Posts Tagged ‘Kukai’

Change begins within, and it starts with me.

January 26, 2017

It Is I Who Must Begin

It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try —
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself
by saying things
would be easier elsewhere,
without grand speeches and
ostentatious gestures,
but all the more persistently
— to live in harmony
with the “voice of Being,” as I
understand it within myself
— as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.

Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.

~ Vaclav Havel ~

(Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, ed. by S.M. Intrator and M. Scribner)

This reminds me of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, where leaving home is necessary to “save the only life you could save” and discover what it’s meant to be. Then you can change it, begin it; for as Kukai said in his poem, Singing Image of Fire, “all things change when we do.” Change begins within, and it starts with me.

Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards

April 2, 2015

As we’ve seen in a recent post about the writing and teaching of poetry, Billy Collins wants the poem he’s writing to complete itself, to come to an end. When he writes a poem, he says meaning is the furthest thing on his mind. He’s just trying to get to the next line, to arrive at the ending. “It’s not a search for insight, particularly. It’s a search to be over with.”

In this interview with Ginger Murchison at the 9th Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Billy Collins reveals more about the ending of a poem, how what happens is even more important than the last line of the poem.

During the interview, Ginger Murchison mentions something Billy Collins had alluded to about the end of a poem, and asks him:

What happens at the end of the poem? I want to know about that white space after the last period, for the poet and the reader. You said your poem goes towards somewhere. How do you see that as being more important than even the last line of the poem, that space at the end?

He answers her by describing the significance of the white space:

Well, the white space at the end is just like the white space around the rest of the poem. It stands for silence. And maybe the white space after the end of the poem is a little more silent than the other silences. I think of a poem as an interruption of silence.

He also talks about how satisfying it can be to find the ending to a poem. The implication being, the silence that follows the ending as something new that is created within the writer and the reader.

Once you find it, it’s incredibly satisfying. You found something that didn’t exist before. That the poem brings, calls into existence, through a series of steps, it gains some kind of ground, and out of that ground, there occurs something that had never existed before. It comes as a sort of gain, surprise.

I certainly can relate to that, and described in the previous post how certain poems completed themselves in ways I hadn’t imagined. When that happens, and when a poem enlivens a silence, within and between both the poet and the reader, or listener, it creates a deep feeling of fulfillment.

After hearing a discussion with Bill Moyers and 3 well-known poets on the Diane Rehm show discussing the creation of a poem and the effect it had on an audience when recited, I was inspired to write a poem about this mysterious creative process as something elemental, transcendental.

Poetry—The Art of The Voice, describes the source, course, and goal of poetry springing from and returning to silence, through a poet’s inner voice or consciousness, to a listener’s heart and mind. It also relates to the notion of a writer finding and expressing his or her own voice as a poet.

Another poem I wrote shows how Silence ultimately speaks for itself. See Telling the Story of Silence by Ken Chawkin.

Creation comes about through sounds and silences, expressions and gaps, within which the dynamics of transformation occur. See Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Uni-verse.

For a more detailed explanation of these dynamics in language and creation, see Singing Image of Fire, a poem by Kukai, with thoughts on language, translation, and creation, and Yunus Emre says Wisdom comes from Knowing Oneself — a Singularity that contains the Whole.

George Plimpton interviewed Billy Collins for Paris Review

As referenced by Ginger Murchison, George Plimpton had interviewed Billy Collins for The Paris Review in 2001 after news of his appointment as the new poet laureate by the Library of Congress. He would go on to serve two terms, 2001-2003. Although published 14 years ago, this interview is definitely worth reading:  Billy Collins, The Art of Poetry No. 83.

The interview opens with Plimpton asking Collins how he starts to write a poem. He says he doesn’t write that regularly, much of his time is waiting and watching; he’s vigilant. But when he’s engaged he usually writes a poem quickly, in one sitting.

I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times—and this, I think, is a sense you develop—I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum—the poem finds a reason for continuing. The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. The first few lines keep giving birth to more and more lines.

That makes perfect sense. He doesn’t know where he’s going and hopes the poem is one step ahead of him, holding his interest, leading him down the trail to that elusive mysterious ending. I love the different metaphors he uses to describe the pen as a tool to help him discover that something he’s not yet aware of.

Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.

He explains how he likes to invite the reader into a poem with something ordinary, then take him or her, and himself to a place he hasn’t been to yet.

I want to start in a very familiar place and end up in a strange place. The familiar place is often a comic place, and the strange place is indescribable except by reading the poem again.

There’s a lot more to the interview, but he concludes humbly by saying that he’s just trying to be a good writer.

No matter what I’m thinking about when I’m writing a poem, no matter what is captivating my attention, all I’m really trying to do is write good lines and good stanzas.

There’s a reason he’s called America’s most popular poet. He has made poetry accessible to millions of Americans. He continues to write, publish, sell books, teach, and is in constant demand to give poetry readings.

It is a delight to read his poetry. His subtle sense of humor puts a smile on my face. It’s also enjoyable to hear him recite his poems. Seemingly ordinary, they give you a unique perspective on things that were previously unimaginable, and that’s refreshing!

See the previous post: Billy Collins suggests more creative ways to respond to poetry than analyzing it to death. Enjoy the poetic genius and humor of Billy Collins reading his poem “January in Paris” and Billy Collins humorously disagrees with Heraclitus showing how to go into the same water twice.

The Library of Congress Web Guides: Billy Collins: Online Resources.

Singing Image of Fire, a poem by Kukai, with thoughts on language, translation, and creation

January 2, 2012

We read in Genesis that creation came into being with the first utterance: “Let there be light.” So sound came first, then light, followed by forms. Interestingly, the seemingly nonsensical phrase, abracadabra, a magician says when performing a trick, derives its meaning from the ancient biblical language, Aramaic: abraq ad habra, which means, “I will create as I speak.” I discovered that on page 170 of Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words, a delightful book on finding and writing poetry in many creative simple ways, by Susan Wooldridge, writer, poet and teacher.

This poem by Kukai says a lot about language, creation, consciousness, and our integral relationship to things.

Singing Image of Fire

A hand moves, and the fire’s whirling takes different shapes,
Triangles, squares: all things change when we do.
The first word, “Ah,” blossomed into all others.
Each of them is true.

This poem on language, translation, and creation, the pictorial/written representation of vocal sounds and meanings, was written by Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師 The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching), 774–835, a Japanese monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, artist, and founder of the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism. He allegedly developed the system using Chinese characters to write Japanese words. The word “Shingon” is the Japanese reading of the Kanji for the Chinese word Zhēnyán (真言), literally meaning “True Words”, which in turn is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word mantra (मन्त्र). The concern was to be as true as possible when translating texts, to have and use the right word when describing something. The Sanskrit language had this perfect one-to-one correspondence between name and form.

The poem was mentioned in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997) by Jane Hirshfield, a classic collection of essays about the mysterious ways poetry comes to us. In her chapter, The World is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation, she highlights this theme with What Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator.

When I read that line in Kukai’s poem, about the first word, “Ah,” blossoming into all others, and each of them being true, it reminded me of what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says about the first sound of creation, “A”, how it represents infinity collapsing to a point, “K”, and through its own sequential self-interacting dynamics, creates the whole alphabet, words, verses of Rk Veda, the whole Vedic literature, and their subsequent forms, the universe. This is part of Maharishi’s Apaurusheya Bahashya, the unwritten commentary of the Veda, unfolding itself and commenting on itself to itself. Apaurusheya Bhashya: Rk Veda is said to be nitya, eternal, and apaurusheya, uncreated. Maharishi explains that the sequential unfoldment of Rk Veda is its own uncreated, or unmanifest, commentary on itself, rather than that of an individual making an ‘external’ commentary on Rk Veda. See Maharishi’s Apaurusheya Bhashya.

In his Introduction to Maharishi Vedic University, Maharishi gives us a comprehensive cosmic perspective on the role Sanskrit, the language of Nature, plays in the process of creation. Through the self-interacting dynamics of pure consciousness, the Self, or Atma, reverberates within itself and creates the eternal uncreated sounds of the Veda, its own language, which in turn express themselves into forms—the individual body, Sharir, and the cosmic body, Vishwa. The eternal Silence and its own inherent Dynamism, evolve all parts of itself constantly referring them back to their source. He says it’s a start-stop process of Infinity collapsing to a point, referring it back to Itself, and evolving the next sound, and subsequent form. Full realization, or enlightenment, comes when one comprehends all of creation: Atma, Veda, Sharir, Vishwa, Brahman, or Totality, as the full potential of one’s own consciousness. Aham Brahmasmi. I am totality.

On Page 65 Maharishi writes, “The basic process of change, this basic process of transformation, continuously maintains the momentum of evolution of different levels of expression, creating different levels of manifestation upholding the process of evolution.

“It is this that promotes the eternally self-referral dynamics of Samhita into the sequential evolution of sound, speech, forms of speech in alphabets, words, phrases, verses etc., with corresponding material forms. This process continues eternally, resulting in the ever-expanding universe.” (Samhita is the togetherness of Rishi, Devata, Chhandas; knower, process of knowing, and known.)

I’ve written a poem about this process in Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Universe, (into haiku forms).

To learn more about the source of words, creation, both literal and literary, and their connection to consciousness, read: The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language.

Also see: Before He Makes Each One by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Nine years later I posted: Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka.

What Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator

January 25, 2011

Inscription from Rilke about words and the essence of language. On the fifteenth of February, 1924, Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed these lines on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator:

Happy are those who know:
Behind all words, the Unsayable stands;
And from that source alone,
the Infinite Crosses over to gladness, and us—

Free of our bridges,
Built with the stone of distinctions;
So that always, within each delight,
We gaze at what is purely single and joined.

Mentioned in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield, page 56, in her chapter, The World is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation (HarperCollins, 1997).

In this poem, Rilke is letting his translator know that he should just work with the spirit of the poem and not get hung up on translating it word for word, but to capture its essence in his own language.

There’s another message here: When we know the Infinite Unsayable Source of words, which is our own essential nature, it creates freedom from distinctions, like divisive judgments, self-imposed and on others, the fear of differences, and transforms us with the more harmonious unifying values of life. This is liberating and fulfilling. We begin to see things as they are, and enjoy their essence, enjoy our Self.

During our practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, the mind effortlessly goes beyond words, to the source of thought; it transcends. The mind expands to its full dignity; it becomes saturated with bliss consciousness; and the body releases accumulated stresses; it becomes freer, more flexible. After meditation, our outlook is clearer, we’re happier, and naturally focus on the beautiful in everything and everyone. This brings us delight. It increases our capacity to love; we feel more at home in the world. TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi reminds us that the world is as we are. The Talmud agrees: “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” (Nine Gates, p. 119)

In closing, here is a multiple-haiku poem I wrote on the creative process, after hearing Maharishi discuss how the Infinite, wanting to know it’s own nature, collapses to a point, and then refers back to itself. This self-referral process continuously goes on within the unmanifest Infinite source—a singularity containing the togetherness of all possibilities. This self-interacting dynamics sequentially creates the primordial sounds of nature’s language, the Veda, which reverberate and manifest into the whole universe, the unity of all diversities, Nature’s poetry creating a universe. See Coalescing Poetry: Creating a Universe (in 7 haiku forms).

See a related poem mentioned in Nine Gates on this topic: Singing Image of Fire, a poem by Kukai, with thoughts on language, translation, and creation.

To learn more about the source of words, creation, both literal and literary, and their connection to consciousness, read: The Flow of Consciousness: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Literature and Language.

To learn more about Jane Hirshfield, read this wonderful interview: Pirene’s Fountain: Jane Hirshfield on Poetic Craft.

You may also enjoy reading Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing, Writers on Writing—What Writing Means To Writers, and one of my first poems, Writing—a poem on the writing process.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, Buddha in Glory, reminds us of our eternal nature within. Another poem worth reading is Before He Makes Each One by Rainer Maria Rilke.

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