognized works.

Whether this was composed by Teresa of Avila herself or by an anonymous Christian poet, this is one of my favorite prayer-poems. It is a prayer of supreme spiritual maturity. It is not someone imploring Christ to come and fix everything in the external way imagined by so many fundamentalist sects; rather, it recognizes the presence of the Divine within each of us and our sacred responsibility to embody that compassion and service within the world. Each one of us is the vehicle through which Christ (or Ishwara or the Buddha) enacts blessings in the world. Our job is to let that sacred current flow through us unhindered.

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now…

Whether you celebrate Christmas or recently celebrated Hanukkah or are readying for the Solstice — or simply watching as the light to renew itself amidst the darkness of winter — may this be a special time for you. And may the light in your life bring light and hope to others.


Recommended Books: Teresa of Avila

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
More Books >>


Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila poetry, Christian poetry Teresa of Avila

Spain (1515 – 1582) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Dec 16 2015

Mechthild of Magdeburg – A fish cannot drown in water

Published by under Poetry

A fish cannot drown in water
by Mechthild of Magdeburg

English version by Jane Hirshfield

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

— from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by kopita /

In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.

Aren’t those wonderful lines? We have a tendency to be overwhelmed by the intensity of life… the “fire of creation.” In that overwhelm we often have a self-protective psychic reflex to wall out the things and experiences we label as painful. We create a mental separation and tell ourselves, “This is me. And that out there is the pain.” That’s natural, right? In extreme cases, maybe it’s even necessary — in the moment.

The problem with that in the long term is that, over time, as we live and experience more, we wall off more and more until we inhabit a fragmented psychic landscape. And, in that fragmentation, we lose the vision of unity. This is how God seems to “vanish” in the fire of creation. This is how we lose our connection with the fundamental ground of being and forget our true nature.

BUT- through spiritual practice, through deep self-acceptance, through fearless observation, those psychic walls come tumbling down. And then, all at once, the vision comes, and we are overwhelmed with its brightness!

Like a fish in water and a bird in the air, the Eternal lives and moves through all of creation. Material reality is the medium of expression for the Immaterial. It is That, and nothing less, which is the all-pervading animating warmth and life of all things. When we rediscover it, all of creation shines.

How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

So often spiritual seekers struggle with the question of how to find God, how to get to heaven, how to attain salvation, or enlightenment, or true yoga… What are they really? Do they even have value in ‘real life’? But Mechthild reminds us that it is our very nature to seek that unity. The real key is to simply stop resisting our nature. Seekers strive, but saints get out of the way.


Recommended Books: Mechthild of Magdeburg

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry
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Germany (1207 – 1297) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Dec 08 2015

Ryokan – Thinking

Published by under Poetry

Thinking
by Ryokan

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.
Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

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


/ Image by digicla /

I really like the way this poem opens…

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.

Ryokan recognizes how thoughts grow tired of themselves and can finally fall silent. In silence, he enters the woods—a recluse, wrapped in quiet, moving slowly among the trees in search of his simple meal of wild herbs.

This is the part that really awakens:

Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

He has movement, yes, but it is effortless flow. His entire life at that moment is transparent, completely clear, free from self and the silting of mind.

The poet’s entrance into the poem and disappearance into the woods creates a vacuum that draws us in after him. The whole poem is an invitation, leaving us with the question… Shall we, too, slip into the woods?


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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Dec 04 2015

Rabindranath Tagore – Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs

Published by under Poetry

Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs. It was they who led me from door to door, and with them have I felt about me, searching and touching my world.
      It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt; they showed me secret paths, they brought before my sight many a star on the horizon of my heart.
      They guided me all the day long to the mysteries of the country of pleasure and pain, and, at last, to what palace gate have they brought me in the evening at the end of my journey?

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by Jomina /

I don’t know that there’s much commentary to add to this wonderful verse from Tagore’s Gitanjali. It suggests to me that poetry, the singing of songs, is a rich spiritual pathway in itself. The heightened observation, the dance of words, the flow of meaning behind the words, the flow of breath, the rhythm of the heart, and the soft silence beneath it all… We are carried door to door, guided to the mysteries, and, at last, to the palace gate…

=

The world is feeling its traumas this week. Two new mass shootings in the US, and the devastating flood in Chennai, India, among other heartbreaking events. Behind the suffering of all of these events are broken politics and social entrenchment.

What is the good of art, or poetry, or spirituality itself, when action toward social change is required? Whenever we seek change, that change must always be in service to a vision. Artists and spiritual seekers are the visionaries in society. Without our poets and prophets, change just becomes a blind game of power politics. A society that doesn’t honor its artists and spiritual visionaries lacks illumination and direction. Poetry, art, and spiritual exploration are absolutely essential in the positive evolution of society.

So read a poem. Meditate. Pray. Then figure out what is to be done.

And have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>


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India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
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Dec 02 2015

Czeslaw Milosz – On Angels

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On Angels
by Czeslaw Milosz

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice — no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near
another one
do what you can.

— from Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, Edited by Carolyn Forche


/ Image by pareeerica /

This poem raises some interesting questions about the “modern” worldview as it wrestles with angels, and spiritual realities in general.

In the opening verse, although Milosz asserts that he believes in the “messengers” or angels, it’s also speaks from a thoroughly modern viewpoint. First, he points out the process of demythologizing, the stripping away of tangibility from the notion of angels in modern consciousness: “All was taken away from you: white dresses, / wings, even existence.”

When Milosz proclaims “Yet I believe in you, messengers,” he knows he is making a bold statement. Because of modern sensibilities, it is assumed that one does not believe in angels, at least not publicly among intellectuals. What would have been, in past centuries, a bland statement of belief, reads as startlingly sincere, maybe even intentionally naive in a modern poem.

The following verse is clearly influenced by 20th century notions of psychology and contemporary self-awareness:

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

In the modern worldview, angels have been relegated to neurotic Freudian projections. Or, more generously, they might be thought of as universal Jungian archetypes. But they are no longer allowed to live and breathe outside the human psyche.

And the line–

weightless and winged (after all, why not?)

–that’s modern too. Questioning the literalness of wings on angels, playfully accepting the notion with the obvious assumption that most modern people would not. Even the parenthetic construction, the way it causes us as readers to stumble for a moment and pick our way through the line more carefully, that also reflects modern sensibility.

Yet, he offers us a subtler and, I think, more profound understanding of angels: not winged, robed titans of the sky and history who appear with trumpets blaring, but instead something ephemeral, delicate, all too easily missed. For him, they are the presence that rides in upon living moments and touch a hidden part of ourselves…

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird…

Although Czeslaw Milosz is a modern poet writing for a modern audience, what isn’t modern is his internal quiet. The modern mind is too often caught in staccato details, yet gently filling this entire poem is a sense of rest, self-acceptance, wholeness, even timelessness. This poem quietly glows.

When we adopt Milosz’s stillness and learn to truly pay attention, we might just feel the brush of angel wings “in the smell of apples at close of day / when the light makes the orchards magic.”


Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
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Poland (1911 – 2004) Timeline
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Nov 25 2015

Han-shan (Cold Mountain) – Above Cold Mountain

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Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all
precious heavenly priceless jewel
buried in the skandhas submerged in the body

— from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Translated by Red Pine


/ Image by Temporalvisions /

Something to celebrate this Thanksgiving full moon…

As a young man, Han-shan was apparently part of the privileged civil servant class, but he left his family and wealth at about age thirty to take up the life of a hermit poet, settling in a remote cave beneath a rocky overhang. It was from this natural retreat that Han-shan took his name, which means Cold Mountain or Cold Cliff.

Since Cold Mountain is Han-Shan’s name translated into English as well as the place where he lived, when he says “Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone” it has a double meaning: He could be describing a moment in nature being observed, but he is also saying that the moon is shining above himself.

The moon, especially the full moon, has a specific metaphoric meaning in the sacred poetry of Asia. It is often used to represent the fully awakened awareness, Buddha-mind. So this poem can be read as a declaration of enlightenment. This is made doubly clear in the final lines where he says that this “heavenly… jewel” is “submerged in the body.” That is, his real subject is the “moon” of enlightenment found within.

To say that the moon “shines alone” might suggest the recognition that there is nothing other than that enlightenment. This is a nondualist statement, understood to be saying there is only Buddha-mind, only enlightenment, and nothing else truly exists.

I especially like the second line:

in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all.

We might think of the sky is the mind, the canvas of awareness. When it is clear, the mind is free from thoughts, free from fluctuations and distracting movement. The mind is no longer agitated or trying to force reality into mental forms. Instead it finally sees reality unfiltered.

But, in that clear sky, the moon, the light of enlightenment, “illuminates nothing at all.” The moon that shines down on Han-Shan shines on nothing. In that moment of pure illumination, he recognizes the nonexistence of the objects of the mind. The only reality is the illumination itself. There is only the moon, quietly, blissfully shining…

He shifts the imagery and begins to use more technical language in the next two lines. The moon shining in the sky is now described as a “heavenly priceless jewel” that is hidden or buried in the body and something called the “skandhas.”

This might need a little extra explanation. The five skandhas, according to Buddhist thought, are the five aspects that make up a sentient being. They are material form, sensation, perception, mental tendencies, and cognition. While these allow for basic perception, understanding, and interaction with the world, they also limit the full and open awareness. They tend to reinforce the illusion of tangibility, a false idea of self, and they create attachment to an ephemeral and continuously changing phenomenal reality. All of this, in turn, leads to confusion and suffering.

But, here is their secret: Hidden within these problematic aspects of mundane consciousness is the glowing nugget, the heavenly jewel of radiant pure awareness.

Notice also the balance Han-shan gives us with these two images of enlightenment: On the one hand, enlightenment is like looking out at the full moon in the clear night sky — expansive, intangible, outward focused; on the other hand, it is discovering a jewel buried within the body and mind — contractive, internal, earthy. It is as if he has painted for us in words an image of Yin and Yang. Enlightenment is really the two recognized as one.


Recommended Books: Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

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) The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry
More Books >>


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China (730? – 850?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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Nov 15 2015

Sachal Sarmast – Friend, this is the only way

Published by under Poetry

Friend, this is the only way
by Sachal Sarmast

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Friend, this is the only way
to learn the secret way:

      Ignore the paths of others,
      even the saints’ steep trails.

            Don’t follow.
            Don’t journey at all.

Rip the veil from your face.

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


/ Image by TRAILSOURCE.COM /

I know the terrible bombings in Paris and Beirut are weighing heavily on all of our hearts right now.

Here is something I wrote in 2010 in response to another religiously motivated terrorist attack that killed several dozen people at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. I thought it would be meaningful to share again at this moment.

Islamic extremists have certainly grabbed headlines in recent years, but the world also has its Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists… as well as plenty of atheist and non-religious extremist groups. Extremism is not a problem of a particular religion; it is a disruption in the human psyche in general.

Religious extremism has very little to do with religion, if you think about it. It is partly a reflexive response to the intensely fragmenting nature of the modern world. And it is partly a reaction against unavoidable, sometimes unsettling encounters with different peoples and cultures and beliefs in our ever more integrated and multi-layered world. But mostly—mostly it is an act of desperation when the heart of true religion has been lost. People become violently obsessed with rules and traditions and texts only when they have lost the sense of what they really point to.

If you know where the Beloved lives, you are content, no need to argue with others over street names. Conflict only arises when you aren’t so certain you know the way; that’s when another person’s map threatens your certainty. Fundamentalism and extremism are an admission of that spiritual uncertainty. Absolutism is not an expression of faith; it is a symptom of the lack of faith. It is a symptom of the lack of true spiritual experience and knowledge.

The real long-term solution to the problem of violent religious extremism in the world is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within ourselves, to gently and generously share it with others, and to create environments nurturing to that continuing quest. The more we fill the world’s dry troughs with fresh water, the less likely it is that people will go insane with blind thirst.


Recommended Books: Sachal Sarmast

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Sachal Sarmast: Sindhi Poet Yaar di Gharoli / Kaafi – Sachal Sarmast: From Songs of the Mystics (mp3 song) The Story of Melting: Sachal Sarmast’s Persian Masnavi Gudaz-nama


Sachal Sarmast, Sachal Sarmast poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Sachal Sarmast

Pakistan/India (1739 – 1829) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Nov 11 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – For your sake poets sequester themselves

Published by under Poetry

For your sake poets sequester themselves
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

For your sake poets sequester themselves,
gather images to churn the mind,
journey forth, ripening with metaphor,
and all their lives they are so alone…
And painters paint their pictures only
that the world, so transient as you made it,
can be given back to you,
to last forever.

All becomes eternal. See: In the Mona Lisa
some woman has long since ripened like wine,
and the enduring feminine is held there
through all the ages.

Those who create are like you.
They long for the eternal.
They say, Stone, be forever!
And that means: be yours.

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour.
They kiss an expressionless mouth into a smile
as if creating it anew, more beautiful.

Awakening desire, they make a place
where pain can enter;
that’s how growing happens.
They bring suffering along with their laughter,
and longings that had slept and now awaken
to weep in a stranger’s arms.

They let the riddles pile up and then they die
the way animals die, without making sense of it.
But maybe in those who come after,
their green life will ripen;
it’s then that you will inherit the love
to which they gave themselves so blindly, as in a sleep.

Thus the overflow from things
pours into you.
Just as a fountain’s higher basins
spill down like strands of loosened hair
into the lowest vessel,
so streams the fullness into you,
when things and thoughts cannot contain it.

— from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy


/ Image by Kathleen Maher /

I thought this poem by Rilke would be a good follow-up to Friday’s poem by Wendell Berry.

For your sake poets sequester themselves,
gather images to churn the mind,
journey forth, ripening with metaphor,
and all their lives they are so alone…

Poets and painters, each in their way are devotees, hermits, bringing what is within to birth in the world, always seeking something of the Eternal.

Those who create are like you.
They long for the eternal.

Even artists who reject classic ideas of beauty, form, structure, or balance are still seeking to express something resonant, a deeper truth, a forgotten honesty, a new awareness. Art is always concerned with the eternal. It is a holy endeavor.

And Rilke says that lovers are themselves artists, passionate seekers, creators…

And lovers also gather your inheritance.
They are the poets of one brief hour…

It is as if the romantic lover catches a glimpse of the eternal in the smile of that cherished one. It is a fleeting sort of seeking, mixed with suffering, with unclear ends to the young lovers themselves, but with an evolving potential of new life and generationally expanding awareness.

But maybe in those who come after,
their green life will ripen…

Rilke seems to say that each work of art, each moment of uncovered beauty, is inherently a mystical act.

Thus the overflow from things
pours into you.

The outer form and shape suggests something eternal and ideal behind it, yet, at the same time, is unable to contain it. The more we contemplate that elegant verse, that framed image, the blossoming smile on the lover’s mouth, we witness the luminous fulness that inspired it.

Just as a fountain’s higher basins
spill down like strands of loosened hair
into the lowest vessel,
so streams the fullness into you,
when things and thoughts cannot contain it.

That transcendent ideal, uncontained by line or word, overflows and returns back to the Eternal. If we have learned to pay attention, we too can follow.

The Mona Lisa is not a portrait of a woman who lived and died centuries ago. It is the embodiment of something more lasting than the painting itself. When we truly look, the Mona Lisa’s smile whispers to us secrets of the Eternal.

All becomes eternal.


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 >>


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Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
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Nov 06 2015

Video: Hafez, Tongue of the Hidden

Published by under Poetry,Videos

A truly stunning short film from Iran combining poetry of Hafez and animated Persian calligraphy. Watch and enjoy!

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Nov 06 2015

Wendell Berry – How to Be a Poet

Published by under Poetry

How to Be a Poet
by Wendell Berry

(To remind myself)

i
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by Louis Vest /

Surprising, but I only discovered this poem by Wendell Berry a few months ago. Oh, I like it, don’t you?

One doesn’t have to be a poet to carried away by it. In fact, it’s not really about writing poetry at all, is it? It’s really about how to perceive and how to inhabit each moment of each day. That is when the best poetry is born.

The first verse invites is to settle down. Reading those first few lines, I feel my own slightly aging bones settling awkwardly into a state of rest and stillness. And there is the slow interior work of reading, cultivating inspiration, the private work on the blank page. I love that he lists “growing older” as one of the necessary tasks of the poet. And patience–

for patience joins time
to eternity.

The second verse seems to be more about our relationship to place, both exterior and interior space. In recent years I haven’t done so well with avoiding electric wire and screens, but there was a time some years ago when I did just that, literally. It does shift one’s sense of reality and connection to the world. The transition feels stressful at first, and then, slowly, the world around us starts to take depth and life, becoming a slow-speaking friend in constant, quiet communication.

What are the ways we have been taught to sever that connection?

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

And he concludes with that wonderful meditation on silence. We think a poem is a collection of words, but the best poetry simply gives shape to silence.

Accept what comes from silence…

make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Have a beautiful weekend, remembering to breathe the unconditional breath!


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
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US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 04 2015

Imadeddin Nasimi – Both worlds within my compass come

Published by under Poetry

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me
by Imadeddin Nasimi

English version by P. Tempest

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me.
An omnipresent pearl I am and both worlds cannot compass me.

Because in me both earth and heaven and Creation’s “BE!” were found,
Be silent! For there is no commentary can encompass me.

Through doubt and surmise no one came to be a friend of God and Truth.
The man who honours God knows doubt and surmise cannot compass me.

Pay due regard to form, acknowledge content in the form, because
Body and soul I am, but soul and body cannot compass me.

I am both shell and pearl, the Doomsday scales, the bridge to Paradise.
With such a wealth of wares, this worldly counter cannot compass me.

I am “the hidden treasure” that is God. I am open eyes.
I am the jewel of the mine. No sea or mine can compass me.

Although I am the boundless sea, my name is Adam, I am man.
I am Mount Sinai and both worlds. This dwelling cannot compass me.

I am both soul and word as well. I am both world and epoch, too.
Mark this particular: this world and epoch cannot compass me.

I am the stars, the sky the angel, revelation come from God.
So hold your tongue and silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.

I am the atom, sun, four elements, five saints, dimensions six.
Go seek my attributes! But explanations cannot compass me.

I am the core and attribute, the flower, sugar and sweetmeat.
I am Assignment Night, the Eve. No tight-shut lips can compass me.

I am the burning bush. I am the rock that rose into the sky.
Observe this tongue of flame. There is no tongue of flame can compass me.

This selection reminds me of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

What a wonderful, swirling, kaleidoscopic sense of the self as being all things until it ultimately resolves into a vision of unified totality. Nasimi gathers everything into his sense of self until he is beyond definition, beyond form. For Nasimi, all things are recognized as being within until all descriptions fail:

Explanations cannot compass me.

In reality, we are all like that — too vast to be corralled into some safe, limited notion of what we are. Whatever we think we are, we are greater still. The limited mind cannot conceive of something so limitless as one’s full being. In our deepest self, we are too big to be a ‘thing’, too big to be anything. Instead, there is something of all things in us. Realizing this, we settle into a state of pure witnessing (“I am open eyes”), free from the faulty effort of endless self-definition.

Silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.

I’ll take some good advice and say no more…


Recommended Books: Imadeddin Nasimi

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey


Imadeddin Nasimi, Imadeddin Nasimi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Imadeddin Nasimi

Azerbaijan (1369? – 1418) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 30 2015

John O’Donohue – In Praise of the Earth

Published by under Poetry

In Praise of the Earth
by John O’Donohue

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

— from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue


/ Image by Katie Tegtmeyer /

There was a time when I lived on Maui, without much money but surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I stayed in a place half-way up Haleakala Volcano, at the edge of a eucalyptus forest. I fasted a lot in those days, and several times a week I would walk barefoot into the woods. Hidden among the trees was a small rock cave, just large enough for me to sit upright in meditation. To sit quietly in the cool, silent embrace of the Earth — a true blessing!

Though I now live in a small city, in a computer-powered world, I still carry that time with me in my heart. That memory continuously reminds me that, in spite of skyscrapers and the Internet, the world is not man-made. All the works of humanity are small accomplishments compared with the panoramic living miracle of the Earth.

The ground below us, sky above us, breath within us — all is the living Earth.

The Earth is the stage for our dramas.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And hold our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Not only could we not act without the Earth, we could not dream. The images, the objects, the colors that populate the human psyche, they are all of the Earth too. The Earth speaks to us, and gives us a vocabulary to speak back.

The Earth is the place of birth, the stuff of life, and rest in death.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

The Earth is our everything.

While we as individuals live out the span of years alotted to us, the Earth is the full embodiment, the whole multiplicity of Life.

The tangible hints at the intangible. Matter expresses spirit. Earth gives form to heaven. How can we not honor that form? It is sacred. And it is us. You and I emerge to incarnate that form. Our challenge is to awaken and incarnate the secret light it suggests.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

Take some time today to sit on the Earth. Run your fingers through the grass. Feel the quiet strength filling your bones. Know you are home.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>


John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

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Oct 28 2015

Ansari – Give Me

Published by under Poetry

Give Me
by Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

English version by Andrew Harvey

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.
Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut


/ Image by Cristian Bernal /

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people and communities affected by the recent earthquake in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. We have several people on this mailing list from those regions. I hope you and your loved ones are safe.

With the region strongly in my mind, I thought I would select a poem by Sheikh Ansari of Herat (in western Afghanistan).

There is something so simple and profound… and universal in this prayer-poem. These words were given to us by a devout Muslim Sufi, but they could as well have been spoken by a Hindu satyagrahi, a Catholic liberation theologian, a Buddhist peace worker, a Protestant homeless advocate, or any sincere soul striving to awaken the Divine within ourselves and our world.

Notice that Sheikh Ansari gives us two parallel statements, and they balance each other.

The first statement–

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.

–addresses our interior state. It is a prayer to be given a heart, or to recognize our heart, awakening it. It is a prayer of centering, of coming to know the center of one’s being… and allowing that self to flow.

That flow naturally expresses itself through gratitude, thanksgiving. The flow of the heart is a gift we pour out into the world. It is the offering of one’s self.

So, first he asks for self-recognition, centering, and a gratitude which can be shared with the world.

Next–

Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

–the poet turns that awareness outward through action. He requests life, but not to bolster his ego or rack up good stories to tell; he asks for life that he may be of service.

Now, that phrase “working for the salvation of the world,” may make some of us cringe. The term “salvation” has been abducted by rigid religious literalists, equating salvation with subscribing to their specific belief systems. But, despite what is thundered from the pulpits and the minbars, salvation has little to do with belief or which group one joins. It is about healing, the easing of pain, the renewal of hope, and a deepening relationship with truth. On a social level, this is best expressed through selfless, nonjudgmental service. On the spiritual level, working for salvation is about humbly peeling away the obstructions that keep individuals and the world as a whole from recognizing their inherent beauty and heavenly potential.

On a certain level, service in the world is a sort of religious ritual, an outward enactment of an inner process. We may help one person or a hundred or a thousand, but suffering continues in the world. The numbers game leads to discouragement. But with each kind act, small or large, we give away a little more ego, we open our eyes a little more, we feel a little more connected, and more and more we come to discover that serene, heavenly Self at rest within.

Ansari seems to be saying to us, when we discover beauty within, it naturally flows out of us into the world. And when we pour ourselves out for the healing of the world, we find wholeness within.


Recommended Books: Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

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 Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations Munajat: The Intimate Invocations
More Books >>


Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Afghanistan (1006 – 1088) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 23 2015

Book: A Moonlit Teahouse

A Moonlit Teahouse: Anthology of Sacred Poetry

A Moonlit Teahouse: Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Edited by silent lotus, Dick Holmes, et. al.

A Moonlit Teahouse is a delightful new anthology of sacred poetry by contemporary poets (including a few by yours truly).

I also wrote the introduction. “It is the job of theologians, philosophers, and scientists to precisely describe the human experience of reality. Most of us simply accept those definitions. A rare few catch the glow pouring through the cracks. We call these strange people visionaries, mystics… poets.”

This is not a Poetry Chaikhana publication, but it is published by a group of poets who connected through the Poetry Chaikhana, which makes me a proud grandfather of sorts. All sales of this book go to support the Ninash Foundation which does wonderful work promoting literacy among girls and minority children in rural India.

When you purchase a copy, your money will be a gift to others and the poetry will be a gift to yourself.

Read more at: amoonlitteahouse.wordpress.com/h0me/

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