Apr 20 2016

gauze-like veil

We are, each of us, just a thin gauze-like veil
delicately draped over the Divine.
The slightest puff of breath
or flaming spark of fire
dispels the illusion that we are a separate substance.

No responses yet

Apr 15 2016

T. S. Eliot – At the still point

Published by under Poetry

At the still point of the turning world (from The Four Quartets)
by T. S. Eliot

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

— from Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot


/ Image by David Spender /

This is one of those powerful poems. These lines can catch us in a dark moment, uplift when we feel stuck or lost, lead us into greater presence…

At the still point of the turning world.

That image of movement, dancing amidst stillness, right at the center point. The meeting point, not only of past and future, but of all things.

Certain ideas — important ideas — are spoken of so often within spiritual and religious dialog that the words start to lose their meaning. Words like “the present,” “centering,” “here and now…” After one has read enough books or listened to enough talks, phrases like that become expected and slip by without really registering any more.

That is when poetry comes to the rescue.

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…

New reformulations of words and images, unexpected and lovely, gives us new eyes and new ears. We are pleasantly startled out of our mental insulation and the truth behind the word touches us anew, more deeply, with new suggestions of meaning.

A really good poem startles us out of our endless thoughts and brings us into an open state in which we encounter meaning more directly and immediately.

A truly masterful poem brings us to the still point. And there, we dance.

Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

For me, this is one of those poems.


Recommended Books: T. S. Eliot

Four Quartets Collected Poems, 1909-1962 Complete Poems and Plays,: 1909-1950 The Waste Land and Other Writings T. S. Eliot: The Poems
More Books >>


T. S. Eliot, T. S. Eliot poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry T. S. Eliot

US/UK (1888 – 1965) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by T. S. Eliot

4 responses so far

Apr 15 2016

bridge

The boundary between self and the world
is bridged by the breath.

No responses yet

Apr 11 2016

Poetry, Dreams, and Interpretation

I started the Poetry Chaikhana more than ten years ago. These days I typically feature two poems a week, but in the beginning I was sending out five or six poem emails a week! That’s a lot of poem commentary over the years. Of course, sometimes my “commentary” is really more of a meandering meditative tangent loosely inspired by a line or phrase I particularly liked. But when I am actually writing about the poem itself, its meaning, most especially its “spiritual” meaning, I hope it is understood that whatever I write is not the single, authoritative way to interpret the poem’s meaning.

This weekend I was going through some old documents, and I found something I wrote on this subject a few years back that I thought was worth sharing again–

I believe that my commentary on any particular poem should not be taken as all-encompassing or the one “right” way to understand it. Poems, by the elastic nature of their language, have no one, fixed meaning or correct interpretation. Even when the poet may have had a fixed meaning in mind, the moment that poem is shared it expands in meaning.

I like to read a poem the way I try to understand a dream: It is layered with meaning. Ask yourself a question and then look at the poem – and it will suggest a meaning to you. Ask yourself a different question and reread the same poem – you will discover a different meaning. Return to the poem five years later and discover a new meaning again. Poems change with us.

It is my hope that the thoughts and observations and occasional tangents I include with each poem inspire you to connect more deeply with the poem or be touched by it in some unexpected way. But my commentary is only one possible entranceway into the world opened by each poem. Never hesitate to suggest a different understanding of a poem, even one contrary to mine. More important than what I think of a poem is what you think of it – that’s where the magic happens!

Swallowing
the open field —
pheasant’s cry

~ Yamei
(Japan, 17th century)
tr. Ivan M. Granger

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

6 responses so far

Apr 08 2016

Buson – spring rain

Published by under Poetry

spring rain
by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

spring rain —
pond and river
are one

— from The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson, Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock / Translated by John McDonald


/ Image by BoxTail /

I actually woke up to a brilliant, sunny day here in Colorado, but this poem still spoke to me. I think it reminds me of my childhood in rainy Oregon. Even though I have lived in sun-filled Colorado for years, in some secluded corner of my mind the rain still drums down. I carry it with me, a place of comforting shadows and quiet inturning, where everything has depth but not distinction.

This haiku by Buson reminds me of that sense– A spring shower, soft, then heavy, then light again. We hunch our shoulders against it, find shelter beneath the branch of a tree. We grow quiet and peer out through the curtain of rainfall to see a world bathed in shifting gray and deep green and milky whites. The pond nearby is barely visible in the downpour. The stream that runs by is shushed by the all-encompassing sound of the falling rain. Water from the pond, water flowing through the stream, water endlessly descending from heaven and running in rivulets everywhere, connecting it all. A unity that drenches us and invites us in.

Whether you have sun or rain, I hope you have a chance to be drenched in this beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Apr 08 2016

all the world

All the world
is an altar.

No responses yet

Apr 06 2016

Devara Dasimayya – To the utterly at-one with Siva

Published by under Poetry

To the utterly at-one with Siva
by Devara Dasimayya

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

To the utterly at-one with Siva
there’s no dawn,
no new moon,
no noonday,
nor equinoxes,
nor sunsets,
nor full moons;

his front yard
is the true Benares,

O Ramanatha.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Image by whologwhy /

To the utterly at-one with Siva…

That line stops me in my tracks each time I read it. Do you have that same reaction?

there’s no dawn,
no new moon,
no noonday…

Time and the phenomenal experiences that move through time are seen as glimmerings on the surface of the immense, still sea of the Eternal. Days and seasons, action and reaction exist only for the unsettled ego-self. For the true Self, which is “utterly at-one with Siva,” there is only Siva, there is only the Eternal. Dawn and sunset, new moon and full moon, time and motion, all of these are simply Siva’s ornaments fluctuating in timelessness.

This is another way of saying there is no separation in Reality. The new moon pours into the full moon, the glow of dawn naturally builds to noon’s blaze and fills the sunset with its sleepy glory. They are not separate objects or events, but a single continuity witnessed from different perspectives. They are one, shifting glimmerings upon the surface of the Eternal.

Truly realizing this, we recognize that wherever we are is the holiest place in the universe: right here, right now. There is no fundamental difference or distance between the ground under our feet and the most sacred pilgrimage spot. They are the same, part of the same continuity of existence. Your “front yard / is the true Benares,” or Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca…


Recommended Books: Devara Dasimayya

Speaking of Siva


Devara Dasimayya

India (10th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Apr 06 2016

we all feel it

We all feel it, a gentle prodding
to let the heart open,
to know ourselves truly, to be present
and radiate ourselves into the world.

No responses yet

Apr 01 2016

Shabkar – See how, shaped by the excellence of the path

Published by under Poetry

See how, shaped by the excellence of the path
by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard

See how, shaped by the excellence of the path,
I walk now without effort
toward the Buddha state.
I dance, I sing, I play!

— from Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar, Translated by Matthieu Ricard


/ Image by gilad /

We are all feeling it right now, the pressures and worries of the world, building tensions. Things feel as if they are no longer contained by the old ways of doing things. Changes and new directions are unavoidable. But the question that haunts us is — What next?

Elections, politics, war, economics, injustice…

How do we steer things in the directions of life and hope and a more just world? Structures of power, normally rigid and well-fortified, are in flux throughout the world right now. More than at most times, they are susceptible to change and reform — for better or for worse. We’re seeing examples of both, some dismal, some profoundly uplifting.

Because of this unusual world moment of societal malleability, it is a very good time to be engaged. Individual and collective input are magnified and will immensely influence world society in the coming years.

But this raises the question, what does such “engagement” look like for an individual of good heart? I won’t imply that I have a simple answer. We each have unique skills and tendencies, and, therefore, unique ways to contribute.

I would suggest that we approach the question as one of spiritual practice. We may need to challenge ourselves. Being a source of positive change may require action, courage, possibly even self-sacrifice. It also requires joy, kindness, and heart. But consider the possibility that it does not require “effort.” We tend to imagine anything big and worthwhile requires force and will. But when the moment is ripe, change wants to happen. The only real “effort” needed is to figure out in which direction it wants to go, and then clear its path. We don’t have to “make” the change, we just have to allow it. Like a midwife, we enable the natural process already taking place and so help the new life to enter into the world well.

This is how the spiritual path, personal and global, ushers in profound change with no “effort.”

I walk now without effort
toward the Buddha state.
I dance, I sing, I play!


Recommended Books: Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat


Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol), Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol) poetry, Buddhist poetry Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Tibet (1781 – 1851) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Apr 01 2016

information & knowledge

Don’t mistake information for knowledge.

Information is important,
but knowledge is the stuff of life.

No responses yet

Mar 30 2016

Elizabeth Reninger – Dawn

Published by under Poetry

Dawn
by Elizabeth Reninger

at this time
when the light is not yet
useful, merely
beautiful

when a bright
honey pours
nectar over a curved
horizon, into a nameless

chalice, and your vision
wakes also, as if
to meet it, touching
everything

when for an endless
moment all
colors are
this

color a shimmering
fabric an infinite
wisdom this

body
of pure love, so suddenly

your own. . .

— from And Now the Story Lives Inside You, by Elizabeth Reninger


/ Image by e2micha /

I’m back. It has been a little while since we last had a poem by Elizabeth Reninger, and I thought this one just felt right.

Each time I read this poem, feeling for an image or idea to hook my attention and suggest something to write in commentary, I find myself transported, line-by-glowing line, through to the end. I’ll sit silent today and reread this poem once more. My advice? Do the same.

=

I hope you had a special Easter-Equinox-Nawruz-Holi-Shivaratri-Purim.

And I want to send out a special blessing to the world reeling from the recent bombings in Brussels, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, among too many others. May each of us, each in our own unique way, be a force for healing, integrity, and wisdom so craved by the world.


Recommended Books: Elizabeth Reninger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) And Now the Story Lives Inside You


Elizabeth Reninger

US (1963 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Taoist

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Mar 30 2016

simplistic answers

The scariest people are those
who’ve grown tired of questions
and so brutalize the world with simplistic answers.

No responses yet

Mar 18 2016

A. R. Ammons – Still

Published by under Poetry

Still
by A. R. Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I’ll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
found
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

— from Selected Poems, by A. R. Ammons


/ Image by Lee Nachtigal /

What a stunning poem! It brings our awareness down, down into the root of being.

There are several wonderful lines, but I want to explore where A. R. Ammons has chosen to break his lines.

I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence…

Read each line separately. “I can find nothing,” he says, and only parenthetically adds, “to give myself to.”

He doesn’t simply say, “everything is magnificent with existence.” He breaks the line emphatically. “Everything is!” he proclaims. Being, the pure existence of things, is itself what is “magnificent.” His strong line break drives home this truth by requiring us to read the line as two distinct statements which the mind only later pieces together to form a single sentence.

Another line break to contemplate:

nestling in I
found

He is saying two things at once with the line break here. The surface reading could be paraphrased as, “I found while I was nestling in…” But another reading is, “Nestling in myself, I (am) found.”

The final stanza might encourage the second, more mystical reading:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

I don’t want to pass by the line about the beggar — “there, love shook his body like a devastation.”

though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe…

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons Uplands: New Poems by A R Ammons
More Books >>


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

2 responses so far

Mar 18 2016

learn the way

We learn the way
by knowing our hearts.

No responses yet

Mar 16 2016

Ibn Ata’ Illah – A feeling of discouragement when you slip up

Published by under Poetry

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
by Ibn Ata’ Illah

English version by Victor Danner

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
      is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.

Your desire to withdraw from everything
      when Allah has involved you in the world of means
            is a hidden appetite.

Your desire for involvement with the world of means
      when Allah has withdrawn you from it
            is a fall from high aspiration.

Aspiration which rushes on ahead
cannot break through the walls of destiny.

Give yourself a rest from managing!
      When Someone Else is doing it for you,
            don’t you start doing it for yourself!

— from Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations, Translated by Victor Danner / Translated by Wheeler M. Thackston


/ Image by CasheeFoo /

This is a really interesting set of aphoristic verses to contemplate:

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
      is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.

We have this idea, particularly in the modern era, that the strong individual must aggressively forge his or her path through life. There is a sense that it is a fight, that only the strong will succeed, and unhappiness is a sign of weakness and inaction. It is the idea that fulfillment comes through force of will.

But Sheikh Ibn Ata’ Illah gives us a very different point-of-view. Throughout these lines Ibn Ata’ Illah seems to be reminding us that, if we are pushing for a life that is not ours, and feeling frustration because it is not happening, then it is a sign that we are still serving the nafs (ego).

Your desire to withdraw from everything
      when Allah has involved you in the world of means
            is a hidden appetite.

When we have a life of activity in the world but all we want is to withdraw, that isn’t necessarily a sign of spiritual virtue that has somehow been thwarted by circumstances. Instead, our lack of inner peace and desire to be elsewhere is a reflection of self-will and misdirected desire — products of the false self which wants to tell its own story rather than participate in the real story unfolding through us.

Your desire for involvement with the world of means
      when Allah has withdrawn you from it
            is a fall from high aspiration.

And, by the same token, when we are genuinely called to a life a withdrawal but keep turning our attention outward and getting caught up in the dramas and hooks of worldly activity, then just as much have we lost a sense our true nature.

It is not that one manner of life is right and the other wrong. It is not that one is “spiritual” and the other “profane.” Ibn Ata’ Illah speaks of destiny: the soul has a path that naturally unfolds as we move through life.

When we understand life this way, there is an immense sense of relief — and rest.

Give yourself a rest from managing!
      When Someone Else is doing it for you,
            don’t you start doing it for yourself!

Most of us imagine that we have to somehow do life, that it is an immense effort. Now, there may be many activities to engage in, some that can be profoundly exhausting or require vigorous determination, but, on a spiritual level, life itself is not something we do or make for ourselves. No, it flows through us and is not of our making. Sheikh Ibn Ata’ Illah seems to be saying that what is required is not a great battering ram of willpower, not some total life revolution, but simply to come to know ourselves, to feel the deep currents flowing through our lives, and then to fully live the life that naturally emerges with heart and awareness… and contentment. In this way, we stop obstructing the divine will with our endless frustrated efforts and, instead, we allow ourselves to become expressions of that heavenly flow that has always been eager to pour through us.

Read the wrong way, this can sound like it is encouraging passivity, or even acceptance of terrible life circumstances. That’s not it at all. We may need to be intense, passionate, even forceful, but to be effective those energies must be aligned with our deepest sense of who and what we are, in harmony with that great current flowing through us unseen. Even when we make big changes in our lives, it is not that we are forcing movement; we are simply maneuvering things to allow what is ready to happen happen.

The real issue the poet is highlighting is the distinction between self-will, the will that serves the nafs/ego, and divine will, or what he calls destiny. We can reformulate this into saying it is the distinction between willfulness and willingness. Knowing the difference, being able to utilize willingness in a non-passive, positive, and transformative way, this is surprisingly deep work for the soul.

…That is what I understand the poet to be saying. Do I absolutely agree with this perspective? I’ll go along with it most of the way, but I suppose I still put some faith in the importance of deeds.

As a younger man I was big on effort. My mantra was, “Push, Ivan. Push harder.” And then, in a moment of sweet opening, I had the startling and humbling realization that that eternal moment of delicious fullness had nothing to do with me or my exhausting efforts. I saw that my entire life itself was, strangely, not the result of my own efforts. It was as if it had been unfolding and would continue to unfold with or without my constant pushing. I saw the humorous image of a duck paddling down a stream. The duck imagined that its paddling feet kept the current of the stream running, and so it paddled its legs harder and harder. Finally, the poor duck became so tired that it collapsed in exhaustion upon the stream’s surface… and felt the current for the first time carrying him along.

I think Ibn Ata’ Illah is saying that we are all that duck. We may have reason to paddle on occasion to reorient and redirect ourselves, but the current is there and all we really need to do is to ride it.


Recommended Books: Ibn Ata’ Illah

Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations


Ibn Ata’ Illah

Egypt (1250 – 1309) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Mar 16 2016

When problems fill the day

When problems fill the day,
then those problems are the day’s worship.

No responses yet

Mar 11 2016

Kobayashi Issa – Where there are humans

Published by under Poetry

Where there are humans
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Where there are humans
You’ll find flies,
And Buddhas.

— from A Box of Zen: Haiku the Poetry of Zen, Koans the Lessons of Zen, Sayings the Wisdom of Zen, Edited by Manuela Dunn Mascetti / Edited by Timothy Hugh Barrett


/ Image by Samcatt /

This haiku has me chuckling.

That’s what is so infuriating and wondrous about this creature we call the human being. While a deer is utterly and profoundly a deer, and a lion a lion, every human carries the whole menagerie of earth and host of heaven in tow.

I’d just add that, to the Buddhas, the flies too are Buddhas. And so are the humans… So where exactly does that leave us?

=

PS- I want to thank you all for the many wonderful responses I received to Wednesday’s poem and commentary. There were too many messages for me to respond to them individually, but I have been reading all of your emails and blog post comments, and I am moved by how many of you felt inspired to send me stories from your own personal journeys and experiences. It is magical the many ways the human soul unfolds.


Recommended Books: Kobayashi Issa

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment
More Books >>


Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

Japan (1763 – 1828) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

« Prev - Next »