Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Oct 09 2013

Ryokan – Autumn’s first drizzle

Published by under Poetry

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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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

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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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saadi_Shirazi. 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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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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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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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
Buddhist

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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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Aug 30 2013

Eihei Dogen – Zazen

Published by under Poetry

Zazen
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
confuse,

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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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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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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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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