Monday, May 21, 2012

Versions of Kabir

     When Charles showed me the poems I was shocked by the erotic energy, and had to look again at some of my attitudes and ideas about love, sex and language. So, when I looked again at Tagore and Bly, I had to wonder what Kabir would say to each of them about their renderings:

Here's Tagore:
     Within this earthen vessel are bowers and groves,
           and within it is the Creator:
     Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the
           unnumbered stars.
     The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
     And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and
           the spring wells up.
     Kabir says: "Listen to me, my Friend! My beloved
           Lord is within."

And now Robert Bly:
     Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains,
         and the maker of canyons and pine mountains!
     All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars.
     The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.
     And the music from the strings no one touches, and the source
         of all water.
     If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
     Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

     Both versions have given me a lot of pleasure. I appreciate Tagore's genteel language with its implicit affection for the western canon. He is presenting a vernacular Indian poet of the masses to an audience of European upper class intellectuals and theologians. He probably felt constrained to use language that would not discomfort his readers.
     Robert Bly's approach fifty years later has the advantage of being able to use contemporary vernacular. Bly's readers in the 60's and 70's were acquainted with non-European
arts and  philosophies and not likely to be put off by language less exalted than Edwardian English. Bly argues that Kabir and Mirabai used everyday language, common situations and familiar examples to instruct their listeners and convey the message. The message hasn't changed, Bly reminds us, but the metaphors and idioms may seem obscure to us, 500 years later. Still, he says he strives for accuracy. Kabir's lyrics were learned by heart and later written down in several languages. Tagore worked with Bengali translations, and Bly reworked Tagore's work.
     So, accounting for the differences in language and style, reflecting a developing sophistication among western readers, I find a satisfying sense of harmony and agreement in the content of the two versions. I think Kabir's essential teaching survives, despite some questions I have in understanding particular images Bly and Tagore chose to employ.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Part of my Home Health CareTeam

This is Felicity, aka "Shorty"


Melissa, or Misa

 Nutmeg, aka "Nutty" or Spice Girl

Post-Op Reflections

I remember being rolled into the O.R. on the gurney, looking around, hearing voices around me, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the resident, the cool air ….

                   Dark. Depthless darkness. Deep within the darkness a spark,
the tip of a cone of light, turning, replicating gyres emanating, expanding, blossoming petals of fire and the sound of wind rising within the silence of the darkness….

And then I came to in a bed in a room with different people around who I didn’t recognize… dozed off and came to again, and this time I recognized Karen, bright eyes and smile. I think I smiled back and nodded off, having figured out I wasn’t dead, just very tired. And very sore.

I was up and walking the day after the open-heart procedure. The doctors were pleased with their work and my recovery went very well. During the four days I spent in the hospital, I had wonderful care from the nursing staff, some remembering me from last year’s stay in the West Tower.  Karen came daily without fail and on Sunday I had a sweet visit from Bob & Mercedes. The food service, of which I have complained so noisily on previous occasions, has actually gotten worse.

When not sleeping or being attended to, I was able to enjoy a few of the other perks of this age of miracles:  listening to an orchestra and chorus perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and Lata Mangeshkar singing bhajans (Chala Vahi Des). On my portable CD player, recordings of Maharaji’s satsangs put me blissfully to sleep. The truly healing thing was Knowledge, practicing, accepting each breath, accepting the pain.


As I look at our recent history, the narrow slice of the last 150 years, several features seem apparent to me. And, looking at micro trends within this recent period tends to validate what I think I see. Looking at our modern age within the much larger continuum of human development over the past million years, I'm even more persuaded that we are on the cusp of significant social and global transformations.

I really don't think that the socio-political and socio-economic models that have been in play for the last couple hundred years will be sustainable for much longer. The environmental changes that are coming will likely be much more devastating than current models predict simply because the entrenched systems of resource development and allocation are not responding to the crises quickly enough. We're also learning that collapse tends to accelerate and cascade in unpredictable ways. The social  and political changes that are being demanded by "democracy movements" will of course be resisted by those who now have power. It's hard to see how global conflicts over water rights and human rights can be avoided. Of course, no one knows what the future will be, but there's no way things can continue as they are going for much longer. And that's just the "short term view."

Taking the long view, I tend to agree with critics and analysts who argue that we have done so much deep harm to our natural biological human inheritance that we, as a species, have become a significant destructive factor for all life forms that share our ecosystems. In nature, when a species endangers the ecosystem, you know what happens: the system collapses and the destructive species dies back or disappears. Homo sapiens is obviously a mortal danger to the planet’s biosphere. And, we have been watching ecosystems collapsing regularly now for fifty years, species going extinct, new unexpected life forms appearing (viruses, for example) and changes in the very structures of creatures that have been stable in the context of evolution for tens of millions of years.

I am not a doom & gloom guy. My personal experience, my faith, my understanding of "how things work"… persuade me that this is perhaps a unique point in human/global/cosmic evolution. If you believe, as I do, that the Universe is essentially conscious and benevolent (not indifferent, nor hostile) and that the Creation is a kind of learning environment for many different kinds of sentient beings, then we (as one species among many) are getting ready for a kind of Final Exam. I also believe that the key thing we have to understand for this graduation is not what we have learned (old models, old explanations, old ideologies, etc), but how we learn. We're so stuck in the past. We have to get into the present.

Part of the difficulty is that we have devised these educational systems that just don't work. Our schools tend to crush creativity, imagination and cooperation just when those are three of the human traits we need most! Do you know where the most talented people have gone over the past three or four generations? Into advertising!! The way children are taught today is absolutely upside-down and backward! Look, it is nature's gift to homo sapiens that we have this incredibly sophisticated nervous system, capable of …. you know! You've got one inside your skull, between your ears, behind your eyes! Is there anything more fun than solving a puzzle, figuring something out, learning something new? Our survival depends on our ability to learn and adapt, which we do by playing, experimenting with our environment. So, if you accept this coinage, homo sapiens ludens (which I think is obvious), it is easy to understand and explain the almost universal dislike children have for school.

But I digress.

In the previous essay, I felt called to speak to prayer. In this, I feel called to say something of hope, called by a friend’s recent beautiful meditation on the subject. As she clearly says, there are elements of promise and expectation that something desired will be fulfilled. It’s apparent to me as well how prayer and hope reflect each other across the surface of the human heart.

In the months before this surgical procedure I often considered “my odds,” risk factors, alternatives, et al. Several sharp hooks would snag my attention from time to time, particularly when I was in the ICU, pulling me into some scary, frightened places. The energy that got me off the hook, I’d have to call ‘hope’ in the sense here, that it’s my expectation that my desire to live will be fulfilled. I realize I will die, but before I do, I will have n crises over the course of my lifetime, and will survive n-1 times. Those are really good numbers to begin with, I’d say.

More meaningful than my glib manipulation of symbols is the feeling growing within me that this really is a special moment in our evolution. The world we live in today is so different from the environment our species was born into. As a species we have changed over the course of a couple million years. This interplay has generated an unprecedented degree of disequilibrium and potential for transformation. Admittedly, my assertions are general, vague and arguable. Correct me, please, where I’m missing something. Instruct me where I’m getting it wrong.

The epiphyllum blooming on the deck this week are simply spectacular. The Occupy movement is resurgent. We are six months from the Presidential election and seven months from the end of the Mayan calendar. Today I feel the promise of Spring, the possibility every day for something new and wonderful.  Maharaji is coming to LA in July, and I get to spend another day with Karen. I hope to be here a while longer, to be part of the play which I hope to be glorious!

Let me quote Arundhati Roy’s closing phrases from her 2002 Lannan Foundation lecture:

Perhaps things will get worse and then better. Perhaps there’s a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.
Eagle Rock
14 May 2012