At every breath I’m happier
What’s this? Am I mad again?
I went mad once, then again.
At every breath I’m happier.
I sneeze: an explosion of ash, puff!
The city blazes, disappears.Once again I’ll build myself
A house, fire-proof, pleasant.
I begin carting bricks, with others.
The cornerstone is laid, my dream
Indestructible. But Then I sneeze-
The city rises like the phoenix.
I was talking to an old friend from The Philadelphia Satsang the other day, and she wanted to know what I was reading. That’s one of the kind of things we talk about. Better that than gossip, right? I was excited to answer, because I’m on this Zen Poetry kick. I don’t like saying things like ‘I’m on a zen poetry kick right now’, because I think it sounds pretentious, I can hear John Cusack’s character from High Fidelity making fun of Tim Robbin’s character, ‘he wears rings and reads zen poetry’.
I went up to Oregon last month, to help my friend pick out a little school bus to transform into an rv/tiny house. On the way back down, I stopped in Eugene, my stomping grounds from 95-00. I wanted to do some of the old things I used to do. One of my old rituals was, I’d go to John Perry’s yoga class, and then I’d spend an hour or two going through the yoga section at Smith Family Books. They shared a building. It’s really where I got my initial yoga education. Their yoga book section was huge, and was mixed in with books on channeled pleiadian teachings, buddhism, shamanism. It’s where I first really dug into Ram Dass.
So, It was college, and I didn’t have a ton of money to spend on extra books. I could do the Ramen Noodle equivalent of book collecting. And so, I read what I could while I was there, and I would also look for tiny little gems, needles in haystacks. How much wisdom could I buy for the smallest amount of money? What does $3, $4 worth of enlightenment look like?
Well, this trip, $4 bought me a copy of Afterimages: Zen Poems By Shinkcihi Takahasi. Shinkichi was born in 1901, and didn’t spend his entire life cloistered. So there are modern references, of TV, of Mexico, and even some romantic references, that I didn’t quite expect:
Thistles bloom in the vast moonlight
Cup of the Mexican Sands
Thistles bloomed on the round hillock
of a woman’s heart.
And he’s funny, “Exactly thirty years ago my father died, While Autumn flowers were fading. What’s happened since? Don’t ask him-”
And at the same time profound. The poem that I opened this post really spoke to me about the way the mind moves in meditation. Creating entire worlds, destroying them, building them up again, only to have them washed away by forces beyond our control. It happens over and over again, even in a short session, and there is nothing to be done other than to continue breathing, and continue observing. We get taught that all things are impermanent, that all things appear to rise, stay for a time, and then pass away. And we internalize that insight, and start to see it in our lives. But most of the time, when we talk about it, or read about it, it is in a dry, technical way. This is, of course, problematic. Our minds, and our soul require a certain amount of poetry. Poetry shines a light into corners of our mind that a lecture (like this one) just can’t. It’s almost like a little secret. You get it, and a wry smiles crosses your lips, and you grow.
Muso is much more old school. Born in 1275, he lived as a monk from a very early age, and sought a ‘special transmission outside the scriptures’. He became well respected for his insight, so much so, that several warlords and emperors all sought his audience, asking him to live at their various temples. In his later years, he took to tending the temple gardens, and is known as the father of the zen rock garden. Much of his work still stands today.
It is said that he attained enlightenment late in the evening while walking through his hermitage. He had no light, but thought he knew exactly where he was. He put his hand out to steady himself on a wall that was supposed to be there, and instead, found himself lying on the ground. In this moment, he broke through to the other side. He then wrote his satori poem, which is as follows:
Year after year
I dug in the earth
Looking for the blue of heaven
Only to feel
the pile of dirt
Until once in the dead of night
I tripped on a broken brick
and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
I had smashed the bones
of the empty sky
And this is why I practice. It’s almost instinct to dig with the rational mind, to try to figure out heaven, to try to computate our way into heaven, and it never works. I need to be reminded to that the sky is above me, and all I need to do is lift my head up, and breathe it in.
It only gets better from there. Muso is full of them. I’d love for you to hear more of them, but I really don’t want to type them out any more. Pick up a copy for yourself, your students will thank you. ——–
When I was at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree last month, i met a man named Lorin Roche. He was a scholar and meditation teacher, and had spent several years working on a beautiful, poetic, practical, and accessible version of The Vijnana Bhairava tantra. The vbt is a delightful text that outlines powerful meditation techniques that can be used both on and off the mat, and allow one to see the sacred in all phenomenon. I really enjoyed meeting him, and taking his workshop, and I really enjoy the text. In fact, I used a reading from it in the wedding I performed just recently.
Be Wildly devoted to someone, or something. Cherish every perception. At the same time, forget about control. Allow the Beloved to be itself and to change.
Passion and compassion, holding and letting go, This ache in your heart is holy. Accept it as the rise of intimacy With life’s secret ways.
Devotion is the Divine Streaming through you From that place in you before time. Love’s energy flows through your body, Towards a body, and into eternity again. Surrender to this current of devotion And become one with the Body of Love.
So check him out, he has alot of fantastic readings on his website, which i have been enjoying very much http://www.lorin roche.com
They recently republished Timothy Leary’s version of the Tao Te Ching, “Psychedelic Prayers”. (Psychedelic Prayers: And Other Meditations (Leary, Timothy) ) I had an old version once, but I gave it to Paulie Zink. I was without one for a while, because I didn’t feel like spending $50 on a old tattered printing from the 60’s. But It’s back again, and I found one on ebay for 8 bucks. it has some extra stuff in the back that is wonderful too. Tim wrote his version while in india, studying with a Buddhist Lama and a Vaishnava Monk. He had nine different english translations, and carefully crafted his version based on his readings and ‘meditations’ (wink, wink). He writes it as a guidebook for a psychedelic experience, and gives it a clear beginning, middle, and end. The result is an elegant and transformational text, one suitable for any voyager of consciousness. any one who “floats through the universe of the body, without getting lost”. It works really well as a guide through yoga or meditation practice as well.
Here is a verse, it focuses on impermanence. I’ve been really into impermanence lately. Its a good thing to get a handle on. nothing fancy, its simplicity holds it beauty.
and this one has been my favorite for a very, very long time.
VI – 17
Walk Carefully When You Are Among
“holy men” and “righteous” deeds Distract from the internal
“Learned men” Distract from Natural wisdom
Professional know-how Addicts people to the contrived And the external
Be respectful and compassionate But walk carefully when you are among- learned men holy men doctors government officials reporters publishers professors religious leaders psychologists rich men social scientists women with beautiful faces artists and writers men who charge fees city men movie makers men who want to help you men who want you to help them Christians and Jews
For such as these However well meaning Place you on their chessboard Addict you to their externals Distract you from the TAO within
The lesson of the TAO is more likely to be found among- gardeners hermits mountain men smiling eccentrics men who build their own homes children parents who learn from their children loafers amateur musicians serene Psychotics animals men who look at sunsets men who walk in the woods beautiful women cooks men who sit by the fire wanderers men who make bread couples who have been in love for years unemployed men smiling men with bad reputations
It is called “Ode to The God of the Atheists” by Ellen Bass. It is lovely, and reads like a Hafiz poem. It is devotional and heartfelt, and beautifully whispers a kind of faith that I, personally find hard to argue with. I particularly like the continued naming of The God of Atheists as “This God”, as if to say, there may be others, other Gods for the religeous or the spiritual, but we are not talking about those here. We are talking about ‘This God’, and this is how ‘This God’ behaves. I can get behind it, when it’s put like that.
The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns, or buy gold leaf and stained-glass windows. It won’t insist you fast or twist the shape of your sexual hunger. There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it. You don’t have to veil your face for it or bloody your knees. You don’t have to sing.
The plums that bloom extravagantly, the dolphins that stitch sky to sea, each pebble and fern, pond and fish are yours whether or not you believe.
When fog is ripped away just as a rust red thumb slides across the moon, the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you for waking up in the middle of the night and shivering barefoot in the field.
This god is not moved by the musk of incense or bowls of oranges, the mask brushed with cochineal, polished rib of the lion. Eat the macerated leaves of the sacred plant. Dance till the stars blur to a spangly river. Rain, if it comes, will come. This god loves the virus as much as the child.