Sunday, September 29, 2019

Articulation: An Assay

A good argument, etymology instructs,
is many-jointed.
By this measure,
the most expressive of beings must be the giraffe.

Yet the speaking tongue is supple,
untroubled by bone.

What would it be 
to take up no position,
to lie on this earth at rest, relieved of proof or change?

Scent of thyme or grass
amid the scent of many herbs and grasses.

Grief unresisted as granite darkened by rain.

Continuous praises most glad, placed against nothing.

But thought is hinge and swerve, is winch,
is folding.

we call the mountain in the lake,
whose existence resides in neither stone nor water.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The "mystery of things"

The "mystery of things" - where is it found?
Where is it, that it does not appear
At least long enough for us to see
It is a mystery?
What does the river, what does the tree
Know about it?
And, I who know no more about it than they,
What do I know about it?
Whenever I look at things and think
What men think about them,
I laugh like a stream
Falling with a cool sound
Over the stones.
For the only hidden meaning things have
Is that they have no hidden meaning.
Stranger than all that is strange,
Than poets' dreams and philosophical ideas
Is this: things are actually
Just what they appear to be
And there is nothing about them to understand.
Yes, here is what my senses learned
All by themselves:
Things do not have meanings: they have existence.
Things are the only hidden meanings of things.

~ Thomas Merton
Poems from The Keeper of the Flocks,11

every day

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant - 
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

~ Mary Oliver
(Why I Wake Early)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

in this state of prayer

So let's get on with it, my friends!
Let's do the work quickly and spin the silken cocoon,
relinquishing our self-centeredness and personal willfulness
and giving up our attachment to worldly things.
Let's practice humility, prayer, purification, surrender, 
and all the other good works we're familiar with.  
We have learned exactly what to do. Let's do it!
Let it die. Let the silkworm die. This is the natural outcome 
once it has done what it was created to do. 
Then we will see God and see ourselves nestled inside his greatness 
like the silkworm in her cocoon.
Remember that when I say we "see God," I mean in the sense
in which he allows himself to be seen in this kind of union.

Everything I've been saying leads up to what becomes of the silkworm.
The soul in this state of prayer dies to the world and emerges a little white butterfly.
Oh, the greatness of God!
How magnificent that the soul, having been hidden in the greatness of God
and so closely joined with him, is so transformed.
This union, I believe, is very short. 
I don't think it ever lasts longer than a half an hour.
I'm telling you: the soul doesn't recognize herself anymore.
Think of the difference between an unsightly worm and a white butterfly.
That's how different the soul is after her transformation of union.

The soul cannot imagine how she could deserve such a blessing.
She finds herself overflowing with a desire to praise the Lord.
She longs for annihilation.  She would gladly die a thousand
deaths for him.
She is completely willing to suffer any trials presented to her.
Her desire for renunciation and solitude grows deeper.
All she wishes is that every sentient being could know God.
It torments her to see her Beloved dishonored in any way. 

~ Saint Teresa of Avila
from The Interior Castle
translation by Mirabai Starr


alone and not alone, we lived and died

Harlan and Anna Hubbard

Harlan:  And so we named a day - remember? -  and a certain train that you would be on if you wanted to marry me,
Anna:  and that you would be on if you wanted to marry me,
Both:  and both of us were on that train!
Anna:  And then,  Harlan,  we did drift away
Harlan:  on a little boat we built ourselves, that contained hardly more than our music, our stove, our table, and our bed
Anna:  in which we slept - and did not sleep -
Harlan:  my birthplace into our new life!
Anna: For a long time we had no home but that little boat and one another
Harlan:  and the music that we sent forth over the water and into the woods.
Anna:  And then we came here to this hollow and built a house and made a garden
Harlan:  and gave our life a standing place and worked and played and lived and died
Anna:  and were alone and were not alone.
Harlan:  Alone and not alone, we lived and died, and after your death I lived on alone, yet not alone, for in my thoughts I never ceased to speak with you.  I knew then that half my music was hidden away in another world.  The music I had heard, so distant,  had been the music you and I had played - the music of something almost whole that you and I had made;  it made one thing of food and hunger, work and rest, day and night.  It made one thing of loneliness and love.  That music seemed another world to me,  and far away,  because I could play only half, not all.
Anna:  And half the life that you so longed to live - was mine?
Harlan:  Was yours.  Without you, I could not live the life we lived,  which I then missed and longed for,  even in my perfect solitude.
Anna:  You will forgive, I hope, my pleasure in the thought of you alone, playing half a duet - for also it saddens me.
Harlan:  You would have laughed,  Anna, to hear how badly I played alone,  without your strong art to carry me.  My perfect music then was made by crickets and katydids and frogs.  I heard too the creek always coming down,  allegro furioso after storms,  and of course the birds - the wood thrush, whose song in summer twilight renews the world, and in all seasons the wren.  But those unceasing voices in the dark were the ones that sang for me, and I was thankful for the loneliness that had brought us two together out of all the time we were apart.

~ Wendell Berry
from 'Sonata at Payne Hollow'

Saturday, September 21, 2019

a marvelous illusion


Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was a spring breaking out in my heart.
I said, "Along what secret aqueduct are you coming to me
Oh water, water of a new life that I have never drunk."

Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was a beehive here in my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
and sweet honey from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was a fiery sun here in my heart.
It was fiery because it gave warmth as if from a hearth
And it was sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was God here in my heart.

God, is my soul asleep?
Have those beehives who labor by night stopped, and
the water wheel of thought, is it dry?
The cup's empty, wheeling out carrying only shadows?
No! My soul is not asleep! My soul is not asleep!
It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches, its clear eyes open,
far off things, and listens, and listens
at the shores of the great silence.
It listens at the shores of the great silence.

~ Antonio Machado
from The Winged Energy of Delight
translation by Robert Bly
.art by Van Gogh

poison made sweet

Though your life has almost passed, this present moment is its root:
if it lacks moisture, water it with repentance.
Give the Living Water to the root of your life,
so that the tree of your life may flourish.
By this Water past mistakes are redeemed.
By this Water last year's poison is made sweet.

~ Rumi
translation by Camille and Kabir Helminski
from Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance
art by Oksana Omelchenko

the rock of I and complete immersion

A Master once described the journey to enlightenment
 as ‘like filling a sieve with water’. When a woman questioned
 this Master on his meaning, he gave her a sieve and a cup,
 and they went to the sea, where he asked her to fill the sieve with water.
 She poured a cupful of water into the sieve . It was instantly gone . 
‘Spiritual practice is the same,’ the Master explained,
 ‘if we stand on the rock of I, and try to ladle the divine realization in. 
That’s not the way to fill the sieve with water, nor the self with divine life.’ 
He took the sieve and threw it into the sea, where it sank.
 ‘Now it’s full of water, and will remain so. That’s spiritual practice.
 It is not ladling cupfuls into the individuality, but becoming totally immersed
 in the sea of divine life.

~ author unknown
from 1001 Pearls of Buddhist Wisdom
art by Asokan Nanniyode


Friday, September 20, 2019

the dream of Earth

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed's self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.
~ John O' Donohue 
from To Bless the Space Between Us: 
A Book of Blessings
with thanks to Poetry Chaikhana

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

they fade away too

Image result for fading away art

Words tend to last a bit longer than things, 
but eventually they fade too,
 along with the pictures they once evoked.
 Entire categories of objects disappear - flowerpots, for example,
 or cigarette filters, or rubber bands - and for a time
 you will be able to recognize those words,
 even if you cannot recall what they mean.
 But then, little by little, the words become only sounds,
 a random collection of glottals and fricatives, 
a storm of whirling phonemes, and finally the whole thing
 just collapses into gibberish.

Paul Auster
from In the Country of Last Things
with thanks to whiskey river 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

unmasking pretense

We never value or even see some things in our lives until we are just about to lose them.
  This is particularly true of health.  When we are in good health, 
we are so busy in the world that we never even notice how well we are.
  Illness comes and challenges everything about us.  It unmasks all pretension. 
 When you are really ill, you cannot mask it.  

Illness also tests the inner fiber and luminosity of your soul. 
 It is very difficult to take illness well.  
Yet it seems that if we treat our illness as something external
 that has singled us out, and we battle and resist it, 
the illness will refuse to leave. 
 On the other hand, we must not identify ourselves with our illness.
  A visit to a hospital often shows that very ill people are more alive
 to life's possibilities than the medical verdict would ever allow or imagine.

When we learn to see our illness as a companion or friend,
 it really does change the way the illness is present. 
 The illness changes from a horrible intruder to a companion
 who has something to teach us.  When we see what we have to learn
 from an illness, then often the illness can gather itself and begin to depart.
.. Sometimes, when you see a thing as the enemy, 
you only reinforce its presence and power over you... 
Held openly, as a friend, this bit of unknown aliveness 
may take you on an amazing journey to places you may have never anticipated. 
 Such attention enriches and deepens gentleness and presence.

~ John O'Donohue
from Eternal Echoes


Thursday, September 12, 2019

moses and the shepherd

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying,

where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes
and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes
and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk
to kiss your little hands and feet when it’s time
for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room
and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats
are yours. All I can say, remembering you,
is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh.”

Moses could stand it no longer.

“Who are you talking to?”

“The one who made us,
and made the earth and made the sky.”

“Don’t talk about shoes
and socks with God! And what’s this with your little hands
and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you’re chatting with your uncles.

Only something that grows
needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God!
Even if you meant God’s human representatives,
as when God said, ‘I was sick, and you did not visit me,’
even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.

Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name
for a woman, but if you call a man Fatima,
it’s an insult. Body-and-birth language
are right for us on this side of the river,
but not for addressing the origin,
not for Allah.”

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered out into the desert.
A sudden revelation
came then to Moses. God’s voice:

You have separated me
from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,
or to sever?

I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.

What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.

Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshiping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It’s all praise, and it’s all right.
It’s not me that’s glorified in acts of worship.
It’s the worshipers! I don’t hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, burning.
Be friends
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!
those who pay attention to ways of behaving
and speaking are one sort.
Lovers who burn
are another.

Don’t impose a property tax
on a burned-out village. Don’t scold the Lover.
The “wrong” way he talks is better than a hundred
“right” ways of others.

Inside the Kaaba
it doesn't matter which direction you point
your prayer rug!

The ocean diver doesn't need snowshoes!
The love-religion has no code or doctrine.
Only God.

So the ruby has nothing engraved on it!
It doesn't need markings.

God began speaking
deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words,
which cannot be recorded here, poured into
and through him. He left himself and came back.
He went to eternity and came back here.
Many times this happened.

It’s foolish of me
to try and say this. If I did say it,
it would uproot our human intelligences.
It would shatter all writing pens.

Moses ran after the shepherd.
He followed the bewildered footprints,
in one place moving straight like a castle
across a chessboard. In another, sideways,
like a bishop.

Now surging like a wave cresting,
now sliding down like a fish,
with always his feet
making geomancy symbols in the sand,
his wandering state.

Moses finally caught up
with him.

“I was wrong. God has revealed to me
that there are no rules for worship.

Say whatever
and however your loving tells you to. Your sweet blasphemy
is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world
is freed.

Loosen your tongue and don’t worry what comes out.
It’s all the light of the spirit.”

The shepherd replied,

“Moses, Moses,
I’ve gone beyond even that.

You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped
out of itself. The divine nature and my human nature
came together.

Bless your scolding hand and your arm.
I can’t say what has happened.

What I’m saying now
is not my real condition. It can’t be said.”

The shepherd grew quiet.

When you look in a mirror,
you see yourself, not the state of the mirror.
The flute player puts breath into a flute,
and who makes the music? Not the flute.
The flute player!

Whenever you speak praise
or thanksgiving to God, it’s always like
this dear shepherd’s simplicity.

When you eventually see
through the veils to how things really are,
you will keep saying again
and again,

“This is certainly not like
we thought it was!”

~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks

into your heart

You must descend from
your head into your heart.
At present your thoughts of God
are in your head.  And God Himself is,
as it were, outside you, and 
so your prayer and other spiritual
remain exterior.  Whilst you are still
in your head,
thoughts will not easily be subdued but
will always be whirling about, like snow
in winter or
clouds of mosquitoes in summer.

~ Saint Theophan the Recluse
(an orthodox monk from 19th century Russia)

three mornings

In Istanbul, my ears
three mornings heard the early call to prayer.
At fuller light, heard birds then,
water birds and tree birds, birds of migration.
Like three knowledges,
I heard them: incomprehension,
sweetened distance, longing.
When the body dies, where will they go,
those migrant birds and prayer calls,
as heat from sheets when taken from a dryer?
With voices of the ones I loved,
great loves and small loves, train wheels,
crickets, clock-ticks, thunder—where will they,
when in fragrant, tumbled heat they also leave?

~ Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

how to continue

Oh there once was a woman
and she kept a shop
selling trinkets to tourists
not far from a dock
who came to see what life could be
far back on the island.

And it was always a party there
always different but very nice
New friends to give you advice
or fall in love with you which is nice
and each grew so perfectly from the other
it was a marvel of poetry
and irony

And in this unsafe quarter
much was scary and dirty
but no one seemed to mind
very much
the parties went on from house to house
There were friends and lovers galore
all around the store
There was moonshine in winter
and starshine in summer
and everybody was happy to have discovered
what they discovered

And then one day the ship sailed away
There were no more dreamers just sleepers
in heavy attitudes on the dock
moving as if they knew how
among the trinkets and the souvenirs
the random shops of modern furniture
and a gale came and said
it is time to take all of you away
from the tops of the trees to the little houses
on little paths so startled

And when it became time to go
they none of them would leave without the other
for they said we are all one here
and if one of us goes the other will not go
and the wind whispered it to the stars
the people all got up to go
and looked back on love

~ John Ashbery
from Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems

the cocktail party

Unidentified Guest:

Ah, but we die to each other daily. 
What we know of other people is only our memory 
of the moments during which we knew them. 
And they have changed since then. 
To pretend that they and we are the same is a 
useful and convenient social convention 
which must sometimes be broken. 
We must also remember that at every meeting 
we are meeting a stranger. 


So you want me to greet my wife as a stranger?
That will not be easy.

Unidentified Guest:

It is very difficult.
But it is perhaps still more difficult
To keep up the pretense that you are not strangers.
The affectionate ghosts: the grandmother,
The lively bachelor uncle at the Christmas party,
The beloved nursemaid - those who enfold
Your childhood years in comfort, mirth, security-
If they returned, would it not be embarrassing?
What would you say to them, or they to you
After the first ten minutes? You would find it difficult
To treat them as strangers, but still more difficult
To pretend that you are not strange to each other.


You can hardly expect me to obliterate the last five years.

Unidentified Guest:

I ask you to forget nothing.  To try to forget
is to try to conceal.


There are certainly things I should like to forget.

Unidentified Guest:

And persons also, but you must not forget them. You must
face them all, but meet them as strangers.  


Then I myself must also be a stranger.

Unidentified Guest:

And to you as well, but remember
When you see your wife, you must ask no questions 
and give no explanations. I have said the same to her.
Do not strangle each other with knotted memories.
Now I shall go.

~ T. S. Eliot
excerpt from The Cocktail Party,
The Complete Poem and Plays
art by Teresa Bingham

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Don’t squeeze the way of Buddha into any frame.

To you who can’t stop worrying about how others see you

You can’t even trade a single fart with the next guy. 
Each and every one of us has to live out his own life.
 Don’t waste time thinking about who’s most talented.

The eyes don’t say, “Sure we’re lower, but we see more.”
The eyebrows don’t reply, “Sure we don’t see anything, but we are higher up.”
Living out the buddha-dharma means fulfilling your function completely
 without knowing that you’re doing it. A mountain doesn’t know it’s tall.
 The sea doesn’t know it’s wide and deep. Each and every thing
 in the universe is active without knowing it.
The bird’s singing and the flower’s laughter appear naturally,
completely independent from the person sitting in zazen at the foot of the cliff.
The bird doesn’t sing in honor of the person in zazen.
 The flower doesn’t blossom to amaze the person with her beauty. 
In exactly the same way, the person doesn’t sit in zazen
 in order to get satori. Every single being simply realizes the self,
 through the self, for the self.

Religion means living your own life, 
completely fresh and new, without being taken in by anyone.

Hey! What are you looking at? Don’t you see that it’s about you?

The asshole doesn’t need to be ashamed of being the asshole. 
The feet don’t have any reason to go on strike just because they’re only feet.
 The head isn’t the most important of all, and the navel doesn’t need to imagine
 he’s the father of all things. 
It’s strange though that people look at the prime minister
 as an especially important person. The nose can’t replace the eyes,
 and the mouth can’t replace the ears.
Everything has its own identity,
 which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.

Some children have caught a mouse and now it’s writhing in the trap. 
They’re having fun watching how it scrapes its nose till it bleeds
 and how it rips up its tail . . . In the end they’ll throw it to the cat for food.
If I was sitting in the mouse’s place, I’d say to myself,
 “You damn humans won’t have any fun with me!” 
And I’d simply sit zazen..

To you who wish you could lead a happier life

“Rest awhile and everything will be fine.”
We simply need to take a short break. Being buddha means taking a short break
 from being a human. Being buddha doesn’t mean working your way up as a human.

What makes Ryōkan so refreshing is that he doesn’t fondle things.

In everything, people follow their feelings of joy, anger, sadness and comfort.
 But that’s something different from everyday mind. 
Everyday mind means cease-fire. Without preferences, without animosity,
 without winner and loser, without good and evil, without joy and pain
 – that’s everyday mind.

“What sort of person stands on the ground where there’s neither coming nor going?”
Kyūhō answered, “The stone sheep versus the stone tiger: 
sooner or later they’ll get tired of staring each other in the eyes.” 
The stone sheep won’t flinch. The stone tiger won’t jump out of hunger. 
That’s the point – encountering things beyond thinking.

What do we have when we truly have a grip on things as they are? 
Beyond-thinking [hishiryō]. Beyond-thinking doesn’t allow itself to be thought.
 No matter if you think so or not: things are simply as they are.

“All things are empty” means there’s nothing we can run into,
 because nothing is really happening. We only think something’s happening
 because we are intoxicated by something.

Nothing is ever happening, no matter what seems to be going on 
– that’s the natural condition. Illusion means losing this natural condition.
 Normally we don’t recognize this natural condition.
 Normally we cover it with something else, so it’s not natural anymore.

The buddha-dharma means the normal condition. 
Yet in the world everything is unnatural.
 Domineering, succumbing and discussing everything to death are unnatural.

Each place fills heaven and earth, every instant is eternal.

To practice the way of Buddha means to completely live out this present moment 
– which is our whole life – here and now.

Don’t squeeze the way of Buddha into any frame.

~ Kodo Sawaki
excerpts from To you
Translated from Japanese by Jesse Haasch and Muhô 

pastures of possibility


More often than not, we have picked up the habits of thinking of those around us.
  These thought-habits are not yours; they can damage the way you see the world 
and make you doubt your own instinct and sense of life. 
 When you become aware that your thinking has a life of its own,
 you will never make a prison of your own perception. 
 Your vision is your home.  A closed vision always wants to make a small room
 out of whatever it sees.  Thinking that limits you denies you life. 

 In order to deconstruct the inner prison, the first step is learning to see that it is a prison.
  You can move in the direction of this discovery by reflecting on the places
 where your life feels limited and tight.  To recognize the crippling feeling
 of being limited is already to have begun moving beyond it.  
Heidegger said, "To recognize a frontier is already to have gone beyond it." 
 Life continues to remain faithful to us.  If we move even the smallest step
 out of our limitation, life comes to embrace us and lead us out into
 the pastures of possibility.

~ John O'Donohue
 from 'Eternal Echoes'