The Dark Night

‘Night’ – Ivan Marchuk, 1981 – WikiArt

.

Being human is a complicated gig.
So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug.
Howl the eternal yes!

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

.

There is a poem that fed the imagination of many prestigious writers and philosophers like T. S. Eliot, Simone Weil, or Thomas Merton. Many a spiritual seeker has found in it a guiding lamp for the harsh ascent towards divine union. Its name: the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, a short poem written by the 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross. It refers to the unknowable nature of both the goal and the path, and how such darkness would allow us to merge with the presence of god in ourself. As John of the Cross wrote: “In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.” I am presenting here the translation by Edgar Allison Peers. Following the poem is a short text that I wrote, words that the poem has evoked in me, the inspiration that it invoked…

.

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

[…]

.

Read this famous poem by John of the Cross and a few more words… (READ MORE…)

.

Sayings of the Church Fathers

‘St. Anthony the Abbot and St. Paul the First Hermit’ – Diego Velazquez, 1635 – WikiArt

.

The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
~ John of Damascus

.

The birth of a religion is always a time of effervescence. This was the case with Christianity, when appeared many monks, hermits, writers and theologians who contributed to build what would become the foundations of this religion. They were later called the Church Fathers, for they were the first Christians, who cleared the grounds. They took the teaching of Jesus and put it to the test, to the fire of experimentation. They explored it in Greek, in Latin, in Syriac, in silence, in poverty, in the desert, in knowledge. They were the first commentators, the first bishops, popes, exegetes, monks, martyrs of a religion that was still under construction. They came to it with fresh minds. They popped up from Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Turkey, Algeria, Italy, Spain, France, some of them still hungry to find out in their body and mind the traces of truth. They bore the evocative names of a distant time: Anthony the great, Moses the Black, Augustine of hippo, Papias of Hierapolis, Polycarp of Smyrna, Isaac of Nineveh, Maximus the confessor, and many more. Some of the oldest ones had been the direct students of the apostles. Others went to the desert where they lived in reclusion, as was the case with Anthony the Great.

Anthony the Great was born in 251 in Egypt. He was one of these Desert Fathers, and amongst the very first ones to live the hardships of a solitary life in the wilderness. For decades, he remained a strict ascetic. His purpose for doing so was clear enough: “The person who abides in solitude and quiet is delivered from fighting three battles: hearing, speech, and sight. Then there remains one battle to fight — the battle of the heart.” Towards the end of his life, he organised the many people who had finally gathered around him into the first body of monks in history, which is why he was later known as the ‘Father of All Monks’. He died in 356, leaving to his companions this very touching message: “Be earnest to keep your strong purpose, as though you were but now beginning. You know the demons who plot against you, you know how savage they are and how powerless; therefore, fear them not. Let Christ be as the breath you breathe; in Him put your trust. Live as dying daily, heeding yourselves and remembering the counsels you have heard from me. […] And now God save you, children, for Anthony departs and is with you no more.”

~

To one whose mind is sound, letters are needless.”

~

To say that God turns away from the sinful
is like saying that the sun hides from the blind
.”

[…]

Discover many more excerpts of the first Christians’ writings… (READ MORE…)

.

A Mountain Walking

Arthur Rubinstein mural, Lodz – Eduardo Kobra, 2014 – Wikimedia

.

People are always setting conditions for happiness…
I love life without condition
.”
~ Arthur Rubinstein

.
Thank you, Master Arthur Rubinstein. For you did it all for me tonight. No need for convoluted meditation postures. That effortless demeanour of yours in front of the piano was enough. All your thousand nuances of lows and heights, of patience and haste, of a suspended note, or a subtle release, all were concurring to deepen me. For it is all about profundity, isn’t it? About keeping a pointed inner eye on a vast array of forms dancing in and out of ourself, while staying like an unmovable rock. The play was prodigious in its complexity and nuances, but the maestro behind it all was at rest. Voraciously still. A fullness was produced at every empty second, as his fingers were slowly racing on the keyboard towards that never moving, never ending melodious symphony of presence. He was boiling life, and the fumes of it were like curls after curls of beauty. And yet all was kept in its pristine simplicity and humility. No effect and no affect. ‘A mountain walking’, to use that koan like image by Zen master Dōgen. That’s what art can truly do. It can take your breath away to never return it back in the way you have known it.

And the maestro is not busy in a cage of his own. He doesn’t perform. He has space, leisure. And he listens. Shhhh… Rubinstein’s listening, walking at his own pace, slowly mountaineering. Loving it all. You see it in his imperceptible smile. Or the minute rise of a couple of muscles above his eyelids. And in the glance exchanged with the conductor. Oh that glance! Rubinstein is not alone. He is conversing with Chopin; co-composing this Piano Concerto No 2. He is conversing with an oboe, or with a clarinet. Meditating with a line of supporting violins. And the maestro is teaching. He’s teaching you how to listen — not to the notes — but to yourself. This is where the notes acquire their meaning and purpose. This is where listening truly takes place. This is how you become a mountain walking. This is where is revealed the essential of life, of a piece of music, of anything. And this is where you find joy. Enjoying is all that the maestro is doing, and he gives it to you. That’s how an audience breaks in rapture, in screams and applauds of thankfulness. You are grateful because the maestro broke your heart, again and again, until you can be served one thing only: yourself. Your own gentle, pliable, undefeatable self. Hurrah!

.
~~~

.
Mountains do not lack the qualities of mountains.
Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk.
You should examine in detail
this quality of the mountains walking.
[…]
If you doubt mountains’ walking,
you do not know your own walking
.”
~ Zen Master Dōgen (Mountains and Waters Discourse, Trans. by Kazuaki Tanahashi)

.

~

I have found that if you love life, life will love you back…”
~ Arthur Rubinstein

~

At every concert I leave a lot to the moment. I must have the unexpected, the unforeseen. I want to risk, to dare. I want to be surprised by what comes out. I want to enjoy it more than the audience. That way the music can bloom anew. It’s like making love. The act is always the same, but each time it’s different.”
~ Arthur Rubinstein

~

Yes, I am very lucky, but I have a little theory about this. I have noticed through experience and observation that providence, nature, God, or what I would call the power of creation seems to favor human beings who accept and love life unconditionally, and I am certainly one who does with all my heart.”
~ Arthur Rubinstein

~

It is simply my life, music. I live it, breathe it, talk with it. I am almost unconscious of it. No, I do not mean I take it for granted — one should never take for granted any of the gifts of God.”
~ Arthur Rubinstein

.

~~~

Quotes by Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982)

and Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253)

Text by Alain Joly

~~~

.

Listen to Arthur Rubinstein playing Chopin’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op 21’ (with conductor Andre Previn & London Symphony Orchestra), which he recorded one last time, for posterity, when he was 88 years old in an empty Fairfield Hall, only months before becoming blind…

Read the ‘Mountains and Waters Discourse’ by Zen Master Dōgen…

Bibliography:
– ‘My Many Years’ – by Arthur Rubinstein – (Renaissance Literary & Talent)

Websites:
Arthur Rubinstein (Wikipedia) 
Frederic Chopin (Wikipedia) 
Dōgen (Wikipedia) 

.

The Song of God

‘Lord Krishna preaching Gita to Arjuna’ – Mahavir Prasad Mishra – Wikimedia

.

भगवद् गीता

.

अहं सर्वस्य प्रभवो 
मत्तः सर्वं प्रवर्तते ।
इति मत्वा भजन्ते मां 
बुधा भावसमन्विताः 

ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ

.

I am the self, O Gudākesa! 
seated in the hearts of all beings.
I am the beginning and the middle
and the end also of all beings
.”
~ Lord Krishna (Bhagavad Gita)

.

There is an old and long Sanskrit story that arose in India around the fourth century BC. So long that it has been described as “the longest poem ever written“. So encompassing that the poem mentions about itself: “That which occurs here occurs elsewhere. That which does not occur here occurs nowhere else.”(XVIII.5.38). A story that is as big and epic as life and which took centuries to write, up until the fourth century AD. This masterpiece of universal literature, which influenced the thought, customs, and festivals of a whole civilisation and beyond, is called the Mahābhārata. It is composed of fables, myths, and tales of every kind, that are recipients for multiple religious, philosophical and political considerations. The eminent British film and theatre director Peter Brook wrote: “I sincerely believe that, of all the subjects that exist — including the totality of Shakespeare’s work — the richest, densest and most complete myth is the Mahabharata.”

Among the infinite number of episodes in the poem is concealed a jewel. A short 700-verse scripture — out of the 100 000 contained in the Mahabharata — composed of 18 chapters, that stands as a monument of Hinduism and one of the most highly praised spiritual text in the world. Written around the second century BC by the legendary sage Vyasa — also the main author of the Mahabharata — it has been named nothing less than the ‘Song of God’. This text, called the ‘Bhagavad Gītā’, is a magistral teaching given to the Pandava prince Arjuna by Lord Krishna, who happened to be his charioteer. It is set in the middle of the worst battle between two branches of the same family, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, for the control of the kingdom — a war whose story is the subject of the Mahabharata. So here we are, at the dawn of a horrific battle: 

And then all at once, conchs,
and kettledrums, and tabors,
and trumpets were played upon; 
and there was a tumultuous din.” (I.13)

[…]

A summary of the Bhagavad Gita, a monument of spiritual literature… (READ MORE…)

.

Ten Bulls

‘Ten Verses on Oxherding’, 1278 – Metropolitan Museum of ArtWikimedia

.

十牛图

.

Back in the 12th century, in China’s Zen tradition, appeared a series of ten drawings and their accompanying poems. They were meant to describe the ten stages on the path to enlightenment, or to the recognition of our true nature. This series is traditionally named the ‘Ten Ox Herding Pictures’ or more simply ‘Ten Bulls’, and its best known version was created by the Chinese Zen master Kuoan Shiyuan in the 12th century. The present drawings are copies of the originals by the the 15th century Japanese Zen monk and artist Tenshō Shūbun.

The bull and the herder is an old theme in the Buddhist literature of the first centuries AD, and was borrowed and developed in the tradition of Zen. Although other versions have a different number of drawings, this series with ten pictures was adopted in Japan and made famous in the West through the 1957 book ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings’, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. The poems have been translated and commented numerous times, as is often the case with Old Chinese, a language which lends itself to many interpretations.

The main contribution of this version is that the series doesn’t end with the awakened state, shown by a mere circle representing emptiness, but with two more drawings where the realisation of truth is taken further into the realm of form, or everyday life. As the Zen master Jitoku Ki said: “Every worldly affair is a Buddhist work, And wherever he goes he finds his home air; Like a gem he stands out even in the mud, Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace.”

.

Form is not different from emptiness, 
and emptiness is not different from form.
Form itself is emptiness, 
and emptiness itself is form
.”
~ Heart Sutra

.

Taste the poetry and evocative power of these old poems and drawings… (READ MORE…)

.

I have Called You by My Name

‘Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs’ in Roma

.

I – luminous, open, empty Awareness – 
am the truth of your Being and am 
eternally with you, in you, as you, 
shining quietly at the heart of all experience. 
Just turn towards Me, and acknowledge Me, 
and I will take you into Myself
.”
~ Rupert Spira

.

In some of the religious texts of the world, the subtlest expressions of truth are so deeply buried in the text that they have become unintelligible. The limitations of translation, the analogies and metaphors borrowed, the time in which these texts appeared, the audience for which they were written, the veneer of poetry or story-telling, all these concur to add multiple layers of confusing elements to the original idea. And these texts have also served such inappropriate religious purposes in the course of history that they are, for all these many reasons, rejected or misunderstood by many. The Christian Bible is one such text. 

I have here attempted to find exquisite passages from the Bible, where the veneer is cracking and the hidden meanings shine more brightly. For a clearer understanding, I have selected two excerpts by Rupert Spira that will help focusing on one possible expression of truth and how it comes to be hidden behind the most innocent line in the Old Testament. They make for a necessary and beautiful introduction. They are borrowed from a video called ‘The Memory of Eternity’ in Buckland Hall, Dec. 2018. I hope you enjoy, for when we come to these texts with the right perspective or understanding, they come shining with a new glow of truth…

~

Our mind is just a temporary limitation or localisation of the only mind there is, infinite consciousness or god’s infinite being. So our mind is permeated with the memory of eternity, permeated by the memory of its origin. Why? Because it is made of it, although it is a limited version of it. So in everybody’s mind, there lies this memory of its own eternity. And that memory is felt by a person as the longing for happiness, or the longing for love. When we long for happiness, or we long for love, we are desiring to be divested of everything that limits us. We are designed to go back to our wholeness, our fullness, our sense of fulfilment, or completion. That’s why everybody longs for happiness or love. What people do to find happiness or love varies. But the actual longing itself is because there lives in everybody’s heart a memory of our eternity, the knowledge of our origin, or in religious language, a trace of God’s mind.

There is this beautiful line in the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, where Isaiah says (Isaiah speaking on behalf of God): “I have called you by my name. You are mine.” I have called you by my name. I have planted my name in your mind. The name your mind gives to itself — that is the name ‘I’ — is the name of ‘me’. So the ‘me’ (God is saying) the ‘me’ in ‘you’ is in fact the ‘me’ in ‘me’. I have called you by ‘my’ name. That makes the ‘you’ of ’you’, ‘mine’ — or ‘me’. […] Everybody’s experience is permeated by what they call ‘I’. Experience is limited and individual, but the ‘I’, the self that permeates all experience doesn’t share the limits of experience. So Isaiah is saying that ‘I’ is God’s mind in our mind. It’s not even God’s mind in our mind. All there is to our mind is God’s mind, with a limit attached to it. That’s what seems to make it ‘me-the person’. But the ‘me’ of ‘me-the person’ is infinite consciousness.”
– Rupert Spira (‘The Memory of Eternity’ – Buckland Hall, Dec. 2018)

[…]

Read some beautiful expressions of truth from the Bible… (READ MORE…)

.

Tao Te Ching

‘Lao-tzu Riding an Ox’ (Part) – Chen Hongshou – Wikimedia

.

道德經

.

The Sage attends to the inner 
and not to the outer; 
he puts away the objective 
and holds to the subjective
.”
~ Tao Te King (trans. Lionel Giles)

.

The Tao Te Ching is an ancient treatise and one of the most widely translated work in world literature. Its philosophical influence was major in the civilisation of China, colouring other religious currents like Buddhism, and becoming a guiding light for millions of people, including countless thinkers, artists, and poets — even political movements. It was allegedly composed between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, and has been traditionally ascribed to the sage Lao Tzu, which literally means ‘Old Master’. There is doubt among scholars that Lao Tzu is a historical figure, and not a semi-legendary one, but he is nevertheless a key figure in Chinese culture and history, being both the founder of Taoism and one of its deities. 

The Tao Te Ching is a fairly short text of 5000 chinese characters, divided in 81 chapters. Written in Classical Chinese, it is linguistically complex and is a challenge for translators. Tao is a central word and concept in East Asian philosophy, which means ‘way’ or ‘path’. It is understood as being a principle that is eternally present and is described as being the natural order of the universe, empty and hidden, ‘nameless and unchanging’, yet the ‘source of all things’ and the giver of excellence and virtue.

.

Tao is like an empty container:
it can never be emptied and can never be filled.
Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things.
[…]
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than the concept of God
.”
~ Tao Te Ching (trans. J. H. McDonald)

[…]

Discover more of Lao Tzu’s ancient Book on Tao and Virtue… (READ MORE…)

.