Sep 23 2016

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Only Breath

Published by under Poetry

Only Breath
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

— from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Image by FredG /

First, let me say how much I appreciate the warm response to my message on Wednesday. I have already received several donations, which are a huge help in covering my expenses necessary to keep the Poetry Chaikhana running smoothly, especially through this bumpy period when my personal income is down due to illness. More support is needed, but we have a good start. Thank you to everyone!

Also, thank you for the many kind notes wishing me renewed health, often with good suggestions and advice. In the last 24 hours I have finally begun to feel some noticeable improvement, a trend that I hope to nurture and continue. So much adventure and drama to be had without even having to step out the front door… 🙂


Now, on to today’s poem.

I was surprised to realize that I have never featured this poem by Rumi on the Poetry Chaikhana, especially given how well known and loved it is. Actually, I did feature this poem years ago, but in a different, less known translation by Bernard Lewis.

This morning I read the two versions side-by-side, the one above by Coleman Barks, and the version below by Lewis. It occurred to me that this might a good opportunity to invite some discussion about the nature of poetry and translation.

Here is the Lewis translation of the poem. Take a moment to read it, while the Barks version is fresh in your mind, and think about the differences, why they are different, how those differences affect our reading of the poem…

What can I do, Muslims? I do not know myself.
I am neither Christian nor Jew, neither Magian nor Muslim,
I am not from east or west, not from land or sea,
not from the shafts of nature nor from the spheres of the firmament,
not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire.
I am not from the highest heaven, not from this world,
not from existence, not from being.
I am not from India, not from China, not from Bulgar, not from Saqsin,
not from the realm of the two Iraqs, not from the land of Khurasan.
I am not from the world, not from beyond,
not from heaven and not from hell.
I am not from Adam, not from Eve, not from paradise and not from Ridwan.
My place is placeless, my trace is traceless,
no body, no soul, I am from the soul of souls.
I have chased out duality, lived the two worlds as one.
One I seek, one I know, one I see, one I call.
He is the first, he is the last, he is the outer, he is the inner.
Beyond “He” and “He is” I know no other.
I am drunk from the cup of love, the two worlds have escaped me.
I have no concern but carouse and rapture.
If one day in my life I spend a moment without you
from that hour and that time I would repent my life.
If one day I am given a moment in solitude with you
I will trample the two worlds underfoot and dance forever.
O Sun of Tabriz, I am so tipsy here in this world,
I have no tale to tell but tipsiness and rapture.

(version by Bernard Lewis)

So, what do you think? Do you prefer one version over the other?

The Barks version is much leaner. It’s easier on the eyes, especially when grouped together into couplets with line breaks. The language arguably flows a bit more easily. But the biggest difference to me is that Barks is obviously taking huge liberties with the language, trimming out entire phrases and ideas, while significantly reformulating others.

The Lewis version is generally using modern English, as well, but my impression is that he is sticking much closer to a literal translation of Rumi’s original. He doesn’t do as much to try to replicate the poetic flow that the original undoubtedly has, but the more literal the translation, the more difficult it becomes to also reproduce rhythm and rhyme. Still, there are some juicy bits that Lewis manages to keep which I miss in the Barks translation.

There are always imperfect compromises in translation, especially so in poetry:

– How literally should the poem be translated?

– Should it be so literal that the poetry is lost?

– When the original poem has meter and rhyme or alliteration, as most classic poetry does, should the translation attempt to reproduce it or create a new pattern suggestive of the original or completely abandon meter and rhyme?

– How free should the translator be with introducing line breaks to make the poem flow more naturally to the modern eye or to emphasize specific words and ideas?

– What should the translator do when even a strictly literal translation looses the poem’s inner meaning? Metaphor and word play are culturally specific. A word-for-word translation often doesn’t carry the same meaning in another culture or time. How much liberty should the translator take in order to convey the intended meaning by introducing new phrases and metaphors?

– At what point does a translation become so loose that it is more the work of the translator than the original poet?

– Barks or Lewis? (Or both?)

I have my own answers to these questions, but I am particularly interested in your thoughts. Post a comment on the blog or send me an email. These are issues I find myself weighing in my work with the Poetry Chaikhana. What do you think?


Once again, thank you for all of the heartfelt messages you have been sending me lately. I’m sending all of you love in return.

And… Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Open Secret: Versions of Rumi
More Books >>

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

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

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

Sep 23 2016


Each life
is a grand philosophical experiment
within unfathomable mystery.

No responses yet

Sep 21 2016

A Vote for Sacred Poetry

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

– John O’Donohue
from “In Praise of the Earth”

Hi [First Name]-

As many of you know, I have dealt with chronic fatigue/ME issues for years. Actually, I have been doing pretty well with stable health and energy since last year. But just over a week ago I had an unexpectedly serious crash in energy that has left me reeling while struggling to maintain minimal hours with my day job. I have been using all of my strategies to try to rebound, but so far only with partial success.

Even when I go for several days without sending out a poem email, however, I want you to know that all of you in the Poetry Chaikhana community are very much in my thoughts.

I know from your emails that I am not alone in dealing with serious health challenges. I am always humbled by the quiet courage and strength so many people exercise daily without fanfare or outer drama. Even in the most quiet life, stories of surprising beauty and struggle unfold.

Last year I shared some of my thoughts on Health, Suffering & Meaning that I hope inspires some new perspectives on the subject. (“Sometimes, though, dis-ease is an annoyingly persistent teacher…”)

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.
~ Dylan Thomas

Please Support for the Poetry Chaikhana

It has been many months since I last requested donations for the Poetry Chaikhana, but your support especially means a lot right now. I am very aware of everyone who sends in a donation, either singly or as a regular monthly contribution, and I am so grateful for all of your support! But, naturally, some people’s attention moves elsewhere over time, and donations fluctuate, so I regularly need to reach out for new support.

Now is a time when I need to ask more of you to join in and support the Poetry Chaikhana.

Nearly 10,000 people are receiving this email. We are a large community with creativity, vision, and resources that I hope can draw on.

Do you think, as a group, we cover the Poetry Chaikhana’s modest expenses each day?

(For those curious about the sort of work I do each day with the Poetry Chaikhana, I invite you to take a look at Behind the Scenes with the Poetry Chaikhana.)

If you feel a connection to the Poetry Chaikhana, please consider making a donation.

Ways you can contribute:

  • You can send a check or money order in US funds made out to “Poetry Chaikhana”, addressed to:

    Poetry Chaikhana
    PO Box 2320
    Boulder, CO 80306

  • You can make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button below or on the Poetry Chaikhana home page
  • You can sign up for a voluntary subscription of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button, also below or at (A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook and allows the Poetry Chaikhana to plan finances over the long term.)

I am also grateful for your supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, financial and energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

I regularly receive emails telling me how much the Poetry Chaikhana means to you. The daily poem brings a moment of calm to the morning, inspires creativity at work, offers comfort in a period of crisis, carries hope when assaulted by the headlines, suggests a focus for meditation or prayer before bed. These notes from you continuously remind me why the Poetry Chaikhana is so important. And I am so grateful to be able to share my love of this poetry with such an engaged community.

Sacred poetry is transformative on both a personal and a global level, something I believe we need more than ever today. As I have written elsewhere:

“Sacred poetry has the unique benefit of being a deeply personal expression of spiritual truth while, at the same time, being largely free from dogma… Sacred poetry is the natural goodwill ambassador for the world’s religions. Poetry can reach across cultural divides, soften prejudices, and shed light on misunderstandings. I hope the Poetry Chaikhana can help to facilitate that process.”

Or, as Rumi said–

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~ Rumi

It is coming up on election season here in the U.S. As you are contemplating your vote, remember also to vote for the sanity and beauty of sacred poetry!

Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers.
~ Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Thank you, and sending my love!


2 responses so far

Sep 12 2016

Mary Oliver – The Journey

Published by under Poetry

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

— from Dream Work, by Mary Oliver

/ Image by along mekong /

Saturday was Mary Oliver’s birthday. I posted this poem on the Poetry Chaikhana Facebook page and people really responded to it. I thought I should share it with the wider Poetry Chaikhana email list today.

I hope this inspires some courage for the journey — your own journey.

(And Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver. Thank you for all of your wonderful, quietly transformative poetry through the years.)

Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light Dream Work Thirst: Poems
More Books >>

Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Sep 12 2016

Wild, living places

Wild, living places —
cherish them, fight for them;

they whisper to us of our true home.

No responses yet

Sep 09 2016

Sri Chinmoy – The Absolute

Published by under Poetry

The Absolute
by Sri Chinmoy (Chinmoy Kumar Ghose)

No mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought;
The final end of Nature’s dance,
I am it whom I have sought.

A realm of Bliss bare, ultimate;
Beyond both knower and known;
A rest immense I enjoy at last;
I face the One alone.

I have crossed the secret ways of life,
I have become the Goal.
The Truth immutable is revealed;
I am the way, the God Soul.

My spirit aware of all the heights,
I am mute in the core of the Sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds;
My cosmic play is done.

— from My Flute, by Sri Chinmoy

/ Image by MaximeDaviron /

For today, a meditation on the Absolute.

I won’t say much about this poem because, when contemplating the Absolute, the fewer words the better. But I will just say that these few rhyming verses say a lot. Worth reading a few times… and then falling silent.

Recommended Books: Sri Chinmoy (Chinmoy Kumar Ghose)

My Flute

Sri Chinmoy (Chinmoy Kumar Ghose), Sri Chinmoy (Chinmoy Kumar Ghose) poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Sri Chinmoy (Chinmoy Kumar Ghose)

India / Bangladesh / US (1931 – 2007) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Sep 09 2016

heavenly nature

One day all effort will cease
and the Earth shall recognize
its inherent heavenly nature.

No responses yet

Sep 02 2016

Rasakhan – Enchanted

Published by under Poetry

by Rasakhan

English version by Shyamdas

I put my fingers in my ears
      to block the sound
            whenever Krishna gently plays His flute!

Declares Raskhan,
      “It happens when enchanter Mohan
            climbs to the rooftop
                  to call His cows.

“I issue a warning to all the people of Braja.
      Tomorrow, I will not be able to console them.

“O, friend! Having glimpsed His smile,
      I cannot…
            I cannot…
                  I will not
                        control my love.”

— from Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan, Translated by Shyamdas

/ Image by vishalmisra /

Krishna is often depicted standing in a relaxed posture holding a flute to his lips. Think of Krishna as the pied piper of India, but it is lost souls he calls to himself.

I put my fingers in my ears
      to block the sound
            whenever Krishna gently plays His flute!

When you think about it, this opening line can be read in two different ways. On the surface, Rasakhan (speaking as Radha, the cowherd girl who loves Krishna) seems to be petulantly blocking out the music of Krishna’s flute, not wanting to come when called. Of course, even this implies that the Lord’s music is so enchanting that the only way not to be drawn by it is to try to block it out. This hints that we are already hooked by the call of God, that union is inevitable, and we can only temporarily put it off.

But there is another, esoteric way to read this, as well. The flute of Krishna is the quiet tone heard deep within the base of the skull when we sit in silent, devoted meditation and prayer. It is this whisper in the inner ear that draws us to deepest union with the Eternal. So, understood this way, Rasakhan could actually be describing a yogic technique of blocking out sound and quieting the external senses in order to better hear Krishna’s call within.

Declares Raskhan,
      “It happens when enchanter Mohan
            climbs to the rooftop
                  to call His cows.

We hear the flute when Mohan, another name for Krishna, climbs to the rooftop. Again, in the language of yoga, this can be understood as a reference to the skull in general or, more specifically, the crown chakra.

“O, friend! Having glimpsed His smile,
      I cannot…
            I cannot…
                  I will not
                        control my love.”

I love those lines! That’s the passion felt by a true lover of God! “I cannot… I cannot… I will not control my love.”

Recommended Books: Rasakhan

Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan


India (1534? – 1619?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Sep 02 2016

psychic stillness

Psychic stillness is so difficult because it makes us naked
to ourselves.
This is why self-acceptance is essential.
Otherwise, we never give ourselves permission to be still.

No responses yet

Aug 29 2016

John O’Donohue – For a New Beginning

Published by under Poetry

For a New Beginning
by John O’Donohue

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

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

/ Image by Shermeee /

I haven’t been doing many Monday poems recently, but since I didn’t send one out on Friday, I decided to start the week off with a poem…

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening

Isn’t this a wonderful blessing of hope and new pathways?

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

I like that this poem is kind to the phases of our lives when we feel stuck or reluctant to change and explore. Yet, at the same time, it recognizes that the safety of familiar routine can be a seductive illusion.

When I was young I actively undermined any routines I found in myself, convinced that they led to a sort of psychic numbness and lack of deep fulfillment. I think there was truth in that perspective, but there was also self-cruelty in that approach that led to instability. Once I came to see that, I worked very hard, sometimes painfully, at the cultivation of routine, and began to find unexpected life nourishment there. The crucial element, I think, is that those routines should be consciously selected rather than imposed on us by societal expectation or unexamined habit.

And we can’t fall into the seductive idea that we are those routines or that our happiness depends on them. Routine creates essential structure, but endless stasis is death. Life and growth require change. Regular encounters with the new and the unknown reinvigorate the soul.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk

New avenues can sometimes be frightening, occasionally bringing genuine peril, so one shouldn’t be brash or blind to the situation. But a certain boldness is natural to our nature when we come to know ourselves. We need awareness, dynamism, creativity, a diversity of life skills — all wrapped in a vital joy. Then even the perils themselves serve to accentuate the magic and wonder of each stage of the journey.

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Sending love, courage, and new rhythms…

Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>

John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Aug 29 2016

The pathway in life

The pathway in life
runs along the seam
between the heart and the world.

No responses yet

Aug 24 2016

Yoka Genkaku – There is the leisurely one

Published by under Poetry

[1] The re is the leisurely one (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

There is the leisurely one,
Walking the Tao, beyond philosophy,
Not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.
The real nature of ignorance is the Buddha-nature itself;
The empty delusory body is the very body of the Dharma.

/ Image by ahermin /

It’s a sleepy morning here, overcast after many long days of summer heat and sun. And this poem appealed to me. It suggests to me the drowsy way of enlightenment.

There is the leisurely one,
Walking the Tao, beyond philosophy,
Not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.

Not through effort, but through quiet being and quietly seeing.

Not trying to control the mind or force silence or a specific way of seeing. Simply observing. The movement of the world, the movement of thoughts, they come, they go. Watching these flickering phenomena though drowsy eyes, they tell us more about the spacious depths than their jostling surfaces. We yawn behind a hand as we watch the show.

An enlightenment for sleepy mornings.

The real nature of ignorance is the Buddha-nature itself;
The empty delusory body is the very body of the Dharma.

To clarify what is meant here by “ignorance” and the “delusory body” it may be helpful to mentally substitute the concept of Maya, which is the world of seeming and illusion. It is the world of apparent thingness and separation, when underlying it is the real world of unity and interbeing. Our ideas about the world, confused as they usually are by the illusions of Maya, lead us into a state of ignorance as to the true nature of reality. But as we quiet and honestly see, then that ignorance itself is seen not so much as a barrier to truth but an invitation to look deeper. Ignorance is itself of the Buddha-nature.

Likewise, all of our ideas about who we are within a separate physical body amidst a world of separated bodies, that “delusory” point-of-view surprisingly relaxes into the recognition that there is only the presence of Dharma, the outpouring “way” of the Eternal.


A confession: I sat down this morning thinking I would pick a short poem and not try to add many of my own words by way of commentary. I feel like I’ve been a bit long-winded lately. And here I am writing another longish commentary. Someday soon I may recover the virtue of succinctness. But not today, apparently.

Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen

Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

China (665 – 713) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Aug 24 2016

continuously ask

Continuously ask: What is right here?
What is this sensation? This emotion?
This thought? This experience?
Then ask: Who is experiencing it?

No responses yet

Aug 22 2016

Video: Ducks in Search of the Moon – Ekphrastic Haiku by Gabriel Rosenstock

Published by under Poetry,Videos

A reading of ekphrastic haiku in both Irish and English by Gabriel Rosenstock. “Ekphrastic” poetry is poetry inspired by art. Each haiku is accompanied by a painting that inspired it.

These will make you pause and think… and chuckle, some of them.

Ducks in Search of the Moon from Jim Swift on Vimeo.

No responses yet

Aug 19 2016

Mansur al-Hallaj – Kill me, my faithful friends

Published by under Poetry

Kill me, my faithful friends
by Mansur al-Hallaj

English version by Andrew Harvey

Kill me, my faithful friends,
For in my being killed is my life.

Love is that you remain standing
In front of your Beloved
When you are stripped of all your attributes;
Then His attributes become your qualities.

Between me and You, there is only me.
Take away the me, so only You remain.

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

/ Image by detail24 /

Nothing like a death wish in the opening lines of a poem to startle us to attention–

At first reading, this poem by Hallaj is really rather disturbing. Why is he begging his “faithful friends” to kill him? Even the language of being “stripped” has an element of violence to it. Yet, with all of that, why does the poem seem to emanate such bliss?

When Hallaj asks to be killed, he follows by saying that “in my being killed is my life.” He is not talking about physical death, he is talking about the mystic’s death, the death of the ego-self, ecstatic annihilation in God. And in that annihilation, true life is found. This is what he implores his faithful friends to grant him.

Such a radical loss of the ego is like standing naked, “stripped of all your attributes” before God, the Beloved. When that occurs, we recognize the divine qualities are actually our own qualities and have been all along.

Hallaj’s final lines are especially rich in meaning. When there is “me and You,” that is, a sense of duality or separation between you and God, “there is only me.” The ego-self, the “me,” shades all perception so everything, even the idea of God, only reflects the ego back to itself.

This is why we must “take away the me.” When we do that, when we drop the ego-sense, then no “me” remains and the Divine is found to be present everywhere.

Recommended Books: Mansur al- Hallaj

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology
More Books >>

Mansur al- Hallaj

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

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Aug 19 2016

the solution

The solution
is in the present.

No responses yet

Aug 17 2016

Vidyapati – All my inhibition left me in a flash

Published by under Poetry

All my inhibition left me in a flash
by Vidyapati

English version by Azfar Hussain

All my inhibition left me in a flash,
When he robbed me of my clothes,
But his body became my new dress.
Like a bee hovering on a lotus leaf
He was there in my night, on me!

True, the god of love never hesitates!
He is free and determined like a bird
Winging toward the clouds it loves.
Yet I remember the mad tricks he played,
My heart restlessly burning with desire
Was yet filled with fear!

/ Image by /

I’m back. I took time last week to make some good progress on the next Poetry Chaikhana anthology. I’ll let you know as it is closer to being ready for publication. Soon!


All my inhibition left me in a flash…

Whew! Don’t these verses raise a little color to your cheeks?

This excerpt is such a beautiful example of how the soul, the individual self can yearn for God with such a passion that it can be described in erotic terms. Much like Jayadeva’s sacred-erotic classic Gitagovinda, Vidyapati also sings of the passionate love between Radha and Krishna.

The speaker here is Radha, recalling her love-play with Krishna. Radha represents the individual soul who has fallen in love with God, Krishna. It is her intense love that draws Krishna to her. This “burning” desire purifies the soul, elevating it into a finer and more subtle state, becoming like the heavenly “cloud” that draws the divine “bird.”

The soul is “restless” with desire for union with the Divine, but also “filled with fear” — for union means we lose ourself and become God’s own.

I especially like the first few lines, the way Vidyapati plays with double meanings. Radha breathlessly says “…he robbed me of my clothes,” while the soul is saying that God removed all superficial identity. Just as we cover the nakedness of our bodies with clothes, we also try to hide our natural state in order to present a socially acceptable facade. We craft a whole new identity with the clothing we wear. The way a person dresses tells us his or her work, wealth, age, social connections, etc. But they are not who we truly are. Our vestments become masks reflecting the ego. In divine union, we are not the business executive, the struggling artist, the son of so-and-so, the wife, the mother, the spiritual seeker. No, divine union makes us naked; we are simply as we are. We can bring nothing but our bare selves to that sacred meeting.

But in this naked state, we are surprised — stunned — by our very wholeness. We suddenly recognize that we have been using the clothing of ego to hide from a false sense of shame. We have spent our entire lives feeling somehow broken, incomplete, disappointed. We’ve labored under the false notion that there was something wrong with being who we were, so we cover our true nature with social roles, with accomplishments, trying to so impress people (mostly ourselves) hoping that no notice will be taken of who we really are underneath all those layers. But when we truly get naked, when we finally strip down and see ourselves as we are, we are transfixed by a vision of wholeness and immensity and joy. Though no rational explanation can be offered, this vision of reality is recognized as our true nature, our true Self. This is how Radha, the soul, can truthfully proclaim in ecstasy that “his body became my new dress.” In divine union, the identity shifts from the ego to the vast Being we call God. That is the only real identity.

“He was there in my night, on me!” In truth, “he” has claimed us in all ways. And, in the resulting joy, all inhibition — that is, all false shame and fear — leaves “in a flash.”

Still feeling that flush? You should! That flush is the flush of life, the flush of life force, the flush of anticipated union…

Recommended Books: Vidyapati

In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali

Vidyapati, Vidyapati poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Vidyapati

India (1340? – 1430) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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