Nov 26 2019

Basho – snow-viewing

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Come, let’s go
by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Come, let’s go
snow-viewing
till we’re buried.

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


/ Image by dadofliz /

I am sitting here at my computer reading poetry in snow boots. I just came in from shoveling the sidewalk. It looks like we might get two feet of snow today.

My car is in the shop and probably needs to be replaced. After 15 years of loyal service, it died on the road just as the first snowflakes started falling yesterday. In the space of a few blocks of driving it went from running fine, to making a strange noise, to completely dying. I had to jog half a mile in the snow to my home because I don’t have a cell phone, call a tow truck, and then watch as our car got hoisted up on the truck bed, and ride with it to the repair shop.

Rather than going into anxiety about the whole situation in the midst of the increasing snow, I found myself… dare I say it?… content. Even entertained. Accepting the situation for what it is, I rode along with the events. It became a sort of adventure.

I’m being told that it’s probably not worth the cost of repairs at this point, so in a few days, when we dig ourselves out, I will be shopping for another car.

A longtime car becomes a sort of family member, like a pet or trusted workhorse. Some people may feel it’s silly, but I’m fond of that old car and there is a bit of sadness at saying goodbye. I hope to adopt a new wheeled family member who becomes just as much of a friend.

Thankfully, past chronic fatigue patterns have been in abeyance for most of the past year, so I have been working more hours at my day job and I have a small amount saved that can now be used as a down payment for our next car.

When events just happen and there is no avoiding their cascading onslaught, sometimes the best option is just to grow still, enjoy the scene, and laugh as we are buried.

So, with no car at the moment and nearly two feet of snow on the ground and with more snow falling, it is a good day to pause and go snow-viewing…

That phrase “snow-viewing” may seem rather odd, if poetic, but it is actually a playful twist on the Japanese practice of tsukimi or moon-viewing. In Japan, there is a tradition of moon-viewing in autumn. Towns have moon-viewing festivals, a family might invite friends over for moon-viewing. To me, as an outsider, that sounds like a beautiful way for all of society to slow down and appreciate the masterful artwork of nature, communing with the rhythms of the world. Basho’s snow-viewing is an expansion of that idea — inviting a friend to step outside in order to appreciate the beauty of a recent snowfall in quiet companionship and shared ritual.

Particularly the Zen poetry, snow often carries with it the suggestion of deeper meanings we might want to explore.

When the difficulties and coldness and enforced internalization of winter are emphasized, snow can represent the struggles of spiritual practice that precede the spiritual awakening of spring.

When the silence that settles of the world bathed in snow is emphasized, it can represent the perfect stillness of mind that occurs in true meditation.

When the quality of blanketing all things in a uniform whiteness is highlighted, snow can be seen as an allusion to the unifying white or golden-white light that shines through everything, the light one perceives when the mind awakens.

This haiku by Basho can carry variations of all of these meanings, but especially the last one.

Notice the joke in these lines: By viewing the snow we become buried in it — and that is what Basho is really inviting us to do. With a lot of snow (and a dash of wit), Basho might be saying that by viewing something deeply, we become the beauty we perceive. Seeing the universal radiance, we become the radiance. Hearing the silence, we become the silence. Witness the eternal, and we become consumed by it, the ego self becomes lost in the blanket of white that covers everything, making all of existence one.

Have a beautiful day, with or without snow! And be warm and safe!


Recommended Books: Matsuo Basho

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku
More Books >>


Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

Japan (1644 – 1694) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Nov 26 2019

innocence & naiveté

Innocence is not naiveté.
Naiveté must be carefully removed.
Innocence is our true nature.

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Nov 22 2019

Guru Nanak – From listening (Japji 8)

Published by under Poetry

[Japji 8] From listening
by Guru Nanak

English version by John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept;

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky;

From listening,
      continents, worlds, hells;

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow
      disappear.

— from Songs of the Saints of India, Translated by John Stratton Hawley / Translated by Mark Juergensmeyer

A song for us today by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh tradition, about listening.

From listening…

Listening is a powerful practice on several levels. On one level, listening is the act of paying attention in an open and receptive manner. When we really pay attention we do more than notice people and things, we connect with them, we commune with them. Through open, engaged attention we become one with the world around us.

In this way, through deep listening, everything is found to be within us, and we exist within the all. The awareness of mutual being emerges.

But there is another, specific meaning of listening intended here, as well. Guru Nanak is also clearly giving a teaching on listening to the fundamental sound of creation, In various Indian traditions this primal sound is called shabd or Omkara/Onkar.

When the attention is turned inward a soft sound is heard. At first it might be like the quiet chirping of crickets in the night, the hum of beesong, or the flowing of a gentle stream. It is heard as a random, soothing “white noise” that seems to emanate from the base of the skull. When focused upon with a still mind and deep attention, this sound resolves into a clearer pitch that can resemble the pure note of a flute (Krishna’s flute in Vaishnava tradition) or the ringing of a bell (the bells of paradise in esoteric Christianity). First it is heard and, finally, felt throughout the body.

Many mystics compare this sound with the sound of a waterfall, and as the awareness bathes in this sound it becomes purified, “cleansed.” The heart is like a moss-covered stone at the foot of the waterfall. The more we allow the sounding waters to flow, that encrustation on the heart is cleared away. We may just be shocked to discover what we thought was granite beneath is a actually a great jewel, brilliant and emanating pure bliss.

The heart’s joy is always there, we just need to clear away the moss.

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept

Guru Nanak lists various names for adepts and the enlightened. This sound is the doorway into states of spiritual attainment.

Hearing the omkara signals the beginning of deep meditation. It is the tone of initiation. The more we open to the sound, the more the attention is drawn heavenward while the divine flow pours through us.

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky

Why does Guru Nanak link the earth and the sky to this sound? It is through this sound, this wordless Word, that all of manifest existence comes into being. This is the vibratory breath of the Eternal that sings creation into form. The earth and the sky and every being that moves between them are born through this sound. This sacred tone moves through existence, reifying all.

Why does Guru Nanak give us this curious statement about the “white foundation” of the earth? I suspect he is referencing the white or golden-white light that is witnessed in the deepest states. This light is perceived as underlying and supporting all of creation — its foundation.

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

By following this sound we recollect our nature and ultimately return to the source of the song. We come to know ourselves in our essence, and lessen our identification our physical form and social roles. Death does not affect who and what we truly are. We discover this by listening.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

Omkara is the sound of the movement of the divine through us. Hearing that sound, allowing it to flow generously through us, we open in unexpected and delightful ways. It is the flow of sap that inspires us to blossom into our full potential.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow
      disappear.

Hearing this, what is there to fear? We don’t have to convince ourselves of this, it just is. Listening to this constant reassuring presence, the psychic constrictions we carry with us naturally ease. The waterfall bathes us, the heart clears. We become simply and honestly who we are — and what a beautiful being that is!

From listening…

==

Coming Soon: Haiku Enlightenment

Several of you sent me some beautiful messages and comments after last week’s poem. I have read them all and been touched by your stories. The reason I haven’t responded directly is that I have been deeply engaged in the preparation of the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication — Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock. You may recognize him from poems I have featured on the Poetry Chaikhana before. Gabriel Rosenstock is an Irish sage, a bit of a prankster… oh yes, and a renowned poet. This new book is a rich, wise and playful exploration of the art of haiku by a western master of haiku. I am so pleased to be able to offer this book through the Poetry Chaikhana.

With my limited personal time, I have to be selective about each new book project I work on. In the past I had imagined publishing a series of poetry collections or anthologies by contemporary spiritual poets and mystics, which I may still do in the future, but I realized that poetry on its own is not the primary focus of the Poetry Chaikhana. The heart of the Poetry Chaikhana is poetry paired with conversational commentary that opens up the poetry as well as encourages new avenues of spiritual exploration. Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment is a perfect fit for the Poetry Chaikhana. It is a delightful collection of brief observations that use haiku to explore ideas about creativity, perception, consciousness, and being alive to the moment.

For some of you, the title Haiku Enlightenment may sound familiar. This is actually not the first edition, but a greatly expanded new edition. A much smaller hardback edition of Haiku Enlightenment was published about ten years ago. I immediately recognized that original edition as a small masterpiece, but I was concerned that it hadn’t garnered the attention it deserved and, within a few years, it was in danger of disappearing, That old edition has become so difficult to find in many areas that just a few days ago I noticed it selling on the US Amazon site for more than $1,000!

Rest assured that you will be able to get the Poetry Chaikhana’s new expanded edition for a much more affordable rate of $16.95/£12.95/€14.25. Our new edition of Haiku Enlightenment includes an updated version of that original small volume, along with another short companion book previously published as Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing and several new sections not previously published, all gathered together in a single volume.

In publishing this new expanded edition of Haiku Enlightenment I hope to make Gabriel Rosenstock’s poetic and spiritual insights available to a much wider audience who may have missed the earlier editions. I also want to make sure that it remains available at an affordable price for future readers.

I will be enthusiastically recommending this book to aspiring poets, artists, readers of haiku — and creative seekers of all types.

Haiku Enlightenment will be available mid-December. I hope it will make a good gift for the person in your life who loves haiku, creativity, and discovering the unexpected along their own spiritual pathway. Perhaps that person is you.


Recommended Books: Guru Nanak

Songs of the Saints of India The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry The Guru Granth Sahib: CAnon, Meaning and Authority Sri Guru Granth Sahib Discovered: A Reference Book of Quotations Sri Guru Granth Sahib
More Books >>


Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak poetry, Sikh poetry Guru Nanak

Pakistan/India (1469 – 1539) Timeline
Sikh

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Nov 22 2019

what we love

We become what we love.

Everything else is just movement.

One response so far

Nov 15 2019

Yoka Genkaku – The virtue of abusive words

Published by under Poetry

When I consider the virtue of abusive words (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.
To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,
And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.
Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

This opening line is meant to be humorous. I picture the Buddhist monks of China and Japan laughing as they read this short poetic discourse on “the virtue of abusive words.”

But the poet is also saying something very important to the sincere spiritual aspirant.

I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.

People who offend us, who spread rumors and lies, those we might think of as enemies or petty tyrants are sometimes our best teachers. They continuously pressure test the maturity of our practice.

It is easy to go along thinking, ‘Oh, my meditation is getting so deep and I think such kind thoughts about people,’ but when someone offends that carefully constructed spiritual facade, do we instantly boil over with outrage? Does it suddenly become essential that we correct their false perception of us?

No matter how offensive or cruel the other person may be acting, our reaction is about ego. Are we getting proper acknowledgment for who we are and what we have accomplished? -Which is a question only the ego asks.

The poet then says something especially interesting:

If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.

All of that spiritual practice we do to endure upset and hold our thoughts safely within the bounds of compassion, it is all really about making the mind spiritually acceptable in its patterns. That certainly has its importance, but it is ultimately a path of frustration. The mind that emerges from the ego-self is never tamed, it is always selfish and me-focused, always quick to anger in order to reassert itself as the center of importance.

If we truly learn to let go of all of our pretense and self-importance, however, the instinct to get upset at everything, including what is malicious, falls away. And then there is no need to work so hard at enduring offense or somehow squeezing compassion from a constricted heart. Endurance becomes natural patience with the world. And compassion is simply recognized as inherent within the universe and not the result of our own heavy effort.

To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression

When we have truly matured in our awakening, when we have allowed the endless tensions that comprise the ego-self to fall away, along with its tendencies toward offense, then our expression becomes natural, fluid, without effort.

And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.

Dhyana is meditation, and prajna can be translated as clarity. When we become mature in our practice and realization, we are flooded with a brilliant light that is often compared with the full moon.

When our practice is too much about effort and harsh control, there is the tendency to stagnate, to get caught up in our patterns of policing everything about our thoughts and actions. A certain amount of that approach is an important discipline, but we can’t make the mistake of becoming totalitarian toward our own psychic energies. The goal is not greater or more perfect effort but, instead, to become effortless, to drop the self-important, self-focused self and, with supreme humility, settle into our true nature — from which our inherent compassion and goodness naturally flow.

Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.

So you see, those people who irritate us, who offend us, even those who attack us, they should be among our most cherished teachers. They poke holes in the ego. They deflate our pretenses. They passionately remind us that we are not the psychic facades with which we wrap ourselves. They test us with an intensity missing from other teachers. They show us the pathway to selflessness and, thus, are highly charged agents of enlightenment.

(Caveat: I don’t want to suggest that one should passively accept cruelty or violence or remain in the presence people caught up in toxic patterns. The point here is to recognize what in ourselves we are defending. Personal safety and basic self-value are important and should be protected. But when it is our own self-importance that feels threatened, perhaps it is an opportunity to laugh at ourselves instead.)

Praise to those who irritate us! (Grumble.)


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
Taoist

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Nov 15 2019

real praise

Stillness is
the real praise, and prayer, and presence.

No responses yet

Nov 08 2019

Mary Oliver – Yes! No!

Published by under Poetry

Yes! No!
by Mary Oliver

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

— from White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by Thomas Mueller /

There is so much I like about this poem.

I’m not so certain myself how necessary it is to have opinions. Perhaps Mary Oliver’s opinions and her Yesses and Noes are really about being present with intentionality, making a choice to be there. I think she is saying something about entering the world with awareness.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out


Yes! No!

And that’s what I really like about the poem, the sense that the supreme act of a conscious being is to be aware, and to be here, alive and quiet in the undefined moment.

The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond.

The “nameless pond.” To that, I definitely say, Yes! That single phrase nails me to the spot each time I read it. The thinking mind reflexively wants to name everything it sees, and in naming it, claiming it, defining it. Labeling a thing or place, we then think we have seen it, and so ignore it in order to move on to the next thing to be named. Naming is a way of protecting ourselves from direct encounter.

What is it like to encounter a pond with no name? Not even called “pond”? A landscape without labels is wide open, mysterious, and magical. The swan glides through that world every day and needs no names to make it real. In some sense, naming the pond diminishes it, even for the swan, since it has then been claimed as human territory. This is why we need those wild places, unnamed spaces, where the swan can float and the thrush can dance in the unfenced mystery. Where we, wild seekers, can wander in wordless witness.

To live within the undefined moment, within an unnamed landscape, requires a powerful will, choosing to resist the socially trained reflex to label and categorize everything and, thus, not really encounter any of it. To simply be requires one to be a rebel. Rather than going along unconsciously with what we have been taught, we must say either Yes! or No! so we can then actually experience this mysterious life revealing itself to us in every moment.

To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.


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

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Nov 08 2019

how big the life is

Discover how big the life is
hidden in the small places
that populate each day.

No responses yet

Nov 01 2019

Dionysius the Areopagite – Lead us up beyond light

Published by under Poetry

Lead us up beyond light
by Dionysius the Areopagite

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth,

where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.
All light is outshined
by the intensity of their shade.

The senses are flooded, the mind made blind
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

— from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Sudhamshu /

You may not be familiar with them, but these lines are hugely important in the history of Western mysticism and spirituality. Virtually all European esoteric traditions have drawn inspiration and meaning from them. So take a moment to reread them and consider what is being said and why Western mystics have been inspired by them through the centuries.

In particular, that phrase about the “dazzling darkness,” like a Christian koan, is contemplated endlessly and keeps reappearing in esoteric writings.

Dionysius is saying something about knowledge and the limitations of knowledge, using the metaphor of light and darkness.

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth…

We might say that intellectual knowledge is knowledge dependent on things being visible, in the light. But clearly Dionysius feels that such knowledge does not attain the “topmost summit of truth.”

There is another level of knowing, deeper, more obscure, yet all-encompassing. This is the knowledge sought by the mystic. This is the knowledge found within deep inner silence. This is the knowledge that connects us with genuine truth. Amidst this darkness, the truth shines.

…where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.

But this language of darkness and blindness and unknowing as descriptions of this ultimate knowledge is more than evocative metaphor and playful contradiction.

That wonderful phrase, the “dazzling darkness,” is a reference to a very real state of awareness experienced in deep communion when the mind has settled completely into stillness and no longer projects a conceptual overlay upon reality.

We can even say that seeing in the normal sense stops, while perception opens as if for the first time. A person is no longer seen as a person, a table is no longer seen as a table. Surfaces and categories — the foundation of mundane perception — become ephemeral, dreamlike, insubstantial. One stops witnessing the surface level of reality in the common sense, and this can be compared to blindness or darkness. Yet everything shines! Everything is seen to be radiant with a living interpenetrating light. And the same light shines in everything.

This is the dazzling darkness of Dionysius. This is why many mystics assert they no longer even see the world and, instead, only see God. It is not that they bump into furniture when they walk across a room; perception on the mundane level doesn’t stop (except in the most ecstatic states), but surfaces take on a thin or unreal quality; it only occupies a minimal level of the awareness. It is as if the world everyone always assumes to be the real world, the visible world, is actually a world of shadow, but underlying that is an unseen world of brilliance and indescribably beauty.

Our senses are flooded, our minds blinded
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

This is the dazzling darkness sought by mystics throughout the ages.

=

Speaking of darkness, it is the time of Halloween, Samhain in Celtic tradition, el Dia de los Muertos.

As a child, Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. I loved the masks and costumes, toying with my identity, hiding behind what is seen. I loved the time of year, the chill breeze and thick sweaters, bare branches with a few bright leaves, the blue daylight illuminating it all. And, I have to admit, I loved the giddy, creeping sense of death… and the implied question of what lay beyond. Spirits, magic, monsters, and nighttime, they evoked in me a childish delight in the sense that there was something more to the world, something hidden, secret, another reality in the shadows. I felt the holiday tugging at me, my goosebumps an invitation into the unknown…

This is considered to be a time of year when the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins, when we can reconnect with the spirits of our ancestors, when can gain unexpected insight. It is a time of magic and reconnection and stepping into the unknown.

This is the time of year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of summer and the harvest season recedes, the days grow shorter, and the darkness of winter takes ascendance. This is the good darkness that balances the year. With darker, shorter, colder days, we are less active and turn inward. It is a time that reminds us to return to the dark cave of home and self. It is in this internal, inturning time that we gain insight and strength and, through endurance, find ourselves renewed and ready for the new light to come in springtime. This darkness is the time of spiritual practice that prepares us for the renewed light and life of springtime. For only in darkness does new life gestate. Only in darkness do our eyes learn to see.

So let’s celebrate those who came before us and made a way for us in the world. Let’s celebrate the infinitely unknown possibilities yet available to us. And let’s celebrate the good darkness — and the light and life we discover there!


Recommended Books: Dionysius the Areopagite

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages


Dionysius the Areopagite, Dionysius the Areopagite poetry, Christian poetry Dionysius the Areopagite

Syria (6th Century) Timeline
Christian

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Nov 01 2019

agnostic

Regardless of belief or faith,
everyone is agnostic
until gnosis.

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Oct 25 2019

Shiwu (Stonehouse) – Outside the door I made but don’t close

Published by under Poetry

Outside the door I made but don’t close
by Shiwu (Stonehouse)

English version by Red Pine

Outside the door I made but don’t close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds
a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can’t buy a lifetime of freedom
the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods
mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don’t get past the clouds

— from The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit, Translated by Red Pine


/ Image by Michael Levine-Clark /

This poem feels to me like a Chinese brush painting, specific details observed suggesting a panoramic landscape, yet when we try to enter the scene it becomes ephemeral and slightly elusive.

Outside the door I made but don’t close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds

That opening line about a door the poet made but does not close, I skimmed past it the first few times I read this poem, but now it grabs my attention. I love the idea of having gone to all the effort of constructing a door and then never using it because you always want it open so you can see and hear the outside world, so no barrier is created between inside and outside.

a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can’t buy a lifetime of freedom

Two lines to contemplate and dismiss the dilemmas of wealth. People tend to commodify all of existence, placing a price tag on every experience and thing and even other people. A handful of jade is enough to buy an entire mountain. Who says that’s what a mountain is worth? Or what jade is worth? Exchanging that jade for the pretense of owning that mountain, what do we then have? What has changed for us? Can we breathe easier? Are we more free? The game of money might be worth playing, or not, but it is not the game of freedom.

the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods

Freedom is found through other mediums of exchange, usually involving stillness, attention, compassion — and harmony with the living world all around us.

mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don’t get past the clouds

Real freedom carries the flavor of timelessness. The world continues in its rhythms, of course, and the serial unfolding of events does not stop, but the rush of time ceases to drive them. It becomes as if one is simply watching the flow of a gentle creek; movement occurs, but it is a serene unfolding within a larger scene of rest.

When we discover this timeless place, when we find ourselves at peace in the midst of the serene beauty surrounding us, when there is no sense of “I and mine” driving the moment, where then are “right” and “wrong”? Ideas of this and not that cannot approach the open field of what is.

Let’s try to leave those doors we’ve made ajar today. Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Shiwu (Stonehouse)

The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit


Shiwu (Stonehouse)

China (1272 – 1352) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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2 responses so far

Oct 25 2019

self-acceptance is essential

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

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Oct 18 2019

Buson – This cold winter night

Published by under Poetry

This cold winter night
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head Buddha
would make a nice fire

— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by thanapat /

Chilly weather this morning. Makes a person cast about for a source of warmth… Hmm…

Every time I come across this haiku it makes me laugh. It works beautifully on several levels and can suggest almost opposite meanings. Superficially, we are contemplating an act of sacrilegious vandalism — hungrily looking at a large wooden Buddha head, perhaps it is neglected or fallen, and fantasizing about setting it on fire for a little comfort. On the other hand, the head engulfed in flames is a common image in Asian iconography to represent enlightenment, a variation on the nimbus or halo — so the haiku can just as easily be saying something about warming oneself through spiritual illumination.

The haiku shocks, it even offends, at the same time that it inspires awakening — a masterful joke!


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Oct 18 2019

slow realization

The slow realization
of a lifetime lived with attention:
the satisfaction of simple moments.

One response so far

Oct 16 2019

Farid ud-Din Attar – The moths and the flame

Published by under Poetry

The moths and the flame
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned —
And went no nearer: back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: “He knows nothing of the flame.”
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he’d been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: “You do not bear the signs
Of one who’s fathomed how the candle shines.”
Another moth flew out — his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both self and fire were mingled by his dance —
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth’s form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: “He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair —
No creature’s self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.

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


/ Image by ruslik /

I don’t feature selections from it often enough, but Attar’s Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds) is a long-time favorite of mine. The English language version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis is good, but I still hope to read a truly great English translation someday.

This version maintains the two-line rhyme scheme. So read it out loud and feel the play of the rhyming couplets. Some are, admittedly, forced in English translation, but they bring a playfulness to the piece.

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light…

This is really a story in poetic form, an expansion on the ancient spiritual metaphor of the moth and the flame. We have a small community of moths gathered together at night. One moth flies off, sees a palace with a candle burning in the window. The moth returns and tells the other moths of the wondrous sight he has just witnessed. The “mentor of the moths” (the sheikh, their spiritual leader) states flatly, “He knows nothing of the flame.”

Another moth flies out to see the candle, flies close enough to feel the heat and the strange fluttering desire it awakens in him, and returns. Again, the mentor moth says that he clearly hasn’t understood the nature of the flame.

Finally, a moth truly overcome with love for the flame flies right into it, merges with it, and is utterly consumed. The leader of the moths approvingly says that one knows the truth.

So many things we can understand from this image. The flame, of course, is God, the Eternal One. And the moths are individual souls, spiritual seekers, lovers of God. We are the moths.

Attar is reminding us of one of the core truths only mystics seem to remember: It is not enough to think about God, or theorize about God, or pray to God, or read about God, or subscribe to the right faith in God, or even catch glimpses of God. Regardless of one’s religion or rectitude, the Divine is only ever known through direct encounter. Even the word “encounter” implies two who meet. No, the moth knows the real truth, light is known only through merging with it, and in merging, letting go of any sense of self that is separate. In this encounter there are not two, just one.

The only way to know is to be so enamored with that fiery, entrancing Beauty that we recklessly abandon the nafs, the little self, in order to merge with that dancing light.

That fluttering, moth-like self we all think we are — it has no substance anyway. The flame teaches us this.

Words fail, concepts fail, but we come to know in a greater, deeper way when we allow ourselves to be consumed.

“He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”


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
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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 16 2019

a smoldering nugget

Even in our stumblings,
in our rebellions and unconsciousness,
there is a smoldering nugget of awareness
that calls out for remembrance.

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Oct 07 2019

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time

Published by under Poetry

In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood —
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is —
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.


Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

— from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke


/ Image by iNeedChemicalX /

Over the weekend I came across the following article:

“Emergency Poet” Opens Literary Pharmacy to Support Mental Health

Keele University in the UK has decided to open up what they are calling a “poetry pharmacy” to issue poetic therapy and first aid. They’ve set it up so you can move through rooms based on your particular need, everything from affairs of the heart to when the world is just too much.

I love this idea! We need a poetic first aid center in every community. I suppose, in my way, I try to do that with the Poetry Chaikhana.

If this idea intrigues you, an excellent book to read on the healing power of poetry is Poetic Medicine, by John Fox.

Thinking about poetry as medicine brought to mind this poem by Theodore Roethke…

This poem by Roethke is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep-seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul’s need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this dark and uncertain territory, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use — a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the still-forming individual, giving protection from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, the soul never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity not dependent on outer containment. At that point, the shell has become too confining and we break free into the open air, cracking the shell but without fragmenting the self. Spiritual practice and deepening self-awareness gives us the inner solidity needed to encounter the new world.

…Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

We must learn to work deeply amidst the darkness. We discover who we really are, slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is our stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

=

Which poem do you keep close in your poetic medicine cabinet? What gives you comfort, clarity, or courage? Let me know.

Sending love.


Recommended Books: Theodore Roethke

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems On Poetry and Craft The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke
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Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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