Monday, 24 December 2007

The immanent Divine

The first gift conferred by Asia on the religious world is insight into nature. The Oriental discovers, contemplates, and communes with the Spirit of God who, in his view, fills all creation.
Nature is not a mere stimulus to mild poetry; Nature is God's abode. He did not create it and then leave it to itself, but he lives in every particle of its great structure. Nature is not for man's bodily benefit, but for his spiritual emancipation also. It is not enough to say the heavens are God's handiwork, but the heaven is his throne, the earth is his footstool. Our Nanak said: "Behold the sun and moon are his altar lights, and the sky is the sacred vessel of sacrifice to him." In the vast temple of nature, Asia beholds the Supreme Spirit reigning, and worships him through the great objects his hand has made.
Nay, more. The Oriental beholds in Nature the image of God. "I offer my salutations unto the bountiful Lord," says Yogavasista, "who, as the inner soul of all things, reveals himself in heaven and earth, in the firmament, in my own heart, and in all around me." To the Asiatic the Immanent Spirit embodies himself in nature's beauty and sweetness, to be immersed in which is to be immersed in God himself. We receive from every object we see a suggestion of something unseen, something higher, inner, something divine and immortal. "Whatever is on earth," the Persian poet, Sadi, says, "is the resemblance and shadow of something that is in the spheres; again, that light is the shadow of something more resplendent, and so up to the light of lights."

-- Pratap Chandra Majumdar, 1893 (Brahmo Samaj)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Wild Geese

The Poetry Chaikhana just sent me one of my favourite poems:
Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

-- from Dream Work, by Mary Oliver

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Shiva and Shakti

Lord Shiva
On the white summit of eternity
A single Soul of bare infinities,
Guarded he keeps by a fire-screen of peace
His mystic loneliness of nude ecstasy.
But, touched by an immense delight to be,
He looks across unending depths and sees
Musing amid the inconscient silences
The Mighty Mother's dumb felicity.

Half now awake she rises to his glance;
Then, moved to circling by her heart-beats' will,
The rhythmic words describe that passion-dance.
Life springs in her and Mind is born; her face
She lifts to Him who is Herself, until
The Spirit leaps into the Spirit's embrace.
from Maha Shivatri

many facets

I was reminded by a Unitarian lady today of the wonderful story of the three blind men and the elephant. It's a story that has always appealed to me as a simple illustration of why the Tao appears different to different people.

A poet called John Godfrey Saxe put the story into rhyme:
It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approach'd the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," -quoth he- "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," -quoth he,-
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," -quoth he,- "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
It is so old and so widespread that no-one seems to know where it came from. Rumi knew it in the 12th century and attributed it to the Hindus, and it has been variously attributed to Jains and Hindus and Buddhists.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

that which is manifest cannot be pinpointed

It speaks to me in the silence of this one

By Fakhruddin Iraqi (? - 1289)

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

It speaks to me in the silence of this one
then through the words of that one speaking;

it whispers to me through an eyebrow raised
and the message of an eye winking.

And do you know what words it breathes into my ear? It says,

"I am Love: in heaven and earth I have no place;
I am the Wondrous Phoenix whose spoor cannot be traced.

With eyebrow-bow and arrow-winks I hunt
both worlds -- and yet my weapons cannot be found.

Like the sun I brighten each atom's cheek;
I cannot be pinpointed: I am too manifest.

I speak with every tongue, listen with all ears,
but marvel at this: My ears and tongue are erased.

Since in all the world only I exist
above and below, no likeness of me can be found."

-- from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality), by William Chittick / Nasr Seyyed Hossein

from the Poetry Chaikhana