Archive for the 'Stories' Category

Sep 10 2014

Story: The King’s Fortress, by the Baal Shem Tov

Published by under Stories

I thought a change of pace would be nice today. Rather than a poem, I offer a story by the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of Mezhizh, known respectfully as the Baal Shem Tov (the Master of the Good Name), lived in the early 1700s and is the spiritual father of the Hassidic movement that became such an important part of Judaism in Eastern Europe (and later, after World War II and the Holocaust, spread to the rest of the world).

Much of the spiritual genius of Hassidic Jewish mysticism is passed to us through stories, usually tales from the lives of revered Rabbis. Sometimes though we get an allegorical story, like this one told by the Baal Shem Tov himself…

==


/ Photo by ivan.kovpak /

There was a king who created, through his magical art, barriers and walls, one within the other, with which to surround himself. All these were, however, really illusory. He commanded that money be spread around at the gates of each of these walls to see how great the determination and desire of his subjects, how much effort each one of them would make, to come to the king.

There were those of his subjects who immediately returned home after they had collected a little money at the gates of these illusory walls. There were others who got as far as the second or third walls. But there were very few who did not desire to collect merely physical treasures, only to reach the king himself.

After considerable effort they came to the king and saw that there were really no barriers and walls, everything was a magical illusion.

So it is with God. Those who truly understand know that all the barriers and walls of iron, all the garments and coverings are really on God himself in hiding, as it were, because there is no place where he is not.

(trans. Alan Unterman)

Teachings of the Jewish Mystics
by Perle Besserman

2 responses so far

Jul 22 2013

Chaikhana and The Story of Tea

I often get asked what a “chaikhana” is. The short answer is that it is a tea house. (Chai = tea). The inevitable second question is, why a “poetry chaikhana”? What does poetry, especially sacred poetry, have to do with tea? The act of sipping tea naturally has a contemplative quality to it, but there’s a deeper reason why I chose the name Poetry Chaikhana all those years ago. It was inspired by a Sufi story–


/ Photo by Doubtful-Della /

The Story of Tea

In ancient times, tea was not known outside China. Rumours of its existence had reached the wise and the unwise of other countries, and each tried to find out what it was in accordance with what he wanted or what he thought it should be.

The King of Inja (‘here’) sent an embassy to China, and they were given tea by the Chinese Emperor. But, since they saw that the peasants drank it too, they concluded that it was not fit for their royal master: and, furthermore, that the Chinese Emperor was trying to deceive them, passing off some other substance for the celestial drink.

The greatest philosopher of Anja (‘there’) collected all the information he could about tea, and concluded that it must be a substance which existed but rarely, and was of another order than anything then known. For was it not referred to as being an herb, a water, green, black, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet?

In the countries of Koshish and Bebinem, for centuries the people tested all the herbs they could find. Many were poisoned, all were disappointed. For nobody had brought the tea-plant to their lands, and thus they could not find it. They also drank all the liquids which they could find, but to no avail.

In the territory of Mazhab (‘Sectarianism’) a small bag of tea was carried in procession before the people as they went on their religious observances. Nobody thought of tasting it: indeed, nobody knew how. All were convinced that the tea itself had a magical quality. A wise man said: ‘Pour upon it boiling water, ye ignorant ones!’ They hanged him and nailed him up, because to do this, according to their belief, would mean the destruction of their tea. This showed that he was an enemy of their religion.

Before he died, he had told his secret to a few, and they managed to obtain some tea and drink it secretly. When anyone said: ‘What are you doing?’ they answered: ‘It is but medicine which we take for a certain disease.’

And so it was throughout the world. Tea had actually been seen growing by some, who did not recognize it. It had been given to others to drink, but they thought it the beverage of the common people. It had been in the possession of others, and they worshipped it. Outside China, only a few people actually drank it, and those covertly.

Then came a man of knowledge, who said to the merchants of tea, and the drinkers of tea, and to others: ‘He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not. Instead of talking about the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea-drinkers. Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.’

The tea was brought from one stage to another along the Silk Road, and whenever a merchant carrying jade or gems or silk would pause to rest, he would make tea, and offer it to such people as were near him, whether they were aware of the repute of tea or not. This was the beginning of the Chaikhanas, the teahouses which were established all the way from Peking to Bokhara and Samarkand. And those who tasted, knew.

At first, mark well, it was only the great and the pretended men of wisdom who sought the celestial drink and who also exclaimed: ‘But this is only dried leaves!’ or: ‘Why do you boil water, stranger, when all I want is the celestial drink?’, or yet again: ‘How do I know that this is? Prove it to me. Besides the colour of the liquid is not golden, but ochre!’

When the truth was known, and when the tea was brought for all who would taste, the roles were reversed, and the only people who said things like the great and intelligent had said were the absolute fools. And such is the case to this day.

- Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani (1098 – 1131)

Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years
by Idries Shah

In this way, I hope the poems and thoughts I share through the Poetry Chaikhana bring a hint of that celestial drink to your lips. These are poems not to be praised for mere artistry, not to be worshipped from afar, not to be exclusively studied or analyzed. These are poems to be tasted. They are meant to be imbibed until we feel warmth in the belly and sweetness in the heart.

‘He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not… Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.’

Have a beautiful day! I think I’m going to go to the local teahouse and order a tall glass of tea!

11 responses so far

Jun 05 2013

Story: The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox – by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Published by under Stories

How about a change today? I thought I would share a rather enigmatic story with you from Rumi’s Mathnawi

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox

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

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

A huge lion went hunting one day, and took with him a wolf and a fox.

They were all excellent hunters and by the end of the day the team had caught an ox, an ibex, and a hare.

The wolf was already hungrily eying their prey, so the lion magnanimously told him, “Wolf, divide up this abundance between us in any way you like.”

The wolf, though hungry enough to eat the ox himself, decided it was safest to give the largest prize to the lion. He claimed the ibex for himself, and handed the small hare to the fox. The wolf was already licking his chops and about to begin his meal, when the lion roared:

“Wolf! How dare you talk of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’!” With a single swipe from his mighty paw, the lion slew the wolf.

The lion calmed himself, and then turned to the fox. With a toothy smile, he said, “Fox, divide up this abundance between us in any way you like.”

The fox, being no fool, immediately said that the entire bounty belonged to the lion.

The lion rumbled in satisfaction, and said, “Fox, you are no longer a fox; your are myself. The entire bounty is yours!”


/ Photo by wwarby /

* * *

I imagine Mevlana Rumi laughing with delight at this story. But beneath the ironic humor, this story is a teaching story, a humorous parable with layers of hidden wisdom. Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Jan 11 2013

Koan: Tipping Over a Vase

Published by under Stories

The Poetry Chaikhana is back. I had planned to resume these posts earlier in the month, but life had other plans. My advice in those circumstances: Go with life’s plans.

I hope everyone had a blessed beginning to the new year!

Now, back to the poetry… Actually, I thought I’d resume the posts with a koan, rather than a poem, today. This is something I posted on the blog a few years back, and it’s been in my mind this morning. A koan today, poetry next week.

Koans are riddle-like sayings or short tales used in Zen practice to startle the listener out of the linear mind and into open awareness…

Two of the most famous collections of Zen koans are The Gateless Gate and The Blue Cliff Records. Here’s a koan I like from The Gateless Gate:


/ Photo by BotheredByBees /

Tipping Over a Vase

Master Hyakujo decided to found a new monastery, but he had the difficult task of selecting from among his disciples the right person to be the new monastery’s abbot. Then he came upon a solution.

Hyakujo called all his disciples together and told them that the person who best answered his question would be named the new abbot. Hyakujo filled a vase with water and set it on the ground before the assembled monks. “Who can tell me what this is without naming it?” he challenged.

The senior disciple stepped forward and answered accurately, “No one can call it a wooden shoe.”

Then Isan, the lowly cook, stepped forward and knocked the vase over with his foot, and walked out of the room.

Master Hyakujo smiled and declared, “My senior disciple has been bested.” Isan the cook was named the new abbot.

==

What just happened in this story?

One way to understand the meaning of this story is that the water represents Truth or the Dharma. The vase is the vessel that holds that truth, it is the teaching, it is the tradition.

That truth cannot be told, however. Sure, you can use simple words like “Truth” or “Reality,” or you can fill books with complex philosophical explanations. But ultimately those are all words and don’t truly convey what the Truth is. The “water” cannot be named. That is why Master Hyakujo gave this challenge to his disciples.

The lead disciple, clearly a cunning man, sees this as a test of his mental dexterity. If he cannot name the water-filled vessel, he will say what it is not, thus suggesting it by negation. But he has only negated one object in a world of infinite objects. A person can spend a lifetime listing all the things something is not, and never come to the point where only the unnamed thing remains. The lead disciple is trapped on the endless road of the intellect.

But the cook, Isan, understood the situation simply and clearly. He tipped the vase over, emptying the vessel and revealing the water. The truth cannot be told, it can only be shown.

What’s more, the truth cannot be held, it cannot be contained, it can only be poured out. The vase itself, the spiritual tradition, is empty and only has meaning as a vessel to transport the truth. By tipping over the vessel, he is suggesting that we must not worship the tradition itself. Religion, philosophy, spiritual tradition — these are not an end to themselves; they should be respected for their function as a delivery vehicle, but nothing more.

These are the insights that mark one for spiritual authority.

19 responses so far

Jan 27 2010

The Celestial Drink 1: Introduction

Wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, honey, virgin’s milk… References to a secret or forbidden drink appears in the writings and songs of initiates throughout the world. It is a drink that imparts wisdom, inspiration, prophecy, divine madness, and bliss. It is the sign of divine union between lover and the Beloved, the mystic’s marriage wine. But what is this celestial drink really? Why does it appear in sacred writings all over the world?

Let’s explore those questions in this Celestial Drink series…


As I was considering how to begin our exploration of the Celestial Drink, it occurred to me that I needed to find a way to convey that we are not talking about actual wine …or tea or honey or any other physical drink. At the same time, this subtle drink is not merely a metaphor. It is real, and available to everyone.

As long as the discussion remains safely in the intellect, the taste of wine never touches our lips — and who wants somber sobriety when the wine pours so freely?


/ Photo by Jsome1 /

Academics and literary critics are better equipped than I to give you a standard history of how wine and drink images are used in the great writings of the world. Instead, let’s you and I speak in shared whispers, as mystics, passing the cup quietly between us. Let us share the true taste and not simply the description…


Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Per (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line,
And “Up-and-down” without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but — Wine.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas — the Grape!

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

- Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131)

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald


The language of a sacred drink, a secret drink that imparts wisdom and bliss appears in the writings and songs of initiates throughout the world — wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, virgin’s milk. But what are these really? Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jun 01 2009

The Imaginal Cell Story – by Nori Huddle

Published by under Stories

Suggested by Peggy. And found on The Infinite Games




The Imaginal Cell Story

The caterpillar’s new cells are called ‘imaginal cells.’
They are so totally different from the caterpillar cells
that his immune system thinks they are enemies… and gobbles them up.

But these new imaginal cells continue to appear. More and more of them!
Pretty soon, the caterpillar’s immune system
cannot destroy them fast enough.
More and more of the imaginal cells survive.
And then an amazing thing happens!

The little tiny lonely imaginal cells start to clump together
into friendly little groups.
They all resonate together at the same frequency,
passing information from one to another.
Then, after awhile, another amazing thing happens!

The clumps of imaginal cells start to cluster together!
A long string of clumping and clustering imaginal cells,
all resonating at the same frequency,
all passing information from one to another there inside the chrysalis.

Then at some point,
the entire long string of imaginal cells
suddenly realizes all together
that it is something different from the caterpillar.
Something new! Something wonderful!
…and in that realization
is the shout of the birth of the butterfly!

Since the butterfly now “knows” that it is a butterfly,
the little tiny imaginal cells
no longer have to do all those things individual cells must do.
Now they are part of a multi-celled organism—
A FAMILY who can share the work.

Each new butterfly cell can take on a different job—
There is something for everyone to do.
And everyone is important.
And each cell begins to do just that very thing it is most drawn to do.
And every other cell encourages it to do just that.

A great way to organize a butterfly!”

*Adapted Version of Nori Huddle’s story from her book, Butterfly

One response so far

May 27 2009

The Tale of the Sands

Published by under Stories

Another favorite story from Idries Shah’s Tales of the Dervishes. Encountering the desert, a stream must remember its true nature in order to pass beyond it. Our greatest difficulties become our most profound teachers.


/ Photo by JoelDeluxe /

The Tale of the Sands

A stream, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared. Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

May 13 2009

Story: The Story of Fire

Published by under Stories

A delightful Sufi story about the light of truth, the heat of human passions, while exploring questions of cultural memory, religious institutions, and how to pass on knowledge…


/ Photo by Irargerich /

The Story of Fire
By Ahmed el-Bedavi (d. 1276), founder of the Egyptian Bedavi Sufi Order
Retold by Idries Shah

Once upon a time a man was contemplating the ways in which Nature operates, and he discovered, because of his concentration and application, how fire could be made.

This man was called Nour [Light]. He decided to travel from one community to another, showing people his discovery.

Nour passed the secret to many groups of people. Some took advantage of the knowledge. Others drove him away, thinking that he must be dangerous, before they had had time to understand how valuable this discovery could be to them. Finally, a tribe before which he demonstrated became so panic-stricken that they set about him and killed him, being convinced that he was a demon.

Centuries passed. Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Apr 16 2009

Story / Koan: Tipping Over a Vase

Published by under Stories

Koans are riddle-like sayings or short tales used in Zen practice to startle the listener out of the linear mind and into open awareness…

Two of the most famous collections of Zen koans are The Gateless Gate and The Blue Cliff Records. Here’s a koan I like from The Gateless Gate:


/ Photo by BotheredByBees /

Tipping Over a Vase

Master Hyakujo decided to found a new monastery, but he had the difficult task of selecting from among his disciples the right person to be the new monastery’s abbot. Then he came upon a solution.

Hyakujo called all his disciples together and told them that the person who best answered his question would be named the new abbot. Hyakujo filled a vase with water and set it on the ground before the assembled monks. “Who can tell me what this is without naming it?” he challenged.

The senior disciple stepped forward and answered accurately, “No one can call it a wooden shoe.”

Then Isan, the lowly cook, stepped forward and knocked the vase over with his foot, and walked out of the room.

Master Hyakujo smiled and declared, “My senior disciple has been bested.” Isan the cook was named the new abbot.

==

What just happened in this story?

One way to understand the meaning of this story is that the water represents Truth or the Dharma. The vase is the vessel that holds that truth, it is the teaching, it is the tradition.

That truth cannot be told, however. Sure, you can use simple words like “Truth” or “Reality,” or you can fill books with complex philosophical explanations. But ultimately those are all words and don’t truly convey what the Truth is. The “water” cannot be named. That is why Master Hyakujo gave this challenge to his disciples.

The lead disciple, clearly a cunning man, sees this as a test of his mental dexterity. If he cannot name the water-filled vessel, he will say what it is not, thus suggesting it by negation. But he has only negated one object in a world of infinite objects. A person can spend a lifetime listing all the things something is not, and never come to the point where only the unnamed thing remains. The lead disciple is trapped on the endless road of the intellect.

But the cook, Isan, understood the situation simply and clearly. He tipped the vase over, emptying the vessel and revealing the water. The truth cannot be told, it can only be shown.

What’s more, the truth cannot be held, it cannot be contained, it can only be poured out. The vase itself, the spiritual tradition, is empty and only has meaning as a vessel to transport the truth. By tipping over the vessel, he is suggesting that we must not worship the tradition itself. Religion, philosophy, spiritual tradition — these are not an end to themselves; they should be respected for their function as a delivery vehicle, but nothing more.

These are the insights that mark one for spiritual authority.

9 responses so far

Apr 07 2009

Story: Thought, by Anthony de Mello

Published by under Stories

“Why are you so wary of thought?” said the philosopher. “Thought is the one tool we have for organizing the world.”

“True,” [the Master answered]. “But thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it.”

To his disciples he later said, “A thought is a screen, not a mirror; that is why you live in a thought envelope, untouched by Reality.”

One Minute Wisdom
by Anthony de Mello

I love the short-short stories told by Anthony de Mello. Some hit you like a lightning bolt, others invite a smile to bloom on your face. These stories ask you to sit with them, not to rush through but to enjoy and contemplate.

In this one, for example, the philosopher assumes that meaning is apprehended through thought, through intellection. And he is correct when he asserts that thought is how we “organize the world.” For the most part, this is the assumed viewpoint of all of postmodern society. And there is no doubt that observing the world through the medium of the intellect is very effective on many levels.

But the Master points out Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Mar 31 2009

Story: The King’s Fortress, by the Baal Shem Tov

Published by under Stories

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of Mezhizh, known respectfully as the Baal Shem Tov (the Master of the Good Name), lived in the early 1700s and is the spiritual father of the Hassidic movement that became such an important part of Judaism in Eastern Europe (and later, after World War II and the Holocaust, spread to the rest of the world).

Much of the spiritual genius of Hassidic Jewish mysticism is passed to us through stories, usually tales from the lives of revered Rabbis. Sometimes though we get an allegorical story, like this one told by the Baal Shem Tov himself…

==


/ Photo by ivan.kovpak /

There was a king who created, through his magical art, barriers and walls, one within the other, with which to surround himself. All these were, however, really illusory. He commanded that money be spread around at the gates of each of these walls to see how great the determination and desire of his subjects, how much effort each one of them would make, to come to the king.

There were those of his subjects who immediately returned home after they had collected a little money at the gates of these illusory walls. There were others who got as far as the second or third walls. But there were very few who did not desire to collect merely physical treasures, only to reach the king himself.

After considerable effort they came to the king and saw that there were really no barriers and walls, everything was a magical illusion.

So it is with God. Those who truly understand know that all the barriers and walls of iron, all the garments and coverings are really on God himself in hiding, as it were, because there is no place where he is not.

(trans. Alan Unterman)

Teachings of the Jewish Mystics
by Perle Besserman

3 responses so far

Mar 27 2009

Story: The Lost Tenth Man, told by Ramana Maharshi

Published by under Stories

The great 20th century sage of nondualism Ramana Maharshi gives us a very funny story about ten men who cross a river, who then become convinced that they’ve lost one of their party. It is a delightful illustration of Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu teaching of nondualism that asserts the Eternal is also one’s Self. Since the Goal is also our Self, we are never truly separate from That. The effort to acquire the Eternal becomes an endlessly frustrating game until we finally understand that all that is necessary is to remove our ignorance and see the situation clearly.

Let’s let Ramana Maharshi tell us in his own words:

Ramana Maharshi, Ramana Maharshi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ramana Maharshi

India (1879 – 1950) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

“[The Eternal] is not a knowledge to be acquired, so that acquiring it one may obtain happiness. It is one’s ignorant outlook that one should give up. The Self you seek to know is truly yourself. Your supposed ignorance causes you needless grief like that of the ten foolish men who grieved at the loss of the tenth man who was never lost…”

===


/ Photo by judepics /

The ten foolish men… forded a stream and on reaching the other shore wanted to make sure that all of them had in fact safely crossed the stream. One of the ten began to count, but while counting the others left himself out.

“I see only nine; sure enough, we have lost one. Who can it be?” he said.

“Did you count correctly?” asked another, and did the counting himself. But he too counted only nine.

One after the other each of the ten counted only nine, missing himself.

“We are only nine,” they all agreed, “but who is the missing one?” they asked themselves. Every effort they made to discover the “missing” individual failed.

“Whoever he is that is drowned,” said the most sentimental of the ten fools Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Mar 22 2009

Story: The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox – by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Published by under Stories

Let’s start with a story from Rumi’s Mathnawi

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox

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

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

A huge lion went hunting one day, and took with him a wolf and a fox.

They were all excellent hunters and by the end of the day the team had caught an ox, an ibex, and a hare.

The wolf was already hungrily eying their prey, so the lion magnanimously told him, “Wolf, divide up this abundance between us in any way you like.”

The wolf, though hungry enough to eat the ox himself, decided it was safest to give the largest prize to the lion. He claimed the ibex for himself, and handed the small hare to the fox. The wolf was already licking his chops and about to begin his meal, when the lion roared:

“Wolf! How dare you talk of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’!” With a single swipe from his mighty paw, the lion slew the wolf.

The lion slowly calmed himself, and then turned to the fox. With a huge smile, he said, “Fox, divide up this abundance between us in any way you like.”

The fox, being no fool, immediately said that the entire bounty belonged to the lion.

The lion rumbled in satisfaction, and said, “Fox, you are no longer a fox; your are myself. The entire bounty is yours!”


/ Photo by wwarby /

* * *

I imagine Mevlana Rumi laughing with delight at this story. But beneath the ironic humor, this story is a teaching story, a humorous parable with layers of hidden wisdom. Continue Reading »

9 responses so far

Mar 22 2009

Wisdom Stories – Introduction

Published by under Stories

People are storytelling creatures. It’s not tools or technology that distinguish us from other beings. It is our stories. We tell stories to ourselves and each other. We know ourselves and the world through stories…


/ Photo by topgold /

The primary focus of the Poetry Chaikhana is, naturally, poetry; but you can’t dig very deep into the world’s sacred poetry without coming across some wonderful stories, as well. Just as Jesus famously taught in parables, spiritual teachers of every culture and clime have encoded their teachings into symbolic wisdom tales that both entertain and challenge the seeker to unravel their knots of meaning.

I’ve really come to love these wisdom stories, so I thought I’d to share some with you, along with my way of understanding the deeper meaning they impart. But remember, like a dream, there is not necessarily one single correct meaning or interpretation. The real truth they impart is what you discover in yourself as you uncover the story’s meaning. These stories are an invitation to self-discovery.

3 responses so far