Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Oct 08 2021

Ramprasad – So I say: Mind, don’t you sleep

Published by under Poetry

So I say: Mind, don’t you sleep
by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

English version by Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely

So I say: Mind, don’t you sleep
Or Time is going to get in and steal from you.

You hold on to the sword of Kali’s name.
The shield of Tara’s name.

Can Death overwhelm you?
Sound Kali’s name on a horn and sound it loud.

Chant “Durga, Durga,”
Until you bring the dawn around.

If She won’t save you in this Dark Age –.
But how many great sinners have been saved!

Is Ramprasad then
So unsalvageable a rogue?

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


/ Image by Sankhadeep Barman /

For Hindus, the festival of Navratri, the Nine Nights of the Goddess, has begun. So I thought we’d feature a poem in honor of the Goddess, by one of the great Kali poets, Rampasad.

Ramprasad’s songs to the Mother Goddess were like dynamite to my early seeking. I was introduced to his poetry while reading about the 19th century Hindu saint, Ramakrishna, who, in ecstatic states, would recite the poetry of Ramprasad. Ramprasad’s poetry can be intense, not to everyone’s taste, but they speak to me…

So I say: Mind, don’t you sleep
Or Time is going to get in and steal from you.

I like the urging of that opening phrase: “Mind, don’t your sleep!” I like the way Ramprasad neatly defines the relationship with the mind. Most people, in the West especially, think they are the mind. But here the poet speaks to the mind as a separate entity. He creates a parental sort of relationship, both protective and insistent. I can’t quite articulate why, but I find that deeply touching on some level… and, for the mystic, a supremely effective approach. When the mind wants to scatter, if we think we are the mind, then what can we do? But when we recognize the mind as a flow of consciousness under our care, then we can influence it against its worst habits to remain alert and still — “Mind, don’t you sleep.”

There is a play of meanings here that you shouldn’t miss: The Great Goddess manifests through the cycles of becoming and dissolution… and, thus, She is associated with time. Time is Kali’s illusory game of apparent change. The root word for time is “Kal.” Kali overcomes Kal.

You hold on to the sword of Kali’s name.
The shield of Tara’s name.

Ramprasad is making a subtle distinction between the Mother Goddess as Kali and as Tara. Kali is the Goddess in her terrifying aspect, She Who ecstatically cuts through delusion; so She carries a sword. Tara is Her more protective aspect, so Her name is a shield.

Time (“Or Time is going to get in…”) and Death (“Can Death overwhelm you?”) are paired in this poem as the ultimate limitations of mortal life which must be transcended in order to experience the eternal nature of being. But we’re not talking fantasy here, where you can snap your fingers and stop time or answer a riddle to cheat death. Ramprasad is giving us a formulation for keeping the mind awake and chanting the Divine Name. What does this have to do with time and death? This practice, done deeply, eventually brings the mind to a focused stillness.

As this deepens, a few things become clear. One’s relationship with time shifts. In mundane awareness, we tend to take time for granted as the inevitable unfolding of serial events. But time reveals itself as something slightly different to the quiet awareness. Events still occur, but you stop inserting the ego-self into the midst of them. Instead of tumbling helplessly with the flow of time, it is as if we have found our footing and stand still as witness to the flow all around us. Movement occurs, but the personal sense of time stops.

And here’s the thing about death: In deep states of spiritual awareness, the mystic is flooded with an immense and unimpeded sense of Life. By comparison, all experiences up to that point seem like they belong to the realm of sleep. There is the sense that the common experience of life is somehow encrusted with a layer of — let’s call it “death” — that has dampened the full awareness of life. In this awareness, death has left us. Only life remains. This doesn’t mean that the physical body won’t eventually grow old and cease to function. But life’s experiences lose the flavor of death.

This shining recognition is the moment of awakening — “the dawn.”

That may sound like something attainable only through unimaginable effort by only the most perfect masters, but that thought too is an excuse used by the mind to allow it to continue sleeping. Ramprasad laughs and cuts through that lethargy.

Is Ramprasad then
So unsalvageable a rogue?

Look at the strange lot of people who have stumbled their way to enlightenment. Is any one of us “so unsalvageable a rogue?” There is a saying: A saint is a sinner who never gave up. Rogues too realize.


Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna
More Books >>


Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

India (1718? – 1775?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Oct 01 2021

Asik Ali Izzet – The Path of the Beautiful

Published by under Poetry

The Path of the Beautiful
by Asik Ali Izzet

English version by Jennifer Ferraro & Latif Bolat

Appreciating beauty is said to be a virtue.
      To see beauty beautifully
            is beautiful.

Those who have a beautiful beloved in Paradise are beautiful.
      To travel the path of beauty,
            is beautiful.

The sun rises from the beautiful one’s eyebrows.
      The beautiful one’s teeth are just like pearls.
      To share beautiful food at Beauty’s table
            is beautiful.

To linger with the beautiful one beautifully
      is beautiful —

To write the beautiful name:
      beautiful —

To drink with the beautiful one:
      beautiful —

To kiss the hand of the beautiful one:
      beautiful.

The light drips from the cheeks of the beautiful.
      Honey drips from the lips of the beautiful.

Hold the hand of the beautiful beautifully.
      To serve the beautiful one
            is beautiful.

The eyes that perceive beauty will never suffer.
      Who loves beauty may die but will never decay;

Ali Izzet never shies away from beauty —
      To love beauty from the depths of one’s soul
            is beautiful.

— from Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey, Translated by Jennifer Ferraro / Translated by Latif Bolat


/ Image by benleto /

A reminder to us all not to get lost in life’s minutia and bruises and anxieties… beneath it all we can always find beauty.

To see beauty beautifully
            is beautiful.

That beauty can be a window that reveals the beautiful one behind it all.

To travel the path of beauty,
            is beautiful.

Beauty is a pathway, a spiritual practice. Bearing witness to beauty takes skill: quiet eyes, a calm heart.

To love beauty from the depths of one’s soul
            is beautiful.

May we all discover the beauty in the paths we walk!


Recommended Books: Asik Ali Izzet

Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey


Asik Ali Izzet, Asik Ali Izzet poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Asik Ali Izzet

Turkey (1902 – 1981) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Sep 24 2021

Sanai – When he admits you to his presence

Published by under Poetry

When he admits you to his presence
by Hakim Sanai

English version by D.L. Pendlebury

When he admits you to his presence
ask from him nothing other than himself.
When he has chosen you for a friend,
you have seen all that there is to see.
There’s no duality in the world of love:
what’s all this talk of ‘you’ and ‘me’?
How can you fill a cup that’s full already?

— from The Walled Garden of Truth, by Hakim Sanai / Translated by David Pendlebury


/ Image by Dyu – Ha /

When he admits you to his presence
ask from him nothing other than himself.

That’s it. Right there.

Most of us, when we seek God, we are really seeking something from God. Most of our prayers are for money, love, success in something. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong in those things; they’re important parts of our lives. But if that’s all we ask of God, we are not asking enough.

Why ask for trinkets, when the Friend would give himself?

This reminds me of a story from the 20th century Hindu saint and spiritual ambassador, Swami Vivekananda. He was a young man, not yet committed to the spiritual life, and questioning everything about the spiritual teachings he was receiving from his guru, Ramakrishna. And his father had just died, leaving him, as the oldest son, responsible for the financial well-being of the family. He was torn between the worldly duty to provide for his mother and siblings, and his growing desire to retreat from the world to discover the deeper spiritual truths. His teacher, Ramakrishna, told him to go to the temple of the mother goddess and pray for money to provide for his family, promising that whatever he prayed for would be granted. The young Vivekananda went to the temple but was overcome with a spiritual state and found himself praying only for direct knowledge of God. He returned to his teacher, desperate, saying he forgot to pray for money. Ramakrishna told him to go a second time and pray for money. Vivekananda went, and again prayed for direct knowledge of God. He returned in tears, worried for his family. His teacher sent him back to the temple a third time, and once more Vivekananda found himself praying for God alone. When Vivekananda returned the third time, hopeless, his teacher Ramakrishna said that he had prayed for what was deepest in his heart and his prayer would be fulfilled, but Ramakrishna also promised that his family would have its basic needs met.

We are not monks, most of us. We live in the world and we have worldly needs, and when it’s important it’s okay to pray that those needs are met. But that should always be a distant second to the real and only goal — the Divine. What does it mean to have money or find that special person, but feel disconnected from the Eternal One who is our very Self? All meaning flows from that Divine Core. Without it, there is no deeper purpose or satisfaction in success, only the hunger for more.

There’s another interesting thing that happens. When we really, fully settle into that Heart of hearts, we find ourselves already at one with what we thought we sought. Then we ask ourselves why we wasted so much energy seeking so many things, when finding that source gives us the fulfillment of all things…

How can you fill a cup that’s full already?


Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
More Books >>


Hakim Sanai, Hakim Sanai poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Hakim Sanai

Afghanistan (1044? – 1150?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Sep 17 2021

Pick up your copy of The Awakened One

Published by under Books,Poetry

The Awakened One

The Awakened One
Buddha-Themed Haiku from Around the World
Edited by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Gabriel Rosenstock

$8.95 / £6.50 / €7.60

USCANUKFRDEITESAUS

Remember to pick up your copy of the Poetry Chaikhana’s latest publication, The Awakened One: Buddha-Themed Haiku from Around the World. This collection, edited by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Gabriel Rosenstock, is a collaboration of poets from quite literally all over the world, including contributions from Nigeria, Croatia, Malaysia, and more than a dozen other countries. Many of the haiku are rendered both in English and in the poet’s native language. Contemporary haiku are paired with classic haiku by Japanese masters, touching on themes of enlightenment, impermanence, and seeing the present moment as it is. This is an inexpensive book, so consider purchasing more than one copy to give as gifts or to donate to your local school or library. We want to let the haiku circulate and work its three-lined alchemy in the world.

No responses yet

Sep 17 2021

David Whyte – All the True Vows

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

All the True Vows
by David Whyte

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

“All the True Vows” from The House of Belonging by David Whyte.
Copyright © 1997, 2004 by David Whyte.  Used by permission of the author and Many Rivers Press (www.davidwhyte.com)  All rights reserved.


/ Image by Tevin Trinh /

I read this poem by David Whyte as a meditation on the alienation most of us feel at one time or another in our own lives. Too often we aren’t really present in our lives–

There is only one life
you can call your own…

He is saying that something powerful, even sacred, occurs when we stop contorting ourselves to reach for lives that are not our own. When we settle into ourselves, when we start to actually live our own lives, embody our own lives, we not only begin to really experience life deeply for the first time, we start to tap into “the one life that waits / beyond all others.”

Living this way, we find our true face, our true reflection.

I especially like the ending verses:

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice.

To rediscover our own voice, our true voice which has been socialized back into the shadows of our awareness, we have to break an old agreement, a “promise.” We must decide to no longer identify with the roles and expectations set up for us. Finally dropping the masks we wear, we discover our true face, our “reflection.” Then, “for the first time,” we can speak in our own voice.

Worth reading more than once…

David Whyte’s words hold a special place in my personal journey.

In the early 2000s, I was living with my wife on the island of Maui. It was a beautiful time in my life, but aimless. I was just doing work to get by, with no career to speak of. I was cut off from the world, by distance and by choice.

A friend sent me a series of talks by David Whyte on cassette tape, and I went for long drives along Maui’s meandering country roads, through the tall sugar cane fields and among the rows of spiky pineapple plants, listening to David Whyte’s molasses accent as he recited poetry and told stories about brilliant and troubled poets, like Antonio Machado and Anna Akhmatova.

It was Christmastime and I was quietly going through a deep and difficult self-confrontation. New Year’s Day came and went, while I hovered in that open limbo state. This combination began to ferment in my mind, the poetry and the personal crisis.

In early January it all converged. I picked up a book of conversations with the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, read a couple of pages and—POW!—I was catapulted into an ecstatic stillness. Everything about me and my world came to a complete stop. The person I thought of as “Ivan” disappeared. It was as if some undefined, wide-open awareness was quietly witnessing the world through my eyes. An indescribable joy bubbled up inside me. The entire world was an intangible outline sketched upon a golden-white radiance, and I was a ghost happily lost in that light.

That moment set the trajectory for the unfolding of my life since. And it planted the seed for the Poetry Chaikhana. I am always thankful to David Whyte for the role he played at that transformative period in my life.

=

And have a wonderful weekend! The moon is growing full and luminous in the evening sky. In chaotic times, dance!


Recommended Books: David Whyte

The House of Belonging Where Many Rivers Meet


David Whyte, David Whyte poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry David Whyte

US (1955 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Sep 03 2021

Dogen – midnight – no waves, no wind

midnight — no waves, no wind
by Eihei Dogen

English version by Adjei Agyei-Baah & Gabriel Rosenstock

midnight — no waves, no wind
empty boat
flooded with moonlight

— from The Awakened One: Buddha-Themed Haiku from Around the World, Edited by Adjei Agyei-Baah / Edited by Gabriel Rosenstock


/ Image by Osman Rana /

We don’t have to hand this haiku over to the intellect to immediately understand its implications, do we? Let’s briefly sketch it out.

Midnight. A still lake, an empty boat filled with moonlight.

No activity. The mind is at rest. Emotions are calm, the will is content. In this quiet moment what we normally think of as ourselves is found to be empty, spacious, egoless. But the emptiness is not empty, it is filled with with the light of awareness. More than filled, flooded. And what does a flooded boat do? It sinks. It gives itself to the embrace of the illuminated water. Only the light and the quiet lake remain.

Or perhaps it is just a moment in time. It is what it is and nothing more: Midnight. A still lake, an empty boat filled with moonlight.

=

Eihei Dogen, sometimes respectfully referred to as Dogen Zenji, was a key figure in the development of Japanese Zen practice and the founder of the Soto Zen sect.

Dogen was born in about 1200 in Kyoto, Japan. At the age of 17, he was formally ordained as a Buddhist monk. Considering the Japanese Buddhism of the time to be corrupt and influenced by secular power struggles, Dogen traveled to China to discover the heart of the Dharma by studying Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism at several ancient monasteries.

Much of the Ch’an Buddhism he explored utilized koans and “encounter dialogues” to startle the consciousness into enlightenment, but Dogen was critical of this practice. Instead, he was drawn to the teachings of silent meditation.

Dogen returned to Japan in 1236. He left the politicized environment of Kyoto and settled in the mountains and snow country of remote Echizen Province, where he established his own school of Zen, the Soto school.

While he proved to be a talented writer and poet, the core of Dogen’s teaching was to transcend the mind’s addiction to language and form in order to become fully present and recognize one’s inherent enlightenment.

=

Hurricane Ida and its aftermath are very much in my thoughts. And the fires in California and elsewhere around the globe.

The earth speaks, sometimes we listen.

I hope you are all safe and well.

=

The Awakened One

The Awakened One
Buddha-Themed Haiku from Around the World
Edited by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Gabriel Rosenstock

$8.95 / £6.50 / €7.60

USCANUKFRDEITESAUS

I am still playing catching up with the release of the Poetry Chaikhana’s new publication, The Awakened One: Buddha-Themed Haiku from Around the World, edited by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Gabriel Rosenstock. Initial sales have been solid, but I am still investigating the best ways to ship copies to readers (and some of the haiku writers!) in countries such as Nigeria, Croatia, and Japan. The Poetry Chaikhana website itself is patiently waiting for me to add a new page highlighting The Awakened One. A lot of work goes into a little book!

The Awakened One is a beautiful book, a good gift to yourself and one to share with friends. Purchasing a copy is also an excellent way to support the Poetry Chaikhana. It makes a perfect companion to Gabriel Rosenstock’s explorations of haiku and awareness in Haiku Enlightenment.

May you be flooded with moonlight!


Recommended Books: Eihei Dogen

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures
More Books >>


Eihei Dogen, Eihei Dogen poetry, Buddhist poetry Eihei Dogen

Japan (1200 – 1253) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Aug 27 2021

New Book: The Awakened One

I am so pleased to announce the latest publication from the Poetry Chaikhana:


The Awakened One


Buddha-Themed Haiku from Around the World
Edited by Adjei Agyei-Baah and Gabriel Rosenstock

$8.95 / £6.50 / €7.60

USCANUKFRDEITESAUS

This new collection pairs contemporary haiku by poets from around the world with classical Japanese haiku.


     heavenly mystery . . .
     autumn leaves
     descend on a stone buddha

     – Imaizumi Sogetsu-ni (1750-1804)

          sudden wind
          the garden buddha’s head crowned
          with cherry blossoms

          rafale de vent
          le bouddha du jardin couronne
          de fleurs de cerisier

          – Olivier Schopfer (Switzerland)


Modern haikuists from the UK, the US, Croatia, India, Nigeria and a dozen other countries converse via haiku with Japanese masters, like Basho, Issa and Buson, sharing moments of insight expressed in poetry of a single breath.


     in a cloudy well
     this one moon . . .
     let us all adore it

     – Tagami Kikusha-ni (1753–1826)

          cherry blossoms
          the morning moon mingles
          with the petals

          trešnja u cvatu
          stopljen s laticama
          jutarnji mjesec

          – Tomislav Maretić (Croatia)


The Awakened One offers us a poetic dialog on the nature of awareness across culture and time.


     many solemn nights
     blond moon, we stand and marvel . . .
     sleeping our noons away

     – Matsunaga Teitoku (1571–1654)

          hilltop buddha
          moonlight in the emptiness
          of his cupped hand

          – Katherine Raine (New Zealand)


Poetry has helped me navigate through the past couple of years. Some poems bring me to silence, others give voice to my grief and anger. Some awaken pure delight, others remind me to flow with life. The Awakened One is a perfect collection for this time. Within these haiku we hear the voices of poets, men and women from all over the world contemplating a moment, a feeling, or the vast expanse, all within just a few lines. Reading them, there is a shared experience, a shared breath, a shared spark of awareness. Reading these haiku grounds us and reweaves us into the world community.

This is one to spend time with, keeping it nearby to read just a page or two at a time.

Your purchase of The Awakened One is an excellent way to support the Poetry Chaikhana. Remember to buy additional copies to send as gifts to friends and fellow poetry lovers. Copies can also be donated to schools, libraries and prisons – allowing haiku to work its healing alchemy in the world.

Have a beautiful, poetic day!

Ivan

PS – Although The Awakened One has just been published, it is already listed at #16 on Amazon’s best sellers in their Haiku & Japanese Poetry category! The longer that number remains high, the more awareness of the book will spread beyond the Poetry Chaikhana community.



Available through Amazon:
USCANUKFRDEITESAUS
Available soon through other online outlets, like Barnes & Noble, Wordery and The Book Depository.
Also available through your local bookstore by request.

4 responses so far

Aug 13 2021

Rabia – Through and Through

Published by under Poetry

Through and Through
by Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Steadfast friend,
You have hewn me
      through and through!

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.
And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

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


/ Image by Tess /

A reader recently reminded me about this poem and my commentary, which includes a description of my personal journey. I thought I’d share it again…

In my youth, I tended toward extremes. Perhaps it was that Aries flame that only my wife seems to recognize in me these days. I so wanted that intangible thing we might call spiritual awakening, but how does one attain something so evanescent and undefined? For most people, it is pure fantasy, if it is thought of at all, so I decided that following the common life and the common mind was clearly useless. I imagined that only by going to ever greater extremes might I step free from the mundane and, perhaps, achieve my goal. I pushed and strained and isolated myself until I became a fragile young man, barely holding myself together. Still I stumbled forward in meditation and prayer, fasting and reading and walking in the woods, while locked in a resentful tug-of-war with the daily requirements of work and relationship and home.

Steadfast friend,
You have hewn me
      through and through!

One day, I found myself sitting there at the age of thirty-three, trying unsuccessfully to calm my mind in meditation, lost in my confused life. I had steady work alongside kind people, but I did it minimally and with little interest. I had a loving, patient wife who put up with my moods and odd practices. I lived, at the time, in a small cabin in a gorgeous and remote corner of the island of Maui. I had all of these blessings in my life, yet I fought them constantly, as if they were hinderances. And my spiritual practices, which were my entire focus, seemed to have led me nowhere. I was lost.

It was a devastating moment of self-assessment. I admitted to myself something I had been fighting my entire life to ignore: I wasn’t special. I didn’t know what I was doing in life. And, frankly, I was a bit of a flake. Oh, sure, I was kind. I genuinely cared about people. I was reasonably intelligent and insightful. And I was sincere. But all in all, I was not the spiritual superman of my fantasies.

Looking at myself and my life in that way, I finally saw myself honestly, as I was. And I was surprised by the thought that followed, that it was all okay.

And that’s when it hit me, the most profound wave of bliss. All of my thoughts fell utterly silent. I let the current of that upward welling delight wash over all that I was until there was nothing left. All that remained was a spacious, blissful silence. And I floated in that bliss for months.

When I chose to think, one of the thoughts I had was that all of the suffering and struggle, all of my extremes were worth it. Though that’s not quite it, since that suggests that strain was somehow the payment required. No, it was more the sense that the struggle was actually inconsequential, just a story I told myself until I finally gave myself permission to settle into the expansive bliss that always awaited. So were those extremes ever necessary?

Here’s the thing about this poem that sparked this entire story, those final lines:

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.
And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

As the months passed and I resumed the rhythms of my life, I began to notice that I was no longer continuously resting in the blissful open state. There were times when I was once again hooked by old mental habits and fixations. Thoughts arose once again, unbidden and uncontrolled. That tension in the awareness, that old ego-self, subtly reemerged. Not entirely, and not at all times, but it came and went, and if I wasn’t paying attention I sometimes missed the shift in my own awareness.

And I was confronted with a new challenge: Do I pretend that fluctuation in my level of awareness is not occurring? I could have fooled myself if I chose. I could have held the memory of bliss in my mind and savored it as if it was the sweet substance itself. I had been doing a little bit of that already without being fully aware of it. But, no, I had always resolved that total honesty with myself was the only way.

That didn’t mean those beautiful months in the sea of bliss were a phase of my life that had now past. I decided, instead, to discover what this bliss was, to find out how it released itself into my awareness… and how I could more consciously yield myself into its embrace. I became a student of myself.

And, the other thing, after a lifetime of unbalanced extremes, I resolved to cultivate balance, and to integrate my inner life with my outer life. I decided to figure out what it means to be a married man with a job and rent to pay, someone with a few health challenges, an American man moving into the middle age of life, and yet remain someone with a rich inner life who makes room for blissful moments. How does one not only cultivate inner peace but also embody that peace in the thousand small actions that make up the day of a normal life? And, being fully honest with myself, on this pathway I am still a clumsy beginner in so many ways. But I am learning.

Perhaps the most essential thing I have learned is that, for me, at this stage at least, the goal is not all bliss all the time. In recent years I am not so much trying to be a holy man as to be a whole man. I try to use everything my life offers. When bliss and egolessness offer themselves to my awareness, I try to let them flow unhindered. I try to let them speak through my words.

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.

But those spiritual dry spells, perhaps unavoidable in the midst of a busy life, when they come, I don’t fight them either. I let them ache and sear their way through me. They re-magnetize the soul, keeping it oriented toward its source and its purpose. And, what’s more, when we let it, that ache itself reveals itself to be another doorway to the Eternal.

And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

That ache reveals itself to be one more point of contact, a gentle touch, a kiss of remembrance when the psyche has grown tense and distracted. See for yourself. Grow silent. Feel that ache. Relax into it and see what happens.

Part of the art is to recognize connection in everything. We can discover union even in the midst of separation.

This is what I have come to see as balance, to not run from spiritual emptiness and, at the same time, to not become brittle or false in the pursuit of spiritual fulness. To embrace both and use both fully. Balance instead of my youthful extremes. That life rhythm of full to empty, empty to full, like a tidal current working together they carry us out to sea when we let it.

=

Blessings to the overheated world. I’m very aware of the fires taking place around the world. The fires in northern California are so big that we are getting heavy smoke from it out here in Colorado. I am also paying attention to the fires devastating Greece, the country of my father’s ancestors, and a country already struggling under heavy economic burdens while also trying to handle the migration of Syrian war refugees. Major fires also in Turkey, Italy, Russia…

We need to channel that heat into fiery environmental activism to push hard against systemic inertia, balanced with a cooling, healing love for the wondrous, living planet and for all our fellow residents, human and non-human, with whom we share this beautiful home.

Sending love to you all.


Recommended Books: Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality)
More Books >>


Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Iraq (717 – 801) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

Aug 06 2021

Shih Shu – mountain sounds carry a chill wisdom

Published by under Poetry

mountain sounds carry a chill wisdom
by Shih Shu

English version by James H. Sanford

mountain sounds carry a chill wisdom
an upwelling spring whispers subtle tales
pine breezes stir the fire beneath my tea
bamboo shadows soak deep into my robe

I grind my ink: clouds scraping across the crags
copy out a verse: birds settling on branches
as the world rolls right on by
its every turn tracing out non-action

— from The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China, Edited by Red Pine


/ Image by Maksym Harbar /

A serene moment today. This poem, to me, evokes a chill mountain solitude, a bit lonely, yet tranquil. You want to wrap a blanket around your shoulders, hold a hot cup of tea in your hands, and watch the world unfold around you.

The soughing sounds of the mountain speak to us–

mountain sounds carry a chill wisdom
an upwelling spring whispers subtle tales

The outside world reaches inside our circle–

pine breezes stir the fire beneath my tea
bamboo shadows soak deep into my robe

In return, our meditative work mimics the world we witness–

I grind my ink: clouds scraping across the crags
copy out a verse: birds settling on branches

And we disappear into the world, seeing how nature moves and shifts and yet remains entirely still–

as the world rolls right on by
its every turn tracing out non-action


Recommended Books: Shih Shu

A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China


Shih Shu

China (1660? – 1740?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jul 30 2021

Basava – The eating bowl is not one bronze

Published by under Poetry

The eating bowl is not one bronze
by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

The eating bowl is not one bronze
and the looking glass another.

      Bowl and mirror are one metal
      Giving back light
      one becomes a mirror.

            Aware, one is the Lord’s;
            unaware, a mere human.

                  Worship the lord without forgetting,
                  the lord of the meeting rivers.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Image by Gaetan Lee /

I have been rereading about the Virasaivas of southern India. Basava’s words have been whispering behind my thoughts, so I felt today was a good day to share one of his poems…

Bronze is a soft metal, easily shaped. It can be hammered into a bowl or flattened and polished, forming a simple mirror.

Basava is playing with a traditional teaching metaphor in this poem: both the bowl and the mirror are made of bronze. Mentally we label them as being different, but fundamentally they are the same substance, “one metal.”

The bronze can be understood to represent God. All beings, all things are made of the same substance, though we mentally distinguish them by outer form. The only difference between the eating bowl and the mirror is the shape they have taken on. We can say that the mirror has recognized its nature as a bronze object. The nature of bronze, when straight and polished, is to give back light.

We are all constructed of the same God-stuff. When we become aware of our nature and polish ourselves we give back light as we reflect the wider reality.

Aware, one is the Lord’s;
unaware, a mere human.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Basava

Speaking of Siva The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice


Basava, Basava poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Basava

India (1134 – 1196) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jul 23 2021

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Love came

Published by under Poetry

Love came
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Nasrollah Pourjavady

Love came
      flowed like blood
      beneath skin, through veins
emptied me of my self
      filled me
      with the Beloved
till every limb
      every organ was seized
      and occupied
till only
      my name remains.
      the rest is It.

— from The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady


/ Image by Fabrice Nerfin /

I really like the visceral start to this poem.

Love came
      flowed like blood
      beneath skin, through veins

It’s so physical, even slightly disturbing. Sheikh Abu-Said Abil-Kheir wants to literally get under our skin with those opening lines.

But what is it that has taken over the very blood and organs of our body? Love.

When deep mystics speak of love, they aren’t talking about vague and all-too-fleeting emotional states. When we are truly flooded by that foundational love — let’s capitalize it and call it Love — there is something very tangible that is experienced. It is physical. The whole body at every level, “every limb / every organ”, every cell, in fact, suddenly feels alive in a way previously unknown. There is a powerful sense of alignment, as if each cell is an iron filing exposed to a powerful magnet, all lining up harmoniously along hidden lines of force. Something alchemical is happening in the body.

till only
      my name remains.
      the rest is It.

And the small self, what we might call the ego, seems to fade away. Although we are emptied, that isolated sense of self having vanished, we aren’t left bare. Instead, we are filled up with something immense and all-embracing — a sense of identity too open to be called “me.” People may see the same face, use the same name, but those relate to the small self, when in truth only that vast loving presence remains, contentedly witnessing the world through our eyes.

To my many Muslim friends, Eid Mubarak!


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

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Jul 16 2021

Farid ud-Din Attar – Mysticism

Published by under Poetry

Mysticism
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Coleman Barks

The sun can only be seen by the light
of the sun. The more a man or woman knows,
the greater the bewilderment, the closer
to the sun the more dazzled, until a point
is reached where one no longer is.

A mystic knows without knowledge, without
intuition or information, without contemplation
or description or revelation. Mystics
are not themselves. They do not exist
in selves. They move as they are moved,
talk as words come, see with sight
that enters their eyes. I met a woman
once and asked her where love had led her.
“Fool, there’s no destination to arrive at.
Loved one and lover and love are infinite.”

— from The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia, with Lectures by Inayat Khan, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Image by Eyebags /

The sun can only be seen by the light
of the sun.

The sun here is, of course, a reference to God. But then, what does it mean to say that God can only be seen by the light of God?

One doesn’t perceive God as a separate, objectified reality. There is no place ‘outside’ of God to stand in order to observe God as something exterior. In fact, there is no eye in the common sense that can view God.

The only way to see God is by the “light” of God. That is, instead of looking, looking everywhere, we must stop looking and notice the divine radiance already present, right here, right now. We are drawn to that radiant presence, growing closer to it until we are “dazzled” — confounded by the scintillating wholeness that is beyond the mind’s ability to conceptualize.

Entering the radiance more deeply, we are finally swallowed by it “until a point / is reached where one no longer is.”

Mystics
are not themselves. They do not exist
in selves.

The little self that imagines itself as a being separate from others and the world around it no longer exists in the fluid unity of this radiance that fills and connects everything.

At that point there is only the “light of the sun”, only divine radiance, within and without — everywhere! When the light is recognized as being all-pervading, nothing separate or left out, that is when the Divine is truly witnessed in wholeness and unity.

But have we gotten anywhere? No, since the question implies we have left one place or state of awareness and entered another, which is still perceiving reality from a sense of separation. Instead, we have recognized the unlimited nature of Reality. And we are individual (but not separate) points of awareness within that wholeness.

“There’s no destination to arrive at.
Loved one and lover and love are infinite.”


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

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jul 09 2021

Rainer Maria Rilke – You who let yourselves feel

Published by under Poetry

You who let yourselves feel
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.

Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.

— from In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy


/ Image by Stephen Leonardi /

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.

Even in translation Rilke’s gift for an unusual turn of phrase always makes me pause in a moment of wonder and reassessment of reality.

Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.

This stanza reminds us to breathe, and not in a limited way, but with a full breath that opens us up. To breathe, first we must be willing to feel. We are surrounded and filled by a breath that is much larger than we are, a universal breath. We exist within an openness, an airiness, an expanse that balances against the reflex to contract into something small.

Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:

Isn’t that a wonderful phrase?

You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.

This sounds like the formulation from a Hindu or Buddhist text. Subject and object, observer and observed. We are both and one at the same time.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;

As lovely as the preceding lines are, it is this phrase here that I find the most healing. Physical pain, psychic pain, the wounds we carry through our lives, we spend so much time fearing them, trying not to feel them, trying to get past them. And we exhaust ourselves carrying those unacknowledged burdens. When we stop running and set them down, we discover the deep soils of the earth can draw in an weight and support it for us.

for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

…And the earth bears them with ease.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.

These are interesting lines. What do you suppose the poet is saying here? Something about the aspirations or dreams we first conceived of in our youth? Why would they become too heavy? What did we create or imagine when we were younger that now holds us back? What do we need to let go of in order to be free?

Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.

There is a tendency, especially as we grow older, to endlessly refine our definitions as a way to concretize our understanding of how the world works and how we can be effective within it. And that generally works well until we find we have also trapped ourselves in those definitions. Sometimes we just need to step beyond everything we’ve built up and give ourselves into the open, intangible air.

Images of earth and weight and support, air and breath and liberation…


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

4 responses so far

Jul 02 2021

Muso Soseki – At the Nachi Kan’non Hall

Published by under Poetry

At the Nachi Kan’non Hall
by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin

The Milky Way
      pours waterfalls
            over this human world
the cold
      rushing tumbling sounds
            echo through the blue sky
Veneration
      to the Great Compassionate
            Avilokiteshvara
How lucky I am
      to have no trouble
            hearing

— from Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu


/ Image by Dirk Dallas /

I love that opening phase–

The Milky Way
      pours waterfalls
            over this human world

I imagine stepping outside after a long day, standing beneath the night sky, and letting the waters of the universe wash over me. It’s a cleansing image, purifying, healing to the wearied spirit.

the cold
      rushing tumbling sounds
            echo through the blue sky

Soseki emphasizes sound, the waterfall-like sound of the night. Try it sometime to remind yourself. Late at night, step outside, or just open the window and lean your head out. Close your eyes. Listen. Do you hear it? In the absence of all other noise, with no movement around and with thoughts at rest… 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 gentle stream. It is heard as a random, soothing “white noise” that seems to emanate from the base of the skull.

As we quiet more, the sound grows into a rushing sound, like a waterfall. Sometimes this sound resolves into a clear pitch that can resemble the pure note of a flute or the ringing of a bell.

First it is heard and, finally, felt throughout the body.

This sound is Krishna’s flute calling his devotees to him. It is the ringing of the bells of paradise. It is Soseki’s heavenly waterfall.

This sound signals the beginning of deep meditation. The more we sit with this sound, the more the awareness expands and the heart naturally opens with inherent compassion, as the universal waters pour over us, refreshing us, revitalizing, awakening.

How lucky I am
      to have no trouble
            hearing


Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons East Window: Poems from Asia Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader


Muso Soseki, Muso Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Muso Soseki

Japan (1275 – 1351) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Jun 25 2021

Antonio Machado – Last night, as I was sleeping

Published by under Poetry

Last night, as I was sleeping
by Antonio Machado

English version by Ivan M. Granger

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — blessed vision! —
that a fountain flowed
here in my heart.
I said: Why, O water, have you come
along this secret waterway,
spring of new life,
which I have never tasted?

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — blessed vision! —
that I had a beehive
here in my heart;
and the golden bees
were making
from all my old sorrows
white wax and sweet honey.

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — blessed vision! —
a blazing sun shone
here in my heart.
It was blazing because it gave heat
from a red home,
and it was sun because it gave light
and because it made me weep.

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — blessed vision! —
that it was God I had
here in my heart.

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


/ Image by Ecstatic Mark /

This is my favorite poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Actually, it’s one of my favorite poems, period.

Robert Bly’s English version is probably the best known. Although I generally like the feel and rhythm of Bly’s rendition, I find one important detail frustrating, even misleading: The repeated line, which I’ve translated as “blessed vision,” he renders as “marvelous error.” Machado’s actual line in Spanish is bendita ilusión. A more exact translation might be “blessed vision or dream.” Perhaps the poet can’t quite believe the beauty of his vision, but he hardly regards it as an “error.” Reading the original Spanish, I have the feeling Machado is teasing us by calling the experience a dream, seeing if we are foolish enough to cast it aside.

Let’s take just a moment to explore how this poem parallels the mystic’s ecstatic experience…

Machado discovers continual delights in his heart: a flowing fountain, a honey-filled beehive, a blazing sun, God… all found within the heart. Read enough descriptions of mystical union, and the same descriptions come up again and again — a heart ablaze with light and heat, filled with sweetness, bubbling and overflowing, a heart expanding to embrace all creation.

The fountain flows from the heart, running along a “secret waterway.” It is a “spring of new life.” This is often part of sacred ecstasy. Mystics experience a sensation of drinking some unknown liquid that warms the heart and fills one with a bubbling sense of life previously unknown and unimagined.

This “drink” is perceived as being sweet, eliciting comparisons to honey or wine. Thus, Machado discovers “white wax / and sweet honey” in his heart.

In such overwhelming delight one feels radically restored and whole. All past guilts and sorrows seem somehow resolved, transformed into the very matter from which this joy emerges.

And the awareness is filled with the perception of a radiant light, while the body is permeated with a great warmth — like a “blazing sun.”

Indeed, caught up in this experience, how can we doubt that it is God we have inside our hearts?


Recommended Books: Antonio Machado

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado
More Books >>


Antonio Machado, Antonio Machado poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Antonio Machado

Spain (1875 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jun 11 2021

Wendell Berry – How to Be a Poet

Published by under Poetry

How to Be a Poet
by Wendell Berry

(To remind myself)

i
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by Louis Vest /

One doesn’t have to be a poet to inspired by this poem. In fact, it’s not really about writing poetry at all, is it? It’s really about how to be present, how to inhabit the world quietly and notice more than ourselves. That is when the best poetry is born.

The first verse invites is to settle down. Reading those first few lines, I feel my own bones settling awkwardly into a state of rest and stillness. And there is the slow interior work of reading, cultivating inspiration, the private work on the blank page. I love that he lists “growing older” as one of the necessary tasks of the poet. And patience–

for patience joins time
to eternity.

The second verse seems to be more about our relationship to place, both exterior and interior space. In recent years I haven’t done so well with avoiding electric wire and screens, but there was a time some years ago when I did just that, literally. I embraced my Luddite instincts as much as practical. It does shift one’s sense of reality and connection to the world. The transition feels stressful at first, and then, slowly, the world around us starts to take on a new depth and life, becoming a slow-speaking friend in constant, quiet communication.

What are the ways we have been taught to not recognize our ongoing dialog with all around us?

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

And he concludes with that wonderful meditation on silence. We think a poem is a collection of words, but the best poetry simply gives shape to silence.

Accept what comes from silence…

make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Have a beautiful weekend, remembering to breathe the unconditional breath!


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jun 04 2021

John of the Cross – I Entered the Unknown

Published by under Poetry

I Entered the Unknown
by John of the Cross

English version by Ivan M. Granger

I entered the unknown,
and there I remained unknowing,
all knowledge transcended.

Where I entered I knew not,
but seeing myself there,
not knowing where,
great things then made themselves known.
What I sensed I cannot say,
for I remained unknowing,
all knowledge transcended.

In this peace and purity
was perfect knowledge.
In profoundest solitude
I understood with absolute clarity
something so secret
that I was left stammering,
all knowledge transcended.

So deep was I within,
so absorbed, transported,
that all senses fled,
and outer awareness fell away.
My spirit received the gift
of unknowing knowing,
all knowledge transcended.

He who reaches this realm
loses himself,
for all he once knew
now is beneath his notice,
and his mind so expands
that he remains unknowing,
all knowledge transcended.

And the higher he rises
the less he knows:
That is the dark cloud
that shines in the night.
The one who knows this
always remains unknowing,
all knowledge transcended.

This knowing by unknowing
is of such exalted power,
that the disputations of the learned
fail to grasp it,
for their knowledge does not reach
to knowing by unknowing,
all knowledge transcended.

Of such supreme perfection
is this knowledge
that no faculty or method of mind
can comprehend it;
but he who conquers himself
with this unknowing knowing,
will always transcend.

And if you are ready to receive it,
this sum of all knowledge is discovered
in the deepest ecstasy
of the Divine Essence.
Goodness and grace
grant us this unknowing,
all knowledge transcended.

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


/ Image by oddsock /

St. John of the Cross repeatedly contrasts knowledge with unknowing.

I entered the unknown,
and there I remained unknowing,

all knowledge transcended.

The Spanish word rendered here as “knowledge” is ciencia, which has the more obvious translation of “science.” But the poem’s archaic use of “science” implies not the scientific process, but a more general sense of knowledge acquired through reason and the testimony of the senses.

And John of the Cross emphasizes that his unknowing is superior.

He is not advocating ignorance, however. The Spanish saint is instead speaking about the mystical idea of “unknowing,” the state in which all concepts and mental filters have been set aside. In that state of unknowing, we rise above the elaborate constructions of the logical mind and come to rest in pure awareness (“knowing by unknowing”). He is contrasting true, unfiltered knowing, gnosis, with the mere accumulation and organization of information.

To be unknowing in this sense is to encounter every instant entirely as it is, in pure wonder, without projection, without anticipation or agitation. The intellectual mind—a hugely important tool!—has one very serious weakness: It never encounters the present moment nakedly. It is always processing, analyzing, making everything fit within its comprehension. It never truly witnesses; it only interprets.

We certainly want to cultivate a critical intellect, but we must always remember that it is not the whole of consciousness. The awareness can step beyond the intellect. To fully apprehend reality, it must.

So deep was I within,
so absorbed, transported,
that all senses fled,
and outer awareness fell away.

This state of supreme unknowing is not perception in the sense of drawing in and interpreting exterior input through the senses. In normal perception, the intellect sifts and sorts that sensory data and formulates it into a working hypothesis of what reality is. That hypothesis, however, is always an incomplete shorthand that only approximates reality.

By contrast, the mystic’s unknowing is the centered awareness of unfiltered reality. This awareness does not tilt off its seat in order to reach out through the senses. It is at rest, poised. It witnesses without an egoic agenda. The full awareness in this state of unknowing does not sift reality, it bathes in it.

Rather than an interpretation, one sees clearly, free from artificial mental constructions–knowing by unknowing.

And if you are ready to hear it,
this sum of all knowledge is discovered
in the deepest ecstasy
of the Divine Essence.
Goodness and grace
grant us this unknowing,

…all knowledge transcended.


Recommended Books: John of the Cross

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
More Books >>


John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

Spain (1542 – 1591) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Next »