Mar 12 2021

Lalla – Coursing in emptiness

Published by at 7:56 am under Poetry

Coursing in emptiness
by Lalla

English version by Coleman Barks

Coursing in emptiness,
I, Lalla,
dropped off body and mind,

and stepped into the Secret Self.

Look: Lalla the sedgeflower
blossomed a lotus.

— from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield

/ Image by Crystalline Radical /

Yesterday was Maha Shivaratri, a celebration in honor of the Hindu god Shiva. So I thought we should have a poem dedicated to Lord Shiva…

I love the opening phrase in this poem’s translation: “Coursing in emptiness…” Reality is recognized as being vast and empty — but a living emptiness! — like a great formless sea. And the point of awareness, though supremely at rest, covers the entire spaciousness like one reclined on a coursing clipper ship carried along by a gentle, steady wind.

And in this pure state of awareness, the agitated ego-mind that constantly chants “I, me, mine!” — that part of the mind that we normally think of as ourselves — it grows thin and ghost-like until it disappears. Even the physical body becomes unreal to us and the awareness of it can completely fade away.

…Yet we remain. The collection of mental processes and agitations that we thought was our identity has ceased. The body has become at most an idea, a form of expression. It is a tool for interacting with an idea world. The body has dropped off, yet we remain. Completely stilled and settled, we are returned to the natural experience of bliss and wholeness. In the deepest way possible, we are at home, at one. We finally know who and what we really are. This is the return to the Secret Self. This is the way to step into the Secret Self.

Lalla’s final pair of lines — “Look: Lalla the sedgeflower / blossomed a lotus” — expresses the utter surprise and delight of this first recognition. A sedgeflower grows low among the grasses, close to the ground, hardly noticed. How can something so humble, something so lost among the weeds and dust of earthly existence come to such vibrant life? How could this little thing I call “me” have stepped into the radiant enlightenment that blossoms like a lotus in the crown? The sedgeflower — the little self — discovers within it the scintillating lotus of the True Self!


A personal note about Shiva–

I have always felt a special appreciation for the imagery of Shiva. When I was younger and more of an ascetic myself, I loved the iconography of Shiva as the bone-thin yogi with long matted hair meditating in bliss in the Himalayas. Austere, pure, the embodiment of what is essential and meaningful in existence.

These days I am fascinated by the image of Shiva Nataraj, the Lord of the Dance. Shiva, ecstatically dancing, creating and dissolving the universe with each step, his long hair flying about his shoulders as he spins in his perfect balance. To me this is an image of the way the Eternal expresses both stillness and movement, how the Divine moves masterfully through existence, how all life is an expression of the underlying joyful impulse to move and express.

Shiva Nataraj teaches us how to dance through life!

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Lalla

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

Lalla, Lalla poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla

Kashmir (India/Pakistan) (14th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Lalla, also affectionately called Lalli, Lal Ded, Lal Diddi (“Granny Lal”), or Lalleshwari, was born near Srinagar in Kashmir in northern India/Pakistan.

Little is known with certainty about her life, other than hints that come to us through her poetry and songs.

She was a young bride, married, tradition says, at the age of twelve. After moving into her husband’s family home, she was abused by her mother-in-law and ignored by her husband.

A story is told about “Lalla’s Lake” — one day when returning from the well with a clay water jug on her head, her husband lost his temper over her delay and struck the jug in his anger. The clay vessel broke but, miraculously, the water held its shape above her head. This becomes an important symbol of the heavenly nectar that rains down from the crown.

Finally, Lalla could endure no more mistreatment and, in her early 20s, she left. She became a disciple of a respected saint in the Kashmir Shaivism tradition of yoga and she took up the life of a holy woman dedicated God in the form of Shiva. Lalla began wandering about, village to village, going naked or nearly naked, and singing songs of enlightenment.

Lalla’s songs are short, using the simple, direct language of the common people, yet she touches on complex yogic techniques and the most elevated states of awareness.

The name Lalla can be translated as either “seeker” or “darling.”

Lalla is deeply loved by both Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir today, even amidst the terrible fighting ravaging the land. There is a saying that in Kashmir only two words have any meaning: Allah and Lalla.

More poetry by Lalla

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Lalla – Coursing in emptiness”

  1. Jonathan Davison 12 Mar 2021 at 8:48 am

    THANK YOU Ivan

  2. Judith Shineron 12 Mar 2021 at 11:28 am

    Your commentary a blessing, returning me home to a deep spacious quiet presence.
    Many thanks.

  3. Vanitaon 12 Mar 2021 at 11:47 am

    I am this Body Living.
    I am this Body Living in Consciousness.
    I am Consciousness Living in this Body.
    I am the Self.
    The Self is Me.

  4. Mystic Meanderingon 12 Mar 2021 at 12:18 pm

    Yes 🙂 The “Secret Self” – which doesn’t really feel like a “self” at all (in my experience) – but the Primordial Energy of Life ItSelf; that animates the body and all life; the Energy that dances *us* into being – into Aliveness – surging through this body. Amazing… How could we not dance 🙂 Although, personally, my body has a difficult time with such energy surging through it… But I love it! 🙂

  5. Taoon 12 Mar 2021 at 1:17 pm

    Very deep and true, Tvan! THANK YOU !
    Quote: “And in this pure state of awareness, the agitated ego-mind that constantly chants “I, me, mine!” — that part of the mind that we normally think of as ourselves — it grows thin and ghost-like until it disappears. Even the physical body becomes unreal to us and the awareness of it can completely fade away.”
    That’s the essence of all initiations.
    Your comment shows that you see it instead of just repeating something read.
    Makes me think of several deep poems by Padma Sambhava, Shabistari’s “secret garden, and logia from the gospel of Thomas.
    Abu Yazid al Bestami describes the same exprience in a very livid and religious language
    (sorry for the lenght but I cannot find a shorter direct link =
    “The Ascension of Abu Yazid
    Abu Yazid related as follows. I gazed upon God with the eye of certainty after that
    He had advanced me to the degree of independence from all creatures and illumined me with His light,
    revealing to me the wonders of His secrets and manifesting to me the grandeur of His He-ness.
    Then from God I gazed upon myself, and considered well the secrets and attributes of my self. My light was
    darkness beside the light of God; my grandeur shrank to very meanness beside God’s grandeur; my glory
    beside God’s glory became but vainglory. There all was purity, here all was foulness.
    When I looked again, I saw my being by God’s light. I realized that my glory was of His grandeur and glory.
    Whatsoever I did, I was able to do through His omnipotence. Whatever the eye of my physical body
    perceived, it perceived through Him. I gazed with the eye of justice and reality; all my worship proceeded
    from God, not from me, and I had supposed that it was I who worshipped Him.
    I said, “Lord God, what is this?” He said, “All that I am, and none other than I.”
    Then He stitched up my eye, not to be the means of seeing and so that I might not see, and He instructed
    the gaze of my eye in the root of the matter, the He-ness of Himself. He annihilated me from my own being, and
    made me to be everlasting through His own everlastingness, and He glorified me. He disclosed to me His
    own Selfhood, unjostled by my own existence. So God, the one Truth, increased in me reality. Through God I
    gazed on God, and I beheld God in reality. There I dwelt a while, and found repose. I stopped
    up the ear of striving; I withdrew the tongue of yearning into the throat of disappointment. I abandoned
    acquired knowledge, and removed the interference of the soul that bids to evil. I remained still for a space,
    without any instrument, and with the hand of God’s grace I swept superfluities from the pathway of root
    principles. God had compassion on me. He granted me eternal knowledge, and put into my throat a tongue of His
    goodness. He created for me an eye out of His light, and I saw all creatures through God. With the tongue
    of His goodness I communed with God, and from the knowledge of God I acquired knowledge, and by His
    light I gazed on Him. He said, “O thou all without all with all, without
    instrument with instrument!” I said, “Lord God, let me not be deluded by this. Let
    me not become self-satisfied with my own being, not to yearn for Thee. Better it is that Thou shouldst be mine
    without me, than that I should be my own without Thee. Better it is that I should speak to Thee through
    Thee, than that I should speak to myself without Thee.”

  6. Mandakini Mathuron 12 Mar 2021 at 9:49 pm

    I am just returning after celebrating the Mahashivratri festival at Haridwar with Sri M a mystic saint who has been guiding me to the path to Shiva in ways known and unknown!
    Just wanted to tell you that your commentary as usual makes the meaning of the shared poem resonate at different levels! Iam right now at the Airport waiting to board the plane back home to Pune/Panchgani and it was such a delight reading both Lal Ded’s poem and your commentary on it!

  7. Carolon 13 Mar 2021 at 5:26 am

    Thank You Ivan for this lovely poem by Lalla. Had heard of her but knew very little.
    Your commentary and writings by readers so interesting. Her poem so simple and
    so true. Blessings, Carol.

  8. Anna M.on 14 Mar 2021 at 7:55 am

    Dear Ivan,

    There is always something in your commentaries,
    that makes me joyfully smile, because of many coincidences.

    In this case it was your sentence

    “The body has dropped off, yet we remain.”

    I remember, some of the first phases of the perception
    of the dropping off the body, some time ago, was in meditation or deep calmness, not sure…

    Suddenly, I have noticed, that my breathing, gradually is getting shallow and at one moment just stopped off.

    Of course, I got in panic, “I will die”, I though, if I can’ t breathe and first thought that came to mind was ” hmmm, I may be got this “thing”, that all the world got in hysteria”:)

    But in the next moment I have noticed that “something” is breathing freely inside my body, instead of “me” and all was OK!

    So, even when the breathing has dropped off, yet we remain, indeed…


    By the way, the day before Tao has wrote his post and has mentioned logia from the gospel of Thomas, I was re-reading about Gnosticism from the Nag Hammadi’s codices perspective. Coincidence? 🙂

    It is like an “unseen hand” always leading us what to do and what not to do… and how to approach life from the perspective of wisdom and knowingness .

    We all have innate the Divine spark, the Gnosis,
    inside of us, that is our “inner knowing” and our only true compass…

    Aren’t we? 🙂

    Have a beautiful spring day!

    The trees are budding, the birds are singing and the grass is growing…Beauty…

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