Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Mar 24 2020

Yeats – Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Published by under Poetry

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by William Butler Yeats

/ Image by Rene Schroder /

In the midst of work and scrambling, like all of you, to make sure my family is safe and provided for as best as possible through the shifting dynamics of this outbreak, I have also been trying to find the time to connect with all of you and send out another poem.

In this period of social distancing, connection is such an important thing. I feel that, on some level, that is at the heart of what this illness represents — just as it forces us to keep our distance, it highlights the need for connection. We can view it as a challenge, or an invitation, if we like, to dispel the illusion of separation and, instead, to open our hearts, to connect genuinely, and to re-establish community. While we may feel like there is an enforced distance and isolation happening, it is important for us to remember that there is, in fact, no distance, except whatever distance we carry in our hearts.

Even in my own neighborhood I have witnessed some truly moving acts of connection happening. A few days ago, my wife was checking in on her mother, who lives nearby. While she was there some neighbors we’d never met before approached but kept a safe distance, and told my wife that they knew her mother lived here and was elderly and they offered to help in any way they could — run errands, pick up medicines. We were deeply touched and realized just how profound a simple offer of neighborly help can be, and how rare it is for all of us. There is a large elderly population where we live, and I now see similar open offers of help being posted by many people on our local neighborhood bulletin board. These sorts of actions are so healing to communities dealing with crisis.

I encourage all of us to find ways to stay connected and, when possible and safe, to be of help.

This time can be understood as a social reset button, a disruption in our old patterns and rhythms in order to formulate new and healthier social norms.

A few suggestions that may help through these periods of solitude and anxiety…

– Recognize the beauty all around you. Appreciate nature, which continues to share its beauty with undiminished generosity.

– Take time for quiet and contemplation. Meditate or pray. The more comfortable we are with our own stillness, the more whole we are in every situation.

– Stay physical and playful. Go for a walk if it is safe. Practice yoga or tai chi. Turn up the radio and dance with abandon!

– Be willing to accept that we aren’t fully in control of the situation as it unfolds. Trust that we have the awareness and inner resources to navigate through.

– Stay in touch with friends and family — our outer resources. We humans are social creatures; we exist both as individuals and in groups, and we need all levels to be healthy and balanced. To minimize the feelings of separation, use face-to-face methods of talking — try Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom. They’re free and you get to see everyone’s smiling face.

– Stay connected with your neighbors, even meet neighbors you’ve never spoke to before, through neighborhood bulletin boards. Create a mutually supportive network that is local.

– Break out the tabletop games and puzzles in your home.

– Reconnect with life through plants. If you have a yard, start a vegetable garden. If you don’t have a yard, start growing sprouts — alfalfa sprouts, lentil sprouts, mung bean sprouts. Not only do these activities provide a healthy addition to the diet, they remind us of the sheer beauty and magic of life, especially needed when one feels enclosed.

– Read. Read poetry.

– Send love into the world and be willing to help when you can. That’s how a world works well.

Of course, sending so much love to all of you…

Now, for some poetry.


Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I had heard this line long before I discovered it was from a poem by Yeats — this poem.

Isn’t that a wonderfully evocative line? So vulnerable, yet as wide open as the world of dreams. The statement invites us to be gentle and to be aware, for who knows what has been laid before us and with what care?

Go back and reread the entire poem. Read it aloud.

Notice how it feels like it rhymes, but it doesn’t actually rhyme. The poet instead is repeating the same words at the end of his lines: cloths… light… cloths… light.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,

But we get that powerful alliteration in the fourth line: night… light… half light. It is simple, almost a child’s rhyme, but it has impact. It is more like a chant, as if the poet is summoning the child’s mind within us.

And again, he repeats the ending phrases: under your feet… my dreams… under your feet… my dreams.

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

With that we are witness to magic, sealed with a child’s singsong repetition. A healing spell that breaks the heart with such vulnerability, and heals it again with hope and the heavens.

May as well chant it again.

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Recommended Books: William Butler Yeats

The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats Byzantium The Secret Rose
More Books >>

William Butler Yeats, William Butler Yeats poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Butler Yeats

Ireland (1865 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

More poetry by William Butler Yeats

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Mar 13 2020

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Like This

Like This
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Jonathan Star

If someone asks,
“What does perfect beauty look like?”
Show him your own face and say,
Like this.

If someone asks,
“What does an angel’s wing look like?” — smile.
If he asks about divine fragrance
Pull him close, his face in your hair,
Like this.

If someone asks,
“How did Jesus bring the dead back to life?” —
Don’t say a word —
just kiss him softly on the cheek,
Like this.

If someone asks,
“How does it feel to be slain by love?”
Close your eyes and tear open your shirt,
Like this.

If someone asks about my stature,
Stare into space with your eyes wide open,
Like this.

The soul enters one body, then another.
If someone argues about this
Enter my house and wave him good-bye,
Like this.

I am the storehouse of all pleasure,
I am the pain of self-denial.
To see me, lower your eyes to the ground
Then raise them up to heaven,
Like this.

Only the gentle breeze
Knows the secret of union.
Listen as it whispers a song to every heart,
Like this.

If someone asks,
How does a servant attain the glory of God?
Become the shining candle
That every eye can see,
Like this.

I asked about Joseph’s perfume
Which rode the wind from city to city —
It was your scent
Blowing in from God’s perfect world,
Like this.

I asked how Joseph’s perfume
Gave sight to the blind —
It was your breeze
Clearing the darkness from my eyes,
Like this.

Perhaps Shams will be generous
And fill our hearts with love.
Perhaps he will raise one eyebrow
And cast us a glance,
Like this.

— from Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved, by Jonathan Star

/ Image by Fadzly Mubin /

I was considering holding off on sending out a poem this week. I’ve been busy with my day job and rather tired, but mostly there are such important concerns demanding our attention — people are anxious about the coronavirus pandemic and, in the US, the elections. I don’t want to ignore these issues and share poems that can feel disconnected from people’s real worries.

Of course, poetry, especially sacred poetry, is not disconnected or merely ornamental. Poetry speaks to the heart of the matter much better than any headline. Poetry reminds us of our humanity… and our divinity. It is an exploration of feeling and perception and reality. It leads us into an open field with unanticipated possibilities. It is our companion in grief and fear, and it gives us words for our exultation and raptures. Poetry allows us to be more fully ourselves. It invites us to fill out our lives with a richer sense of who we are.

So more poetry not less.

Like this.


Have a beautiful weekend. Be appropriately aware and cautious, but don’t give in to paranoia. The real sickness being spread by this disease is a breakdown of human connection within society. Find a healthy balance that keeps a warm, supportive sense of community alive.

Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
More Books >>

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Mar 06 2020

e. e. cummings – i carry your heart with me

Published by under Poetry

i carry your heart with me
by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

— from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, by e. e. cummings

/ Image by Florian L /

This poem grabbed my attention this morning, one of the most loved of e. e. cummings poems.

It is a love poem, but its language somehow elevates us beyond romantic sentiment.

I won’t say a lot today, just highlight a few of my favorite lines:

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

and, most especially–

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Oh, and have a beautiful full moon weekend. It feels like an intense moon so go gentle on yourself and others. And maybe we’ll figure out “whatever a moon has always meant…”

Recommended Books: e. e. cummings

E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962 73 Poems 1 x 1 [One Times One] 50 Poems 95 Poems
More Books >>

e. e. cummings, e. e. cummings poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry e. e. cummings

US (1894 – 1962) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by e. e. cummings

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Feb 21 2020

Hildegard von Bingen – O nobilissima viriditas

Published by under Poetry

O nobilissima viriditas
by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Barbara Newman

Most noble
evergreen with your roots
in the sun:
you shine in the cloudless
sky of a sphere no earthly
eminence can grasp,
enfolded in the clasp
of ministries divine.

You blush like the dawn,
you burn like a flame
of the sun.

— from Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum, by Hildegard of Bingen / Translated by Barbara Newman

/ Image by joemacjr /

Every week or so I check the visitor statistics on the Poetry Chaikhana website to see which poets’ pages are the most visited. I regularly update the top ten on the Poetry Chaikhana home page, if you’re curious. Hildegard von Bingen is often one of the more popular poets on the site, but I realized it has been a while since I last selected one of her poems for an email. It also occurs to me that I have featured quite a few contemporary poets recently, and perhaps it is time to dip into the rich well of wisdom from our past. So something today by Hildegard von Bingen…

The evergreen tree is used by Hildegard von Bingen as a symbol of eternal life — it is always green and vibrant, even during winter, the season when the light withdraws, the season most associated with turning inwards, meditation and death. Within the Christian tradition, the evergreen is specifically a symbol of Christ, the one who overcomes death, the one who is the embodiment of light and eternal life. Christ is particularly associated with the tree based on prophetic associations of the messiah with a tree and, of course, because of his crucifixion (the cross being another representation of the tree).

So when Hildegard sings to the evergreen, she is singing to Christ, the Beloved, the Living One.

But what does Hildegard mean when she refers to the tree as having its “roots in the sun”? This is one of the more interesting lines to me. In the Western alchemical tradition, the seat of the body, the “root,” is sometimes associated with fire (in Yoga we would say the fiery Kundalini); and in alchemical engravings, we often find the the image of a sun at the body’s base. Hildegard von Bingen was apparently using the language of spiritual alchemy. This raises the fascinating question: Was Hildegard von Bingen, in addition to being a Catholic nun, also an initiate of secret esoteric traditions? Her work as a healer certainly could have introduced her to medical alchemy practiced at the time.

(An alternate way to read the roots in the sun metaphor is as a yogic image. In Yoga, the subtle energetic body is often described as a tree whose trunk is the subtle spine. Like this yogic tree, Hildegard’s evergreen is upside-down, with its roots in heaven, the radiant crown chakra, making its branches the energetic pathways of awareness that reach outward through the senses into the world. That reading, of course, raises even bigger questions…)

I love the description of the tree shining “in the cloudless / sky of a sphere no earthly / eminence can grasp…” It is as if she is describing a state of pure awareness. Not even a vapor or cloud of a thought exists there. It is a state beyond the control of any earthly power (or the grasping mind). In this space of radiance and life, there is nothing to hold onto — a vision of spacious presence.

This tree, Hildegard’s evergreen “shines,” it “blushes like the dawn.” Hildegard is clearly drawing a parallel with the burning bush Moses experienced in his direct encounter with God. If the burning bush witnessed by Moses is the same as Hildegard’s burning evergreen, and that tree is understood to be the structure of the subtle spiritual body in both cases… well, we, as mystics, have some interesting avenues to explore…

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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Feb 19 2020

Anna Swir – Priceless Gifts

Published by under Poetry

Priceless Gifts
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

An empty day without events.
And that is why
it grew immense
as space. And suddenly
happiness of being
entered me.

I heard
in my heartbeat
the birth of time
and each instant of life
one after the other
came rushing in
like priceless gifts.

— from The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy, Edited by John Brehm

/ Image by Roman Iakoubtchik /

I think I’ll be quiet today and let this poem just hover there. Enjoy!

Recommended Books: Anna Swir

Talking to My Body Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy

Anna Swir, Anna Swir poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Anna Swir

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 14 2020

Jayadeva – When he quickens all things

When he quickens all things (from The Gitagovinda)
by Jayadeva

English version by Barbara Stoler Miller

When he quickens all things
To create bliss in the world,
His soft black sinuous lotus limbs
Begin the festival of love
And beautiful cowherd girls wildly
Wind him in their bodies.
Friend, in spring young Hari plays
Like erotic mood incarnate.

— from Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller

/ Image by Infinite Eyes /

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day for lovers. But, you know, there is more than one way to be a lover.

When he quickens all things
To create bliss in the world,
His soft black sinuous lotus limbs
Begin the festival of love…

This excerpt from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda strikes a surprisingly erotic note. Is it “spiritual” at all? Is it really just love poetry? The answer is that it is both.

The Gitagovinda is quite passionately erotic, but it is also considered a highly spiritual work, sung daily in many Indian temples dedicated to Krishna.

For many in the Krishna bhakti tradition, the Gitagovinda is read with a reverence similar to the Song of Songs in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Through song, it tells of the love play, separation, and final union between Krishna (Hari) and the cowherdess Radha.

On an esoteric level, Radha is understood to be the individual soul that feels abandoned by God (Krishna/Hari) who, in turn, loves all souls (and is therefore accused of infidelity by Radha). But Radha finally overcomes her hurt and rejoins her lover in passionate union.

Using the hugely magnetic power of desire, this bhakti classic describes a pathway to return to Oneness with the Divine.

As a result, we can read this work as both an earthy, erotically charged song of love, and just as honestly it speaks deep truths about the journey of the soul through longing and integration to union and enlightenment. And it reminds us of the importance of intense passion, that it is meant to be fuel for awakening.

Whether or not your Valentine’s Day is a day of romance, I hope you find time for a secret passionate embrace with the Eternal!

Recommended Books: Jayadeva

Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda

Jayadeva, Jayadeva poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Jayadeva

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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Feb 11 2020

Richard Wright – I am nobody

Published by under Poetry

I am nobody
by Richard Wright

I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away

— from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition, by Gabriel Rosenstock

/ Image by Philip Male /

The great African-American writer, Richard Wright, is best known for his novels Native Son and Black Boy, but less well-known is that late in his life, while living in self-exile in Paris, he wrote thousands of haiku.

This is one I keep re-reading since I first discovered it as I was editing Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment.

This haiku resonates on so many levels.

I am nobody

We start with negation. The author is not there. We ourselves as readers are not there. I imagine an outline where a person might have stood, a shadow, a silhouette. Awareness is there, but no self.

A red sinking autumn sun

Then we have the massive glowing presence of the red sinking sun. We go from negation to immensity. The vastness of that vision has a gravitational pull to it. It has grabbed us and carried us away. It…

Took my name away

And that’s what it is, this state of being nobody. The witness — the author, the reader — is still there on some essential level, but the “name” has disappeared. That self-referential loop within the mind has stopped its ceaseless spinning and we have become a thing undefined. In that quiet, selfless state, we stand in open mystery with great beauty open before us.


I write all this, obviously not during the autumn, but looking out the window at a blanket of snow glistening in bright morning sunlight. Of course, anything can be that autumn sun for us, a mountain, a symphony, a thought. It’s not so much a matter of putting ourselves in the presence of the right thing, so much as being present ourselves, open, and ready to be swept away into silence.


…I have been reminded by a reader that it is important to remember that Richard Wright, as a black man who lived his later years in France in rejection of institutionalized American racism may also be making a comment about the experience of African Americans in the US down to literally having their names taken from them. I really appreciate that reminder about perspective. A good poem can be read in multiple ways at the same time.

Recommended Books: Richard Wright

Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition Haiku: The Last Poetry of Richard Wright

Richard Wright, Richard Wright poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Richard Wright

US (1908 – 1960) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Richard Wright

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Feb 05 2020

Ivan M. Granger – Thief of hearts

Thief of hearts
by Ivan M. Granger

Thief of hearts,
you have ransacked
this beggar’s hut,
left me

All I see
is the print
of your pilfering hand

— from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger

/ Image by notsogoodphotography /

It has been a while since I featured one of my own poems. Here is one for you today in homage to that “thief of hearts,” who is, of course, the Beloved, God.

Let’s face it, from the ego’s point-of-view, the relationship with the Divine is a problematic one. What the heart recognizes as liberation, the ego sees as theft. It’s really very funny… when we’re not tormented by the spiritual dilemma, that is.

All that the ego claims as its own slips from its grip. Control and possession define the ego. So what is it to do when the master thief breaks into the awareness and reveals everything to be the filmy stuff of dreams and light?

In that ultimate moment, however, the emerging bliss is so all-pervasive that even the drowning ego laughs with its last gasp.

Something I thought I’d point out about the poem’s structure: The poem itself is a pair of thieving hands. It has two groups of five lines, suggesting two hands with five fingers each.

Also, notice that the lines “left me / nothing” are intentionally ambiguous. They could be saying that the thief of hearts has left me with nothing — having taken everything — or perhaps it is saying the thief has left me as nothing — without identity or sense of ego.

The line breaks for “All I see / now” leads the unconscious mind to read several layers of meaning into the lines. Some part of the awareness will read that first line as a complete statement of its own: “I see all.” To follow with the single word “now” snaps the awareness into the present moment. When one sees all, one is fully present, now. Or, when one sees, all is in the present moment.

In this supremely full moment, the “pilfering hand” has removed everything. The world normally perceived as a scattered collection of disconnected people and objects disappears. But — and here’s another secret — that hand secretly gives as it takes. The “print” of that hand leaves us, instead, within a magical universe filled with immensity and life and a giddy sense of being that flows everywhere.


Too much explanation? Maybe we should just let the poem itself do its work…

Recommended Books: Ivan M. Granger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania
More Books >>

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Jan 24 2020

Rabindranath Tagore – On many an idle day

Published by under Poetry

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time. But it is never lost, my lord. Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands.
      Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.
      I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased. In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers.

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

/ Image by James Petts /

Something for self-healing and inner nurturing today…

This chapter from Tagore’s Gitanjali, like most of the book, is addressed directly to God as a sort of a prayer. But Tagore is not asking for something. He is acknowledging a surprising truth, he is proclaiming to God the dawning realization that growth is taking place in his “garden” of spiritual awareness always, secretly, quietly, even when he despairs of his own efforts. He “imagined all work had ceased” — he felt his own spiritual work had come to nothing and his deflated spirit temporarily gives up — but he wakes up surprised to find his “garden full with wonders of flowers.” This happens all the time for those striving spiritually, but why?

The metaphor of a garden to represent one’s spiritual awareness is an ancient one used throughout the world, and it is perfect for what is being said here. Think about a garden for a moment. What is it? First, it is a place where things grow, a place of life. It is the opposite of death, which is the state of nonspirituality. The plants of the garden are rooted in the earth, yet they reach upward toward the light of the sun. On an even subtler level, a garden is a place of nourishment and of beauty. That which grows in our spiritual gardens feeds us through its “fruitfulness,” and it brings beauty, the awareness of harmony to our consciousness. The flowers of the garden represent the spiritual qualities that have opened within us, which in turn cause us to open to the Divine. The flowers are within us, and we are the flowers. From the yogic point of view, the flowers sometimes represent the chakras that open during spiritual awakening. Also, a garden is a place of contemplation and rest. It is a place where we give ourselves permission to simply be, to settle into the present moment. The garden represents the soul at rest in the living presence of the Divine.

But, returning to this verse from the Gitanjali, why is a garden such a perfect metaphor here? Because every plant of the garden grows with a life of its own. The gardener, the spiritual aspirant, may need to till the ground and plant the seeds, water them regularly, keep them free from encroaching weeds — but for all that work, the gardener does not actually make the seeds grow and flower. The gardener just prepares the environment, but it is the divine spark of life “hidden in the heart of all things” that nourishes “seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.”

Tagore is surprised to realize that his only job is to prepare the garden bed and keep it ready, but the growth of the seeds is effortless, for the seeds are alive with the vitality of God. Even when he can conceive of no further effort, the seeds still grow. The seeds WANT to grow. And they will grow. It is their nature to grow once given the right environment. All we have to do is prepare ourselves, make ourselves ready. The spiritual growth will happen of its own accord. Then one morning we wake up surrounded by “wonders of flowers!”

Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>

Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Jan 21 2020

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Rise early at dawn

Published by under Poetry

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins.
In the dead of the night, when all other doors are locked,
the door for the Lovers to enter opens.
Be wide awake in the dark when Lovers
begin fluttering around the Beloved’s window,
like homing pigeons arriving with flaming bodies.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian

/ Image by legends2k /

As I get older I more easily rise at dawn. Sometimes I am trying to sleep in, but the dawn insists. Reading these words by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir, however, makes me want to wake up full of energy in the middle of the night. That’s when our storytelling begins.

Actually, let’s not hurry past that reference to storytelling. It’s in the darkness that we tell stories. In a world before electricity or gas lights, nighttime is the end of activity. So we tell stories. Nighttime is when we normally sleep, and dream.

But most of us do this rather passively. We listen to another person’s story. Or in the modern world, perhaps we watch television. We go to sleep, we dream, we wake up, we forget.

Not so for the seeker. The stories we tell ourselves are the stories of the soul, the way the self understands itself. In dreams and stories we reformulate our perception of the world, deepen it. And in doing so the psyche becomes more dynamic and alive to its own possibilities.

Most people imagine life shuts down at night, but a lover knows better. When the rest of the world rests, the lover finds those sweet illicit moments with the Beloved. Even if it’s just a glimpse, a smile through the window’s lattice, that is what the lover lives for. We light up, we catch fire in the night.

Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition
More Books >>

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 15 2020

Czeslaw Milosz – Late Ripeness

Published by under Poetry

Late Ripeness
by Czeslaw Milosz

English version by Robert Hass

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

— from New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001, by Czeslaw Milosz

/ Image by Sathish J /

This is one of my favorite poems by Czeslaw Milosz. I hope you feel it too…

Try reading those early lines again:

I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

Notice how the breaking of the line influences the meaning. It is not written “I felt… / I entered…” separating it into two logical statements. Instead, the first line is “I felt… and I entered.” There the line stops, forcing us to stop as well and consider it as a statement complete in itself. And once we enter, we are almost overwhelmed by the next line; it is as if, at that point, all of existence has become “the clarity of early morning.”

That sense is further emphasized by the next lines, “One after another my former lives were departing, / like ships, together with their sorrow.” Milosz is describing how the weight of one’s personal history, the burden of past identity and the actions that seemed to give it reality, all of that is washed away in the flood of that light. Not even washed away; “departing,” gently drifting away. Reading that line, I have the sense of those laden ships, not sailing away, but fading out, like gloomy phantoms ever looking backward suddenly caught in the brilliance of dawn.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

The lines of this poem have an intuitive recognition of the unity at rest beneath the jangle and hurts of life. It is a recognition that allows for forgiveness… and self-forgiveness.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

So much suffering in the world, so much grief and anxiety we ourselves carry, and all of that purely for want of the unfathomed gifts and inner beauty we carry hidden within us. We hold ourselves back and so starve the world, and starve ourselves too. Why not instead give from our abundance? Why not act with boldness and beauty? That’s what we’re here for, aren’t we?

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

Yet these observations of missed opportunity are made without harsh critique. The poet seems forgiving as he reviews life in his late ripeness. Yes, he has felt pain, and caused pain too, and, yes, much of it could have been averted, but there seems to be a tone of… contentment, as if it has all been a story told by striving but imperfect actors.

Whatever sorrow held by one’s personal history, it just seems to be vanishing over the horizon

Have a beautiful day today! Find some new ways to give the world more of the gifts you hold.

Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
More Books >>

Czeslaw Milosz, Czeslaw Milosz poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Czeslaw Milosz

Poland (1911 – 2004) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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Jan 06 2020

Macy, Barker and Leonard – Ecosattva Vows

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Ecosattva Vows
by Joanna Macy

Composed in collaboration between Joanna Macy and One Earth Sangha’s co-founders, Kristin Barker and Lou Leonard

– – –

Based on my love of the world and understanding of deep interdependence of all things, I vow

      To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products and energy I consume.
      To commit myself daily to the healing of the world and the welfare of all beings; to discern and replace human systems of oppression and harm.
      To invite personal discomfort as an opportunity to share in the challenge of our collective liberation.
      To draw inspiration, strength and guidance from the living Earth, from our ancestors and the future generations, and from our siblings of all species.
      To help others in their work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.
      To pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows.

/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

This is a hard one, but a hopeful one…

I had a lovely Christmas, though it was a modest one. If you have read recent Poetry Chaikhana emails, you know that we had to replace our family car a few weeks ago. Here in Colorado, especially in the winter, having a reliable car is essential. We are so grateful that we had the money to put down a deposit and purchase a car right away. So that was our main gift to each other this Christmas. We had a beautiful holiday. We lit candles Christmas Eve, burned frankincense on Christmas Day, played Joan Baez’s Noel on the stereo, watched as our dog gleefully shredded the wrapping paper from our few other gifts to each other. It filled my heart.

The day after Christmas, something strange happened: the tip of my nose started getting large and bulbous and red. We made jokes about Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. I looked like old cartoons depicting someone who drank too much, which we laughed about because I don’t drink at all. Whatever it was, it seemed to go away after a day. But another day passed and then the whole left side of my face began to swell up and turn bright red.

When that didn’t go away after a day, and my temperature started to rise, it became a serious crisis for us. Being Americans and without health insurance, we knew that if I went to the hospital, that would bankrupt us, especially after having just committing most of our savings to our car purchase. We had to do that terrible assessment so many Americans do these days of deciding blindly just how serious the situation is. I mean, when I broke my ribs about 10 years ago, I never went to a doctor or a hospital, I just toughed it out for a miserable few weeks, but I survived and got past it. This time, however, something told me that whatever I was dealing with was different and I shouldn’t just wait it out.

Feeling very sick at this point, I went online and started researching options other than the hospital in my area. I found an urgent care facility not far away, where the typical expense was several hundred dollars rather than the several thousand dollars of a hospital visit, not counting the cost of any tests or treatments. I went there hoping they wouldn’t need me to do a bunch of tests or just send me to the hospital anyway. They examined me and it turned out that I had picked up a bacterial infection, relatively easy to treat with antibiotics, though quite dangerous if untreated. I had made the right decision and found an option that avoided financial crisis.

I have spent the time since healing and recovering — and feeling immense relief that my wife and I are okay financially. Sadly, many people are in much worse circumstances than we were in.

But, as I have been recovering and getting into the rhythms of the new year, I have been watching heartbreaking images of the wildfires all across Australia. In my vulnerable state, I have been especially empathizing with the people and the communities, the wildlife and the land itself, all being devastated by those massive fires. Such terrible destruction is a tragic warning to all of us to not tolerate delays or half-measures on climate change legislation and international environmental agreements.

And, of course, I have to mention the news of the American assassination of General Soleimani and the Iraqi official al-Muhandis, at Baghdad International Airport. This seems like an act by the Trump administration intended to provoke a war or at least an attempt to dramatically heighten tensions with Iran, while also being an unforgivable insult to the sovereignty of the country of Iraq. Too much is in motion right now to say with confidence what will result, but the main question is how much suffering will results in the world from this action.

I think for many people the year ended with some hope but the new year has begun with fear. Fear is not the stopping point, however. It is meant to be a doorway. What we first experience as fear or anxiety or even dread can, with attention, transform itself into a flinty clarity about what is actually happening, which then crystallizes our true priorities, prompting us to take necessary action.

Hope does not come from easy experiences. Hope comes from having the courage to face difficult truths and be changed by that encounter. Remade, we naturally remake the world around us. Sometimes this is because we are newly inspired to overt activism and service. But it can be in modest ways, as well, in our daily interactions, the way we move in the world, the way our individual insights filter into the group awareness. The energies we embody always — always– affect the world around us, both through action and through resonance.

What is most important is that we don’t freeze up and grow numb, holding to some idea of who we once were or what the world once was. Movement, even clumsy movement, is so important because movement is life. Through movement we encounter and discover and further awaken. Through movement we feel, which is not always comfortable, but feeling too feeds our life and our awakening. If we feel pain, if we feel heartbreak, then so be it; that is in the world too and our inherent compassionate nature calls to us through it, just as much as through joy, which is also there.

This is the adventure life offers to us. Despite what we so strongly want to believe, it is not always meant to be comfortable or easy or pristine. To be alive is itself an act of incomprehensible magic and wonder. Through the simple fact of life, every one of us is a being of immense courage, and we have capabilities beyond our imaginings. Let us use this difficult moment as it was meant to be used, to renew our vision of ourselves, to reawaken our energies and our presence in the world, and to recommit to the family of life on this beautiful earth.

To commit myself daily to the healing of the world and the welfare of all beings…

Sending love to you all.

Joanna Macy

US (Contemporary)

More poetry by Joanna Macy

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Dec 17 2019

Gabriel Rosenstock – frosty morning

frosty morning
by Gabriel Rosenstock

frosty morning
      a robin bares his breast
            to the whole world

— from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition, by Gabriel Rosenstock

/ Image by Richard Towell /

A frosty morning here in Colorado.

It still has that special sense of life to me, like a newborn: the Poetry Chaikhana’s latest publication, Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock. I couldn’t help but feature another selection from its pages, this by the author himself.

Remember poetry when you are planning gifts and maybe a year-end treat for yourself. Purchasing a copy of Haiku Enlightenment is a wonderful way to welcome the magic of haiku into your home, as well as Gabriel’s inspired observations on haiku as a pathway of awareness, compassion, and reconnection. And, of course, your purchase helps support the Poetry Chaikhana.

If you are on Facebook, I have just set up new Haiku Enlightenment Facebook page inspired by the new book. Personally, I’m always happy to see a haiku or short poem slip into my FB newsfeed when I check it — a secret invitation to pause, take a breath, and notice the world again. I invite you to visit and hang out with the haiku.

Okay, time to step out into that chilly morning and fill my lungs with the crisp air. The world awaits.

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Gabriel Rosenstock

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Bliain an Bhandé – Year of the Goddess Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition Uttering Her Name Where Light Begins: Haiku
More Books >>

Gabriel Rosenstock, Gabriel Rosenstock poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Gabriel Rosenstock

Ireland (1949 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

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Dec 10 2019

Book Announcement: Haiku Enlightenment

Published by under Books,Poetry

does the woodpecker
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

does the woodpecker
      stop and listen, too?
            evening temple drum

— from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition, by Gabriel Rosenstock

Book Announcement: Haiku Enlightenment

I am so pleased to announce the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication: Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock, a favorite of Poetry Chaikhana readers for years.

In Haiku Enlightenment Gabriel Rosenstock uses haiku, both classic and modern, to explore perception and creativity, self and ego, the natural world and the wide-open moment. Through Gabriel Rosenstock’s eyes, the path of haiku becomes a path of enlightenment.

Rosenstock brings to his writing something of the shaman, the sage, and a bit of the prankster. I think of him as a poet in the ancient sense as someone deeply engaged with the vast mystery, from which poetry, song, and riddles naturally emerge.

True to the haiku spirit, the observations in Haiku Enlightenment are short and without embellishment. Taken together, however, they present us with a master class on the art and insight of haiku by a western master of haiku.

Like you, probably like the author himself, I cringe a bit at the use of the term “master,” but in Gabriel’s case it is entirely appropriate. Since I have featured Gabriel’s poems many times over the years, he feels like a familiar friend to the Poetry Chaikhana, so you may not realize just how accomplished and renowned he is. Gabriel Rosenstock has given readings throughout Europe, India, the Americas, and Japan. His poetry has won multiple awards and been published in World Haiku Review, Poetry (Chicago), Poetry Ireland Review and other prestigious journals. He is a member of Aosdána (the Irish Academy of Arts and Letters), former chairman of Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, on the Board of Advisors to Poetry India, and a Foundation Associate of The Haiku Foundation.

An impressive list of accomplishments. But that is not the Gabriel Rosenstock I have come to know through years of correspondence. I suspect he would consider focusing on such honors to be a hindrance. His secret, I think, is that he is too prolific to pause in self-satisfaction. Every few weeks I receive a flood of new haiku from him in my email in-box, which then gives me permission to halt the rush of my day in order to step quietly into his observed moments and so return in some essential way back to myself.

Where does that endless creativity come from? How does spiritual practice produce the most luminous poetry, and how does poetry become a doorway into our own awakening? Haiku Enlightenment is a rich, poetic meditation on all of those questions. Using haiku as his medium, Gabriel Rosenstock has given us a visionary artist’s guide on how to be present… and how to disappear.

I can’t express how pleased I am to be able to offer this book to the Poetry Chaikhana and to the wider community of poetry lovers and spiritual seekers.

It is perfect to read just a page or two at a time to set the tone for the day, when beginning meditation or prayer practice, when facing the blank page, or just before a walk in nature. You don’t have to be a poet or even a reader of haiku, you just have to be curious about your own awareness and in love with the magic of small moments. Though, as you read Haiku Enlightenment, who knows what poetry might spontaneously emerge from your pen?

Sending love to everyone during this season of renewal and reawakening light that we variously call Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, and the New Year.


Haiku Enlightenment
New Expanded Edition

by Gabriel Rosenstock


£12.99 / €15.25

or ask at your local independent book store

Haiku Enlightenment is a delightful, often playful look at haiku as both a poetic craft and a pathway of awakening – for poets, seekers and creative rebels.

Gabriel Rosenstock has given us a rich collection of insights, distilled from a lifetime dedicated to the art and practice of poetry, on stepping into inspired moments. Using a generous selection of contemporary and classical haiku, he explores ideas of creativity and perception, encouraging us to calm the restless mind, notice what is overlooked, explore the world around us, and fully encounter each glowing moment.

From such moments, haiku – and enlightenment – emerge.

Read More

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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
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 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

— 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

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

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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

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