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Sadhu and Southern Baptist, Sunday surprise

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — preferred place for prayer — and Gary Snyder’s disciples “will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at” ]
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That sadhus like to meditate in cremation grounds was already known to me — they worship Lord Shiva, who likes to meditate there himself, not infrequently covers himself in ashes, and wears a necklace of skulls..

What surprised me though, was to find Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and author of The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, Christianity Today‘s Book of the Year, recommending so similar a practice..

**

Sources:

  • The Gospel Coalition, A Graveyard Is a Good Place to Make Big Decisions
  • TripAdvisor, Varanasi Photo: Sadhu meditation in smashan – where dead bodies burn
  • **

    And if the sadhu‘s practice seems more extreme — fiercer, spiritually? — than Dr Moore‘s quieter — dare I, should I really say, more contemplative? — approach, that only reminds me of Klaus Klostermaier‘s book, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, and this marvelous graph:

    Theology at 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade seems after all, different from theology at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Theology accompanied by tough chapattis and smoky tea seems different from theology with roast chicken and a glass of wine. Now, what is different, theos or theologian? The theologian at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is in a good position presumes God to be happy and contended, well-fed and rested, without needs of any kind. The theologian at 120 degrees Fahrenheit tries to imagine a God who is hungry and thirsty, who suffers and is sad, who sheds perspiration and knows despair.

    Here’s Fr Klostermaier saying Mass in Vrindaban:

    First thing in the morning I celebrate the Mass. I wonder if any person responsible for prescribing the liturgical vestments in use today ever read mass at 113 degrees Fahrenheit, in a closed room without a fan? Clouds of flies swarm around the chalice and host. They settle on the hands, on the perspiring face. They cannot be driven away, but return for the tenth time to the place from which they have been chased away. The whole body burns and itches. The clothes are damp, even the vestments. They soon dry. If a priest does not wear them all, he commits – according to existing canon law – at least a dozen or so mortal sins all at once. And it seems impossible to survive, physically or spiritually, without the Mass.

    And Vrindaban?

    Edward C Dimock and Denise Levertov, begin their delicious, delirious volume, In Praise of Krishna: songs from the Bengali, thus:

    Above the highest heaven is the dwelling place of Krishna. It is a place of infinite idyllic peace, where the dark and gentle river Yamuna flows beside a flowered meadow, where cattle graze; on the river’s bank sweet-scented trees blossom and bend their branches to the earth, where peacocks dance and nightingales call softly. Here Krishna, ever-young, sits beneath the trees, the sound of his flute echoing the nightingales’ call. Sometimes he laughs and jokes and wrestles with his friends, sometimes he teases the cowherd-girls of the village, the Gopis, as they come to the river for water. And sometimes, in the dusk of days an eon long, his flute’s call summons the Gopis to his side. They leave their homes and families and husbands and honor — as it is called by men — and go to him. Their love for him is deeper than their fear of dishonor. He is the fulfillment of all desire…

    That, too, is Vrindaban!

    Don’t you mess with (1) my mother the moon

    Saturday, January 19th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — first a poem, perhaps my angriest — some further disgust to follow in a subsequent post ]
    .

    Don’t you mess with my mother the moon!
    .

    i

    Don’t you mess with my mother the moon!
    Pearl.
    Superb in the night sky.
    Which you treat as a junkyard.

    ii

    I am serious. I was never
    more serious. This, which you thinking
    life to be composed of things consider
    real estate, rock,
    subtly balances that other,

    portending at the eye
    that same angle — and that other, too
    you would colonize,
    strip, slash, mine, burn,
    rape had you the chance, were it not
    so magisterial a furnace.

    Gold, which figures the sun
    with silver the moon,
    you have tapped for coinage,
    despoiling hills for greed,
    valleys for your convenience:
    nor is your idiocy limited in reach
    by anything but your idiocy.

    Sun and moon are married
    in a wedding you cannot conceive,
    to which you lack invitation
    though it was offered you.
    The simple light of the night sky
    escapes you, neither glimpse
    nor sonata troubles your soul with its ripples,

    for you lack, altogether,
    reflection.

    _______________________________________________________________________________________
    I don’t much care what you do to Mars..

    Oh yes, and this poem is copyright (c) Charles Cameron 2006 onwards, until we get over copyright and have freedom of quotation, imitation and variation..

    The remaking of angels, their rank and sweep

    Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — on, i suppose, the uphill slog or seduction of genius — or a very different take on complexity? ]
    .

    Paul Klee‘s Angelus Novus — described by the Verso writer Stuart Jeffries as “this goofy, eternally hovering angel with hair that looks like paper scrolls, aerodynamically hopeless wings and googly if rather melancholy eyes”:

    was admired and bought for a thousand marks by Walter Benjamin, and moved with him from one lodging to the next until her fled Germany and the onrushing Nazis. It is also:

    Benjamin’s most famous image, in the 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: the “angel of history” who is blown backward into the future by the storm of progress.

    or to quote Benjamin himself:

    A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

    **

    At a time after Darwin, Marx and Freud have dissolved the basics of fundamentalism, and before the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the brilliant Christopher Hitchens proclaimed “the new atheism” in an easily-won contest with that same low, popular religiosity — all but ignoring the retreat of angels from Renaissance tryptich to Hallmark Card — we might do well to carry the God-NoBoDaddy debate up an octave, and consider the possibility that once angels have been more or less erased from modern western consciousness, they may, as in a palimpsest, reappear in new-old guises..

    **

    Principally, I think here of Rilke‘s angels in the Duino Elegies:

    Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
    and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
    I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
    For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
    and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    Every angel is terrifying.

    Ah!

    Rilke told one of his translators that she should not make the mistake of understanding the angel referred to in the elegies as a Christian angel. To the contrary, this angel was quite distinctly drawn from an Islamic tradition. Rilke writes that in the months before his trip to Duino, he had traveled in Spain and had been consumed with reading the Qu’ran and a book on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. It seems fairly clear that this occurred under the influence of his friend Lou Andreas-Salomé, whose husband, Friedrich Carl Andreas, was a leading scholar of Islamic culture in the Russian Empire, particularly including Naqshibandiyya.

    **

    Let Rilke have traveled next to India or China, the apsarases and gandharvas of Hinduism and Buddhism might have affected him, with their sensuality, their song, their dance..

    **

    But while gandharvas and apsarases capture us by their powers of seduction — in some ways like the houris of Islamic paradise — with Rilke’s angels, drawing no less on the Old Testament than on the Qur’an, our surrender is to elemental force:

    I mean the Angel who appeared
    to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
    when the wrestlers’ sinews
    grew long like metal strings,
    he felt them under his fingers
    like chords of deep music.

    Whoever was beaten by this Angel
    (who often simply declined the fight)
    went away proud and strengthened
    and great from that harsh hand,
    that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
    Winning does not tempt that man.
    This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
    by constantly greater beings.

    **

    Constantly greater beings, with which we may if we are spiritually fortunate, wrestle — these are Rilke‘s angels, and they fill the gap in the once-dominant Great Chain of Being paradigm, on a rung above human usualness, demanding, promising, skirmishing, delivering…

    To be carried in the arms of an apsara, to be swept by the gale-force storm of an angel, these are human experiences of the transhuman kind, and we need words for them, both forgetful of any surrounding dogma and delighting in their strength as imagery — gandharvas and angels named as such, and constantly revivified by the poetic imagination.

    Klee, Benjamin, Rilke, but also Jacob wrestling with — who? a man, angel, God? — and becoming IsraelGiotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo who wrestled form from Carrera marble, Dogen Zenji for whom mountains were the sages into whom, living among them, he blended.. Kalidasa with his yakshas in Cloud Messenger and perhaps supremely in the gandharva marriage in his Shakuntala..

    Isaac becoming Israel, Shakuntala the mother of Bharata.. Of such are sacred nations born.

    **

    Yet this world is wide and deep, the beings above us multitudinous, and the humans touched by them more than a single mind can comprehend. And:

    The problem of god is a problem in ballistics, Icarus discovered this,
    that to shoot for the sun is to fall short of it, those who shoot
    for beauty achieve prettiness, there is a gravity in aesthetics as there is
    in physics, and theology too has its fall, the problem of god being
    that the mind falls short of what is huge enough to conceive it, give
    conception whatever relevant definition you choose, too vast
    to think of, give birth to it — no, no, mind has sheer cliffs of fall, and
    to shoot for a conception of god is full speed ahead to fall, fail ..

    I bow, salute, prostrate, pranam, bow gassho.

    A murmuration — not a tweet but a simurgh

    Friday, January 4th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — from ornithology, via mystical poetry to the sheer joy of language ]
    .

    Here’s a murmuration of starlings, beautifully videographed near my home town of Sacramento:

    **

    Thousands of starlings can explode from a single tree — an impressive sight — but atill photogrphers tend to capture their images when the murmurations appear to resemble something — in this case, a bird of some sort, but not a starling..

    **

    **

    The Simurgh:

    Which brings me to the great Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar, whose Conference of the Birds opens with the hoopoe, wisest of birds, taelling the world’s birds in assembly that they must cross seven perilous valleys to find their true sovereign, the Simurgh . These valleys are the valleys of the Quest (Talab), of Love (Ishq), of Knowledge (Ma’refat), of Detachment (Isteghnâ), of Unity (Tawhid), of Wonderment (Hayrat), and of Poverty and Annihilation (Faqr and Fana). You can read something of the meaning of each valley in this page, or here

    Some birds die simply hearing what each valley demands, others as they traverse the valleys — but finally, thirty birds survive and arrive at the Simurgh’s throne:

    ust 30 birds arrive at the home of the simurgh where they realize a startling truth: they are themselves the simurgh. In fact, the word in Persian means “30 birds.” Finally, the birds understand that the Beloved is like the sun in that it can be reflected in a mirror. In other words, we all reflect God because we are God’s shadow and reverberation: nothing is separated from its creator.

    Or otherwise told:

    Out of thousands of birds, only thirty reach the end of the journey. When the light of lights is manifested and they are in peace, they become aware that the Simurgh is them. They begin a new life in the Simurgh and contemplate the inner world. Simurgh, it turns out, means thirty birds; but if forty or fifty had arrived, it would be the same. By annihilating themselves gloriously in the Simurgh they find themselves in joy, learn the secrets, and receive immortality. So long as you do not realize your nothingness and do not renounce your self-pride, vanity, and self-love, you will not reach the heights of immortality.

    You know, there’s a parallel between the Simurgh, comprised of thirty birds, and the Church as body of Christ, constituted by the disciples with whom he broke bread with the Words of Institution, Matthew 26.26:

    And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

    — and not forgetting the Great Prayer of Union of John 17.11:

    And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

    **

    Translations:

  • Sholeh Wolpé, The Conference of the Birds
  • Penguin Classics, The Conference of the Birds
  • James Lipton, An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game
  • From that last:

    An “exaltation of larks”? Yes! And a “leap of leopards,” a “parliament of owls,” an “ostentation of peacocks,” a “smack of jellyfish,” and a “murder of crows”!

    Wishing ZP readers a Merry Christmas

    Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a poem by Richard Wilbur ]
    .

    TWO VOICES IN A MEADOW
    by Richard Wilbur

    A Milkweed

    Anonymous as cherubs
    Over the crib of God,
    White seeds are floating
    Out of my burst pod.
    What power had I
    Before I learned to yield?
    Shatter me, great wind:
    I shall possess the field.

    A Stone

    As casual as cow-dung
    Under the crib of God,
    I lie where chance would have me,
    Up to the ears in sod.
    Why should I move? To move
    Befits a light desire.
    The sill of Heaven would founder,
    Did such as I aspire.

    **

    I was listening to a podcast with Stephen Mitchell discussing this poem, and then his own translation of the Odyssey, and was struck by these two comments on the music of poetry — echoing my love of Bach and my interest in counterpoint and stereophony:

    You can read a translation by somebody who’s really good and say, Ah, that’s got to be done by so and so, in the same way that you hear a bit of Goldberg Variations and you know that’s Glenn Gould or Murray Perahia..

    The poet of the original poem, whether or not anonymous, is listening to something, and the listening eventually becomes the words, so it’s not something, if a poem is really good, it’s not something in a sense he’s creating, it is creating through him, or her, and that’s what becomes the poem. So in the same way, a really good translator is listening, but it’s stereophonic, so in one ear he has the original poem in the original language, and in the other ear, there’s pure, you could say pure longing, or pure silence, where nothing is happening and he cannot force it and will not force it, and then at a certain point, the English words form by themselves, as that counterpoint to the original language, and then it’s done.

    **

    BTW:

    **

    With this simple, humble poem set in a field — not in a manger, mind you, but in a field, any field pretty much, though there are crib-nativity echoes in each stanza — we at Zenpundit wish all our readers the happiest of holiday seasons, in whatever tradition you each may follow..


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