Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jan 27 2023

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

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Robert Aitken

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


/ Image by Unknown. Child: Ivan_M_Granger /

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

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

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

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

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

And my gain is the gain of everyone endlessly.

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


Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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


Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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

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Jan 16 2023

Jane Hirshfield – The Task

Published by under Poetry

The Task
by Jane Hirshfield

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

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

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

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

sunlight never reaches, but the earth still blooms.

— from The October Palace: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield


/ Image by Kinga Cichewicz /

I just recently rediscovered this poem by Jane Hirshfield.

Some of her phrases grab hold of you–

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

And–

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Jane Hirshfield

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


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

US (Contemporary)
Secular or Eclectic
Buddhist

More poetry by Jane Hirshfield

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Jan 06 2023

Ryokan – The thief left it behind

Published by under Poetry

The thief left it behind
by Ryokan

English version by Stephen Mitchell

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

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


/ Image by Ganpathy Kumar /

A poem for us on this full moon–

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Ryokan

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


Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

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

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Dec 30 2022

Hildegard von Bingen – Holy Spirit of Fire

Published by under Poetry

Holy Spirit of Fire
by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Ivan M. Granger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by Julia Caesar /

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

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

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

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

Especially notice the lovely lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belt of Truth,
wrap them in beauty.

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

you encompass all and unify all.


Recommended Books: Hildegard von Bingen

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


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

Germany (1098 – 1179) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Dec 21 2022

Derek Walcott – Love After Love

Published by under Poetry

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by vanillapearl /

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

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

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

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

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

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

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

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

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

Sit. Feast on your life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Derek Walcott

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


Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott poetry, Christian poetry Derek Walcott

St. Lucia & UK (1930 – )
Christian

More poetry by Derek Walcott

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Dec 12 2022

Mary Oliver – Halleluiah

Halleluiah
by Mary Oliver

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

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

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

— from Evidence: Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by disignecologist /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.michelemanderson.com

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

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

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

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

I hope you are having a wonderful day!


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

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


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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 11 2022

Ikkyu – Every day, priests minutely examine the Law

Published by under Poetry

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
by Ikkyu

English version by Sonya Arutzen

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

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


/ Image by Inebriantia /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

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


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

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

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Oct 28 2022

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

Published by under Poetry

The peacock’s excuse
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

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

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


/ Image by Avinash Kumar /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few notes about the peacock’s excuse…

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

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

As the hoopoe says in response:

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

I love the lines that follow:

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


Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

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


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

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

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Oct 21 2022

Wu Men Hui-k’ai – Ten thousand flowers in spring

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
by Wu Men Hui-k’ai

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

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


/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

Since I haven’t sent out an email for the past few weeks, I missed commenting on the lovely autumn moon recently. Did you step outside to look at it?

Here in Oregon, the leaves are turning colors, the mornings are misty, the afternoons have a blue haze, and the autumn moon on a clear night gives a quiet glow to the land.

The flowers say it, the moon, the breeze, the snow. Each time we pause to notice the living world around us it blesses us and says, May your mind be unclouded, and may every season be the best season of your life!

A good meditation for us as we enter autumn.

this is the best season of your life.

Responses to Homelessness

I received so many touching and profound responses to my email about interacting with our brothers and sisters who are living on the streets. Some of you spoke of the work you do with distributing food, others about your own personal experiences of homelessness. Your insights and various forms of service continue to inspire my own journey.

I shared a couple of your letters, with permission, on the Poetry Chaikhana blog. Worth reading.
People Not Labels
Homeless Son


Recommended Books: Wu Men Hui-k’ai

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition The Gateless Gate: The Wu-men Kuan The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan The World: A Gateway: Commentaries on the Mumonkan


Wu Men Hui-k’ai

China (1183 – 1260) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Sep 30 2022

Ivan M. Granger – Trinket

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Trinket
by Ivan M. Granger

Mother,
you are too practical,

trying to put
this odd lump
to good use.

Melt me down.

Make of me
some golden trinket,
some frivolous, bejeweled thing
to please
your eye.

Hang me
from your ear;
let me rest
against the warm pulse
of your neck.

Go ahead, Mother,
it is just you and I
before the mirror.
I won’t tell
if you want to spin
and laugh
like a girl
to see
this bit of glitter
set off
your smile.

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


/ Image by lois komolafe /

It is the middle of Navratri for my Hindu friends, the nine nights of the Goddess. I thought of one of my own poems to the Divine Mother, Trinket.

Jaya Jagadambe, he Ma Durga
All praise to the Cosmic Mother, Ma Durga!

Along with all of the natural beauty of our new home here in Eugene, Oregon, we notice a significant homeless population for a relatively small city. Colorado had its homeless too, but in smaller numbers, and usually panhandling on street corners hoping for drivers to stop and stretch across the passenger seat to hand over a bill through the window.

Here in Eugene, the homeless are more part of the city, more present and somehow more integrated with the city. We no longer notice someone through the windshield as we’re driving by, deciding if we want to slow down and give a couple of dollars or continue on our way. In Eugene, we share the sidewalks, walking by each other downtown. Many have their regular spots, they have their place in the community, they are known, they are still people.

Earlier this week we spoke with a neighbor who is getting rid of some items and she mentioned that she like to donate to individuals, when she can. She knew the name of a homeless person who regularly stands outside the local grocery store, so she took the items directly to him.

We recently noticed an article in the local paper about a homeless man who had died and was much loved in the community for the music he used to play around downtown. An entire article about the passing of a homeless man who was still an important part of the community.

I find that profoundly touching.

Of course, my wife and I are having to recalibrate our comfort levels as well as learn to assess safety differently. Some of the people we encounter are clearly dealing with substance abuse issues. Some have obvious mental health issues (and with social programs having been slashed in this country for decades, often the street is the only place for them). Behaviors can be erratic, unpredictable. Some are people just struggling to regain a foothold in society. Some are carried by a threadbare high while seeking an ever lower bottom to hit.

But they are us. Seeing them in and among the rhythms of this small city reminds me that, regardless of their struggles or rough appearance, they are our brothers and sisters. They are part of my community too.

So how do we interact with these individuals? How do my wife and I judge safety walking through downtown? When do we make eye contact, maybe offer a friendly word, perhaps hand over a dollar, and when is it best to cross to the other side of the street and keep our distance? We’re still figuring that out.

I’m curious what your thoughts and experiences are. What sort of charities do you give to that you think are doing good work with the complex issues of hunger and homelessness? And do you have special ways of interacting with the homeless? I know of one person who used to put together care packs of clean socks, toothbrushes, dry foods, miscellaneous necessities and just kept them with him to hand out. Have you come up with creative ideas to help or meaningful ways to connect?

May the Mother’s love connect us all and care for us all!


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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Sep 23 2022

Edmond Bordeaux Szekely – God Speaks to Man

Published by under Poetry

God Speaks to Man
by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely

I speak to you.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
When you were born.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first sight.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first word.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first thought.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first love.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I spoke to you
At your first song.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the grass of the meadows.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the trees of the forests.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the valleys and the hills.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the Holy Mountains.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the rain and the snow.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the waves of the sea.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the dew of the morning
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the peace of the evening.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the splendor of the sun.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the brilliant stars
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the storm and the clouds.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the thunder and the lightning.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Through the mysterious rainbow.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
When you are alone.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
Through the Wisdom of the Ancients.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
At the end of time.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
When you have seen my Angels.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I will speak to you
Throughout Eternity.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

I speak to you
Be still
Know
I am
God.

— from The Essene Gospel of Peace: Book Two: The Unknown Books of the Essenes, by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely


/ Image by Sage Friedman /

This selection feels like a song, or a chant. It’s repeated lines — Be still know I am God — endlessly pull us back to the same spot. They become a command to the mind (which, frankly, needs all the help it can get to discover stillness).

We also have the contrast of the stillness and speaking. The only way we hear God speaking to us is through profound stillness. But it is not that the God speaks in words. God speaks to us through all of life’s experiences, and through the natural world — through the trees and the mountains, through our first sight and first thought and first love. God speaks to us through our perception and our consciousness. But when we lack stillness, we take everything at face value and don’t know what’s really happening.

The deep truth is that every experience is an experience of consciousness. When we are still enough to truly see this, then we witness an expansive presence permeating the vast panorama, we ‘hear’ a voice that speaks not in words but in the fulness of meaning. Then it’s no longer theory or theology, that’s when we recognize what “I am” — Being — really is. That’s when we know God.

Be still
Know
I am
God.

It’s a quiet morning here in Oregon. A light mist clings to the treetops, bringing the circle of the world in close and comforting.

Did you pause to acknowledge the equinox? We stand at that delicate moment of balance between light and dark, when light and life are once again ascendant.

These cardinal points of the calendar, the equinoxes and solstices, celebrated by every religion and culture the world over, remind us of the rhythms of the world, the eternal cycle of life, death, and new life. They remind us that there is a pattern in the world, and we have a place in its unfolding.

The mind can hardly conceive of so much history in the land, the countless turnings of the seasons, year upon year, life upon life, the rising and falling of all things. Even so nature never tires and always brings us once again to renewal.

When we look deeply to the natural world, we recognize it as an embodiment of the sustaining presence of spirit, just as a mother cares for her children.

A reminder to us all: when we ignore and damage the natural world, we not only imperil our physical survival, we sever our very connection to the Divine. A book and a building are not enough. The human spirit needs cathedrals of trees, towering mountains, and fields of spring wildflowers as places of prayer. Wild, living places — cherish them, fight for them; they whisper to us of our true home.

I speak to you.
Be still
Know
I am
God.

If you’re not feeling shifting rhythms of the equinox yet, go outside, remove your shoes and walk upon the earth, wrap your arms around a tree. See what happens.


Recommended Books: Edmond Bordeaux Szekely

The Essene Gospel of Peace: Book Two: The Unknown Books of the Essenes A Book of Uncommon Prayer The Essene Gospel of Peace: Book One The Essene Gospel of Peace: Book Three: Lost Scrolls of the Essene Brotherhood The Essene Gospel of Peace: Book Four: Teachings of the Elect
More Books >>


Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely poetry, Christian poetry Edmond Bordeaux Szekely

Hungary/France/Mexico (1905 – 1979) Timeline
Christian

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Sep 16 2022

Shabistari – The Tavern Haunters

Published by under Poetry

The Tavern Haunters
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Andrew Harvey

Being a tavern haunter means
Being sprung free of yourself.

The tavern is where lovers tryst,
Where the bird of the soul comes to rest
In a sanctuary beyond space and time.
The tavern haunter wanders lonely in a desert
And sees the whole world as a mirage.
The desert is limitless and endless —
No one has seen its beginning or its end,
And even if you wandered in it a hundred years
You would not find yourself, or anyone else.
Those who live there have no feet or heads,
Are neither “believers” nor “unbelievers.”
Drunk on the wine of selflessness,
They have given up good and evil alike.
Drunk, without lips or mouth, on Truth
They have thrown away all thoughts of name and fame,
All talk of wonders, visions, spiritual states,
Dreams, secret rooms, lights, miracles.

The aroma of the Divine Wine
Has made them abandon everything;
The taste for Annihilation
Has sent them all sprawling like drunkards.
For one sip of the wine of ecstasy,
They have thrown away pilgrim staff, water jar, and rosary.
They fall, and then they rise again,
Sometimes bright in union,
Sometimes lost in the pain of separation;
Now pouring tears of blood,
Now raised to a world of bliss,
Stretching out their necks like racers;
Now, with blackened faces, staring at a wall,
Or faces reddened with Unity, chained to a gibbet;
Now whirling in mystic dance,
Lost in the arms of the Beloved,
Losing head and foot like the revolving heavens.
Every passage that the Singer sings them
Transmits the rapture of the invisible world,
For mystic singing is not only words and sounds;
Each note unveils a priceless mystery.

They have thrown away their senses
And run from all color and perfume,
And washed in purified wine
All the different dyes: black, green, or blue.
To them, devotion and piety are only hypocrisy;
They are weary of being either masters or disciples;
They have swept the dust of dunghills from their souls,
Without telling even a tiny part of what they see,
And grasped in bliss at the swirling robes of drunkards.
They have drunk one cup of the pure wine
And have become — at last, at long last — real Sufis.

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut


/ Image by Batmunkh Ch /

The aroma of the Divine Wine
Has made them abandon everything;
The taste for Annihilation
Has sent them all sprawling like drunkards.
For one sip of the wine of ecstasy,

Wine… Why do so many mystics from all traditions talk of wine and drunkenness and taverns when speaking of ecstatic states of enlightenment? How do I, as a person who does not drink alcohol, understand this sacred wine fixation? Is it just a universally agreed upon metaphor to shock the orthodox? Well, yes, but it is more than that. The mystic’s wine is not wine, yet it is also more than a game of words. This wine is subtle but very real. It can be experienced in a profound, even physical manner.

In certain states, a flowing substance is felt upon the palette, with a taste of ethereal sweetness that can be compared with wine or honey. This is the amrita of yogis, the ambrosia of the Greeks, the prophetic mead of the Norse shamans, the awen oil of the druids. There is a sensation of drinking a subtle liquid, accompanied by a warming and expanding of the heart. The attention blissfully turns inward, the eyelids grow pleasantly heavy and the gaze may become unfocused. A giddy smile naturally spreads across the face for no apparent reason. When the ecstasy comes on strongly, the body can tremble, sometimes the consciousness even leaves the body.

With these experiences, it not only makes sense for mystics to use the language of wine. Observers sometimes mistake this state for actual drunkenness.

Being a tavern haunter means
Being sprung free of yourself.

To someone who has been overcome by this sacred drunkenness, filled with its bliss, all encompassing love, and the vision of universal oneness, religion’s petty formalism seems worse than absurd, it is an offense.

To them, devotion and piety are only hypocrisy

Drinking deep from the tavern’s draught teaches us what religion is really about, and it is not about joining the right group or following the rules exactly so. The mystic’s wine is the proper measure of piety, the mark of initiation, not the number of days spent in church or mosque or synagogue.

I’m not an advocate of heavy drinking, but if you can find that special vintage, drink deep.

They have drunk one cup of the pure wine
And have become — at last, at long last — real Sufis.


Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari Beyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari


Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Sep 09 2022

Rainer Maria Rilke – Silent friend of many distances

Published by under Poetry

Silent friend of many distances, feel
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face

grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.

In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

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


/ Image by switon.michal /

It has been a while we had a poem by Rilke.

This is one to reread and savor, I think. Even before we let the meaning of the poem seep into the awareness, the imagery and language draws us into an open state, doesn’t it? Lines like–

Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.

Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night.

Move through transformation, out and in.

whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

I basically reproduced two-thirds of the poem there, didn’t I? That’s always a sign of how enamored I am with a poem.

With all its beauty, this poem is a bit haunting. The poet keeps referring to night and darkness. The spaciousness of night, its mystery, the limit of one’s senses. Those final lines put us in the position of being a thing unknown, even to ourselves.

But this doesn’t seem to me a poem of fear or loss, but of encounter. Reading these lines, I feel invited to participate in the great unknown mystery of existence, including my own existence. When we have come to feel trapped by a mundane, too familiar world, that’s a sign that we have forgotten just how immense and terrifyingly beautiful reality is. We need to retrain our eyes to see the spaces between and the secrets behind. We need to remember what it is to be overwhelmed by our own being. And to this ungraspable, always changing world, we can still find it in ourselves to say: I am.

Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night.


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
More Books >>


Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Sep 02 2022

Sachal Sarmast – Friend, this is the only way

Published by under Poetry

Friend, this is the only way
by Sachal Sarmast

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Friend, this is the only way
to learn the secret way:

      Ignore the paths of others,
      even the saints’ steep trails.

            Don’t follow.
            Don’t journey at all.

Rip the veil from your face.

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


/ Image by paola capelletto /

I have been rereading my book, The Longing in Between, and this poem and commentary caught my attention. I thought I would reshare it…

In July 2010, I was driving home from work, listening to BBC news on the radio, and was saddened to hear of a bombing at a shrine dedicated to a Sufi saint in Lahore, Pakistan. More than 40 people were killed and many more badly injured. People speculated that the bombing was by an extremist group that objected to the inclusive nature of Sufi practice in the region.

Islamic extremists have certainly grabbed headlines in recent years, but the world also has its Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists… as well as plenty of atheist and non-religious extremist groups. Extremism is not a problem of a particular religion; it is a disruption in the human psyche in general.

Religious extremism has very little to do with religion if you think about it. It is partly a reflexive response to the intensely fragmenting nature of the modern world. And it is partly a reaction against unavoidable, sometimes unsettling encounters with different peoples and cultures and beliefs in our ever more integrated and multi-layered world. But mostly—mostly it is an act of desperation when the heart of true religion has been lost. People become violently obsessed with rules and traditions and texts only when they have lost the sense of what they really point to.

If you know where the Beloved lives, you are content, no need to argue with others over street names. Conflict only arises when you aren’t so certain you know the way; that’s when another person’s map threatens your certainty. Fundamentalism and extremism are an admission of that spiritual uncertainty. Absolutism is not an expression of faith; it is a symptom of the lack of faith. It is a symptom of the lack of true spiritual experience and knowledge.

The real long-term solution to the problem of violent religious extremism in the world is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within ourselves, to gently and generously share it with others, and to create environments nurturing to that continuing quest. The more we fill the world’s dry troughs with fresh water, the less likely it is that people will go insane with blind thirst.


Recommended Books: Sachal Sarmast

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Sachal Sarmast: Sindhi Poet Yaar di Gharoli / Kaafi – Sachal Sarmast: From Songs of the Mystics (mp3 song) The Story of Melting: Sachal Sarmast’s Persian Masnavi Gudaz-nama


Sachal Sarmast, Sachal Sarmast poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Sachal Sarmast

Pakistan/India (1739 – 1829) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 26 2022

Rabindranath Tagore – The pang of separation

Published by under Poetry

(84) It is the pang of separation that spreads throughout the world (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

It is the pang of separation that spreads throughout the world and gives birth to shapes innumerable in the infinite sky.
      It is this sorrow of separation that gazes in silence all night from star to star and becomes lyric among rustling leaves in rainy darkness of July.
      It is this overspreading pain that deepens into loves and desires, into sufferings and joys in human homes; and this it is that ever melts and flows in songs through my poet’s heart.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by Abhijith P /

It is the pang of separation that spreads throughout the world and gives birth to shapes innumerable in the infinite sky.

Tagore’s poetry is the language of the soul, from its majestic heights to the most heartbreaking sense of separation.

We really get a sense of the void, the terrible gulf between everything that every soul quietly wrestles with…

It is this sorrow of separation that gazes in silence all night from star to star and becomes lyric among rustling leaves in rainy darkness of July.

So how then does he come to a sort of wholeness and universal empathy with his final line?

It is this overspreading pain that deepens into loves and desires, into sufferings and joys in human homes; and this it is that ever melts and flows in songs through my poet’s heart.

That sense of separation — separation from God, separation from Source, and separation from one another — is the fundamental pain of the soul. Every life pain, when we really trace its tendrils, reaches down to that root pain, the basic belief of separation. Every hunger, every craving, is an attempt to spread a thin layer of pleasure over that pain. Every self-inflicted hurt is an attempt to overpower that great ache with the sharp intensity of the moment. Most actions, when carefully dissected, are an attempt to distract ourselves from that terrible emptiness.

You can see that so much of our life force is spent in avoidance of confrontation with that gulf between self and other, the individual and the Eternal.

Most people look away, spend all their life running from that canyon of separation. But the mystic sits on the cliff edge and, though frightened, stares endlessly into the great space… until suddenly an amazing thing happens — in a flash the emptiness is seen to be not a distance but a connection, a joining. The gulf is itself the bridge spanning the distance, and we discover that we can walk upon it, that there was, in fact, never any separation or distance.

It is the very intensity of our yearning that is finally recognized as the point of connection with the Eternal. And then the pain flips, turning to such sweetness.

The next time you feel that pang of separation, just sit with it. Let your heart break. Let it break open. Feel the connection and life secretly spanning the gulf.


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

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Aug 19 2022

Jane Hirshfield – Metempsychosis

Published by under Poetry

Metempsychosis
by Jane Hirshfield

Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.

Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off —
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.

— from Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield


/ Image by Denys Argyriou /

The title first: Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the psyche or the soul. It can be a synonym for reincarnation, though metempsychosis often implies the notion of re-embodiment in any form, not just another human body. It is the transference of self.

And this poem seems to consider this idea from several different angles.

Stories and trees.

To look at a tree, to really encounter it as a living being, as a living expression of awareness, something profound happens in us: we encounter something of ourselves in that tree. We see ourselves by truly seeing something else.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

The boundary between human and tree falls away, and the sense of self flows between the two. And there is a supreme sweetness in this recognition of shared being with the world around us.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Isn’t this a wonderful image? The bees of self. We tend to think of the self as a single, solid thing, a body of sorts. But here we have the image of the self as cluster that escapes and scatters and spreads out into the world, hungry to experience the offered life all around it, so confident in itself that even barbs and stings hold their own sweetness. In Hirshfield’s metempsychosis, we don’t step from body A to body B; we pour out and taste all the world around us.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off —
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

When we step out of our own story, when learn to connect, when we learn to become, we find everything has its song. Everything is speaking always. The world rings with being.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

Walking trees… Some types of jungle trees grow from stilted, raised roots. It is said that, over time, they actually “walk” by growing new roots in one direction, while allowing the old roots to wither.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration…

What is most fascinating to me is the poet’s assertion that she would like her skin to be a highway for ants and beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.

There may still be a self-protective, self-defining sense of self that reflexively hesitates, but yet she yearns to feel the many marching trails of life merging, the great slow pathways of walking trees, and the minute busy paths of ants upon the tree.

And every one of those roads is part of the journeying self.

To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.


Recommended Books: Jane Hirshfield

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems The Lives of the Heart: Poems The October Palace: Poems Of Gravity & Angels
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Jane Hirshfield, Jane Hirshfield poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Jane Hirshfield

US (Contemporary)
Secular or Eclectic
Buddhist

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Aug 12 2022

Rumi – Keep knocking

Keep on knocking
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Keep on knocking
’til the joy inside
opens a window
look to see who’s there

— from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Image by Daniel Gregoire /

We have made it to the other side of our journey and arrived safely in Eugene, Oregon. It is a homecoming for us, although we have been away for decades. Much is familiar, yet everything is new.

The drive out itself, while beautiful, was a bit of an ordeal. We passed through a heat wave affecting Utah and Idaho before entering the cooler weather of Oregon.

Eugene itself is lovely. The Willamette River running through town, trees and deep greens, blackberry bushes at the edges of alleyways just beginning to bear fruit. Walks along the river in the morning chill is a special treat. The downtown area is vibrant, more active than we remember in the early 90s. Trying to reorient to the idiosyncratic city layout, one way streets, unexpected loops and turns.

When we explore a town, the places we check out first to connect with the community: the natural food stores, the bookstores, coffee shops (though I rarely drink coffee), neighborhood parks. We’re making the rounds.

The ocean, just an hour-and-a-half’s drive away, calls to my wife. An afternoon trip coming up soon.

Boxes are everywhere. All the books arrived, though we did not bring all our old bookshelves, so just where will everything go? Which books make the cut for display on bookshelves and which get tucked away into closets?

Keep on knocking
’til the joy inside
opens a window
look to see who’s there

I want to say thank you to all of you, the entire Poetry Chaikhana community, for all of your thoughts and supportive messages through this move. My heart has been full through the miles traveled. Love to you all in return.

Have a beautiful day!


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

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

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