Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Sep 25 2013

Gary Snyder – For All

Published by under Poetry

For All
by Gary Snyder

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
northern rockies.

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
singing inside
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.

I pledge allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
one ecosystem
in diversity
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.

— from The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry and Translations, by Gary Snyder

/ Photo by burtn /

We just passed the Autumn Equinox, and you can feel the shift in seasons here in Colorado: cool mornings, crystal blue skies, the first hint of fall colors on the aspens.

Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn

A silent man, walking in solitude by a mountain stream… We begin to see what is real and what really deserves our allegiance.

Enjoy a quiet walk today. See what life you notice, and how it all flows together. A good opportunity to examine our allegiances.

Have a beautiful day!

Gary Snyder, Gary Snyder poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Gary Snyder

US (1930 – )
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Gary Snyder

4 responses so far

Sep 20 2013

Sa’di – All Adam’s offspring form one family tree

Published by under Poetry

All Adam’s offspring form one family tree
by Sa’di

English version by Ivan M. Granger

All Adam’s offspring form one family tree,
from the beginning, the same life and spirit and quality.

      When one limb is bent with pain,
      the entire living tree naturally feels the strain.

Thus he indifferent to the agony of another,
cannot be named human alongside his brother.

/ Photo by Isilmetriel /

I discovered the writings of Sa’di several years ago, and I fell in love with his wisdom and wit. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a really good English translation of his work. I’ve had to work, to really dig beneath the rather flat renderings I’ve found in English in order to catch glimpses of the real life shining within his writing. It can feel like linguistic archaeology. Sa’di’s Gulistan, for example, is a delightful collection of tales and wisdom fables, interspersed with pithy poems. The problem is that the English versions I’ve found were either translated during the Victorian era or they are more recent translations that still feel Victorian. To me, these translations come across as rather dusty and pedantic.

But I understand the difficulty. Sa’di’s short verses seem naked without some rhyming scheme and at least a suggestion of meter. This may be my own bias, but modern poetic English, when forced into strong structure and rhyme, often ends up sounding either awkward or archaic or a bit anemic. What’s a poor translator to do?

Today’s selection is my imperfect attempt to find a more satisfying balance with one of Sa’di’s most loved — and loving — verses.

(Other translators’ versions of this famous verse can be found at: You rhymsters and wordsmiths, I’d love to read your versions of Sa’di’s verses.)

Sa'di, Sa'di poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Sa’di

Iran/Persia (1207? – 1291) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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4 responses so far

Sep 18 2013

Mahendranath Battacharya – Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
by Mahendranath Battacharya

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
            You’ve masqueraded in this world
            as a clown.
But I am punished inside
            and there’s nothing funny about Your jokes.
Oh Ma, sometimes You’re the air we breathe,
            sometimes the sky in the seventh underworld
            furthest away, and
sometimes the water in the sea
            You assume so many forms!
I have traveled to countless lands
and worn countless costumes; even so,
            Your marvels — ha! — never cease.

Premik says,
My mind is a cad; that’s why it’s sunk
in attachments. Why else
            would these tricks of Yours
                  keep working?

— from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott

/ Photo by kintosh /

Adrenaline and survivor’s euphoria have dissipated and the hard realities of the aftermath of last week’s flood are starting to sink in. I’m now hearing from friends and coworkers stories of the devastation caused by the inundation: people made homeless by the floods, farmers whose lands are damaged and their livelihoods lost, cherished mementos destroyed by the water and mud, discoveries that insurance policies don’t cover flood damage to homes.

What does one say in such circumstances? Given the size and destructive power of the flood in our area, we can say it’s a blessing that so few people died. When you have life, the rest is just “stuff,” right? But it is almost cruel to say such a thing to a person who has witnessed the destruction of all they know. And that stuff can be the stuff of life, the means of support, items imbued with meaning.

As someone who was not too harshly affected by the flood, my reflex is to give a pat response, to feel as if I’ve said something nice that then allows me to feel good about myself and move on. That’s not what traumatized survivors need, though. When material help can’t be offered or isn’t enough, saccharine words are no substitute. What people most need in that moment is to be heard, be seen. Look into their eyes and listen to their stories. Few things restore and renew hope as being honestly present with someone amidst their suffering.

I am reminded of a quote by the late Mother Teresa. I may be misquoting slightly, since I’m reciting it from memory, but it is something to the effect of, “The poor do not need your money. Money can be got. What they need is your hearts to love them.”


About today’s poem…

Battacharya, like several of the other great Kali poets of Bengal, evokes a teasingly plaintive voice when addressing the Mother Goddess Kali while, at the same time, berating his own misbehaving mind.

Oh Ma Kali, for a long time now
            You’ve masqueraded in this world
            as a clown.
But I am punished inside
            and there’s nothing funny about Your jokes.

For Kali, all of creation is the product of her lila, her play. Reality is a game of divine delight, an elaborate pretense of hide-and-seek, a sort of “joke” meant to prod awareness from sluggish matter. For those of us caught up in the dramas and attachments of our lives, we are repeatedly fooled by Mother’s tricks. We become dazzled by physical reality and imagine it to be the beginning and end of all existence. Joys on that level are intense, but never lasting, and losses seem so terribly permanent. Caught in that level of awareness, Mother’s “joke” doesn’t seem very funny.

When we become less attached to the dancing objects and experiences of material existence, the mind stops spinning, it settles, grows clear. It starts to see behind the great magic show an immense presence, waiting for us to see through the trick, and catch her glowing smile behind it all.

It all comes down to that cad, the mind…

Premik says,
My mind is a cad; that’s why it’s sunk
in attachments. Why else
            would these tricks of Yours
                  keep working?

Have a beautiful day!

Mahendranath Battacharya

India (1843 – 1908) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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4 responses so far

Sep 16 2013

Allama Prabhu – If it rains fire

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

If it rains fire
by Allama Prabhu

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

If it rains fire
      you have to be as the water;

if it is a deluge of water
      you have to be as the wind;

if it is the Great Flood,
      you have to be as the sky;

and if it is the Very Last Flood of all the worlds,
      you have to give up self

and become the Lord.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Photo by Longmont Times Call /

I missed Friday’s poem because I was caught in the massive flooding near Boulder, Colorado. I actually live just outside of Boulder in Longmont, Colorado. After several days of heavy rain, on Thursday an immense flood cut through the center of town, dividing it in two. Thousands had to evacuate their homes, including several of my friends. The northern bank of the flooding on our side of town came to within a few blocks of where we live — but my family and I are safe.

This photograph is from the flooded neighborhood within walking distance of where I live–

/ Photo by Reuters/John Wark /

- More photos of the flooding in my area here -

As the weather clears, people gather at the cordoned off edges of the floodwaters. Evacuated residents trying to catch glimpses of their inundated homes. People sharing the latest news and their personal stories. Where the waters have already started to recede, people show up with shovels and pumps and help each other dig out. Others show up with food to feed everyone. Some individuals just stand there struck dumb by immensity of what they just witnessed and survived.

Like all of us, I’ve seen plenty of disasters on television news, videos on the internet. (Far too many in recent years.) And, having been an adolescent in Southern California, I experienced a few earthquakes, and lived with the possibility of larger ones. But there is something truly stunning about experiencing the reality up close, being in the midst of such immense and unrelenting forces moving around you. I think what’s most startling is the absolute recognition that no human being is in control of that power. We live amidst immense feats of engineering and technology and collective human will, and there is something comforting about that sense of human domination. Witnessing a disaster like this first hand reminds you that human control is not absolute.

I have to admit that I feel a sense of relief with that recognition — at the same time as my heart breaks for the families struggling so terribly in the immediate turmoil. It’s a strange polarity of thought and feeling. Compassion, of course, wants me to keep everyone safe and free from trauma. But there is a certain aloof part of my awareness that is exhilarated by the flood, as if it brings life and not destruction. I don’t know that I can honestly justify both feelings at the same time, but somehow they exist together inside me. Perhaps it is a sign of the perversity of the human mind amidst overwhelming events.

Relinquishing that notion of human control offers a strange sort of peace. Instead of control and certainty, we encounter… awe. What’s more, we regain community with the planet. The immense forces of nature can serve to remind us that we never live exclusively in the man-made world. No matter how high we build, how powerful the tools we wield, no matter how we live, we always exist within nature’s world. In a terrible way, natural disasters remind us of our home.

It also reminds us of what is really important. We come together as families, as communities. We help each other without the chill of commerce. We put our hearts into our hands.

I am certainly not saying we need more disasters, but let us remember the lessons they teach. Better not to need the disaster to teach us that at all.

Yet, when the disaster occurs, let us us it — to expand the awareness, to open the heart, to release our grasp…

if it is the Great Flood,
      you have to be as the sky;

and if it is the Very Last Flood of all the worlds,
      you have to give up self

and become the Lord.

Sending many blessings out to all the flood survivors in my area.

Be safe everyone. And walk with a sense of awe.

Allama Prabhu, Allama Prabhu poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Allama Prabhu

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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9 responses so far

Sep 11 2013

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – To the one breaking it

Published by under Poetry

To the one breaking it
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Ishibashi

To the one breaking it –
the fragrance
of the plum.

— from Chiyo-ni: Woman Hiaku Master, Translated by Patricia Donegan / Translated by Yoshie Ishibashi

/ Photo by Schnittke /

This is such an interesting haiku to me. I have several contrary reactions when I read it.

On the most literal level, we have this idyllic moment in which we open a ripe plum and enjoy its sweet fragrance. It is a private moment of enjoyment, intimate. It anticipates the taste of the fruit. But there is also a hint of violence. We are breaking it open. The plum is a complete, perfect thing that we have torn in two in order to get at the sweet, vulnerable fruit. At the same time, the plum only fulfills itself by being opened, offering its sustenance to the world, and perhaps even finding new life emerging from its center. If it remains comfortably a whole plum, it will only know decay.

Associations quickly build in the mind. This could be an erotic image, suggesting sex. Or the plum could be the human heart in love, or full of hope. The haiku makes us ask, is there something inherently violent about human relationships, about love, about intimacy? Whether a love affair or a lifelong friendship, there is always some negotiation and crossing of boundaries. Even healthy relationships can have a feeling of violation at vulnerable moments.

Or could it be that the plum is our whole awareness? Every experience and encounter in life in some sense tears us open, makes us feel, makes us more vulnerable, yet those experiences are necessary to open us up and help us to recognize our inherent sweetness, releasing it out into the world.

Disturbance and delight in this little haiku, in such delicate balance…

Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Fukuda Chiyo-ni poetry, Buddhist poetry Fukuda Chiyo-ni

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline

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7 responses so far

Sep 09 2013

Walt Whitman – Grand is the Seen

Published by under Poetry

Grand is the Seen
by Walt Whitman

Grand is the seen, the light, to me — grand are the sky and stars,
Grand is the earth, and grand are lasting time and space,
And grand their laws, so multiform, puzzling, evolutionary;
But grander far the unseen soul of me, comprehending, endowing all those,
Lighting the light, the sky and stars, delving the earth, sailing the sea,
(What were all those, indeed, without thee, unseen soul? of what amount without thee?)
More evolutionary, vast, puzzling, O my soul!
More multiform far — more lasting thou than they.

— from The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse, Edited by D. H. S. Nicholson / Edited by A. H. E. Lee

/ Photo by dmaabsta /

My apologies about the unannounced hiatus in the poem emails last week. I was hit with an especially difficult bout of chronic fatigue/ME. My Facebook post from a few days ago: Some days it’s about strategic use of energy and time, some days require sheer cussedness to get through, and then some days all you can do is yield…

I’m feeling a bit battered by the past week, but I’m on the mend and getting back into my normal rhythms again.

On to today’s poem–

Grand is the seen, the light, to me — grand are the sky and stars,
Grand is the earth, and grand are lasting time and space,
And grand their laws, so multiform, puzzling, evolutionary…

Too often we have trained ourselves to dismiss nature and the material world in favor of an inner reality, whether that’s the world of the intellect and ideas or the realm of the spirit.

Whitman has the balance right, I think. He first acknowledges the utterly amazing world of beauty and complexity that continuously invites our awareness to explore and expand.

But grander far the unseen soul of me, comprehending, endowing all those…

But then he recognizes the soul as being greater still. It is the soul that is aware of the richness of the world. Without the awareness of the soul, all of creation is simply materiality, dense existence. It is the infusion and perception of consciousness that witnesses that material reality as beauty, as immensity, and dangerous, as life-filled, as home. All of manifest existence is a grand space, but it is only a grand space through perception and the unfolding of life within it.

(What were all those, indeed, without thee, unseen soul? of what amount without thee?)

The vast, lovely, sometimes frightening spaces we witness in the wilderness, tell us something of the human soul that perceives it. And the way we treat those wild spaces also tells us something of what we think of those spaces within ourselves.

More evolutionary, vast, puzzling, O my soul!
More multiform far — more lasting thou than they.

As wide as is the natural world that houses us, the soul is bigger still, which is, for many of us, a frightening thought. Better to embrace an immense, puzzling Self within a wide, wild world. Adventures are yet to be had!

Sending much love to everyone!

Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Walt Whitman

US (1819 – 1892) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Transcendentalist

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5 responses so far

Aug 30 2013

Eihei Dogen – Zazen

Published by under Poetry

by Eihei Dogen

English version by Steven Heine

The moon reflected
In a mind clear
As still water:
Even the waves, breaking,
Are reflecting its light.

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

/ Photo by Diego3336 /

Zazen is the practice of sitting meditation with Zen — so let’s meditate together…

Moon and water and mind.

The moon reflected
In a mind clear
As still water

Dogen is building on a classic spiritual image: the mind as a lake or pool of water. When the mind is still, it becomes clear, and its calm face reflects the gentle light of heaven (the moon).

This is so much of what meditation practice aims for, settling the mind. Sometimes our meditation is filled with effort, even aggression, attempting to subdue the movements of the mind. Sometimes our meditation is more forgiving, we stop interfering with the mind and simply observe it until, of its own accord, it quiets and calms.

All in order to see clearly the light of the moon.

But so often, with or without effort, that agitated mind just doesn’t want to settle. What then, meditators?

Even the waves, breaking,
Are reflecting its light.

Dogen reminds us that, if we learn to really look, we can glimpse the reflected light even in the moving waves of the mind. The mind may move, or it may yet grow still, but the goal is reached.

And so the last of our excuses falls away. We meditate effortlessly, we meditate with effort. We meditate with still mind, and we meditate amidst busy mind. Clarity is still found.

Eihei Dogen, Eihei Dogen poetry, Buddhist poetry Eihei Dogen

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

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Aug 28 2013

Hakim Sanai – The Good Darkness

Published by under Poetry

The Good Darkness
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Coleman Barks

There is great joy in darkness.
Deepen it.

Blushing embarrassments
in the half-light

but a scorched, blackened, face
can laugh like an Ethiopian,
or a candled moth,
coming closer to God.

Brighter than any moon, Bilal,
Muhammed’s Black Friend,
shadowed him on the night journey.

Keep your deepest secret hidden
in the dark beneath daylight’s
uncovering and night’s spreading veil.

Whatever’s given you by those two
is for your desires. They poison,
eventually. Deeper down, where your face
gets erased, where life-water runs silently,

there’s a prison with no food and drink,
and no moral instruction, that opens on a garden
where there’s only God. No self,
only the creation-word, BE.

You, listening to me, roll up the carpet
of time and space. Step beyond,
into the one word.

In blindness, receive what I say.
Take “There is no good…”
for your wealth and your strength.

Let “There is nothing…” be
a love-wisdom in your wine.

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

/ Photo by TheBroth3R /

Wow. What is there to say about a poem like this? Just reading it works its alchemy on the awareness. But I’m a talkative fellow, so I think I’ll say a few things anyway…

What is this “Good Dark”? Light is so often considered one of the attributes of the Divine, but we forget that dark too is also a metaphor for God. The Eternal is sometimes called dark because It is beyond the ability of the limited intellect to see. It is the realm where there are no longer separations; nothing is seen as separate from That. When the individual encounters such immensity, perception in a sense collapses; there is merging and awareness, but the faculty of seeing distinct objects and beings, even a distinct self, is overwhelmed. It can feel like a shining darkness.

So the Sacred Dark, the Good Dark, is God vast beyond comprehension, Being that gathers everything, even light, even perception, into Itself. This is the darkness where there is “great joy.” This is the immense Mystery.

But what does Sanai mean when he says “blushing embarrassments / in the half-light / confuse”? And he follows with, “but a scorched, blackened, face / can laugh like an Ethiopian, / or a candled moth, / coming closer to God.” What is he saying here?

First, why does a “blackened face” allow us to laugh and come closer to God? Because, if we understand the Divine to be that living, mysterious darkness, then when we become “blackened,” we finally recognize ourselves as the same as that darkness. In the “half-light,” where we are still distracted by our own faces, we are confused, more aware of ourselves than the holy mystery we touch. We become like a young lover too nervous and self-conscious to simply lose oneself in the embrace of the Beloved.

Sanai is telling us we must be burned like a “candled moth,” “blackened” until we have no face of our own separate from the “Good Dark,” and then we can melt silently into the darkness and mystery of the Divine One. This is what he means when he later speaks of “Deeper down, where your face / gets erased, where life-water runs silently…”

What do you think Sanai is talking about when he speaks of a place where “there’s a prison with no food and drink, / and no moral instruction,” but that place surprisingly “opens on a garden / where there’s only God”?

The prison is for the false self, the little self, the ego. There is “no food and drink” to satisfy the ego’s desires, not merely its sensual desires, but it’s intellectual desires go unfed, as well. This is the place where concepts fail, where reality is no longer parceled out into dichotomies of good and bad, right and wrong, making even “moral instruction” a hollow thing. The ego-mind is no longer able to say ‘this is separate from that.’ In the ego’s starvation, in the mind’s deep stillness, reality is perceived as one, whole, unsegmented, pure. That “prison with no food and drink” thus leads you to the garden “where there’s only God.”

This awareness is what Sanai is asking of us when he tells us to “roll up the carpet / of time and space” (both belonging to the ego’s attempts to segment reality), to “step… into the one word” (rather than the ego-mind’s many words). This is what it means to say “There is no good…” (or bad, no division of opposites), “There is nothing…” (except the Divine Wholeness that is all things, emptying individual ‘things’ of their substance). If you can settle deeply into this awareness, with supreme poise and balance, then you will find yourself drinking the ecstasy of true love-wisdom!

Hakim Sanai

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

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3 responses so far

Aug 26 2013

Kalidas (Lawrence Edwards) – In the cloud raindrops swirl

Published by under Poetry

In the cloud raindrops swirl
by Kalidas (Lawrence Edwards)

In the cloud raindrops swirl,
In the mind — thoughts.
Ha! There is no rainmaker!

— from Kali’s Bazaar: Gifts of Devotion to the Divine, Buddhist Wisdom, and Kundalini Yoga Tantra, by Lawrence Edwards

/ Photo by steve p2008 /

The mere mention of clouds and raindrops invites a quiet, meditative state. So let’s meditate on this moment…

Thoughts swirl in the mind like raindrops within a cloud. But within the cloud there seems to be no maker of the rain; watery drops just appear and dance about. Just so in the mind, when we truly investigate: there is no one, no “me” producing the thoughts that appear, dance about, and fall to earth. There is no rainmaker. There are thoughts with no thinker —

…The sort of meditation dewy Monday morning were made for.

Kalidas (Lawrence Edwards), Kalidas (Lawrence Edwards) poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Kalidas (Lawrence Edwards)

US (1952 – )
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)
Secular or Eclectic

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2 responses so far

Aug 21 2013

Umar Ibn al-Farid – From his light (from The Poem of the Sufi Way)

Published by under Poetry

From his light (from The Poem of the Sufi Way)
by Umar Ibn al-Farid

English version by Th. Emil Homerin

From his light,
      the niche of my essence enlightened me;
            by means of me,
                  my nights blazed morning bright.

I made me witness my being there
      for I was he;
            I witnessed him as me,
                  the light, my splendor.

By me the valley was made holy,
      and I flung my robe of honor –
            my “taking off of sandals” –
                  on those summoned there.

I embraced my lights
      and so was their guide;
            how wondrous a soul
                  illuminating lights!

I set firm my many Sinais
      and there prayed to myself;
            I attained every goal,
                  as my being spoke with me.

My full moon never waned;
      my sun, it never set,
            and all the blazing stars
                  followed my lead.

— from Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life, Translated by Th. Emil Homerin

/ Photo by Roaring Jellyfish /

Sending thoughts and blessings to Egypt right now.

This poem is a reminder to us of the light of wisdom that still shines from that ancient land and its people…

Umar Ibn al-Farid

Egypt (1181 – 1235) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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2 responses so far

Aug 19 2013

John O’Donohue – May the light of your soul guide you

Published by under Poetry

May the light of your soul guide you
by John O’Donohue

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

— from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue

/ Photo by deadst4r /

A poetic blessing by John O’Donohue to start you week of right…

Have a wonderful day!

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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12 responses so far

Aug 14 2013

Ivan M. Granger – All You Gurus

Published by under Poetry

All You Gurus
by Ivan M. Granger

All you gurus –

Beware the poet.
He sings
your praises,
spreading delightful
and not caring.

All you gurus –

Beware the scholar.
With devotion
he records
your entire history
when you have

All you gurus –

Beware the priest.
He builds
spired temples
on every green hilltop
only to house

All you gurus –

Beware the girl.
She casts her look,
hoping, terrified,
you will take the hook.

All you gurus –

Beware your wife.
She serves all
with eyes of compassion
on the softest seat.

All you gurus –

Beware the diligent disciple.
Ceaselessly meditating,
he has already tried
your back door.

Gurus, beware
these children
in your care.
They teach you
how much of you
is still there.

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

/ Photo by SuperFantastic /

I composed this poem several years ago as a playful way to tease out the many ways the teacher-student relationship expresses itself, especially in the modern era.

But it’s the last verse I’d like to explore with you here–

Gurus, beware
these children
in your care.
They teach you
how much of you
is still there.

There is an unspoken dilemma that occurs when someone experiences profound spiritual opening. The heart opens to immense love and joy, the mind quiets amidst great peace, and the sense of an ego-self vanishes. It’s the most amazing thing, the reformulation of self within the great vision of reality.

But what do we do next? The instinct for many is to hang out their guru shingle.

And that’s when the problems start.

We are in bliss, we are flooded with love, we are egoless. What remains to be done but gather students, right?

Several dynamics can occur from that point, and I haven’t heard enough discussion about it. …Can we talk?

The first possible scenario is that the pure state won’t last. If it flickers out quickly, after a few minutes or a few days, its loss may be devastating, but it is accepted and we then continue our real work (which is not to cling to passing experiences or desperately try to recreate them, and instead recognize the bliss of the present moment eternally renewing itself).

But, that first opening may not fade so quickly. It may last weeks, months. We accept it as our normal state, and perhaps we have already spoken to others. Hungry seekers already look at you with awe and yielding.

Another thing many experience with these energetic openings is an expansion of personal charisma. Something about you now holds people’s attention, even when they don’t know why.

What do you do then when that all-important bliss becomes staticy, when that ego reflex returns? It may not even be obvious that the ego is functioning again. That ego is a sneaky thing. It can fade in so quietly that it can be in full function before we notice it again.

This is one crucial danger point for new spiritual teachers: The strong temptation is to divide the public teacher persona from the inner struggles of the reformulated ego.

There are reasonable arguments we can use with ourselves at this point. The ego, once gone for a time, is less permanent and rigid when it returns; it can be shaped, and it can fade in and out. The newly anointed spiritual teacher can be privately working on battening down the egoic hatches while offering sincere guidance. But should it be done privately at all?

The greater the gulf between the public teacher identity and the daily interior reality, the greater the problems that occur. If one has already laid claim to spiritual perfection and absolute egolessness, then the widening discrepancy is a serious problem that can only be rectified by humility and honesty with oneself and one’s students. That does not need to devalue your legitimate experience or continuing process of awakening. In fact, it allows you to communicate with your spiritual community in new, possibly more profound and direct ways.

But there is another significant problem that can occur when the ego seemingly does not reassert itself. Let me see how best to explain this…

Most spiritual traditions speak of “liberation” and “freedom.” This is understood on many levels. One important way freedom is experienced when the ego function fades is that we no longer feel artificial restrictions on either perception or action. We humans are social creatures and so much of our childhood is spent in internalizing social patterns and norms, which solidify in adolescence and guide us, for good and bad, through adulthood. The loss of ego is also the loss, or lessening, of those internalized boundaries of behavior. The intellect may remember where those boundaries were once thought to exist, but they no longer exhibit any psychological reality.

In states of egolessness, one has the giddy freedom to act in any way one chooses. Social propriety, personal neurosis, even “right and wrong,” become simply choices.

To the well-balanced individual, with a healthy respect for individuals and society, along with a deep understanding of their legitimate needs and suffering, this freedom becomes a profound tool, allowing surprising fluidity in action and communication. BUT- for the unbalanced individual who has gone through a similar opening, one whose ethics and compassion are not as fully developed, this same freedom can lead to what is, frankly, sociopathic behaviors. Worse, every transgression, whether social, sexual, or psychological, can be justified as a “teaching” that is supposed to undermine the student’s ego. For this reason, I am not a big fan of the “crazy wisdom” teachers.

This is such an important dynamic to understand, yet I’ve heard few spiritual teachers acknowledge the issue. Like an actor who becomes a movie star overnight, the sudden access to immense fame and money — and the unhindered possibilities of behavior that accompany them — can either open great artistic and philanthropic opportunities, or enable every self-destructive impulse. Yes, we all want liberation, it is our right and our very nature, but it is so important that we first develop a well-balanced and centered sense of being so we can use that freedom wisely and well for the greatest possibly blessings in the world.

Students, beware. All you gurus, beware. Mostly, be aware. Be in the heart, be respectful and self-respectful, and be willing to question. When you find a guru or spiritual teacher, recognize that the smiling, wise face you see is a reflection of the light inside yourself; the person who is your teacher, at his or her best, is simply helping you to recognize that.

The gurus and spiritual teachers I like are the humble ones, who direct attention away from themselves, who respect each step of their student’s journey, who radiate rather than assault. A little less crazy wisdom and a little more playful wisdom for the world, please.

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

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

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Aug 12 2013

Nachmanides – The Soul Speaks

Published by under Poetry

The Soul Speaks (from Hymn on the Fate of the Soul)
by Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman)

English version by T. Carmi

From the very beginning,
      before times long past,
      I was stored among His hidden treasures.
He had brought me forth from Nothing, but at the end of time
I shall be summoned back before the King.

My life flowed
      out of the depth of the spheres
      which gave me form and order.
Divine forces shaped me
to be treasured in the chambers of the King.

Then He shined his light
      to bring me forth
      in hidden well-springs, on the left and on the right.
He made me descend the steps leading down from
the Pool of Shelah to the garden of the King.

— from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, Edited by T. Carmi

/ Photo by Crystalpyromaniac /

There are a few elements that catch my attention in today’s poem.

From the very beginning,
      before times long past,
      I was stored among His hidden treasures.
He had brought me forth from Nothing, but at the end of time
I shall be summoned back before the King.

These opening lines are interesting to me. He starts with “From the very beginning, / before times long past…” This seems to evoke not so much ancient times, but a primordial time before time begins. Yet, in this pre-time, the poet already exists: “I was stored among His hidden treasures.”

This reflects the influence of an idea that is especially important within Islam — yet a strong influence on the intellectual and philosophical world in which Rabbi Nachman lived. Before the beginning of creation, God creates Man as a spirit. In this way, humanity exists before creation and is witness to creation.

This idea seems to reflect the spiritual observation that, in deep silence, we can recall within ourselves a primordial state of being that is outside of time or prior to time. We come to recognize ourselves in our fluid essence, at rest in a great, womb-like void (“Nothing”).

From that place of great rest, we are “brought forth” into manifestation, taking on form and identity, engaging in life with all the complexities of relationship, action, and consequence. Some part of us knows we will return to that peaceful, immense, communal pool of being, that that is our true home. We wait to be called back and hope to be worthy of our welcome.

Rabbi Nachman also speaks of light–

Then He shined his light
to bring me forth…

Light is one of the primary metaphors in sacred poetry, suggesting the Divine not framed within a mental concept. For genuine mystics, this light is not a mere concept; it is directly experienced.

This sense of light is more than a brightness one might experience on a sunny afternoon. This light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always. This light is immediately understood to be the true source of all things, the foundation on which the physicality of the material world is built. In other words, it is the light of manifestation and self-awareness. It is through this light that we are “brought forth from Nothing,” from the great, still womb of unmanifest potential, into manifest being and self-consciousness.

Light has a particular significance within the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah. The Zohar, one of the central texts of Kabbalah, emphasizes the radiance or splendor of God beyond qualities. The “steps” and “spheres” are references to the Sephirot that form the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, through which the Eternal expresses an array of qualities that connect the transcendent with the manifest.

That final sentence — “He made me descend the steps leading down from / the Pool of Shelah to the garden of the King.” — What does that mean? This can be understood as the passage from heaven (“the Pool of Shelah”, the great, blissful “Nothing” of the first verse) to earth (“the garden of the King”). Once again, the journey of the soul’s coming into being.

For some, this notion can feel like one of separation. The soul has left the heavenly and become engaged with the physical. But the Kabbalistic vision offers us more than that. By directly witnessing our shining Origin, we begin to the see the soul as a bridgeway. By knowing the “steps” and the “spheres” of the Tree of Life, by reconnecting with one’s original state, the individual becomes a channel through which the light and hidden waters pour out into the manifest world. In this way we each can become a humble but conscious participant in the ongoing divine act of creation and harmonizing of the realms. Through us, heaven appears on earth.

Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman), Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman) poetry, Jewish poetry Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman)

Spain (1194 – 1270) Timeline

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Aug 09 2013

Shah Nematollah Vali – I beheld my essence

Published by under Poetry

I beheld my essence
by Shah Nematollah Vali

English version by Peter Lamborn Wilson & Nasrollah Pourjavady

I beheld my essence. What I saw
Was like the very light of the eye itself:
How wonderful that a single Essence should
Refract itself like a light, a single source
Into a million essences and hues.
The being of the lover and Beloved
Are the same, for where is Love without
A lover and Beloved to be found?
Behold His Essence by His Light, that you
May be yourself the seer and the Seen.
I have wandered through the essences
And found that His Reality makes up
The essence of all beings. To ourselves
We manifest ourselves; were it not so
There could be no relationship between
The One and many. Now then, go beyond
Relation, go beyond the going-beyond
Till there remains no body, soul or being.
“All that is must perish save His face”
And in His Being ours is burned to ash.
At last I see that vision of Him requires
A subject and an object: I and He.
And yet the Essence is the same, sometimes
A wave upon the sea, sometimes the sea;
Sometimes the eye, sometimes the object of
The eye. Whoever sees this ocean knows
Our essence as we know it in ourself.
We are the waves and yet in essence we
Are not different from the sea: Reality
Is one but shows itself as two: subject
And object, two in manifestation
But not in Essence: only one Existence
Though countless its attributes. The mystery
Is still too deep for all to understand,
For all to grasp: the supraformal Essence
Is the Beloved and the formal self
The lover — but if you switch the terms around
The statement still remains unchanged and true.
Or if you say the cup and wine are one
That too is true, as true as if you claim
That cup is cup and wine is wine; or if
You say that one is us, the other Him.
Regard these different levels of the truth
As “relatively absolute” and find
The subtle occult truth. Then… WA SALAAM!
The relativity of intellect
Results in statements which must contradict
Each other on the level of the mind
And yet beyond the mind both are correct.
Sometimes I am Mahmud, sometimes Ayaz
Sometimes I glorify myself, sometimes
I sing the other: lover and Beloved.
So from time to time I change and play
Both roles, and then a third one: Love itself.
Thus spoke Mustafa, beloved of God:
Go, search for the one who has enslaved your heart
Within your heart. There find the satisfaction
Of your soul at last. Seek Ne’matollah, find
All that you seek — and all that you require
Will then be found in me, as you desire.

— from The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady

/ Photo by itsdannie /

Today’s poem is a striking meditation on the fluid nature of relating to God as both separate from oneself — “I” and “Thou” — yet also recognizing how that duality naturally flows into the nondualistic realization of God as one’s very nature.

A wave upon the sea, sometimes the sea;

We are the waves and yet in essence we
Are not different from the sea: Reality
Is one but shows itself as two: subject
And object, two in manifestation
But not in Essence: only one Existence
Though countless its attributes.

How the intellect must summersault and dance about to conceive of this truth! To speak of it the masters shift about, playing games of perspective until the students understand:

I sing the other: lover and Beloved.
So from time to time I change and play
Both roles, and then a third one: Love itself.

God is the Beloved, yes, but also the lover seeking the Beloved. And God is the love joining the lover and the Beloved. And all three eventually melt into each other, and they are all God. Then… WA SALAAM!

Shah Nematollah Vali, Shah Nematollah Vali poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Shah Nematollah Vali

Iran/Persia (1330 – 1431) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 05 2013

John of the Cross – I Came Into the Unknown

Published by under Poetry

I Came Into the Unknown
by John of the Cross

English version by Willis Barnstone

I came into the unknown
and stayed there unknowing
rising beyond all science.

I did not know the door
but when I found the way,
unknowing where I was,
I learned enormous things,
but what I felt I cannot say,
for I remained unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

It was the perfect realm
of holiness and peace.
In deepest solitude
I found the narrow way:
a secret giving such release
that I was stunned and stammering,
rising beyond all science.

I was so far inside,
so dazed and far away
my senses were released
from feelings of my own.
My mind had found a surer way:
a knowledge of unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

And he who does arrive
collapses as in sleep,
for all he knew before
now seems a lowly thing,
and so his knowledge grows so deep
that he remains unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

The higher he ascends
the darker is the wood;
it is the shadowy cloud
that clarified the night,
and so the one who understood
remains always unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge by unknowing
is such a soaring force
that scholars argue long
but never leave the ground.
Their knowledge always fails the source:
to understand unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

This knowledge is supreme
crossing a blazing height;
though formal reason tries
it crumbles in the dark,
but one who would control the night
by knowledge of unknowing
will rise beyond all science.

And if you wish to hear:
the highest science leads
to an ecstatic feeling
of the most holy Being;
and from his mercy comes his deed:
to let us stay unknowing,
rising beyond all science.

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

/ Photo by oddsock /

In this poem, St. John of the Cross continually contrasts unknowing with “science.”

I came into the unknown
and stayed there unknowing
rising beyond all science.

Let me say at the start that I’m not entirely satisfied with the use of the word “science” in this translation. The Spanish word used is indeed ciencia, which directly translates as science in English, but we this older use of the word implies science in the broadest sense, as logic, cognition, intellectual comprehension.

And he emphasizes that it is the unknowing that is superior.

Don’t misunderstand, he is not advocating ignorance! (Sadly, many regressive religious impulses advocate exactly that.) But, no, this Spanish saint is talking about the mystical idea of “unknowing,” the state in which all thoughts and concepts and mental filters have been set aside, the state in which we rise above the elaborate constructions of the logical mind (“formal reason”) and come to rest in pure awareness (“a knowledge of unknowing”). He is contrasting true knowing with the mere accumulation of data.

To be unknowing is to encounter every instant entirely as it is, in pure wonder, without projection, without anticipation or agitation. The intellectual mind — a hugely important tool! — has one very serious weakness for the spiritual aspirant: it never encounters the present moment nakedly. It is always processing, analyzing, sorting, making everything fit into its comprehension. It never truly witnesses; it only interprets. We definitely want to cultivate a strong, capable, critical intellect, but we must always remember that it is not the whole of consciousness. The awareness can step beyond the intellect. To fully apprehend reality, it must.

I was so far inside… my senses were released…

This state of supreme “unknowing” isn’t so much a state of perception, which is the drawing in and sorting of exterior input of the senses. The intellect gathers and sorts the data gathered through the senses and formulated into a working hypothesis of what reality is. And that hypothesis is always an incomplete shorthand that only approximates reality.

In contrast, the mystic’s unknowing is the completely centered awareness of Being that does not tilt to reach out with the senses. This awareness is at rest, poised, and witnesses without an egoic agenda. It does not sift reality, it bathes in it. This is a “surer way” of recognizing the fundamental Reality.

“Rising beyond all science” ultimately leads “to an ecstatic feeling / of the most holy Being.” This is “the perfect realm / of holiness and peace,” free from the conceptual filters we normally place on our awareness.

In deepest solitude
I found the narrow way:
a secret giving such release…

In this state, one experiences “solitude” or supreme unity, requiring nothing outside itself to be whole and itself. And this solitude reveals the “narrow way;” the solitude is itself the way — “narrow” in that it is difficult to achieve when lost in the normal busyness of the chattering mind, and a “way” because it draws the scattered awareness to “rise”.

A delightful poem that confounds the intellect while inviting the wider awareness to reach beyond self-imposed boundaries, “rising beyond all science” to discover the ever-present “perfect realm / of holiness and peace…”

John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

Spain (1542 – 1591) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jul 29 2013

Wallace Stevens – The house was quiet and the world was calm

Published by under Poetry

The house was quiet and the world was calm
by Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

— from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, by Wallace Stevens

/ Photo by Adan Garcia /

Ooh, nice.

Can’t you just feel the calm spreading out into the summer night? So quiet you hear the crackling of stillness like an unvoiced roar gathering in the skull.

I picture the poet in the 1950s, on a cool night after an overlong hot day, sitting in a wooden chair outside on his porch, a porchlight above his shoulder drawing moths, a book open in his lap, and all the night seems to be leaning in to read with him. He shifts his weight, the chair creaks, and all falls into silence again.

Calm, quiet, meaning, mind…

One can say the poet is enjoying a sweet, timeless moment reading a book. Or it could be that he has been overtaken by communion with heaven and earth. The book is just an excuse to be there.

This summer night, I hope you too have a sweet, timeless moment when the house is quiet and the world calm

Sending much love!

Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stevens poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wallace Stevens

US (1879 – 1955) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jul 26 2013

Haude Gosain – On the other shore

Published by under Poetry

On the other shore
by Haude Gosain

English version by Deben Bhattacharya

On the other shore
Of the ocean
Of one’s own self,
Quivers a drop of fluid–
As the origin of all.
But who can cross the seas
To reach it?

The root of all
Is based in you.
Explore the base
To reach the essence….

— from The Mirror of the Sky: Songs of the Bauls of Bengal, Translated by Deben Bhattacharya

/ Photo by xthumbtakx /

This short song is interesting to me.

First, we have the common Hindu image of the mind engaged with maya — the illusory vision of life, the world, material existence — as a vast ocean. It cannot be crossed, yet it must be crossed.

But why do we care about the other shore and some “drop of fluid,” anyway? That fluid is amrita, the nectar of spiritual awakening. Even that does not explain what this liquid is. It is the oil used to anoint the initiate into realization, yes, but it is more: It is the great seed of being, the source of all things.

Does that all sound rather pointlessly conceptual and metaphysical? We are not discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin here. This “fluid” is real, it is actual, perceived in deep states of communion as a sweet liquid pouring down the back of the throat, warming the belly, opening the heart, clearing the vision, while utterly transforming the consciousness.

But how can we taste this sacred liquor when it is on the other shore of an uncrossable ocean? This is the terrible dilemma of the spiritual aspirant.

And the answer is given in the final verse:

The root of all
Is based in you.
Explore the base
To reach the essence….

Reaching outward, sending the mind out through the world, through the many possible experiences of life, we learn, we grow, we are delighted, we are terrified… but there is never an end. There is always more ocean, always one more encounter or experience awaiting us. The body may eventually grow old and die, but the hunger of the spirit is never fully satisfied in this way. The outer world of experience and material existence is an endless sea, yet it is the unfiltered essence of the Eternal that we truly hunger for, and that is on the far shore.

The secret truth is this: What can never be reached through an outward journey, awaits us within. This is why all the great traditions proclaim, Know yourself. This is not a statement about understanding our own psychological processes, though that is immensely helpful; rather, it nudges us to discover the root of our being, to come to know the reality of whatever this self is that I am. When we do this, an unexpected doorway opens to the other shore.

I say this truth is a secret, but it is not a secret because those who know refuse to speak of it; it is a secret because logic and our common perception of reality make it seem absurd. And it is far too simple. The secret of secrets, the root of all, the blissful drink of realization, appears impossibly distant, yet it is actually found right here, inside, at the very seat of one’s being. Absurd, I know, but it is so.

Remember to forget the churning ocean. Go within. Find the root and follow it to the root of all selves. Drink the drink you discover. The far shore, the near shore, the great ocean, they all blissfully melt into one.

The root of all is rooted in you…

Haude Gosain

India (1795 – ?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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