Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the grownup


All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.

And she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly

over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once — in you.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

lying in the grass


Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees’ song,
Is this everything only a god’s
Groaning dream,
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird’s cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
With consolation.
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.

~ Hermann Hesse
art by camille pissarro

Sunday, August 28, 2011

this side


There is light. We neither see or touch it.
In its empty clarities rests
what we touch and see.
I see with my fingertips
what my eyes touch:
shadows, the world.
With shadows I draw worlds,
I scatter worlds with shadows.
I hear the light beat on the other side.

~  Octavio Paz
from  Selected Poems
translated by Eliot Weinberger
art by van gogh

attaining harmony


The best warriors
do not use violence.
The best generals
do not destroy indiscriminately.
The best tacticians
try to avoid confrontation.
The best leaders
become servants of their people.

This is called the virtue of non-competition.
This is called the power to manage others.
This is called attaining harmony with the heavens.

~ Tao Teh Ching
translation by j.h. mcdonald

Thursday, August 25, 2011

far company

At times now from some margin of the day 
I can hear birds of another country
not the whole song but a brief phrase of it
out of a music that I may have heard
once in a moment I appear to have 
forgotten for the most part that full day
no sight of which I can remember now
though it must have been where my eyes were then
that knew it as the present while I thought
of somewhere else without noticing that 
singing when it was there and still went on 
whether or not I noticed now it falls
silent when I listen and leaves the day
and flies before it to be heard again
somewhere ahead when I have forgotten

~ W.S. Merwin
from The Pupil
art by van gogh

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

always traveling


In one sense we are always traveling, 
and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. 
 In another sense we have already arrived. 
 We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, 
and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. 
 But we already possess Him by grace, 
and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and 
are dwelling in the light. 
 But oh! How far have I to go to find You
 in Whom I have already arrived!

~ Thomas Merton
from The Seven Storey Mountain
art by van gogh

Sunday, August 21, 2011

the door I made

Outside the door I made but don't close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds
a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can't buy a lifetime of freedom
the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods
mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don't get past the clouds

~ Stonehouse
from The Zen Works of Stonehouse
translated by Red Pine

Friday, August 19, 2011



Moments of great calm, 
Kneeling before an altar 
Of wood in a stone church 
In summer, waiting for the God 
To speak; the air a staircase 

For silence; the sun's light 
Ringing me, as though I acted 
A great role. And the audiences 
Still; all that close throng 
Of spirits waiting, as I, 
For the message. 

Prompt me, God; 
But not yet. When I speak, 
Though it be you who speaks 
Through me, something is lost. 
The meaning is in the waiting. 

~ R. S. Thomas
with thanks to whiskey river

Thursday, August 18, 2011

the beauty

If any part of nature excites our pity, it is for ourselves we grieve, 
for there is eternal health and beauty.  
We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty of the world.  
Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice.  
From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.  
Beauty and music are not mere traits and exceptions.  
They are the rule and character.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal, 1856
art by Roderick Maclver

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

paths which the mind travels


I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there.  
Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, 
and could not spare any more time for that one.  
It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, 
and make a beaten track for ourselves.  I had not lived there a week
 before my feet wore a path from my door to the pondside; 
and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct... 
The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; 
and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, 
then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts 
of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage,
 but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, 
for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. 
 I do not wish to go below now.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from the last chapter of Walden
art by van gogh

How invisibly
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart.

~ Komachi

Monday, August 15, 2011


The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent which does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand 
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

-- Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

~ Zbigniew Herbert
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I would like to describe

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and it is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water
to put it another way 
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin
but apparently this is not possible

and just to say - I love
I run around like mad 
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me what white-haired gentlemen 
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep with one had under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us 
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

~ Zbigniew Herbert 
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott

Friday, August 12, 2011

just being


Dharmakaya is not just expressed in words, in sounds.  It can express itself in just being.  Sometimes if we don't do anything, we help more than if we do a lot.  We call that non-action.  It is like the calm person on a small boat in a storm.  That person does not have to do much, just to be himself, and the situation can change.  That is also an aspect of Dharmakaya: not talking, not teaching, just being.

This is true not only of humans, but other species as well.   Look at the trees in our yard.  An oak tree is an oak tree.  That is all it has to do.   If an oak tree is less than an oak tree, then we are all in trouble.  Therefore, the oak tree is preaching the Dharma.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh
from Being Peace

the knower


By following any religion, 
cult or creed, 
one becomes inevitably conditioned, 
because one is obliged to conform and accept its disciplines, 
both physical and mental. 

One may get a little peace for some time, 
but such a peace will not last long. 

In your true nature, 
you are the knower of concepts and therefore 
prior to them.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

two washings

One morning in a strange bathroom
a woman tries again and again to wash the sleep 
from her eyelids' corners,
until she understands.  Ah, she thinks, it begins.
Then goes to put on the soup,
first rerinsing the beans, then lifting the cast-iron pot
back onto the stove with two steadying hands.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from After

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I looked for my self


I looked for my self, but my self was gone.
The boundaries of my being
had disappeared in the sea.
Waves broke. Awareness rose again.
And a voice returned me to myself.
It always happens like this.
Sea turns on itself and foams,
and with every foaming bit
another body, another being takes form.
And when the sea sends word,
each foaming body
melts back to ocean-breath.

~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
sketch by e.e. cummings

audible to all men, at all times, in all places

Silence is the communing of a conscious soul with itself.
If the soul attends for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence.
She is audible to all men, at all times, in all places, 
and if we will we may always hearken to her admonitions.

~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
from Thoreau and the Art of Life
art by Roderick Maclver

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

busy days

These were full and busy days...
This busy life is quite different from the shiftless leisure that shantyboaters are supposed to enjoy.  We became industrious and respected members of the community.  I even cut corn in the fall to get our winter's supply.  On Sundays we prepared for visitors.  I kept myself presentable, and did not become involved in any work which could not be dropped instantly.

This placed us in a new position with regard to the river.  Watching it from the shore, almost as a landsman, we might have felt a longing to drift with it again and, ever passing new shores,  make only brief stops along the way.  Yet we did not regret our present shore-bound life, rather we made the most of it; for the autumn and our departure would come soon enough.

~ Harlan Hubbard
from Shantyboat Journal
edited by Don Wallis
art by van gogh

the seer, though unseen

...the Imperishable.  It is neither big nor small, neither long nor short,
 neither hot nor cold, neither bright nor dark, neither air nor space. 
 It is without attachment, without taste, smell, or touch, without eyes, ears, 
tongue, mouth, breath, or mind, without movement, without limitation,
without inside or outside.  It consumes nothing, and nothing consumes it.

In perfect accord with the will of the Imperishable, sun and moon make their orbits;
 heaven and earth remain in place; moments, hours, days, nights, fortnights, 
months, and seasons become years; river starting from the snow-clad mountains 
flow east and west, north and south, to the sea.

Without knowing the Imperishable, whoever performs rites and ceremonies
 and undergoes austerities, even for many years, reaps little benefit,
 because rites, ceremonies, and austerities are all perishable.  Whosoever dies 
without knowing the Imperishable dies in a pitiable state; but those who know 
the Imperishable attain immortality when the body is shed at death.

The Imperishable is the seer, though unseen; the hearer, though unheard;
 the thinker, though unthought; the knower, though unknown. Nothing 
other than the Imperishable can see, hear, think, or know.  It is in
 the Imperishable that space is woven, warp and woof.

~  from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
translated by Eknath Easwaran

Monday, August 8, 2011

Some Further Words

Let me be plain with you, dear reader.
I am an old-fashioned man. I like
the world of nature despite its mortal
dangers. I like the domestic world
of humans, so long as it pays its debts
to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose
is a language that can repay just thanks
and honor for those gifts, a tongue
set free from fashionable lies.

Neither this world nor any of its places
is an "environment." And a house
for sale is not a "home." Economics
is not "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave. A fool
in a public office is not a "leader."
A rich thief is a thief. And the ghost
of Arthur Moore, who taught me Chaucer,
returns in the night to say again:
"Let me tell you something, boy.
An intellectual whore is a whore."

The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."

I think the issues of "identity" mostly
are poppycock. We are what we have done,
which includes our promises, includes
our hopes, but promises first. I know
a "fetus" is a human child.
I loved my children from the time
they were conceived, having loved
their mother, who loved them
from the time they were conceived
and before. Who are we to say
the world did not begin in love?

I would like to die in love as I was born,
and as myself of life impoverished go
into the love all flesh begins
and ends in. I don't like machines,
which are neither mortal nor immortal,
though I am constrained to use them.
(Thus the age perfects its clench.)
Some day they will be gone, and that
will be a glad and a holy day.
I mean the dire machines that run
by burning the world's body and
its breath. When I see an airplane
fuming through the once-pure sky
or a vehicle of the outer space
with its little inner space
imitating a star at night, I say,
"Get out of there!" as I would speak
to a fox or a thief in the henhouse.
When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, "Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!" I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.

My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
The body's life is its own, untouched
by the little clockwork of explanation.
I approve of death, when it comes in time
to the old. I don't want to five
on mortal terms forever, or survive
an hour as a cooling stew of pieces
of other people. I don't believe that life
or knowledge can be given by machines.
The machine economy has set afire
the household of the human soul,
and all the creatures are burning within it

"Intellectual property" names
the deed by which the mind is bought
and sold, the world enslaved. We
who do not own ourselves, being free,
own by theft what belongs to God,
to the living world, and equally
to us all. Or how can we own a part
of what we only can possess
entirely? Life is a gift we have
only by giving it back again.
Let us agree: "the laborer is worthy
of his hire," but he cannot own what he knows,
which must be freely told, or labor
dies with the laborer. The farmer
is worthy of the harvest made
in time, but he must leave the light
by which he planted, grew, and reaped,
the seed immortal in mortality,
freely to the time to come. The land
too he keeps by giving it up,
as the thinker receives and gives a thought,
as the singer sings in the common air.

I don't believe that "scientific genius"
in its naive assertions of power
is equal either to nature or
to human culture. Its thoughtless invasions
of the nuclei of atoms and cells
and this world's every habitation
have not brought us to the light
but sent us wandering farther through
the dark. Nor do I believe
.artistic genius" is the possession
of any artist. No one has made
the art by which one makes the works
of art. Each one who speaks speaks
as a convocation. We live as councils
of ghosts. It is not "human genius"
that makes us human, but an old love,
an old intelligence of the heart
we gather to us from the world,
from the creatures, from the angels
of inspiration, from the dead--
an intelligence merely nonexistent
to those who do not have it, but --
to those who have it more dear than life.

And just as tenderly to be known
are the affections that make a woman and a man
their household and their homeland one.
These too, though known, cannot be told
to those who do not know them, and fewer
of us learn them, year by year.
These affections are leaving the world
like the colors of extinct birds,
like the songs of a dead language.

Think of the genius of the animals,
every one truly what it is:
gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made
of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how
to live in the places where they live.
And so I would like to be a true
human being, dear reader-a choice
not altogether possible now.
But this is what I'm for, the side
I'm on. And this is what you should
expect of me, as I expect it of
myself, though for realization we
may wait a thousand or a million years.

~ Wendell Berry
from the American Poetry Review (May/June 2002)