This Is Who You Are

AlicePopkorn

Even hurry

is within

the crucible of stillness

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Even panic

echoes

in perfect silence

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Sadness is hugged

from every side

by joy so tight.

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Not an achievement

nor a reward is this:

this is who you are – even

before you read these words.

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See that loneliness can’t help

but be one

with everything

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And immorality bathes

in the same

divine light…

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While this quiet smile

of consciousness watches

your pretense of foolishness.

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And you can’t shake this off,

no god can steal it:

this is who you are

even before you read these words

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This is who watches afterwards

as you try to understand –

and what you sink into

when you finally give up…

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Pic via Alice Popkorn

Remind Me

Heart Water Drops

A timeless overcast rainy Sunday before me. White birds flap across twilight greens making their way home. It seems like this moment contains eternities. I watch as tranquil pools of water are broken by raindrops that ripple across and disappear into tranquility again. The water has no fear of being disturbed, no preference for stillness. I wonder at how afraid I am to be shaken up and agitated – how much of my life is managed to ensure it doesn’t happen. Then I remember that beneath this ever-changing persona, there is something else… It’s a reminder I need every day:

 

The water has no fear of being disturbed,

Remind me that I am water.

 

The air holds all, with no distinction:

Why do I forget I am air?

 

Why do I relinquish the solid earth I am,

For a rootless, trembling mind?

 

How do I crumple all of space,

Into a fearful ball of fight?

 

Remind me again and again

I am that Love unshakeable

 

In the midst of chaos, in the madness of life,

Just remind me I Am… just remind me I Am

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View With A Grain Of Sand

child shell

My almost-five-year-old son is gradually leaving his magical world-without-words for our grown-up world where words obscure, and even replace, reality. A world where a dead stump of a word like ‘man’ does not change whether the body is twenty or forty or eighty. A world where every moment will feel like a previous moment because it can be described by the same words. A world where life itself feels caged within a small, four-letter-word.

It is sad to see him bit-by-bit losing his innate wonder as he excitedly journeys to become a grown-up every day. And once in a while, it is important for us grown-ups to revisit our original, virginal perception too. In which words have no place — except as musical sounds. In which we realize how many lies we must cocoon ourselves within to live our ‘normal’ life.

Here’s some excerpts from a beautiful, mind-stopping poem by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska that does that job for me. I hope it gives you also a glimpse into the magical world-without-words that we live in once again:

We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine, without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect, or apt.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn’t view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,
and its shore exists shorelessly.
The water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows.

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Anicca (…And This Is How It Goes)

Flick lanier67

And this is how it goes:
The landscape of your childhood
goes first; then those who shared it.
Your own memories turn transparent
And one day, you go too.

A gravestone – a name, two dates –
marks your passage till rain and sun smooth it
into bald-faced anonymity.
The gravestone becomes a rock again,
the body becomes earth again,
the grasses sway in the breeze.

And this is the lie that never lets you see this:
this picture you are seeing just now –
of this field with swaying grasses.
As if the mind can show you
what will remain after you are gone.

How Kind The Universe

universe

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How kind the Universe
To allow this belief
That ‘I’ am doing this Awareness –
And to even provide the Light to see this!

How kind the Universe
To never point out to me
This ‘Hereness’ so solid could never
come from my flickering mind.

How kind the Universe
To never remind me that its
Reality is brand new every moment –
My eyes daily miss millions of treasures.

How kind the Universe to a fool like me
That if I walk the path diligently
It guides me lovingly to reach Here –
And if I never move an inch
I am already Here.

How could such kindness
Not make me bow down at Its Grace.
How could such kindness
Not make me cry at Its Feet.

How kind the Universe
To allow me to see this.
How kind the Universe
To allow me to be this.

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The Empty Boat

The Empty Boat

There are very few poems that you can live your life by. Poems that grow with you as you grow older, revealing a different meaning at different stages of your life. Taoist sage Chuang Tzu‘s ‘The Empty Boat’ is one such for me. As I begin a new phase of my life today, engaging in the world of work, rereading it gives me so much joy and guidance yet again. I hope it does the same for you.

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.

The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
If you wish to improve your wisdom
And shame the ignorant,
To cultivate your character
And outshine others;
A light will shine around you
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:
You will not avoid calamity.

A wise man has said:
“He who is content with himself
Has done worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure.
Fame is beginning of disgrace.”

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

Image Used Under Creative Commons License via Lola Khalfa

The Magical Zen Death Poems

Zen Death Poems

Recently, in my new favorite book ‘A Tale For The Time Being’ by novelist and Zen priest Ruth Ozeki, I came across a little-known and very beautiful Zen custom.

Traditionally, a Japanese, Chinese and Korean Zen Master would write a final poem or haiku when he was about to die. In the death poem or jisei, the essential idea was that at one’s final moment of life, one’s reflection on death could be especially lucid and therefore an important observation about life. The poem was considered a final parting gift to disciples.

Curious, I tracked down some of these poems for myself and thought they were worth sharing:

Breathing in, breathing out,
Moving forward, moving back,
Living, dying, coming, going —
Like two arrows meeting in flight,
In the midst of nothingness
Is the road that goes directly
to my true home.

– Gesshu Soko

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Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf
I vanish.

– Shinsui

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Since time began
the dead alone know peace.
Life is but melting snow.

– Nandai

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I pondered Buddha’s teaching
a full four and eighty years.
The gates are all now
locked about me.
No one was ever here –
Who then is he about to die,
and why lament for nothing?

Farewell!

The night is clear,
the moon shines calmly,
the wind in the pines
is like a lyre’s song.
With no ‘I’ and no other

who hears the sound?

 – Zoso Royo

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Empty handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going-
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

– Kozan

Zen legend has it that a few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony when he died. One morning, after writing this poem, he lay down his brush and died while sitting upright.

As I get older, death feels more relevant. The magical thinking of youth fades – it becomes clearer that death is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. And I wonder what would it take to pass over with such clarity and grace… and a tiny grain of true wisdom worth passing on?

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