Jan 27 2023

Yoka Genkaku – Just take hold of the source (from The Shodoka)

Published by under Poetry

Just take hold of the source (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

Just take hold of the source
And never mind the branches.
It is like a treasure-moon
Enclosed in a beautiful emerald.
Now I understand this Mani-jewel
And my gain is the gain of everyone endlessly.

/ Image by Unknown. Child: Ivan_M_Granger /

Just take hold of the source
And never mind the branches.

These lines express the essentialism of Zen so well. We are reminded not to dally about with the endless manifestations of the mind and its experiences — even ‘spiritual’ experiences.

Picture a tree for a moment, an ancient tree with a strong trunk. This is the tree of pure awareness. The trunk is the central structure, the source, the foundation of reality, while the branches are the many phenomena that emerge. Each branch is the perception of an experience, an object, a sensation, an encounter, an event. Most people hover at the outer reaches of the tree, and they only ever know the touch of its branches. It is easy to spend an entire lifetime there fascinated by the play of light upon the leaves, endlessly seeking the sweet fruits that grow there, imagining each branch to be its own separate, unrelated experience. And there is always one more branch to explore. There is always one more experience to be had.

But if we really want to know the nature of this tree that is everything to us, then we must find a sturdy branch and trace its route in to the central trunk. We follow the pathways of the mind to the core of still awareness from which mind emerges. Only then do we see what it is that the branches express. Only then do we understand the nature of experience, mind, and awareness. Only then do we know ourselves and our true relationship to the world we experience.

When Hsuan Chueh proclaims that “my gain is the gain of everyone endlessly,” he is reaffirming what mystics have always asserted, that, in that moment of pure awareness, all conflicts, opposites, disharmonies, even past and future, are resolved within the individual. For those who, through compassion, wish to bring healing to the world, the way to do this is to first bring the world to resolution within oneself, and then all actions naturally lead toward establishing that balance externally. Or perhaps we should say all of the world is found to be within oneself. When the world is resolved within, the mind ceases to project false images externally. Resolving the world within, brings “gain” to oneself and automatically brings “gain” to everyone else since everything emanates from that single point of resolution and there is nothing truly external.

And my gain is the gain of everyone endlessly.

(PS- That photo of the boy in the tree… that’s me in the early 1970s.)

Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Buddhism and Zen

Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jan 27 2023


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

No responses yet

Jan 16 2023

Home from the Hospital, Changes to the Poetry Chaikhana

An eventful couple of weeks. A little over a week ago my wife, Michele, had an acute asthma attack, so severe that we had to call an ambulance in the middle of the night. She spent three days in the ICU and another couple of days in a regular hospital room.

She is back home now, breathing better, but of course still recovering physically and energetically from the ordeal. We are taking everything one step at a time with a sense of gratitude.

Most Americans who have insurance get it through their work, but we are both self-employed, so we are having to make changes to deal with the repercussions and new treatments being recommended for her.

I don’t want to lean on the Poetry Chaikhana community, since everyone was so generous last year in helping us with our big move — for which we are both so grateful.

What that probably means, however, is that these poetry emails may become less frequent for the near future, since I will need to maximize the hours I can put into my day job.

I feel like you are all my neighbors in a wide-reaching neighborhood, and I wanted to let you know what is going on with my family, as well as why the Poetry Chaikhana poem emails may be less frequent for a while. Even if there is a delay between emails, please know that all of your are very much in my thoughts.

Be well. Embrace the wonder of each day. Sending love to you all!

No responses yet

Jan 16 2023

Jane Hirshfield – The Task

Published by under Poetry

The Task
by Jane Hirshfield

It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.
We wake into it daily — open eyes, braid hair —
a robe unfurled
in rose-silk flowering, then laid bare.

And yes, it is a simple enough task
we’ve taken on,
though also vast:
from dusk to dawn,

from dawn to dusk, to praise, and not
be blinded by the praising.
To lie like a cat in hot
sun, fur fully blazing,

and dream the mouse;
and to keep too the mouse’s patient, waking watch
within the deep rooms of the house,
where the leaf-flocked

sunlight never reaches, but the earth still blooms.

— from The October Palace: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield

/ Image by Kinga Cichewicz /

I just recently rediscovered this poem by Jane Hirshfield.

Some of her phrases grab hold of you–

It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.


And yes, it is a simple enough task
we’ve taken on,
though also vast

This poem seems to me to be an exploration of the way we awaken each morning to the day, and to the world. It’s a simple enough action; we do it every day, day after day, seemingly without effort or thought. Yet, it is also an immense undertaking each morning: We emerge from a land of rest and sleep and the fluid reality of dreams, we stretch, and rise into the immense reality of the shared tangible world. We step from one immense reality and step into a new immense reality. Simple, right?

What is she suggesting with her imagery of cat and mouse? This is just my reading of it, but knowing Jane Hirshfield to be a Buddhist practitioner, I suspect she is saying something about meditation and mind. Perhaps the meditator’s mind is like the cat; it must come to rest within the luminosity of consciousness. Then perhaps it can dream the mouse.

And the mouse is that hidden, hard-to-find deep mind, nestled safely in the secret corners of the house. The sunlight of daily consciousness may not reach there, but still awareness sees, and life blooms.

What do you think? Do you read it a different way?

Recommended Books: Jane Hirshfield

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems The Lives of the Heart: Poems The October Palace: Poems Of Gravity & Angels
More Books >>

Jane Hirshfield, Jane Hirshfield poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Jane Hirshfield

US (Contemporary)
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Jane Hirshfield

4 responses so far

Jan 16 2023

holy heart

Find the holy heart
of the moment.

No responses yet

Jan 06 2023

Ryokan – The thief left it behind

Published by under Poetry

The thief left it behind
by Ryokan

English version by Stephen Mitchell

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

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

/ Image by Ganpathy Kumar /

A poem for us on this full moon–

Ryokan’s reputation for gentleness was sometimes carried to comical extremes. A tale is told that, one day when Ryokan returned to his hut he discovered a robber who had broken in and was in the process of stealing the impoverished monk’s few possessions. In the thief’s haste to leave, he left behind a cushion. Ryokan grabbed the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him.

This event prompted Ryokan to compose this haiku, one of his best known poems.

The moon is a common metaphor, especially among the Zen poets, to represent enlightened awareness. In this haiku Ryokan is laughing at the absurdity of the theft. “The thief left it behind,” he foolishly couldn’t recognize the one great treasure the poor monk possessed — “the moon,” enlightenment — and, instead, took an armload of worthless junk. (To point out what a petty haul it was, Ryokan even ran after the thief with the missed cushion — perhaps a nudge toward meditation.) Any sort of theft of Ryokan’s possessions was a pointless act because, of course, who can take the moon from his window — or enlightenment from his awareness? Ryokan is amused and invites us to join in his laughter.

Recommended Books: Ryokan

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan
More Books >>

Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

Japan (1758 – 1831) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jan 06 2023

unfolds possibility

Each day
magically unfolds possibility
into reality.

No responses yet

Dec 30 2022

Hildegard von Bingen – Holy Spirit of Fire

Published by under Poetry

Holy Spirit of Fire
by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Ivan M. Granger

O Holy Spirit of Fire,
life in the life of all life,
holy are you,
      enlivening all things.

Holy are you,
      a healing balm
      to the broken.
Holy are you,
      blistered wounds.

O Holy Breath,
O Fire of Life,
O Sweetness in my breast
infusing my heart
with the fine scent of truth.

O Pure Fountain
through which we know
God unites strangers
and gathers the lost.

O Heart’s Shield, guarding life
and hope, joining the many members
into one body;
Belt of Truth,
wrap them in beauty.

Protect those ensnared
by the enemy,
and free the worthy
from their fetters.

O Great Way that runs through all,
      from the heights,
      across the earth,
      and in the depths,
you encompass all and unify all.

From you the clouds stream
      and the ether rises;
from your stones precious water pours,
springs well and birth waterways,
      and the earth sweats green with life.

And eternally do you bring forth knowledge
by the breath of wisdom.

            All praise to you,
you who are the song of praise
      and the joy of life,
you who are hope and the greatest treasure,
      bestowing the gift of Light.

/ Image by Julia Caesar /

As we prepare to enter the new year, I thought I would share this meditation on the universal flow of life…

This song of praise is a beautiful vision of God — a maternal vision of God, earthy, yet transcendent — flowing with life, permeating all things, exuding a good and holy greenness everywhere.

This Spirit of Fire, the Holy Spirit, is “life in the life of all life.” It is the vivifying life behind all of life. This is the “Holy Breath” that breathes through all of manifest existence, everything in nature, every form, enlivening it, making it holy, sharing its divinity. Life and all creation emerges from Spirit. It is not created in some mechanical sense but flows naturally, organically, fluidly, like breath from the body or water from a spring.

Through this divine animating spirit, all separate things are actually one: “you encompass all and unify all.”

Especially notice the lovely lines:

From you the clouds stream
      and the ether rises,
from your stones precious water pours

Throughout this song tangible, physical reality, the earth itself streams, pours, exudes, and permeates. All of physical reality, even in its most solid forms of earth and rock, all of ‘solid’ reality… flows. Nothing is truly fixed or stationary. All forms possess a sort of divine inner ‘sap’ — the fluid Essence — that is its true being which shows itself as life:

springs well and birth waterways,
      and the earth sweats green with life.

We have delightful language of both water and fire, and yet they seem complimentary. Why a “Spirit of Fire”? In Christian mysticism, the Holy Spirit is often associated with fire. In deep ecstasy, the awareness is flooded with a rising, blissfully searing heat, quieting the mind, opening the heart, filling one’s whole being with a sense of the interconnectedness of life. Adding to this, the inner vision is dazzled by a radiating golden-white light — “bestowing the gift of Light.” Paradoxically, amidst this inner fire of illumination, there is the simultaneous descent of a trickling honey-like sweetness down the back of the throat, making one drunk on bliss and beauty. Thus Hildegard gives us images of water and flow and secret springs, as well.

Throughout this profound reformulation of the self we find ourselves bathed in the most profound knowledge. This is not knowledge in the sense of data or information, but in some indescribable way the living breath of knowledge itself. It is gnosis, the field of knowingness itself, that fills us.

And eternally do you bring forth knowledge
by the breath of wisdom.

Yet clearly this is not a solitary vision confined to the mystic’s solitary self.

Belt of Truth,
wrap them in beauty.

This same spiritual vivification is taking place throughout the earth, through its good green life, through all things and all people, and we are, all of us, one in that life and in the eternal outpouring of that life-giving Spirit.

you encompass all and unify all.

Recommended Books: Hildegard von Bingen

Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs Women of Wisdom: A Journey of Enlightenment by Women of Vision Through the Ages The Book of the Rewards of Life: Liber Vitae Meritorum
More Books >>

Hildegard von Bingen, Hildegard von Bingen poetry, Christian poetry Hildegard von Bingen

Germany (1098 – 1179) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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2 responses so far

Dec 30 2022

Remember gratitude

Remember gratitude.

No responses yet

Dec 21 2022

Derek Walcott – Love After Love

Published by under Poetry

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door,
in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

— from Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words, by Kim Rosen

/ Image by vanillapearl /

A member of the Poetry Chaikhana community recently reminded me of this poem and suggested I should share it again. The contemplative moment of self-awareness within the poem feels right for this Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah…

I am a latecomer to Derek Walcott’s poetry. I first discovered his writing just a few years ago. In fact, this was the first poem of his that I read. I found it in Saved by a Poem (a book I highly recommend — a profound exploration of the many ways poetry can be a healing and transformative presence in our lives).

There is always more wonderful poetry to discover and explore but, once found, I never want to rush through it, so I eagerly take slow steps…

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving

This is a magical moment, when we finally encounter ourselves… when we actually see through to something essential, when we see through to something that is what we really are.

Most of the time I think we carry a reflexive fear of that meeting, so we tense up and expend a great deal of effort to avoid it. But Derek Walcott rightly says it is a moment of elation, one that inspires a deep smile and a profound sense of homecoming.

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Is there more to say? Perhaps also a reminder to celebrate the journey that has brought us here…

Sit. Feast on your life.

Thinking of Christmas, I have always felt a particular love for manger scenes, ceramic, porcelain, or carved wooden figurines of the Christ Child laid in a bed of straw, Mary knelt over her new child, Joseph with his lamp, the Three Magi holding their gifts, a shepherd with a few sheep, an ox and an ass at rest. Often the scene has a hut-like manger as background, the roof covered with moss — with the announcing angel and the Christmas star shining above. That iconic scene has always felt magical and alive to me, rich with unspoken meaning.

And it is. We can read the gospel stories of the birth of Christ as simply describing events, or we can read it more deeply as being imbued with spiritual meaning.

In the Nativity, we discover the pure spark of light that is the Christ child — also represented by the star — surrounded by the emptiness of the night. The Nativity is an image of light in the darkness. A small child, vulnerable, humble, poor, a tiny point of existence, surrounded by the immensity of the night… but with the promise that the light will increase until it floods the world with its light. (It is no accident that Christmas is set near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the rebirth of the sun.)

Looking at Mary and Joseph, one way to understand Mary in the Nativity story is that she represents the heart or the soul, while Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.

In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers through every outer experience, and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural “untouched” state (Mary’s virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, “untouched” by the experiences of the outer world. Mary’s virginity is a virginity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life (the Christ child in Christian tradition) is formed within the soul. The overwhelming sense of joy and spiritual bliss that is felt becomes a new presence in the body and mind.

But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but through direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, ‘I do not know that child’ and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.

In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn’t something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience…

In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

There is, of course, much more to explore. The cave or manger of the birth. The three Magian wise men from the east. But I hope I have suggested some good ideas to contemplate and inspire a bit more spiritual connection this Christmas.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice. May this time when the light renews itself amidst the darkness also bring a renewal of the light and life within you and everyone your life touches.

Recommended Books: Derek Walcott

Sea Grapes The Poetry of Derek Wolcott 1948 – 2013 Omeros White Egrets: Poems Collected Poems 1948 – 1984
More Books >>

Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott poetry, Christian poetry Derek Walcott

St. Lucia & UK (1930 – )

More poetry by Derek Walcott

5 responses so far

Dec 21 2022

The pathway

The pathway is open,
and that pathway is the heart.

No responses yet

Dec 12 2022

Mary Oliver – Halleluiah

by Mary Oliver

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

— from Evidence: Poems, by Mary Oliver

/ Image by disignecologist /

This is a rare Monday poem. It has been a few weeks since my last email, so I wanted to reach out, especially as we move through the winter holidays.

The reason I haven’t sent any emails recently is that I have been juggling a lot to help my wife create a new website for her work. I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before, but my wife, Michele Anderson, has been in semi-retirement for the past ten years while she cared for her ailing mother until her death a couple of years ago. My wife’s mother refused most care except for what my wife herself could provide. With few other options, that forced her into the difficult choice of having to put her career of more than 20 years on hold to give her mother the care she needed in the final years of her life.

As those of you who have cared for a sick or dying relative know, few things are more difficult. Being a caregiver is isolating, exhausting, and often unpleasant. The person dying has their own inner struggles reconciling their life and confronting their own mortality, sometimes without mental clarity, which can leave them frightened and angry. Trying to be of service in those moments can be a demanding, all-consuming responsibility. But, through the difficulties and the frequent crises, there can also be profound moments of connection, shared insight, and life resolution.

I am humbled by the strength Michele has shown through this period.

During that difficult time, I helped my wife and her mother in the ways I could. The key contribution I made was that I necessarily became the primary and sometimes sole income provider for our family. Not an easy role for a poet! Not an easy role for someone who deals with chronic fatigue patterns, either. I increased my hours as a computer programmer as much as I could, but the balance has been a struggle. You may not have known it, but your donations and purchase of Poetry Chaikhana books in recent years has been a big help through this period.

As a result of these heightened work requirements, I have not always been as regular as I would like with the Poetry Chaikhana emails. I haven’t been able to maintain and update the website much through this time. I haven’t pursued the publishing projects I would like. I have left too many of your emails to me unanswered. I hope to shift my energies and focus back to the Poetry Chaikhana in the coming months.

After the passing of my wife’s mother, there was naturally a period of grief and recovery. This was during the height of Covid, so the sense of isolation continued. As you know, a few months ago we decided to move from Colorado back to our home state of Oregon. We wanted to reconnect with extended family and also with the land where we feel our roots, where we feel a deep ancestral energy.

Now that we are settling in, Michele is preparing to return to her work as a life coach. She has a genuine gift for working with people, in ways that leave me, as a shy person, amazed. Michele has the most surprising and meaningful conversations with people in the checkout lines of grocery stores. I have sat by her side at a restaurant when she randomly told the waitress, “You would make a great actress! Have you ever considered acting?” To which the waitress replied, “Wow. I can’t tell you how much that means to me! I am studying acting.” My wife connects with people in magical ways.

Michele is a natural wise woman, an intuitive, an artist, a shaman, who continuously inspires me and frequently challenges me too. I am so pleased that she will once again be sharing her gifts with the world.

For that reason, we have been pushing hard, since before our move, in fact, to put together a new website that represents this new phase in her work.

I realize this doesn’t have much directly to do with poetry, but I wanted to share with you what has been a major focus in my life in recent months.

If you are curious, I invite you to visit my wife’s new site:


Explore. Check out the blog. Michele recently posted an article about her experiences with art therapy, something that might appeal to this creative crowd.

When you are on the site send Michele a note through the Contact page to wish her well and let her know what you think of the new site.

Of course, if you’re looking for a life coach, someone to be a personal advocate, sounding board, and mentor, I certainly recommend her highly! I may be biased, I admit it, but I have watched her work with people since the 90s and I am still impressed by how deep and transformative her work is.

I wanted to share this moment of celebration in our household with you.

I hope you are having a wonderful day!

Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

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

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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Dec 12 2022

a thousand times

The heart, to be whole,
must break a thousand times
and be ready to break again.

No responses yet

Nov 11 2022

Ikkyu – Every day, priests minutely examine the Law

Published by under Poetry

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
by Ikkyu

English version by Sonya Arutzen

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.

— from Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan, by Ikkyu / Translated by Sonya Arutzen

/ Image by Inebriantia /

So short and sweet, we almost don’t notice its deep cut into our pretenses.

If we want to be learned, then we can read the scriptures, memorize them, chant them. But if we want true knowledge, then we must do something much harder — walk outside and fall silent. When we can do that, and recognize the hidden touch behind it all, only then have we really understood what we’ve been studying all that time.

I think this short poem touches at something I’ve been revisiting in my own mind lately — how much “religion” do we bring to our spiritual pathways? Of course, that raises the question as to what we mean when we speak of religion. For some, religion is a call to God and community and communion, to help whoever we see in need, to selflessness and striving and joyous inner silences; while, for far too many, religion is about small mindedness, small circles of inclusion with limited parcels of compassion, willing blindness, suppression and control, us versus them, with lots of fear and hatred along the way. Those negative exemplars of religion can contaminate our thinking about religion in general or anything we might term to be spiritual.

So what does a spiritual path even mean when we’re not always clear in our own minds how much of this religious/spiritual stuff we really buy into? How do we sift through it all and arrive at a pathway that has integrity, that feels meaningful and right.

Here’s the solution I arrived at early on– The path is about energetics, not simplistic ideas of religion or spirituality. By that, I mean that the spiritual path — or perhaps we should call it the path of awareness or the path of awakening, the path of heart — is not about ideas of right and wrong. It is not about clinging to what is sacred and disdaining what is profane. It’s not about perfection. It’s not about harsh discipline. It’s definitely not about suppression. It is not about fitting some picture book idea of holiness. It is not about following the rules better than everyone else.

The path of awakening is about figuring out what works. That’s it, right there. It is experimental and supremely practical. What actually works? We figure it out step-by-step. We pay attention to our energies, our states of mind. How open is our heart? How settled is our mind? How often are we at peace? How much ego is at play? How much kindness and empathy do we feel? How well do our actions reflect our ideals? How clearly do we see outside the consensus mindset? We keep questioning. We keep feeling. We keep checking in.

To be effective, the path of awareness must always be from the inside out.

A reminder to us all to occasionally step away from the recitation of those complicated sutras, and to walk outside and receive the world’s love letters…

Recommended Books: Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Crow With No Mouth: Fifteenth Century Zen Master Ikkyu Zen and Zen Classics
More Books >>

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

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

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Nov 11 2022


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

No responses yet

Oct 28 2022

Farid ud-Din Attar – The peacock’s excuse (Conference of the Birds)

Published by under Poetry

The peacock’s excuse
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

Next came the peacock, splendidly arrayed
In many-coloured pomp; this he displayed
As if he were some proud, self-conscious bride
Turning with haughty looks from side to side.
‘The Painter of the world created me,’
He shrieked, ‘but this celestial wealth you see
Should not excite your hearts to jealousy.
I was a dweller once in paradise;
There the insinuating snake’s advice
Deceived me — I became his friend, disgrace
Was swift and I was banished from that place.
My dearest hope is that some blessed day
A guide will come to indicate the way
Back to my paradise. The king you praise
Is too unknown a goal; my inward gaze
Is fixed for ever on that lovely land —
There is the goal which I can understand.
How could I seek the Simorgh out when I
Remember paradise?’ And in reply
The hoopoe said: ‘These thoughts have made you stray
Further and further from the proper Way;
You think your monarch’s palace of more worth
Than Him who fashioned it and all the earth.
The home we seek is in eternity;
The Truth we seek is like a shoreless sea,
Of which your paradise is but a drop.
This ocean can be yours; why should you stop
Beguiled by dreams of evanescent dew?
The secrets of the sun are yours, but you
Content yourself with motes trapped in its beams.
Turn to what truly lives, reject what seems —
Which matters more, the body or the soul?
Be whole: desire and journey to the Whole.

— from The Conference of the Birds, Translated by Afkham Darbandi / Translated by Dick Davis

/ Image by Avinash Kumar /

We have some delightful bird activity here at our new place in Eugene, Oregon. An elderly neighbor feeds the pigeons so, in the mornings, it is not uncommon to hear an explosion of feathered movement followed by the sight of thirty or more pigeons bursting from the nearby yard, flying in concert over our backyard, out and around the neighborhood, before circling back to settle into our neighbor’s yard again. Crows, one-by-one or in small groups of half a dozen also come by in search of food and community with their curiosity and friendly squabbling. Blue jays regularly hop around in the bushes, marking their presence with a sharp edged cry. I often hear more than see the occasional hummingbird, the deep buzzing wingbeats above a tree I happen to be standing beneath accompanied by the tik-tik-tik of their faint call. Yesterday, we had strange and delightful dance of finches in one of our bushes; dozens of the birds were flitting about between branches, pausing for a bare instant, before flying out and back in again to find new branches, reconfiguring themselves again and again. The bush was alive with their movement.

Appropriately, I have been rereading Attar’s Conference of the Birds. This is one of my favorite collections of poetry and I periodically return to enjoy it anew.

In The Conference of the Birds is a collection of poems that form a larger narrative about a group of birds who decide to go on a journey to find their king, the legendary Simurgh. This forms a rich spiritual allegory when we understand that the birds represent human souls and their leader, the hoopoe, is their sheikh or spiritual master. The elusive Simurgh is, of course, God. Through the poems and stores in The Conference of the Birds, the birds confront their fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest. The thirty birds who ultimately complete the quest discover that they themselves are already one with the Simurgh, playing on a pun in Persian (si and murgh can translate as 30 birds) while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us collectively.

I have read several English translations and, while several are good, I have yet to come across a version in English that I feel truly soars.

The version by Darbandi and Davis, excerpted here, in my opinion gives us the best poetic rendering, though I find it frustrating too. It manages to keep up a decent, if somewhat forced rhyming structure, while covering the full collection of poems that makes up The Conference of the Birds. Translating Attar’s poetry as a long series of rhyming couplets can feel to modern readers like a run-on sentence, however. It is difficult to keep the attention from wandering while reading this version cover to cover.

Edward FitzGerald, who famously rendered the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into English, also did a translation of Attar’s masterpiece. FitzGerald had a rare gift for working with rhyme in English and that shows in his translation of The Conference of the Birds, but his poetic construction, which worked beautifully for the short four line quatrains of the Rubayat, can become exhausting and feel overwrought for longer pieces. He also only translated sections and those so loosely, that at times it feels as if important elements are missing.

I have a nice little version of Conference of the Birds by Raficq Abdulla. It contains selected passages accompanied by traditional Persian paintings of birds. At times this translation works beautifully, at others it feels awkward. This version of The Conference of the Birds, while a pleasant sampler, does not give us the overarching narrative.

The version I am currently reading is a new translation by Sholeh Wolpé. The poetry is rendered in modern English without attempting to rhyme. On some level I miss the rhyme but appreciate the choice — few modern poets can rhyme well in English. The rendering of this version does not feel especially “poetic” but it has a life to it and it’s very readable. What I especially like about this version is the format. In the beginning, where the birds are offering up excuses for not going on their journey, Wolpé gives us clear distinctions that allows each passage to stand on its own while fitting well in the larger narrative: The bird offers its excuse, the hoopoe answers, and then we get prose anecdote that illustrates the deeper wisdom of the hoopoe’s guidance. It works well with Attar’s structure.

So which version do I like best and hope to read again in the future? I have to say all of them. I find myself reading a passage in one and thinking, That’s good, but I feel like there’s something more. So I then turn to one of the other versions, comparing them, weighing them, trying to construct my vision of the Simurgh by combining them all.

A few notes about the peacock’s excuse…

With each bird we are invited to ask ourselves what qualities they represent in the human soul. The peacock is proud of its beauty, which displays a special attention from God during Creation. But the peacock is haunted by a terrible burden. It had dwelled in the Garden of Paradise but was seduced by the serpent, who coaxed the peacock to sneak it into paradise. As a result of this betrayal, the peacock was expelled from paradise. Now all the peacock longs for is a return to the Garden.

And this is the peacock’s excuse for not wanting to make the spiritual journey to find the Simurgh. The Simurgh (God) is a vague unknown goal. His love is for paradise, which he remembers as real. That is all he longs for. It may sound odd to separate paradise and God in this way, but that suggests the spiritual blindness of the peacock. Rather than recognizing that it is only the presence of God that imbues everything, including paradise, with beauty and meaning, the peacock seeks a lost memory that is more surface and feeling than real depth. This is a sort of spiritual nostalgia, a turning backward to a half-remembered perfect past, rather than looking forward toward the Source that makes every land a paradise.

As the hoopoe says in response:

You think your monarch’s palace of more worth
Than Him who fashioned it and all the earth.

I love the lines that follow:

The home we seek is in eternity;
The Truth we seek is like a shoreless sea,
Of which your paradise is but a drop.

Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Conference of the Birds
More Books >>

Farid ud-Din Attar, Farid ud-Din Attar poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Farid ud-Din Attar

Iran/Persia (1120? – 1220?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 28 2022


Gather your history up,
unedited, without fear,
and watch it disappear.

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