Nov 04 2015

Imadeddin Nasimi – Both worlds within my compass come

Published by under Poetry

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me
by Imadeddin Nasimi

English version by P. Tempest

Both worlds within my compass come, but this world cannot compass me.
An omnipresent pearl I am and both worlds cannot compass me.

Because in me both earth and heaven and Creation’s “BE!” were found,
Be silent! For there is no commentary can encompass me.

Through doubt and surmise no one came to be a friend of God and Truth.
The man who honours God knows doubt and surmise cannot compass me.

Pay due regard to form, acknowledge content in the form, because
Body and soul I am, but soul and body cannot compass me.

I am both shell and pearl, the Doomsday scales, the bridge to Paradise.
With such a wealth of wares, this worldly counter cannot compass me.

I am “the hidden treasure” that is God. I am open eyes.
I am the jewel of the mine. No sea or mine can compass me.

Although I am the boundless sea, my name is Adam, I am man.
I am Mount Sinai and both worlds. This dwelling cannot compass me.

I am both soul and word as well. I am both world and epoch, too.
Mark this particular: this world and epoch cannot compass me.

I am the stars, the sky the angel, revelation come from God.
So hold your tongue and silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.

I am the atom, sun, four elements, five saints, dimensions six.
Go seek my attributes! But explanations cannot compass me.

I am the core and attribute, the flower, sugar and sweetmeat.
I am Assignment Night, the Eve. No tight-shut lips can compass me.

I am the burning bush. I am the rock that rose into the sky.
Observe this tongue of flame. There is no tongue of flame can compass me.

This selection reminds me of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

What a wonderful, swirling, kaleidoscopic sense of the self as being all things until it ultimately resolves into a vision of unified totality. Nasimi gathers everything into his sense of self until he is beyond definition, beyond form. For Nasimi, all things are recognized as being within until all descriptions fail:

Explanations cannot compass me.

In reality, we are all like that — too vast to be corralled into some safe, limited notion of what we are. Whatever we think we are, we are greater still. The limited mind cannot conceive of something so limitless as one’s full being. In our deepest self, we are too big to be a ‘thing’, too big to be anything. Instead, there is something of all things in us. Realizing this, we settle into a state of pure witnessing (“I am open eyes”), free from the faulty effort of endless self-definition.

Silent be! There is no tongue can compass me.

I’ll take some good advice and say no more…

Recommended Books: Imadeddin Nasimi

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey

Imadeddin Nasimi, Imadeddin Nasimi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Imadeddin Nasimi

Azerbaijan (1369? – 1418) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Nov 04 2015

not your suffering

Even your suffering
is not your suffering.
It all belongs to the one
who lives through you.

No responses yet

Nov 02 2015

Support for Changes

Life is this simple:
We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent
& the Divine is shining through it all the time.
~ Thomas Merton

I haven’t been a very good correspondent lately.

I feel badly about how many of your emails I haven’t responded to in recent weeks. Almost every day I receive at least one email 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.

Often your notes, even when brief, touch on something deeply personal and meaningful in your life and how that day’s poem spoke just the right words to you. Many of you send me your own poems in response. I know how much heart and attention you put into your correspondence with me, and I don’t like to let those pass without a reply. I have always felt that communication is essential to the vitality of the Poetry Chaikhana. For me, the emails I send out and your responses to me feel personal, a long-term conversation between us all on the nature of spirit and art and daily life, and how these interweave and contribute to each other — enlivening us all in the process

In the past year I have had to significantly increase my work hours in my day job to make up for rising expenses and lower income with the Poetry Chaikhana. All of that extra work gets tricky with my ongoing ME/chronic fatigue syndrome challenges. Unfortunately, that means I have very little extra focus for the Poetry Chaikhana beyond sending out the emails themselves once or twice a week. Not only is my communication with all of you suffering, new book projects are also on hold. I have halted plans for a few speaking engagements. The website itself isn’t getting updated or maintained properly.

I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but I consider the Poetry Chaikhana to be sacred work. And I don’t feel this sacred work is getting the attention it deserves from me. Without enough community support, my work with the Poetry Chaikhana may have to be trimmed back further, which would be a shame.

I think, instead, that it’s time to make some changes in order to restore balance, return more of my focus to the Poetry Chaikhana, and revitalize communication within this wonderful community we have built over the years.

That’s why I am reaching out to you for help.

I need to significantly cut expenses in order to lessen my work requirements. That requires a few big changes on my part, as well as a certain amount of extra income to help with the transition.

I have set a big goal: I would like to see if we can raise $5,000. I know that sounds like a big number, though it shouldn’t be for a group as large as ours. With a community of several thousand people across the globe, don’t you think that together we can raise that sum?

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

Ways you can help:

– You can make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button on the Poetry Chaikhana home page at

– You can sign up for a voluntary monthly donation of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button.

(A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook — and easier to justify as less than the cost of one snack per month.)

– You can send a check or money order in US funds, addressed to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306

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

There. That’s my pitch. If you have thought about making a donation to the Poetry Chaikhana in the past, if you have been touched by a poem or commentary featured in one of the Poetry Chaikhana emails, if you would like to help more people to discover this amazing poetry… now is an especially helpful time to make a donation.

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

/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

Do you wonder what my work with the Poetry Chaikhana looks like?

I realize that most of my work with the Poetry Chaikhana goes on behind the scenes and few of you have a clear sense of what I really do. Here is a slightly updated version something I wrote a while back that should give you a better sense of my daily work with the Poetry Chaikhana. I thought you might find this interesting reading…

I often start my morning off with a meditation, and then I see which poem seems eager to speak that day. I let my computer suggest a poem at random, and then I try to sense if the poem is “right” for the day. Some mornings I select the first poem that comes up. Other days I’ll spend an hour sorting through possibilities. I try to make sure I have a good balance of spiritual traditions represented over the month. I also make a point of including women’s voices regularly. Occasionally I look for a series of poems that follow a sacred theme or metaphor.

Once I’ve selected the daily poem, I often spend a little time researching the life of the poet so I can pass along a few notes with the poem.

Then I sit with the poem, contemplate it, speak it aloud, let it dance in my mind, and I watch the ideas rise for my commentary. Occasionally I slip back into meditation and when I emerge the commentary is just waiting to be written out.

Some mornings I feel I’ve said too much in recent commentaries, and I just send the poem with a short, friendly note. And sometimes I come across a poem with a comment I wrote a couple of years ago, and I think, “I have to share that with everyone again!”

Then I spend a while searching through photos and art among the Flickr or Deviantart “Creative Commons” libraries and look for one that somehow expresses an image or feeling from the poem.

I also select a “Thought for the Day” from among the many I’ve written over the years, also by feel for the day.

Then I update the Poetry Chaikhana home page and post the poem and commentary to the Poetry Chaikhana blog. I spend a while adding new sign-ups and removing cancellations from the email list. Finally, I format everything and send out the poem email.

The Poetry Chaikhana poem email now goes out to about 9,000 people! It used to take my computer more than 4 hours to send the poem email out each day, but now I use an email service so my computer is free for other work while it is sending.

Most days I also select a short poem or excerpt to post on the Poetry Chaikhana Facebook page. Sometimes two posts. I often post accompanying artwork, as well. We’ve got another 6,000 fans there.

I spend time each month looking for new voices of wisdom in books and on the Internet. I try to add new poems and poets regularly. I’ve become quite a speedy typist!

Some weeks I also have to spend time maintaining and troubleshooting the Poetry Chaikhana database and website. Occasionally, I have to wrangle with spam-blocker sites to convince them that the Poetry Chaikhana emails are not spam.

I get dozens of emails each week, sometimes hundreds — which I love! I read every email and, when I can, I send responses.

When I am working on a new book for publication, there is a whole additional ‘to do’ list involving reprint permission requests, editing, proofreading, layout work, and lots of correspondence with poets and translators.

…And then I start my day job. Whew!

Poetry and Personal Transformation

We forget how fundamental poetry is, not only to culture, but to consciousness. Poetry is meditation in the form of words. I posted this on the Poetry Chaikhana website years ago, and it’s just as true today:

“Poetry has an immediate effect on the mind. The simple act of reading poetry alters thought patterns and the shuttle of the breath. Poetry induces trance. Its words are chant. Its rhythms are drumbeats. Its images become the icons of the inner eye. Poetry is more than a description of the sacred experience; it carries the experience itself.”

The Politics of Poetry

In addition to the spiritual importance of this sacred poetry, there is also a cultural, even a political motivation behind the Poetry Chaikhana. Here’s how I described it in a interview a few years ago:

“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. In the United States, for example, there is an increasing prejudice and fear about the Muslim world. But who can read Jelaluddin Rumi without immediately recognizing the deep truth that Islam can express? The same is true for a non-Hindu reading Lal Ded or a non-Christian reading St. John of the Cross. 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.”

Sacred poetry is transformative on both a personal and a global level.

The Poetry Chaikhana has become a community that reaches across the globe. We have visitors from every continent and more than 220 countries and territories! (See Poetry Chaikhana Around the World.)

The Poetry Chaikhana is an important resource for people all over the world seeking to more deeply understand their own wisdom traditions as well as the spirituality of other cultures in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

Thank you so much! I know that a number of you have already given your support to the Poetry Chaikhana, both financially and through your heartfelt good wishes. I want you to know that whatever help you can offer is sincerely appreciated. So I thank you for your help past and present in continuing to build the Poetry Chaikhana as an online resource and community, a publisher, and a voice for art, balanced esoteric exploration, and cultural respect.

While reason is still tracking down the secret,
you end your quest on the open field of love.
~ Sanai

4 responses so far

Oct 30 2015

John O’Donohue – In Praise of the Earth

Published by under Poetry

In Praise of the Earth
by John O’Donohue

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.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

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

/ Image by Katie Tegtmeyer /

There was a time when I lived on Maui, without much money but surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I stayed in a place half-way up Haleakala Volcano, at the edge of a eucalyptus forest. I fasted a lot in those days, and several times a week I would walk barefoot into the woods. Hidden among the trees was a small rock cave, just large enough for me to sit upright in meditation. To sit quietly in the cool, silent embrace of the Earth — a true blessing!

Though I now live in a small city, in a computer-powered world, I still carry that time with me in my heart. That memory continuously reminds me that, in spite of skyscrapers and the Internet, the world is not man-made. All the works of humanity are small accomplishments compared with the panoramic living miracle of the Earth.

The ground below us, sky above us, breath within us — all is the living Earth.

The Earth is the stage for our dramas.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And hold our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Not only could we not act without the Earth, we could not dream. The images, the objects, the colors that populate the human psyche, they are all of the Earth too. The Earth speaks to us, and gives us a vocabulary to speak back.

The Earth is the place of birth, the stuff of life, and rest in death.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

The Earth is our everything.

While we as individuals live out the span of years alotted to us, the Earth is the full embodiment, the whole multiplicity of Life.

The tangible hints at the intangible. Matter expresses spirit. Earth gives form to heaven. How can we not honor that form? It is sacred. And it is us. You and I emerge to incarnate that form. Our challenge is to awaken and incarnate the secret light it suggests.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

Take some time today to sit on the Earth. Run your fingers through the grass. Feel the quiet strength filling your bones. Know you are home.

Have a beautiful day!

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 »

3 responses so far

Oct 30 2015

to find perfection

To find its perfection
the soul must reveal
its imperfections.

No responses yet

Oct 28 2015

Ansari – Give Me

Published by under Poetry

Give Me
by Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

English version by Andrew Harvey

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.
Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

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

/ Image by Cristian Bernal /

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people and communities affected by the recent earthquake in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. We have several people on this mailing list from those regions. I hope you and your loved ones are safe.

With the region strongly in my mind, I thought I would select a poem by Sheikh Ansari of Herat (in western Afghanistan).

There is something so simple and profound… and universal in this prayer-poem. These words were given to us by a devout Muslim Sufi, but they could as well have been spoken by a Hindu satyagrahi, a Catholic liberation theologian, a Buddhist peace worker, a Protestant homeless advocate, or any sincere soul striving to awaken the Divine within ourselves and our world.

Notice that Sheikh Ansari gives us two parallel statements, and they balance each other.

The first statement–

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.

–addresses our interior state. It is a prayer to be given a heart, or to recognize our heart, awakening it. It is a prayer of centering, of coming to know the center of one’s being… and allowing that self to flow.

That flow naturally expresses itself through gratitude, thanksgiving. The flow of the heart is a gift we pour out into the world. It is the offering of one’s self.

So, first he asks for self-recognition, centering, and a gratitude which can be shared with the world.


Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

–the poet turns that awareness outward through action. He requests life, but not to bolster his ego or rack up good stories to tell; he asks for life that he may be of service.

Now, that phrase “working for the salvation of the world,” may make some of us cringe. The term “salvation” has been abducted by rigid religious literalists, equating salvation with subscribing to their specific belief systems. But, despite what is thundered from the pulpits and the minbars, salvation has little to do with belief or which group one joins. It is about healing, the easing of pain, the renewal of hope, and a deepening relationship with truth. On a social level, this is best expressed through selfless, nonjudgmental service. On the spiritual level, working for salvation is about humbly peeling away the obstructions that keep individuals and the world as a whole from recognizing their inherent beauty and heavenly potential.

On a certain level, service in the world is a sort of religious ritual, an outward enactment of an inner process. We may help one person or a hundred or a thousand, but suffering continues in the world. The numbers game leads to discouragement. But with each kind act, small or large, we give away a little more ego, we open our eyes a little more, we feel a little more connected, and more and more we come to discover that serene, heavenly Self at rest within.

Ansari seems to be saying to us, when we discover beauty within, it naturally flows out of us into the world. And when we pour ourselves out for the healing of the world, we find wholeness within.

Recommended Books: Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations Munajat: The Intimate Invocations
More Books >>

Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Afghanistan (1006 – 1088) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Oct 28 2015

inner perfection

There is an inner perfection
the same for everyone.
The psyche may go through the motions,
but it’s journey is done.

No responses yet

Oct 23 2015

Story: The Lost Tenth Man, by Ramana Maharshi

Published by under Stories

A number of people seemed to really like last week’s story, so I thought I would share another one today…

The great 20th century sage of nondualism Ramana Maharshi gives us a playful story about ten foolish men who cross a river. These men become convinced that they’ve lost one of their party. This 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 one’s true being, we are never truly separate from That. The effort to acquire the Eternal becomes an endlessly frustrating game of confusion and failure until we finally understand that all that is necessary is to remove our ignorance and see the situation clearly.

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

India (1879 – 1950) Timeline

Here is how Ramana Maharshi introduces his story:

“[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 Lost Tenth Man

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, “we have lost him.” So saying he burst into tears, and the others followed suit.

Seeing them weeping on the river bank, a sympathetic wayfarer enquired about the cause. They related what had happened and said that even after counting themselves several times they could find no more than nine.

On hearing the story, but seeing all the ten before him, the wayfarer guessed what had happened. In order to make them know for themselves they were really ten, that all of them had survived the crossing, he told them, “Let each of you count for himself but one after the other serially, one two, three, and so on, while I shall give you each a blow so that all of you may be sure of having been included in the count, and included only once. The tenth missing man will then be found.”

Hearing this they rejoiced at the prospect of finding their “lost” comrade and accepted the method suggested by the wayfarer.

While the kind wayfarer gave a blow to each of the ten in turn, he that got the blow counted himself aloud. “Ten,” said the last man as he got the last blow in his turn.

Bewildered they looked at one another, “We are ten,” they said with one voice and thanked the wayfarer for having removed their grief.


Ramana Maharshi concludes his story with these words…

“Such is the case with you. Truly there is no cause for you to be miserable and unhappy. You yourself impose limitations on your true nature of infinite being, and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that spiritual practice to transcend the non-existent limitations.

“Hence I say, know that you are really the infinite pure being, the Self. You are always that Self and nothing but that Self. Therefore, you can never be really ignorant of the Self. Your ignorance is merely an imaginary ignorance, like the ignorance of the ten fools about the lost tenth man.”

Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
by Ramana Maharshi / Edited by David Godman

One response so far

Oct 23 2015

Book: A Moonlit Teahouse

A Moonlit Teahouse: Anthology of Sacred Poetry

A Moonlit Teahouse: Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Edited by silent lotus, Dick Holmes, et. al.

A Moonlit Teahouse is a delightful new anthology of sacred poetry by contemporary poets (including a few by yours truly).

I also wrote the introduction. “It is the job of theologians, philosophers, and scientists to precisely describe the human experience of reality. Most of us simply accept those definitions. A rare few catch the glow pouring through the cracks. We call these strange people visionaries, mystics… poets.”

This is not a Poetry Chaikhana publication, but it is published by a group of poets who connected through the Poetry Chaikhana, which makes me a proud grandfather of sorts. All sales of this book go to support the Ninash Foundation which does wonderful work promoting literacy among girls and minority children in rural India.

When you purchase a copy, your money will be a gift to others and the poetry will be a gift to yourself.

Read more at:

No responses yet

Oct 21 2015

Ramakrishna – Is there anyone in the universe

Published by under Poetry

Is there anyone in the universe
by Ramakrishna

English version by Lex Hixon

Is there anyone in the universe,
among heavenly or earthly beings,
who can understand what Kali is?
The systems of all traditions
are powerless to describe Her.
Is Mother a feminine being
or greater than Being itself?

Chanting Her transforming Name —
empowers Lord Shiva,
Who is transcendent Knowledge,
to drink the negativity of all beings,
turning His Throat dark blue.
Without Her protection
such poison would be deadly,
even to the highest Divinity.

More than Creator and creation,
Mother is sheer Creativity
beyond the notion of duality.
Universe and Father-God
are thrilling glances
from Her seductive Eyes.
Always pregnant with ecstasy,
She gives birth to manifest Being
from Her Womb of primal Awareness,
nursing it tenderly at Her Breast,
then playfully consumes Her Child.
The world dissolves instantly
upon touching Her white Teeth,
attaining the realization
of Her brilliant Voidness.

The various Divine Forms
that manifest throughout history
take refuge at Her Lotus Feet.
The Essence of Divinity,
the Great Ground of Being,
lies in ecstatic absorption
beneath Her red-soled Feet.

Is Mother simply a Goddess?
Does She need a male consort
to protect or complete Her?
The cycle of birth and death
bows reverently before Her.
Is She simply naked
or is She naked Truth?
No veil can conceal Her.
Her naked radiance slays demons
not with weapons but with splendor.

If Mother is a conventional wife,
why is She dancing fiercely
on the breast of Shiva?
Her timeless play destroys
conventions and conceptions.
She is primal purity,
Her ecstatic lovers are purity.
Purity merges into purity,
with no remainder.

I am totally inebriated
by Her wine of timeless bliss.
The wine cup is Her Name —
Those drunk on ordinary wine
assume I am one of them.

Not everyone will encounter
the dazzling darkness
called Goddess Kali.
Not everyone can consciously receive
the infinite treasure of Her Nature.
The foolish mind refuses
to perceive and accept
that She alone exists.
Even the noble Lord Shiva,
most enlightened of beings,
can barely catch a glimpse
of Her flashing crimson Feet.

The wealth of world-emperors
and the richness of Paradise
are but abject poverty
to those who meditate on Her.
To swim in a single Glance
from Her three Cosmic Eyes
is to be immersed
in an ocean of ecstasy.

Not even Shiva, prince of yogis,
can focus upon Her dancing Feet
without falling into trance.
Yet the worthless lover
who sings this mad song
aspires to conscious union with Her
during waking, dream, and deep sleep.

— from Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna, by Lex Hixon

/ Image by Chobist /

This is the final day of the Hindu festival of Navaratri, the Nine Nights dedicated to the many aspects of the Mother Goddess. I thought it might be appropriate to honor the holiday by featuring a poem by the gentle saint Ramakrishna about the fierce Mother Goddess Kali.

In Hindu tradition and metaphysics, the Goddess represents many aspects of the Divine. The iconography we find in Hinduism gives us a fascinating kaleidoscope of meaning. The Goddess can represent Mother, the Great Source, the Void/Womb from which all are born, Manifestation, Creation, Vibration, Speech, Song, the Arts, Beauty, Darkness, Mystery, all of the World (and all its Illusions). But with birth, also comes death, with manifestation, also comes dissolution; anything with a beginning also has an end. Only the eternal is eternal. So the Goddess, Mother and Manifestor, is also sometimes portrayed as Destroyer. She is Life and Death both. She is the Power that brings all into being, animates and enlivens the universe, and also draws it back into non-being. But even in Her fiercest aspect, the Mother Goddess is loving. For Her, death is merely the death of illusion and the return to Self.

This poem — I call it a poem, but it is more of an ecstatic utterance by the great Ramakrishna — plays with a particular descriptive challenge in the representations of Kali. On the one hand, Kali is a Goddess, often paired with the God Shiva. A popular representation of the two is with Shiva lying prone on the ground, while Kali dances upon his breast, slaying demons. It can be a disturbing image to people not familiar with the iconography of Kali. But what is it saying, and how does it fit in with the philosophy of this gentle, greatly revered Hindu saint, Ramakrishna?

Hinduism often expresses the fundamental polarity of Male and Female in images of the divine couple, the God and Goddess paired together. Within this God-Goddess dichotomy, the masculine aspect of the Divine usually represents transcendent spirit, while the feminine expresses manifestation, power, and action. So prone Shiva, represents the transcendent, which is inactive, but which holds the divine potential. Kali dances upon his breast, representing that potential coming into manifestation. Through Her sheer power, Kali destroys the demons that represent illusion and disharmony.

But, just as this God-Goddess pairing represents different facets of the Divine, any God or Goddess can simultaneously be understood to embody the whole of the Divine. In this way, Kali can both be an aspect and also the Absolute.

And this is what Ramakrishna is teasing us with here. Is Kali the consort of Shiva? Is She the feminine aspect of God, or God entire?

Is Mother a feminine being
or greater than Being itself?…

Is Mother simply a Goddess?
Does She need a male consort
to protect or complete Her?

Even within Hinduism and its rich, varied depictions of the Feminine aspect of the Divine, there is still a tendency to elevate the Male forms, such as Shiva. Ramakrishna seems to delight in overturning convention. To him, one must simply follow the Mother and, as She reveals more and more of Her nature — her manifestation, her play of illusions and revelations — our vision of Her expands to encompass the All. To Ramakrishna, the Goddess is Mother and Consort, but She is equally the Totality itself. He taunts us to untangle that conundrum through our own direct perception.

Whether we are talking about Kali or Saraswati or Cerridwen, Mother Mary or Shekinah, let us not forget to honor the feminine in the Divine — and in our world, and in ourselves.

Recommended Books: Ramakrishna

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna The Condensed Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
More Books >>

Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ramakrishna

India (1836 – 1886) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Oct 21 2015


When we don’t practice gratitude,
the world around us seems alien and unwelcoming,
and we shut down in self-protection.

Gratitude opens us to reality.

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Oct 16 2015

Symeon the New Theologian – The Light of Your Way

Published by under Poetry

The Light of Your Way
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Holy are you, O Lord, holy, blessed and One.
Holy are you, and generous

for you have flooded my heart
      with the light of your way,

and you have raised up in me
      the Tree of Life.

You have shown me a new heaven
      upon the earth.
You have shown me a secret Garden,
      unseen within the seen.

Now am I joined soul and spirit
      present in your Presence —

your Presence that has waited long in me,
your Presence, the true Tree of Life,
      planted in whatever this earth is,
      planted in whatever it is that men are,
            planted, and rooted in the heart,

your Presence all at once revealing your Paradise
alive with every good green thing:
      grasses and trees and the fruiting bounty,
      a world of flowers!
            sweet-scented lilies!

Each little flower speaks a truth:
      humility and joy,
      peace, oh peace!
      kindness, compassion,
            the turning of the soul,

and the flood of tears
and the strange ecstasy
      of those bathed in your light.

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

/ Image by indojo /

Notice the imagery of light (a constant theme in Symeon’s poetry)–

for you have flooded my heart
      with the light of your way…

–and the Tree of Life–

and you have raised up in me
      the Tree of Life.

These lead us to recognize God’s Presence within:

Now am I joined soul and spirit
      present in your Presence —

your Presence that has waited long in me…

Knowing the sacred Presence, our blindness is removed and we finally see through the surface of things.

You have shown me a new heaven
      upon the earth.
You have shown me a secret Garden,
      unseen within the seen.

We discover the heaven that has always been hidden within the earth, shining beneath the gauze of the seen.

That leads to a startling realization: All of creation, the living earth itself, is a sacred, living garden, waiting for our eyes to open:

your Presence all at once revealing your Paradise
alive with every good green thing:
      grasses and trees and the fruiting bounty,
      a world of flowers!
            sweet-scented lilies!

People are always looking for their paradise somewhere else, somewhere “out there,” but it is always and ever right here, within, in the present moment, present in the Presence. The problem is in how we see the living planet and our own selves — or, rather, how we don’t see them.

your Presence, the true Tree of Life,
      planted in whatever this earth is,
      planted in whatever it is that men are,
            planted, and rooted in the heart…

The Tree of Life is the center of the Garden, yet it is rooted in the heart. When we finally see it within, we see it everywhere, for it fills our awareness. As we find our hearts and discover the real life within, then we naturally interact with each other and the planet in awe and reverence. And in this way we steadily reveal paradise to one another.

Each little flower speaks a truth:
      humility and joy,
      peace, oh peace!
      kindness, compassion,
            the turning of the soul,

and the flood of tears
and the strange ecstasy
      of those bathed in your light.

Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Hymns of Divine Love: Songs of praise by one of the great mystics of all church history
More Books >>

Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

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Oct 16 2015

step into the unknown

Each day, each moment
is a step into the unknown.
How can we feel anything
but amazement?

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Oct 13 2015

Story: The Tale of the Sands

Published by under Stories

Rather than a poem, why not a story today? This is a favorite tale 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 »

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Oct 09 2015

Masahide – Barn’s burnt down

Published by under Poetry

Barn’s burnt down
by Masahide

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Barn’s burnt down —
I can see the moon.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto

/ Image by Alex37 /

I love this haiku. Using so few words, it still manages to say so much.

The moon, as I have pointed out before, is often used in Zen poetry to represent Buddha-mind, awakened awareness. The burnt barn can suggest worldly calamity and loss which can suddenly open us to the radical, serene truth that surrounds us everywhere. Or the barn can represent our own self-enclosing thoughts, “burned” down by spiritual practice and the ecstatic psychic spaciousness that can result.

So read that haiku again. Line-by-line:

The old structure, the barn has burnt down. It has collapsed, been cleared away.

Now. Now– The shock has brought us, stunned, into the present moment.

The psychic field cleared, finally we can see the luminous moon, the light of enlightenment.

Recommended Books: Masahide

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Japanese Death Poems


Japan (1657? – 1723) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Oct 09 2015

personal myth

The ego is a personal myth,
a story we tell ourselves
about who we are.
That story can change, expand,
or grow silent.

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Sep 30 2015

Akka Mahadevi – Like a silkworm weaving

Published by under Poetry

Like a silkworm weaving
by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

Like a silkworm weaving
her house with love
from her marrow,
                  and dying
in her body’s threads
winding tight, round
and round,
                  I burn
desiring what the heart desires.

Cut through, O lord,
my heart’s greed,
and show me
your way out,

O lord white as jasmine.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Image by schmoo15 /

The Pope’s visit to the US. The terrible tragedy in Mecca recently. I’m not sure that my thoughts on these events have settled enough to comment on them. In the background we also had a celestial event of note…

Did you get a chance to watch the moon’s eclipse on Sunday? We had a stunning show where I live in Colorado, a massive orange moon climbing above the horizon at dusk, the first shadow appearing about 7:00 pm as the moon rose higher in the evening sky, and by 8:00 o’clock the full eclipse, then slowly the shadow passed into the night.

An eclipse is a powerful reminder to contemplate the shadows in life.

The thing about the dark parts of life and the dark parts of our own psyches is not so much that we are supposed to disown them or even transcend them. Often the real spiritual growth is when we recognize them and make room for them, finding ways to re-integrate them into a larger, more complete sense of self and world. But what does that really mean?

What we call the shadow is not necessarily harmful or destructive, it is simply what is hidden. It is what we have hidden from our own surface awareness. It is not something that is “bad” or “evil.” Most often what we have pushed into shadows is something painful, frightening. It only becomes destructive when we try to keep it chained in the shadow; then that imprisoned part of ourselves acts out violently, disrupting our polite, carefully crafted exteriors, demanding attention.

The eclipse invites us to really sit in the darkness and see what’s there. It is meant to be uncomfortable. We have the opportunity to become more comfortable with discomfort. We can learn to feel more of ourselves, we learn to recognize the lost, discarded, and scapegoated parts of ourselves. If we are wise, we stop exiling them into darkness and begin to listen to what they have to say, about ourselves, about our world, and it becomes possible to consciously craft healthier expressions of their energies. That all sounds very psychological, but there is an essential spiritual and energetic process occurring here as well: By reclaiming those condemned parts of ourselves, we become more complete, more aware of our whole Self, and our spiritual energies become more fully available to us, enabling more natural and spontaneous spiritual opening.

Despite the religious stories, true saints and sages are rarely brittle ideologues full of condemnation. It takes a nuanced sense of the complexity of the self and a compassionate awareness of the difficult, often traumatic experiences of human life, all integrated with a true artist’s skill — just to free up the spiritual energy necessary for deep spiritual awakening.

The lesson of the eclipse, the lesson of the eclipsed parts of ourselves, is to stop seeking artificial ideas of perfection through severance, but to seek wholeness through wise, compassionate, and careful integration.

Today’s poem by Akka Mahadevi is just haunting enough to contemplate in the aftermath of the eclipse.

Like a silkworm weaving
her house with love
from her marrow…

Akka Mahadevi’s silkworm weaving a cocoon becomes a striking, visceral image of the divine impulse to turn inward, creating an interior space from one’s love and the very marrow of one’s being.

But the process can feel claustrophobic, suffocating. There is inevitably an encounter with death:

…and dying
in her body’s threads
winding tight, round
and round,

Looking inward we come to a confrontation with ourselves, all of our being, the shadow as well as the light. It is painful, frightening. Seeing ourselves so nakedly, we often find our deep wells of shame and self-condemnation. Yet we can no longer turn away.

At this harsh moment, something must die for the silkworm’s transformation to proceed. The immature worm itself must die, the old, limited, divided sense of self realizes it cannot continue. The silkworm must summon every ounce of energy, available only from its whole, undivided self, if it wants to emerge and fly.

The spiritual path is not about navel gazing. It is life and death, and understanding the energies of each.

I burn
desiring what the heart desires.

Why does the rest of the poem shift and talk about desire and greed?

One way to understand the spiritual path is as a confrontation with addiction. Does that sound like a strange statement? Let’s consider the question for a moment…

Spiritual traditions all over the world speak of the problem of desire. I mean, where would institutional religion be without favorite words like “covet” and “lust”? But the real spiritual core of this teaching is not about sexual prudery, it is about the problem of allowing the awareness to become fixated on transient, outward, sensory-fed experiences that distract us from inner growth and wholeness. Another way of saying this is that the real problem is addiction.

Addiction, when we think about it, isn’t really about substance abuse, it is about attachment and the inability to let go. I would go even further and say that it is the unconscious belief that we somehow *are* the things and experiences we are attached to. We associate the feelings of that outer experience with life, but when that experience changes — as things have a tendency to do — we then react with terror and desperation because that feeling of life is about to change or diminish.

Overcoming addiction always, always demands a confrontation with death. It requires the painful recognition that whatever the experience, when it ends, we may experience terror, pain, or grief with shattering intensity… but what we really are continues, surprisingly alive and well.

Cut through, O lord,
my heart’s greed,
and show me
your way out…

The heart’s greed… The heart is the self, one’s center. During the most profound states of self-awareness, the sense of one’s full Self is felt to be without limit or location, but, shifted to the individual level, it is simultaneously felt to be majestically at rest within the center of the breast. This is why so much spiritual language refers to the heart as the spiritual center. And the heart is inherently complete.

When the heart becomes “greedy” and desires something outside of itself, we have falsely externalized ourself — and that is when attachment begins and we start to experience problems on a spiritual level. It isn’t so much that certain activities or desires are evil or unspiritual, it is that we are no longer centered in the true self, and we have become confused as to what that “self” actually is. The result is that we end up feeling fragmented and incomplete. In order to re-experience wholeness we try to regain self though the compulsive pursuit of outer experiences and sensations, but it never quite works because the real self is always found within.

Clearly, I am not talking only about narcotics, alcohol, or other substances we normally associate with the word “addiction.” Looked at this way, virtually anything can be — and often is — addictive. Anything that draws the awareness out from the heart and holds it while compelling action to perpetuate the outward focus can be called addiction.

One can even go so far as to say that the ego is a phenomenon of addiction. When we falsely perceive ourselves as our outer experiences, we find ourselves caught in the tides of compulsive actions and reactions, all serving to strengthen that exteriorized self.

But the more we re-integrate those enshadowed, exiled parts of ourselves with our conscious being, the more inherent fulness we feel, and the less vulnerable we are to such problematic patterns of “greed” and psychic addiction. This does not mean that one necessarily avoids pleasure or pain or any experience, just that one becomes more aware of their hooks, and then chooses healthier ones without clinging to them as they pass, while remaining more fully engaged with the heart’s upwelling joy.

Addiction, death, shadow… too much? Did I mention that the eclipse is also a good time to unleash your inner Goth? Black nail polish anyone?

I hope you have a beautiful day, and a rich night. Sending love.

Recommended Books: Akka Mahadevi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Speaking of Siva The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages

Akka Mahadevi, Akka Mahadevi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Akka Mahadevi

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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