May 15 2015

no story

No story can contain you.

No responses yet

May 12 2015

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – In the school of mind

In the school of mind you
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

In the school of mind you
learn a lot, and become
a true scholar for many to look up to.
In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Image by smoorenburg /

Wow! What a wonderful response to my notes last week! I received a flood of blog comments and private emails. It is always a humbling experience to realize how many wise souls are reading these poem emails. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your thoughts and ideas and insights.

I realize, however, that I may not have done the best job in how I framed the subject in the first place. Several of your messages attempted to reassure me that I shouldn’t be concerned with people canceling their subscriptions to the Poetry Chaikhana, a few of you even gently chiding me for worrying about such things. I was so touched by all of your compassionate messages, but, truthfully, I wasn’t particularly upset by the cancellations. If anything, I was rather amused by the reaction, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to open up a discussion to see what everyone else thought. I find that when there’s a bit of a reaction, that’s often a sign that there is more good stuff to explore. That’s the time for Ivan to step down from his soapbox and hand around the microphone. And I’m so glad I did. Even though I do get inspired by these poems and have been known to ramble on a bit, community dialogs like this remind me that mine is one small voice among many. There are so many rich journeys being mapped out by all of you, and spiritual wisdom is not in the short supply we sometimes imagine.

Thank you again, everyone.

In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 12 2015

day of possibility

Be thankful for this day
of possibility.
Who knows what magic will unfold?

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May 08 2015

On Effort, Effortlessness – and the Fine Art of Giving Offense

After my observation that a number of people unsubscribed after Monday’s poem by Ikkyu, I have had several interesting email conversations with members of the Poetry Chaikhana community as to what the real reason may have been.

In one particularly insightful exchange, a friend suggested that people may have been reacting to my commentary in the Ikkyu poem in which I wrote, “It [enlightenment, spiritual insight] is not hidden behind arcane texts. It is not attained through uninspired, dogged effort.” He pointed out that this might be offensive or belittling to the very sincere and often difficult efforts people undertake in order to deepen their spiritual experience.

I thought that was an entirely valid – and compassionate – observation. And he asked me a really good point-blank question: “Do you believe that since we already are what we’re seeking, we can get there without ‘stiff meditation’ or ‘dogged’ persistence?” Or do I think that enlightenment can be attained “merely by looking at the moon, fishing and drinking” as Ikkyu and some other poets seem to suggest.

I wanted to share my brief response in the hopes that it will be meaningful to you and spark further discussion. Here’s how I answered:

I suppose, if I am being both honest and precise, I would say that I respect the essential truth that we already are what we are searching for, and when we are ripe, any particular moment of awareness can serve as the initiating experience; but, coming to that point of readiness usually requires patient and intense striving.

I like the image of a bow and arrow– It takes great strength and effort to draw the bowstring back, but in order to actually hit the target, all that is needed is to let go. If you try to let go without first drawing the bowstring, nothing happens, there’s nothing to let go of. But if you pull and pull and never let go, then all that will happen is you strain your back. To hit the target, you need the effort to produce enough tension, you need to focus on your target, and then… all you do is yield.

As part of my friend’s response to this, he pointed out how well it fits with my commentary accompanying today’s poem by Tagore: “But the spiritual seeker needs passion! The seeker needs the intensity, the energetic boldness of that passion. The art of spiritual success is learning how to tend the coals of that fire, to find a steady fuel, to feed it, to grow comfortable in its heat, to delight in it, to dance in its glow.”

Now you know a little more of my perspective on the subject. I hope it inspires your own thoughts and personal observations. What understanding do you bring to your spiritual practice?

55 responses so far

May 08 2015

Rabindranath Tagore – I am like a remnant of a cloud

Published by under Poetry

I am like a remnant of a cloud (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

I am like a remnant of a cloud of autumn uselessly roaming in the sky, O my sun ever-glorious! Thy touch has not yet melted my vapour, making me one with thy light, and thus I count months and years separated from thee.
      If this be thy wish and if this be thy play, then take this fleeting emptiness of mine, paint it with colours, gild it with gold, float it on the wanton wind and spread it in varied wonders.
      And again when it shall be thy wish to end this play at night, I shall melt and vanish away in the dark, or it may be in a smile of the white morning, in a coolness of purity transparent.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by timparkinson /

Today is Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday, so I thought we should commemorate that with one of his poems…

You know, what I especially like about this selection is its sweet tension. It speaks with a terrible spiritual yearning–

Thy touch has not yet melted my vapour, making me one with thy light, and thus I count months and years separated from thee.

Yet there is also a profound patience–

And again when it shall be thy wish to end this play …

That balance is essential, yet so difficult to cultivate. With passion, we want immediate satisfaction. The fire tends to flame up and all too quickly burn out. We cultivate patience only when all brash attempts to storm heaven have failed. But that is not so much true patience as benumbed acquiescence. And, in the process, the passion has been lost.

But the spiritual seeker needs passion! The seeker needs the intensity, the energetic boldness of that passion. The art of spiritual success is learning how to tend the coals of that fire, to find a steady fuel, to feed it, to grow comfortable in its heat, to delight in it, to dance in its glow.

This hot hunger isn’t satisfied with fast food. It is a lifelong love affair.

The speaker recognizes that apparent separation from God is part of the divine play — that there is a rightness to that. And even a beauty.

If this be thy wish and if this be thy play, then take this fleeting emptiness of mine, paint it with colours…

These lines give the seeker permission to feel in harmony with the divine will even though lasting communion has not yet been attained.

And a final secret: This recognition eases the psychic muscles, allowing that communion to come upon us even more swiftly and naturally.

Look up at the spring sky (or, more appropriately, autumn sky, for those of you south of the equator). Is that wisp of a cloud fading into the white morning?


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>


Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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May 08 2015

liberation and theft

What the heart recognizes
as liberation,
the ego sees
as theft.

No responses yet

May 06 2015

Kabir – the mind has put up a swing

Published by under Poetry

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing
by Kabir

English version by Robert Bly

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing:
all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees,
and it never winds down.

Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also the wheeling sun and moon;
ages go by, and it goes on.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.

— from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by Johnny Jet /

Monday’s poem by Ikkyu inspired a few notes from people who really responded positively to it… and lots of cancellations. Every time I send out a poem email, a few people cancel their email subscription; that’s just the normal rhythm. But every once in a while I send out something that triggers a few dozen cancellations, and it always leaves me amused and scratching my head. Did people dislike the poem or my commentary? Were they offended by the poet’s biography? Or maybe it was just the full moon stirring the pot.

I certainly didn’t intend to upset anyone. Well, I do occasionally like to shake things up a bit, but hopefully in a healthy and ultimately uplifting way.

Today’s poem probably won’t cause upset, but it may leave us just a bit dizzy… in a good way, I hope!

This is a rather loose translation, but I like it.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.

There is a continuous flowing between the subtle and the manifest, between spirit and matter. Spirit pours through matter, giving it life and awareness. Matter, in turn, gives form to spirit, striving to embody the limitless amidst limitation.

And so the swing goes back and forth, patiently, playfully, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frightening.

It isn’t a process where we find that perfect spot and then it all stops. “It never winds down.” It is an interplay that continues, and we find our rightful place by seeing the entire dance…

Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.


Recommended Books: Kabir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Songs of the Saints of India
More Books >>


Kabir, Kabir poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Kabir

India (15th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Yoga / Hindu

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May 06 2015

Self experiencing Self

What is there
but Self
experiencing Self?

One response so far

May 04 2015

Ikkyu – A Fisherman

Published by under Poetry

A Fisherman
by Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

English version by John Stevens

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.

— from Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, Translated by John Stevens


/ Image by Untitled blue /

I like Ikkyu’s gentle mocking here.

The deeply committed spiritual path can so often become all consuming — scholarship, meditation and other practices — that we either become attached to the path, or engrossed in our own efforts, and in the midst of it all we forget our true goal… what is sometimes called in the Zen tradition, Original Mind.

In true Zen style, Ikkyu cuts through all impediments, even those within his own spiritual tradition, in order to bring us back to the realization that our goal is immediate, right here, and utterly simple. It is not hidden behind arcane texts. It is not attained through uninspired, dogged effort.

When we have readied ourselves, it is simply there. Sometimes all we need is the simplest reminder of fundamental truth — a solitary fisherman singing his timeless chant on the river at night.


Recommended Books: Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Crow With No Mouth: Fifteenth Century Zen Master Ikkyu Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan


Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun), Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun) poetry, Buddhist poetry Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Japan (1394 – 1481) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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May 04 2015

present through perception

We are present through perception,
not action.

No responses yet

May 01 2015

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Whether they know Thee or not

Published by under Poetry

Whether they know Thee or not
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Whether they know Thee or not
      all creatures of the world
now and forever-without-end
      bend but toward Thee.
All love for someone else
      is but a whiff
of Thy perfume:
      none else can be loved.

— from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein


/ Image by vanillapearl /

Why not a second poem by Iraqi this week?

all creatures of the world
now and forever-without-end
bend but toward Thee.

Love those lines. And we forget that this is true. Not just all people, but all beings, consciously or unconsciously constantly turn toward the Eternal. Everything desired, everything loved, every hope, every goal, everything we seek we seek because on some level it reflects back to us an image of the Divine.

All love for someone else
      is but a whiff
of Thy perfume

When something catches our eye or our heart, beneath the love or the lust, when we really look, we find we have witnessed a glimpse the transcendent light. That light, that entrancing luster, is what we seek so passionately.

Understanding this leads to the deeper question: Why seek the countless objects of desire that only reflect the glistening light of the Beloved? Why grasp at glinting shards of a mirror when we can bathe in full sunlight?

In every love, we love the Beloved.

none else can be loved.


Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition


Fakhruddin Iraqi

Iran/Persia/India/Turkey (? – 1289) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 01 2015

maintain our pretenses

Too tired to maintain our pretenses,
we rest in awe.

No responses yet

May 01 2015

Cauldron of Inspiration recording unavailable

Some disappointing news about my recent talk: Several of you have said that you are eager to watch the video of my recent talk on “The Cauldron of Inspiration.” It turns out, however, that there were technical difficulties with the video recording. I was told that there may be short sections that are useable, but as a whole the recording did not work. I’ll have to think of some other way to share that talk with everyone.

One possibility is to make an audio recording of the talk, like a podcast, I can make a video of it by incorporating photographs. The drawback to that, in my mind, is that speaking into a microphone can lack the dynamism of speaking before an audience. And there is no opportunity for a Q&A session afterward.

I may at some point expand the material into a written form, and publish it as a book or an ebook. But that’s another project for a later time.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, send me an email. And, in the meantime, I hope you find your own cauldron of inspiration…

No responses yet

Apr 29 2015

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Everywhere veiled

Published by under Poetry

Everywhere veiled
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Everywhere veiled
      by Your own Face
You are hidden from the world
      in Your very manifestation.
Look where I will
      I see Your Face alone;
in all these idols
      I see only You.
Jealous lest You be recognized
      at every instant
You dress Your Beauty
      in a different cloak.

— from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein


/ Image by nasrul ekram /

I think we are all reeling. The terrible earthquake in Nepal, where the death toll keeps mounting in a region of the world that is a beacon of spirituality for so many. And then, here in the US, the turmoil in Baltimore in reaction to continuing patterns of racialized police violence across the country.

Even amidst terrible suffering and devastation, we have the opportunity to glimpse the face of God. Sometimes it is in a helping hand or a healing voice. A kind gaze that doesn’t turn away is often the most powerful thing of all. A heart that breaks, yet remains engaged, that is what the world is always yearning for. To see, to feel, to care– these require courage and the willingness to face pain rather than run from it. But, when we do that, and breathe through it, we discover our deep humanity… and perhaps something of our shared divinity.

A broken heart, a willing hand, and a clear seeing eye, these are the pathways to God.

==

Iraqi suggests to us that all of life, all of reality is a game of divine hide-and-seek.

Reading this poem raises a question– As we walk daily through the world, do we merely look, or do we see? And when we truly see, how can we not occasionally pause in mute wonder and melt?

Look where I will
      I see Your Face alone


Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition


Fakhruddin Iraqi

Iran/Persia/India/Turkey (? – 1289) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Apr 29 2015

elegantly

All the gods
and creeds and practices…
when what it all really comes down to
is elegantly yielding.

No responses yet

Apr 29 2015

The Cauldron of Inspiration update


/ Image by Roger Echo-Hawk /

I took last week off to preserve my energies in preparation for my talk over the weekend at the Real Myth and Mithril Symposium. My speech was on “The Cauldron of Inspiration: Bards, Wizards, and the Elixir of Poetry,” exploring of the connections between poetry, enlightenment, and magic.

Several of you mentioned how disappointed you were that you couldn’t be present at the talk. I have been told that there may have been a video recording of my talk. If there was a recording, I will see about making it available to everyone. Stay tuned.


/ Image by Donna Clement /

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Apr 17 2015

Pablo Neruda – Too Many Names

Published by under Poetry

Too Many Names
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Anthony Kerrigan

Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays
and the week with the whole year.
Time cannot be cut
with your weary scissors,
and all the names of the day
are washed out by the waters of night.

No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Chiles and of Paraguays;
I have no idea what they are saying.
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name.

When I lived amongst the roots
they pleased me more than flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.

It is so long, the spring
which goes on all winter.
Time lost its shoes.
A year is four centuries.

When I sleep every night,
what am I called or not called?
And when I wake, who am I
if I was not while I slept?

This means to say that scarcely
have we landed into life
than we come as if new-born;
let us not fill our mouths
with so many faltering names,
with so many sad formalities,
with so many pompous letters,
with so much of yours and mine,
with so much of signing of papers.

I have a mind to confuse things,
unite them, bring them to birth,
mix them up, undress them,
until the light of the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crepitant fragrance.

— from Neruda: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda / Translated by Anthony Kerrigan


/ Image by FastWhale /

I love this poem by Neruda. The tone of the poem stands out to me, first of all. It hints at spiritual exhaustion and world-weariness, and that is an important part of the spiritual journey.

I am Pedro, you are Rosa. This is my nation, that is yours. This is mine, that is yours.

He is tired of the endless naming and categorization that people engage in, comparing it in one line to the “signing of papers.” It is as if all of these definitions amount to a tyrannical bureaucracy of the spirit.

And he is right.

Being the crazy poet that he is, Neruda has discovered something that we are normally too busy to recognize as we endlessly categorize and define. It is a fundamental truth: None of these things are actually separate.

Sure, I can say that today, when I am writing this, is Friday, and yesterday was Thursday. But where are the days actually divided? We may say that Thursday vanished at the stroke of midnight, and Friday magically appeared. Or we might say at sunset. But those are just moments in the mind. Regardless of who is watching and marking such moments, the days just flow, one into the other, in an unbroken continuity.

Time cannot be cut
with your weary scissors,
and all the names of the day
are washed out by the waters of night.

We can pretend for convenience that one day is separate from another, but no mind and no culture can actually sever them. When we forget that, we fall into a deluded sense of reality.

The same for nations. We talk “of Venezuelas, of Chiles and of Paraguays.” We talk of this nation and that, this nation against that nation. And we forget that they are just fantasies, just ideas. They may serve a social and organizational purpose, but they aren’t actually real.

I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name.

Those borders that look so definite on our school maps, are just made up lines agreed to by people playing games of power, people most of us have never met.

These divisions are all entirely within our heads, not true expressions of reality. Neruda makes this clear by reminding us that they are meaningless at nighttime when we sleep, for that is the only time most people cease dividing up reality. If these separations and divisions had any actuality, they would continue to exist whether or not we sustained them through mental effort. But, no, fall asleep and all that effortful separation falls away.

We imagine that the constant act of definition-separation-categorization is the same thing as clear seeing. In reality, it hinders us from seeing.

When we learn to stop reflexively naming everything we see, then we actually see it for the first time. When I go for a walk and see a cottonwood at the edge of a creek, the most common reflex is to say to myself, “That’s a tree,” or “That’s a cottonwood,” or perhaps, “That’s pretty,” — and then I ignore it, thinking I have seen it.

When I lived amongst the roots
they pleased me more than flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.

But, if I stop and truly look, and avoid the impulse to immediately label what it is I see as a tree, that is when I recognize the immensity of the encounter. I see a majestic being rising from the creekside, growing from its environment, embodying the land that surrounds it, giving the place presence, while patiently watching me to see if I return its gaze. I no longer see my idea of a tree, I actually see the tree. And I see how everything flows into that tree. And when I look honestly, I see how I too am part of the tree, that we are part of each other.

Those endless “names” we give people and things are a way see without seeing. Increasingly we inhabit a world in our own minds and become strangers to the fluid, undefined living reality all around us.

I have a mind to confuse things,
unite them, bring them to birth,
mix them up, undress them,
until the light of the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crepitant fragrance.

When what really exists is “a generous, vast wholeness” that only waits for us to rejoin its fluid oneness.

Have a beautiful day… and make it even more beautiful by mixing it up!


Recommended Books: Pablo Neruda

The Book of Questions Neruda: Selected Poems On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition
More Books >>


Pablo Neruda, Pablo Neruda poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Pablo Neruda

Chile (1904 – 1973) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Pablo Neruda

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