Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Nov 20 2013

Mansur al-Hallaj – You glide between the heart and its casing

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You glide between the heart and its casing
by Mansur al- Hallaj

English version by Bernard Lewis

You glide between the heart and its casing as tears glide from the eyelid.
You dwell in my inwardness, in the depths of my heart, as souls dwell in bodies.
Nothing passes from rest to motion unless you move it in hidden ways,
O new moon.

— from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis


/ Photo by Joy Krauthammer /

You glide between the heart and its casing as tears glide from the eyelid.

Isn’t that a wonderful opening line?

This is a poem about hidden movement, natural, free-flowing. And it is a poem about rest too. And the heart.

You dwell in my inwardness, in the depths of my heart, as souls dwell in bodies.

In states of deep spiritual communion, when the agitations of the mind are at rest and the attention is not seeking outward distractions, awareness naturally settles into the heart. And encounter takes place there– an immense sense of Being and expansive Love is seated there, in quiet majesty.

Nothing passes from rest to motion unless you move it in hidden ways

This poem beautifully evokes the sense of how, in the sacred state, movement ceases for the individual, though there is not inactivity. All action — inner and outer — becomes only an appearance of self-governed movement, when, in reality, it is found to be the natural flowing of the Divine through us. The individual identity only pretends to be directing the movement but, like a gull resting on the ocean waves, it is simply carried along by the moon’s tug upon the tide.

Just as we have the rhythm of the heart, so too do we have the flow of the breath until we discover the resting point between the in-breath and the out-breath. When the shuttle on the loom has made its full circuit and pauses just long enough to glimpse the pattern… before it moves again to continue weaving the fabric.






Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Nov 18 2013

Lalla – Intense cold makes water ice

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Intense cold makes water ice
by Lalla

English version by Coleman Barks

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water, so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing:

Lalla is that.

In meditation, I entered the love furnace,
burned impurities away, and as the sun
of a new knowing rose, I realized
that the words “Lalla” and “God”
point to this peacefulness.

— from Naked Song, by Lalla / Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Photo by net_efekt /

I spent most of my growing up years in Los Angeles — endless city, and no winters. I remember the one time as a child when the temperature dropped down to 30 degrees, and I implored the weather gods for snow. But it was not to be. It was Southern California, after all. A little more bundled than usual, I still had to go to school.

So when I moved to Colorado as an adult, you can imagine my sense of wonder at the snow each winter. In fact, I lived in places up in the mountains where the snow would build up until it literally covered part of the ground floor windows. One more reminder for me that, no matter how much we humans construct our own environments, we are still residents within the world of nature, and that natural world is immense, stunningly beautiful, and ignored at our own peril…

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water…

Lalla is giving us a simple spiritual metaphor, but although the intellect can quickly comprehend what she is saying, it’s important not to rush past it. Sit with the metaphor for a bit, let the imagery and meaning ferment quietly in your mind.

Water becomes solid ice when it is cold enough. It becomes almost rock-like: impenetrable, graspable, tangible… an unavoidable ‘thing.’ With a little bit of warmth, it starts to melt and becomes a slushy mixture of states, in some ways still seemingly solid, yet a hand can pass through it. When it has fully yielded to the warmth, it is liquid again, fluid, ungraspable, less a ‘thing’ and more of a filling of space.

Even so, all are the same substance: water. There has been no essential change other than the form perceived by the witness; it is a continuum that only appears different.

…so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing

And Lalla is reminding us that the individual and God are the same, separate only in apparent form, but in essence it is all one continuum of consciousness. The individual, the world, and God, when seen clearly in the warming sunlight of True Awareness are seen to “melt to one flowing.”

Lalla is that.

Her insight: In that instant of true seeing, we cease to identify ourselves as the individual or ego, and instead recognize ourselves as “that” — the flowing that moves through the entire spectrum of existence.

I realized
that the words “Lalla” and “God”
point to this peacefulness.

Reread those last lines, but insert your own name for Lalla’s.

Have a beautiful day!






Lalla, Lalla poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla

Kashmir (India/Pakistan) (14th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Nov 15 2013

Hakim Sanai – The way to You

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The way to You
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Priya Hemenway

The way to You
lies clearly in my heart
and cannot be seen or known to the mind.
As my words turn to silence,
Your sweetness surrounds me.

— from The Book of Everything: Journey of the Heart’s Desire, by Hakim Sanai Al-Ghaznavi / Translated by Priya Hemenway


/ Photo by Lel4nd /

This poem poem by the great Sanai — short and oh so sweet. I won’t disturb its silence with a lot of my own words, except to thank everyone for the many warm-hearted comments and emails.

Ivan

PS- Sending many blessings to the people of the Philippines. You’ve been very much in my thoughts this past week.






Hakim Sanai

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

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Nov 11 2013

Basava – Where they feed the fire

Published by under Poetry

Where they feed the fire
by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

In a brahmin house
where they feed the fire
as a god

when the fire goes wild
and burns the house

they splash on it
the water of the gutter
and the dust of the street,

beat their breasts
and call the crowd.

These men then forget their worship
and scold their fire,
O lord of the meeting rivers!

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Photo by /

I hope it is obvious that this poem is meant to make us laugh at an absurd turnabout. We have a proper brahmin house with a fire altar, and they are feeding that fire as a god. But the moment that god steps out of bounds and starts to burn things up, the worshippers are terrified and try to extinguish that god with gutter water.

Of course, there is a lot being said in this poem…

On the surface, the poem pokes fun at what the Virasaiva sect considered the idolatry of worshipping fire “as a god,” particularly doing so only when the fire stays within comfortable bounds. Yet “when the fire goes wild,” then the fire is instead treated like a dangerous, insentient force that must be suppressed. Suddenly the worshipper has set himself above his god!

On a deeper level, the fire here is the divine fire of bliss. Basavanna is chiding those who worship the sacred reality and mystical truth, but only so long as it is nice and neat and socially acceptable — intellectualized and not actually experienced directly. When the fire of bliss “goes wild” and “burns the house,” filling the awareness with the fire of the one all-consuming reality, then these casual worshippers become terrified and try to suppress this sacred process, denigrating the mystics and saints who embody this fiery truth.

They splash on it
the water of the gutter
and the dust of the street

They try to cover this blazing reality with an overwhelm of emotion, sensory experience, and mundane perception. They “call the crowd” and attempt to return to the limited consensus reality shared by the mass of people. Still identified with the ego, they feel threatened by this bliss-fire and, instead of dancing amidst the flames, they “forget their worship” and “scold their fire.”

So Basavanna challenges us to ask ourselves honestly: Do we worship only what is comfortable, a god of our making and under our control, a safely caged notion of the Divine? Or do we truly worship and hold nothing back as we recognize the blissful, blazing Reality?






Basava, Basava poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Basava

India (1134 – 1196) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Nov 08 2013

Denise Levertov – Primary Wonder

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Primary Wonder
by Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

— from Denise Levertov: Selected Poems, by Denise Levertov


/ Photo by ryoung /

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions…

We all wrestle with this, the demands of daily life, of work and family, all our plans and hopes and fears, the need to order everything every moment. In the midst of it all we struggle to remember that “quiet mystery.” Balancing a life in this world with that wide open wonder, it can feel like too much to achieve, at times. The demands of the day sometimes demand our all. Yet it is the wonder and the mystery that fills our our lives and gives them meaning.

When “problems” fill the day, then those problems are the day’s worship. The most mundane and seemingly meaningless effort, when approached with a sense of service and a questing heart, becomes an act of beauty. And when we finally come exhausted to a quiet moment, we are ready to fall silent before the mystery. Too tired to maintain our pretenses, we rest in awe.

And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me…






Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

More poetry by Denise Levertov

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Nov 06 2013

e. e. cummings – may my heart always be open to little

Published by under Poetry

may my heart always be open to little
by e. e. cummings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

— from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, by e. e. cummings


/ Photo by USFWS Pacific /

Boy… e.e. cummings.

Any commentary or thoughts I might choose to share would be too linear. What would cummings say?

far better to roll wordlets with otherthan meanings
and let them pool slow in the honey-glad heart

Or, I can just reread the poem…

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple

Have a wonderful day!

PS- Following Monday’s poem, several people wrote to ask me what M.E. is. M.E. is another term for chronic fatigue syndrome. (The acronym stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis — whew!) What most people loosely label chronic fatigue is actually a chronic immune disorder that tends to affect the nervous system and muscles with a range of recurring symptoms. For that reason, the health community increasingly prefers the term M.E., since the word “fatigue” implies someone who is simply overworked and just needs to rest, while the reality is actually a complex chronic medical condition. So they’re using that tongue-twister instead (which can cause fatigue just learning how to pronounce it)… or M.E.

Sending love!






e. e. cummings, e. e. cummings poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry e. e. cummings

US (1894 – 1962) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 04 2013

Mukteshwari – Swami Muktananda

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Mukteshwari
by Swami Muktananda

Kundalini Shakti is the prana of the universe.
By the power of this great Goddess
the universe exists.
Muktananda, know Her.

When Kundalini awakes
all doors are thrown open.
Rama reveals himself in the heart.
Muktananda, love Kundalini.

When Kundalini awakes,
the eyes are filled with light,
fragrances arise,
nectar bathes the tongue,
ecstasy plays in the heart….
Muktananda, worship Kundalini.


/ Photo by AthosLuca /

Sorry about my absence. Another period of M.E. I’m back, starting to feel better…

Over the weekend, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs all over the world celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. Traditionally, it marks the end of the harvest season, while inviting abundance and prosperous growth in the coming year. It is particularly a time to honor Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. The lighting of lamps keeps the light of the past season shining through the darkness of winter and ensures new life in the new year. The lamps in the darkness are also a symbol of meditation, the light of awareness, pure and focused, amidst the stillness of night. This begins the season of inturning and enlightenment that will lead to new life. Happy Diwali!

At this time of enlightenment and honoring the Goddess, I thought this poem by the hugely significant 20th century guru, Swami Muktananda, honoring the Goddess as Kundalini Shakti would be worth contemplating.

In Hindu yogic metaphysics, the Divine can be seen as both masculine and feminine. The masculine aspect of God is pure transcendent spirit, while the feminine aspect of God is the vibratory, emanating, manifestation of that pure Essence. The God is the flame and the Goddess is the light and heat that emanate from it. The Masculine is the still potential, and the Feminine is manifestation of that potential. All of material creation is part of that manifestation, brought into being by the power of the Goddess. She receives the spiritual essence, gestates it, quickens it and gives it form, and then brings it to birth.

By the power of this great Goddess
the universe exists.

This is the fundamental power of being, and the Goddess is that power. “Shakti” means “power,” but it is more than the ability to achieve some result. It isn’t that the Goddess has power, the Goddess is power. This is why Muktananda sings his praises to Kundalini Shakti, not as an energy or psychological force, but as the full Goddess.

When Kundalini awakes
all doors are thrown open.

Kundalini Shakti is, in the language of yoga, the coiled power of the Goddess that usually sits dormant at the base of the spine within the individual. Through spiritual practice this coiled power can be awakened. It then rises as a fiery force up the spinal axis, through the spiritual-energetic centers known as the chakras, to the crown chakra.

In the process, the heart opens with the most profound sense of love, compassion, joy, and interconnectedness — “Rama reveals himself in the heart.” Often, there is an all-permeating sense of radiance and light (“the eyes are filled with light”), and a sensory sweetness seems to trickle down from above, as if you are tasting the most delightful honeyed wine (“nectar bathes the tongue”).

This is the initiation all mystics seek. It is the beginning of illumination. And it is the sacred marriage. Why “marriage”?

As we said, Kundalini Shakti is the power of the Goddess within the individual. When this power fully and consciously rises to the crown, it reunites with the male aspect of the Divine. That union of divine polarities within the individual — overwhelming and ecstatic — is the sacred marriage. The mystic is made whole in ways that were unimaginable before. Not just the single individual, but all of creation is seen anew, realigned, re-envisioned as a vast living wholeness.

I hope it is obvious that this is a universal experience of mystical awakening, not just found among practitioners of yoga. Each great spiritual tradition has its own language to describe this. In esoteric Christianity, for example, one can draw a parallel between the Kundalini Shakti and the Holy Spirit, which is often described in feminine terms. The transcendent masculine aspect of God can be understood as the Heavenly Father. And the new, expanded sense of self that is (re)born from the sacred marriage might be identified as the Son, the individual’s Christ-self. Similar descriptions are found in Islam, Judaism, shamanic traditions… This is a human-spiritual experience that reflects the basic relationship between the awakening soul and the divine reality. It is the heritage of every one of us.

Kundalini awakes. The heart opens, the mind opens, doorways open, and through Her power, the full self is born into the world.

Kundalini Shakti… know Her.

Have a beautiful day!






Swami Muktananda, Swami Muktananda poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Swami Muktananda

India (1908 – 1982) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

More poetry by Swami Muktananda

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Oct 21 2013

Nammalvar – O Lord, infinite in Thy glory

Published by under Poetry

O Lord, infinite in Thy glory,
by Nammalvar

English version by A. Srinivasa Raghavan

O Lord, infinite in Thy glory,
I have ripened and lost myself
In Thy grace,
Do not change, I pray Thee.
I do not desire freedom from birth,
Nor to be Thy servitor in Heaven.
All the wealth I want
Is not to forget Thee.

— from Nammalvar: (Makers of Indian Literature), Translated by A. Srinivasa Raghavan


/ Photo by ShotHotspot /

So much of spiritual striving is directed toward escape: escape from imperfections, escape from illusion, escape from pain, escape from the senses, escape from one’s past, escape from the cycle of birth and death. That impulse to escape is a valid, even necessary, goad to begin the spiritual journey in earnest. But it also becomes a spiritualized form of the same old attraction-revulsion dynamic that keeps us caught in the turning wheel.

In Nammalvar’s poem, he shows us his spiritual courage. He declares to God that he doesn’t mind the pain of birth (and accompanying death and rebirth). He declares that the delight of serving God in Heaven is not what he seeks. He knows that such attainments, when approached from greed, ultimately feed the selfish self and eventually cause one to revert back to the illusion of separation from the Eternal.

Real wealth is knowing the Eternal, knowing never to forget. God is the real treasure, not the ease of Heaven, not the avoidance of the phenomena of life. A seeker uses the desire for escape, but when spiritual practice has “ripened,” you discover that you have “lost” yourself. You have lost the clinging self. The desire for unbroken awareness of the Eternal frees you even from the desire for escape.

Nothing to run to. Nothing to run from. We are finally fully present. Right here is precisely where the Eternal One dwells.






Nammalvar, Nammalvar poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Nammalvar

India (8th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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Oct 18 2013

A. R. Ammons – Identity

Published by under Poetry

Identity
by A. R. Ammons

1) An individual spider web
identifies a species:

an order of instinct prevails
      through all accidents of circumstance,
            though possibility is
high along the peripheries of
spider
                        webs:
                        you can go all
                  around the fringing attachments

                  and find
disorder ripe,
entropy rich, high levels of random,
            numerous occasions of accident:

2) the possible settings
of a web are infinite:

            how does
the spider keep
                  identity
            while creating the web
            in a particular place?

            how and to what extent
                  and by what modes of chemistry
                  and control?

it is
wonderful
            how things work: I will tell you
                        about it
                        because

it is interesting
and because whatever is
moves in weeds
            and stars and spider webs
and known
                        is loved:
                  in that love,
                  each of us knowing it,
                  I love you,

for it moves within and beyond us,
                  sizzles in
to winter grasses, darts and hangs with bumblebees
by summer windowsills:

                  I will show you
the underlying that takes no image to itself,
            cannot be shown or said,
but weaves in and out of moons and bladderweeds,
                  is all and
            beyond destruction
            because created fully in no
particular form:

                        if the web were perfectly pre-set,
                        the spider could
                  never find
                  a perfect place to set it in: and

                  if the web were
perfectly adaptable,
if freedom and possibility were without limit,
                        the web would
lose its special identity:

      the row-strung garden web
keeps order at the center
where space is freest (intersecting that the freest
                  “medium” should
                  accept the firmest order)

and that
order
                        diminishes toward the
periphery
            allowing at the points of contact
                  entropy equal to entropy.


/ Photo by alanreeves001 /

A delightful meditation on identity and spiderwebs, questions of order and entropy beneath the moonlight…

A spider’s signature in the world is its web. It draws the web from its own body and so creates a place for itself in the world. The web is an expression of the spider’s identity.

The poet makes an interesting observation–

the possible settings
of a web are infinite

The world is so diverse, filled with endless variety, that it raises a dilemma: Identity is an expression within the world, it necessarily has points of attachment to the world.

how does
the spider keep
                  identity
            while creating the web
            in a particular place?

If the world is ever-different, those attachments to the varied environment mean the web, identity, must be different in every location. How then can we say that identity exists? If it takes one shape in one place and a different one in another, is there only environment and randomness?

The poet begins to weave for us a deeper understanding of how this works–

if the web were perfectly pre-set,
                        the spider could
                  never find
                  a perfect place to set it in: and

                  if the web were
perfectly adaptable,
if freedom and possibility were without limit,
                        the web would
lose its special identity

Life requires both pattern (identity) and adaptability (along with some external limitation). Being too rigid or fixed prevents connection and the ability to act effectively in the world, yet too much flexibility of form means a loss of identity and purpose. It is in the balance of the two qualities that identity can enter into the world.

I especially like the layered insight of his final few lines. Identity and pattern is preserved within the center, where we have the greatest freedom from the world’s demands, while adaptability and a certain amount of disorder at the edges allows connection to the changing world.

the row-strung garden web
keeps order at the center
where space is freest (intersecting that the freest
                  “medium” should
                  accept the firmest order)

and that
order
                        diminishes toward the
periphery
            allowing at the points of contact
                  entropy equal to entropy.

A simple observation in nature, and it draws me into contemplation of the great questions.






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

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by A. R. Ammons

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Oct 16 2013

Angelus Silesius – So many droplets in the sea

Published by under Poetry

So many droplets in the sea, in bread so many grains
by Angelus Silesius

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

So many droplets in the sea, in bread so many grains;
So too of our multiplicity, nothing but God remains.

— from Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing, by Gabriel Rosenstock


/ Photo by alexandre-deschaumes /

Short poem, short commentary: Many < -> One






Angelus Silesius, Angelus Silesius poetry, Christian poetry Angelus Silesius

Poland/Germany (1624 – 1677) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Oct 11 2013

Ivan M. Granger – How Can I Explain?

Published by under Poetry

How Can I Explain?
by Ivan M. Granger

Beloved, they want to know:
Did I reach up to You,
or did You reach out to me?

And they want to know:
What is real
touch?

How can I explain

– we pour
into each other.

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


/ Photo by s-a-m /

It’s been a while since we featured one of my poems. I thought about this one today…

Did I reach up to You,
or did You reach out to me?

The question that haunts all spiritual seekers: Union through effort or grace? Effort tends to fix the illusion of separation. And grace, well, that sounds so random and passive. How does one earn grace effortlessly? How is effort natural and graceful?

Everyone wants to know.

What is real
touch?

What is real? And is the divine touch real? What is bliss? What is union? Is it a fantasy, a fairy tale? Is it a metaphor? Is it just a mental idea? Is it tangible, tactile, felt in the body, or so subtle that words fail? What is it really that seekers seek?

Everyone wants to know.

Let’s step back from the theologies and ten thousand spiritual techniques. The secret shared between lover and Beloved is simple:

– we pour
into each other.

==

A few years back, the wonderful poet and translator Gabriel Rosenstock sent his translation of this poem into Irish:

Cén Míniú atá Air?

A Shearc, is mian leo a fháil amach:
Ar shín mise suas Chugatsa
nó ar shín Tusa amach chugamsa?

Agus is mian leo a fháil amach:
Cad is tadhall ann
i gceart?

Cén míniú atá air

– doirtimis
ina chéile

I’ll admit, I don’t even know how to pronounce these lines, but seeing this in Irish just brings a satisfied smile to my face. It must be that thin fraction of Irish ancestry somewhere on my mother’s side of the family.






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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Oct 09 2013

Ryokan – Autumn’s first drizzle

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Autumn’s first drizzle
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

Autumn’s first drizzle:
How delightful,
The nameless mountain.

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


/ Photo by twbuckner /

I can’t say exactly why, but I’ve always felt an especial aliveness in autumn. Perhaps it is the clarity of the light on the coloring leaves. The crisp mornings and the way twilight lingers late over the land. That feeling of transition, change, teetering at the edge of winter’s cold, between activity and inturning — a secret threshold in the seasons when new pathways can be discovered.

It seems with every autumn my body takes on a ritual fever or influenza, and I have to admit that I find the state rather comforting. It feels strangely right when autumn comes, to feel a slight flush, to be slow of movement and thought, to view the new world through glowing eyes, not quite free from the dream state. Autumn is a season that invites visions, that gives us glimpses of the strangeness of the world we think so familiar, and in that strangeness we discover new possibilities, new ways of being, new ways of seeing. Things lose their familiar forms and names in autumn’s half-light, and we ourselves can seem small and wraithlike amidst the shifting unknown. I’ve always seen in this season a window into the great Mystery, frightening and exhilarating, melancholy and delightful. Is anything substantial in this magical season? No, not really. Except, perhaps, for the life and light of awareness that burns so bright within us.

It’s a good season to see a nameless mountain.

Have a beautiful autumn day.

Much love to everyone!






Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

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

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Oct 07 2013

Ramprasad – In the world’s busy market-place

Published by under Poetry

In the world’s busy market-place, O Shyama
by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

In the world’s busy market-place, O Shyama,
      Thou art flying kites;
High up they soar on the wind of hope,
      held fast by maya’s string.
Their frames are human skeletons,
      their sails of the the three gunas made;
But all their curious workmanship
      is merely for ornament.

Upon the kite-strings Thou hast rubbed
      the manja-paste of worldliness,
So as to make each straining strand
      all the more sharp and strong.
Out of a hundred thousand kites,
      at best but one or two break free;
And thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands,
      O Mother, watching them!

On favoring winds, says Ramprasad,
      the kites set loose will speedily
Be borne away to the Infinite,
      across the sea of the world.

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


/ Photo by thegoodlifefrance /

Navaratri, the Hindu festival celebrating the Nine Nights of the Divine Mother, started over the weekend. Of the nine nights, the first three are dedicated to Durga or Kali, who destroys illusion. The next three nights are dedicated to Lakshmi, who grants wealth, both spiritual and material. The final three nights are dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom.

Since this is the beginning of Navaratri, I thought I’d feature a poem by Ramprasad dedicated to the Goddess Kali…

I’ll be honest: In my opinion this English translation doesn’t quite soar the way its kites do, but the poem still fascinates me. Ramprasad evokes a dynamic vision in our minds of the great and terrible Mother Goddess flying kites and laughing with delight.

Before we go further, we must first recognize that Ramprasad is a practitioner Tantric meditation. Tantra is often misunderstood and reduced to a sexual practice, but Tantra is actually rich and complex tradition of meditation, visualization, and energetic practices that attempts to engage all of life and life’s energies, while awakening divine energies within. And Tantra has a special affinity with the feminine faces of the Divine, such as Kali. It is true that there are branches of Tantra that work with sexuality as part of its practice, but those are “left hand practices” that have been somewhat looked down upon until modern times when they’ve been popularized in the West.

What I think is especially worth remembering about Tantra when thinking about this poem is the Tantric practice of ritualized visualization. Tantric practitioners during their meditations formulate in their minds highly complex and precise sacred patterns and iconic representations of the deities. The more precise and clear the image summoned forth in the mind’s eye, the more the meditator comes into alignment with the sacred energy represented by the image.

I suspect that this poem, with its very specific imagery, can be approached as such a meditative image: each element has a precise meaning and relates to everything else in a specific way. So take a moment to reread the poem and try to construct the scene in your own mind.

So… We have kites.

In the world’s busy market-place, O Shyama,
      Thou art flying kites

The Mother Goddess is flying kites in “the world’s busy market-place.” What are these kites? They are individual human souls.

High up they soar on the wind of hope,
      held fast by maya’s string.

They are borne up by the “wind of hope.” This wind might thought of generally as spiritual aspiration, or it could be very specifically prana, the breath that animates and propels all life.

But they are held by maya’s string. Maya is the illusion of the world. It is the illusion that surface appearance is all there is of reality. That illusion is cord that holds the kites, keeping human souls bound to the earth despite their urge to fly free.

Their frames are human skeletons,
      their sails of the the three gunas made

The fact that the frames of the kites are made of human skeletons may sound gruesome, but the imagery of Kali often has shocking elements like that. Kali forces us to confront death and fear in order to dispel our illusions. We pass through death to know we cannot die. We experience loss to know that our true nature is never held or lost, it simply is. Kali represents that aspect of the Divine that loves us too much to let us remain comfortable with safe self-delusions and prods us to know our full selves and the full mystery of being.

The gunas referred to are an important concept in Indian metaphysics. All of nature is said to embody some combination of the three gunas: Sattva (purity, lucidity), rajas (movement), and tamas (lethargy, darkness). People, too, are said to be composed of these qualities. It is said that through these qualities, worldly energies and karmic tendencies manifest. So when the sails of the kites are composed of the gunas, that is what catches subtle, rising wind and gives direction to the kites.

Upon the kite-strings Thou hast rubbed
      the manja-paste of worldliness,
So as to make each straining strand
      all the more sharp and strong.

This is a delightful detail, but will only make sense with a bit of explanation. Ramprasad is describing a game of kite contests. In this game, children would line their kite strings with glue and tiny bits of glass (the manjja-paste). The glue both strengthens their own kite’s string, while giving it the sharpness necessary to cut their opponent’s string. The object was to wrap your string around your opponent’s, and cut their kite. Then the fun became chasing the freed kite as it sailed loose through the sky.

Here, Kali’s manja-paste is worldliness. It makes the string, maya’s illusion stronger, while becoming more abrasive to others. This leads to painful, jostling contests of worldly existence.

Out of a hundred thousand kites,
      at best but one or two break free

But– for those who are ready, that struggle becomes means of liberation, when the string of maya snaps and the soul is no longer tethered to the ground.

And this is what most delights the Goddess:

And thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands,
      O Mother, watching them!

We sail free across the Infinite, Mother’s laughter trailing behind us!

On favoring winds, says Ramprasad,
      the kites set loose will speedily
Be borne away to the Infinite,
      across the sea of the world.

It’s a cool, crisp autumn morning here. The sky is so blue that all the world comes into a glistening, sharp focus found no other time of the year. It might just be a good day to go outside and fly a kite…






Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

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

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Oct 07 2013

faith and grace

Published by under Poetry

Faith is recognizing that we are always, irrevocably
being drawn into the Divine Embrace.

Grace is what occurs
when we stop obstructing that natural process.

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Oct 04 2013

John O’Donohue – For Presence

Published by under Poetry

For Presence
by John O’Donohue

Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to
follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of
soul.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek
no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.

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


/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

A blessing poem for us today in ways to be present. One way to understand a blessing is that it is just that: opening a pathway to be present. The idea behind a blessing is that it helps us, in some way, to receive more fully the best possibilities of the moment, the fulness of life, the goodness ready for us, and the bliss hidden in the heart. These are all different ways of saying that a blessing somehow ushers us into the magic and wonder inherent in our own full presence within the present moment.

A blessing doesn’t need to be “religious.” It doesn’t even need to have words. What it needs is your presence. And your goodwill. And then a gentle call to the presence of another. A blessing is presence + presence + All That Is…

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.






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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Sep 30 2013

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – I lost my world, my fame, my mind

Published by under Poetry

I lost my world, my fame, my mind
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Andrew Harvey

I lost my world, my fame, my mind –
The Sun appeared, and all the shadows ran.
I ran after them, but vanished as I ran –
Light ran after me and hunted me down.

— from The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi, by Andrew Harvey


/ Photo by opal-moon /

Today is Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi’s birthday — September 30, 1207. Poets, seekers, and sages, let’s celebrate! Come on, let’s spin and dance, like the madmen and wild women we are!

The Sun appeared, and all the shadows ran.

Many of Rumi’s poems make reference to the sun. This always has layered meaning for Rumi since he was deeply devoted to his spiritual teacher Shams of Tabriz… The name Shams means “the sun.”

The sun for Rumi can be God or the radiance of God shining through his beloved teacher or the light of enlightenment. Though why should we separate them out? They are all the same Divine continuum.

The light of God comes, the clarity of enlightenment shines, and the shadows disappear.

Of course, seeing the world in this way removes us from society’s consensus reality. In that light, we see things simply and purely as they are, not as we are told they are. Standing outside that shadow world, we realize that every role we play in life, in fact, every thought we have, has not come with us across the threshold:

I lost my world, my fame, my mind –

Filled with that light, surrounded by the light, all of existence interpermeated by that light, we can search for some root or tendril of those things that once seemed so immutable and defining, but the more we search, the more we recognize how gossamer thin the very fabric of our own identity actually is.

I ran after them, but vanished as I ran –
Light ran after me and hunted me down.

Then it hits us: We are not really “selves,” we are not the distinct nuggets of identity commonly imagined, we are not even illumined beings surrounded and permeated by light. There is only light, and no “I” in the midst of it. The only “self” we can claim is not really a separate being but, rather, a distinct point-of-view within that one immense shining Being. The enlightened mystic sees only that light, dancing and playing, sometimes eddying into “me” and “you” and all the world, without actually losing its luminescent nature or flow.

So, seekers, while you are on your spiritual hunt, remember to look over your shoulder. That glow you glimpse might just be hunting you.

Happy birthday, Jelaluddin!






Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Sep 27 2013

Thomas Merton – In Silence

Published by under Poetry

In Silence
by Thomas Merton

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.
Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”

— from The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Photo by anoxado /

I love the questions that impregnate this poem.

Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.

Does your name have any inherent meaning?
Are you your name?
When people call your name, are they calling you, or some idea of you?
If you are not your name, what is the purpose of a name?
If you are not your name, what then do you call yourself?

Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

This is more than a question, really, almost an insistent demand: Who are you? Who are you?

But the question isn’t tossed to the busy, thinking mind, which has a thousand quick answers. Merton insists on silence. Remove the background of environment, society, relationship, even thoughts about yourself. THEN ask the question, Who are you? WHO are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet).

In that open silence, the question shifts and morphs. WHAT are you?
Perhaps you are someone else’s dream…?
Or someone else’s silence…?
Are you separate from the silence?
Do you even exist in that emptiness?
Have you simply imagined yourself?
Can you re-imagine yourself?
HOW would you re-imagine yourself?

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

Who (be quiet) are you?

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

Merton suggests that there is a grand, universal dialog occurring all around us — in that overlooked silence. Everything is alive, and flowing through that life is a silence, and that silence is speaking to us.

You say you do not hear. But be silent, be quiet, be still. And you will realize that you are already part of the conversation.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:

Yes! BE your own silence!

To be filled with noise is to be distracted from you own self. To recognize your own silence, to be comfortable with it, to BE it — that requires nothing less than to be at ease with your heart and to rest like royalty there.

…and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire.

The whole world burns with this stillness. There is a light and a dancing life hidden in the silence.

How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?

And that silent fire can be overwhelming, frightening, for it consumes everything, including one’s ego and one’s name. So how can a man be still in the midst of such a conflagration?

The bold dare the heat…






Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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