Learning the scriptures is easy

by Lalla

English version by Ivan M. Granger
Original Language Kashmiri

Learning the scriptures is easy;
but living them, that's hard.
Far easier to read words on a page
than to seek the living heart of things.

Fumbling through the fog of study,
stumbling, I lost my last words.
     -- And my vision cleared.
     Oh the sight that met me then!

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

It has been a heartrending week if you follow the news. Here in the US, we had two mass shootings in a row last weekend perpetrated by racist right-wing extremists. The governmental response has been one of dogged inaction, despite huge support among the population for reinstating the assault weapons ban.

To heighten the sense of cruelty this week, there have also been a series of brutal raids on immigrant families by ICE in several US states.

I tend to feel these public traumas in very personal, physical ways. More than once I have woken up in the middle of the night flooded with a nameless agitated energy just hours before one of these events. It happened to me on the morning of 9/11. It has happened with several previous mass shootings. Needless to say, it has been a restless week.

I tend to see public violence like these events as dark rituals. They evoke darkness in the cultural consciousness, summoning fear in most and vicious exhilaration in a few. Each of these public rituals of violence and cruelty makes similar actions more conceivable, as if a doorway is being forced opened. The way to respond is not through fear but through engaged compassion. Feeling compassion in the midst of trauma, feeling anything in the midst of trauma, can be excruciating at first and requires immense courage -- but it is the way of life, to keep life flowing within us and within the world. Preventing the heart from shutting down is just the first step. Our compassion must be engaged. It must be active. The energy of compassion naturally wants to act, to move through us and reach out into the world in order to help, to heal, and to protect the vulnerable. As more and more people light up with this compassion and offer their hands in genuine service, that doorway to violence and cruelty is again closed.


I have been talking about American events, but let's not overlook the ratchetting up of tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which is perhaps the most concerning on the global stage. While the two nations have been skirmishing over the region since Partition, a genuine war between the two would be catastrophic, not just for them but for the planet.

I thought some words of clarity and wisdom from the great Kashmiri poet-saint Lalla might help--


Learning the scriptures is easy;
but living them, that's hard.


Too often people slip into the bad habit of fundamentalism, confusing the ability to quote scripture and rules with actually embodying that truth in their daily lives. Memorization and carefully controlled behavior doesn't do the job. It keeps things safely in the intellect and then we never have to truly confront the heart's urge to open.

But Lalla reminds us:

Far easier to read words on a page
than to seek the living heart of things.


Not only is it not easy to seek the deep reality, it's messy. We are confronted by aspects of ourselves that are frightening and frightened, hidden even from our own awareness. History, hopes, angers, ambitions...

Each human life is far too rich and multi-layered to be truncated into the safe, neat, predefined stories we are told to live out. The human soul is not a cartoon, without depth or detail. No, a full spirituality incorporates all that we are. To be holy is to be whole -- nothing left out. The map of the human soul is a topographical map, with mountains and valleys, and rivers of life everywhere. Until we've acknowledged that entire landscape, we only have an incomplete sense of all that we are, and all that humanity is -- that's when compassion collapses, the world appears fragmented, and the vision of the the living heart of things is lost in the cracks.

Fumbling through the fog of study,
stumbling, I lost my last words.


After learning the scriptures, Lalla has swept her mental space clean. Now that's real work! Instead of just memorizing the words of scripture, she has become the blank page that effortlessly displays them.

-- And my vision cleared.
Oh the sight that met me then!



Sending love out into the world in the form of awakening empathy and compassion and self-awareness... and the will to act in their service.



Recommended Books: Lalla

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Naked Song
More Books >>





Learning the scriptures