Apr 17 2020

Shabkar – One must remain in the vastness

Published by at 7:51 am under Poetry

One must remain in the vastness
by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard

One must remain in the vastness,
      alert and lucid,
Letting one’s gaze encompass
      the infinity of the sky,
As though seated on the summit
      of a mountain open
      to all the horizons.

— from Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar, Translated by Matthieu Ricard


/ Image by Thom Chandler /

I am acutely aware of the anxiety being felt by everyone — concerns about Covid-19, uncertainty about jobs and the economy in general, the increasingly messy political situation, all surrounded by the pressures of isolation. The first thing to remember is that, even though we are not yet able to interact with people in the ways we are used to, we are not alone. Whatever worries you may be feeling are being shared by many. Even in uncertainty and isolation, there is connection and community and, therefore, strength.

As I like to say, everything is an opportunity for awareness. Even in moments of fear, we should always be asking ourselves, what can I learn from this? How can I use this moment as a way to step free from limited ways of thinking and open my heart?

One observation that comes to mind is that when society is moving along in expected ways we are much more likely to align with the group mind. The group mind asserts that reality is a certain way and the routine functioning of day-to-day life seems to confirm it, so we enter into that shared psychic current — for good and for bad. We can list many of the ways that is a good thing, but it also lulls us into a rather narrow band of perception and self-awareness. When those outer certainties, which were never certainties in the first place, change, when the rhythms of the human world shift and become less predictable, the fear we feel is more fundamental than the question of a paycheck or health concerns; it is a fear that reality itself is falling apart. It is worth reminding ourselves that reality itself is never vulnerable and the only thing that changes is our agreed upon description of it. We are being coaxed to see reality in a new way, to see different aspects of reality, to see a wider view of reality.

One must remain in the vastness,
      alert and lucid

In chaotic or uncertain moments, it is as if we are stepping out of a dense forest onto the open plain. The change in what we see and how we understand it can be overwhelming at first. The spaces we inhabit are so different. It can feel like entering an undefined emptiness. But, of course, it is not empty; the plain too is filled with life. This is the challenge, to quickly adapt our awareness to the new terrain, to recognize its regular features, to find what is familiar and identify what is new, to be at home in a more open space. Even the forest inhabits that open space, we just weren’t as aware of it.

Letting one’s gaze encompass
      the infinity of the sky

In other words, the less rigidly we hold to some idea of how things used to be or “should” be and, instead, allow our minds to acclimate to what is happening right now, the more naturally and confidently we can step forward.

As conscious beings we always want to perceive as clearly as we can. We want to perceive as much of reality as we can. And we must remind ourselves that what we call reality is just a mental model of what actually is. When that mental model is shaken, we can try to prop it up exactly as it was before, but more rickety and at a tenuous angle, or we adjust it, improve it, strengthen it to reflect new understanding.

Moments of uncertainty are a genuine opportunity to update that mental approximation of reality. We have the opportunity to notice who has been suffering and neglected all along. We have a chance to review our assumptions and assess which ones don’t stand up to scrutiny or stress. We are invited to embrace possibilities that had previously been rejected. We can use this time for redefinition and improved perception.

Moments of uncertainty are a genuine opportunity to update our descriptions of reality, both personally and collectively, in order to more fully reflect the immensely mysterious space of being we inhabit together.

The big challenge is to not shut our eyes as our vision expands.

As though seated on the summit
      of a mountain open
      to all the horizons.


Recommended Books: Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat


Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol), Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol) poetry, Buddhist poetry Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Tibet (1781 – 1851) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol, often referred to simply as Shabkar (sometimes transliterated as Shapkar), was born in the Amdo province of northeastern Tibet.

He entered monastic studies at the age of eight. As a youth, he resisted pressure from his family to marry and devoted himself fully to spiritual practice, taking full ordination at age 21. While still a young man, he became respected for his scholarship. When Shabkar was 25, he took up the life of a wandering pilgrim and hermit, traveling for the next thirty years to sacred sites and pilgrimage destinations. His life as a wandering ascetic and his songs of spiritual insight became widely known, earning him comparisons with the great wandering Buddhist yogi-poet Milarepa.

Shabkar was a renowned teacher and lineage holder of the Dzogchen tradition.

He was also a nature mystic, conversing with sky and mountain and tree, seeing in them embodiments of teachers and fundamental truths. Like St. Francis of Assisi, he is particularly famous for his love of animals. One of his most widely read works is a treatise on vegetarianism.

More poetry by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Shabkar – One must remain in the vastness”

  1. Mystic Meanderingon 17 Apr 2020 at 9:12 am

    I just love this piece, Ivan! Your writing is a gift to us. It has really helped to bring perspective back! I will read it again and again… and probably reblog it. Thank you! I really do see this period as a call to awareness as well… (I can access your blog again! Yeay!) Gratefully – Christine

  2. Larry Coonradton 17 Apr 2020 at 9:26 am

    Dear Ivan,

    Your choice of the this poem “One Must Remain In The Vastness” by Shabkar is such an outstanding one. Its meaning so poignant at this time. It really helps one to open themselves up to the universe, and its meaning to all of us. Quietly reading it and absorbing its deepest meaning truly soothes the soul.

    Your commentary so eloquently expressed, also is very helpful for all of us who have the privilege of reading it.

    Thank You so much for this fresh breath of air so desperately needed. Please stay safe.

  3. Catie Lindseyon 17 Apr 2020 at 9:46 am

    Hi Ivan,

    I truly enjoyed your commentary on this reflective poem. I only wish you had spoken a little on fear. There is so much fear out there right now, and perhaps some need a reminder that any decision brought about by fear, only brings more fear into your reality. Also it is noteworthy to mention that fear has a very low vibration, and…so does a virus. Let us all raise our frequency to the upper room, watch and learn while we remain compassionate and living, but not tangled up in fear…

  4. Catie Lindseyon 17 Apr 2020 at 9:48 am

    Hi Ivan,

    I truly enjoyed your commentary on this reflective poem. I only wish you had spoken a little on fear. There is so much fear out there right now, and perhaps some need a reminder that any decision brought about by fear, only brings more fear into your reality. Also it is noteworthy to mention that fear has ah very low vibration, and…so does a virus. Let us all raise our frequency to the upper room, watch and learn while we remain compassionate and living, but not tangled up in fear…

  5. Warren Reineckeon 17 Apr 2020 at 10:36 am

    Dear Ivan,
    Your post of Shabkar’s poem, “One must remain in the Vastness,” arrives within days of having driven the length of New Mexico on secondary roads. The state motto is, “Land of Enchantment.” The sweep of mountains and Llano is so vast it is hard to comprehend even when you are driving through it. Other than being on the ocean, I can’t imagine a better way of coming to terms with vastness, at least here on earth. You remind us of the importance of keeping a sense of it all. Good choice, Ivan!

  6. Carolon 18 Apr 2020 at 5:35 am

    Oh Ivan- this is a beautiful poem. Thank you. And so appropriate because Earth Day
    is coming up. And your commentary so full of good thoughts, I agree with all, but
    could not express with your beautiful words. Poetry Chaikhana is a blessing, especially
    in times like this.

  7. Anna M.on 18 Apr 2020 at 7:58 am

    between life and death
    resting in the
    unknown

    gratitude
    appreciation
    love…

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