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Poems of the Inner life

by Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita: Poems of the `Inner Life'

(Includes an Introduction to `The Light of Asia' by Sir Edwin Arnold) Padmavajra: Good afternoon. My name's Padmavajra and I'd like to welcome - warmly welcome - those of you who've just arrived to this celebration of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, what we call FWBO Day. We are focussing today on the theme of the Path of the Inner Life and this morning we had a symposium on that theme with talks from Ratnaguna, Ratnagosha and myself. I said in my talk when I introduced the symposium that the FWBO arose out of meditation, or rather I said that that is what Sangharakshita said, the founder, on one occasion, the founder of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. The FWBO has come out of the inner life, or comes out of the inner life of those involved in it, and perhaps in particular it's come out of, it's arisen from the inner life of Sangharakshita himself. As well as being a very active worker for Buddhism, and teacher of the Buddha Dharma, very active in organizing Buddhist activities, Sangharakshita has a very vivid inner life indeed. I think if you read through his various volumes of memoirs you get glimpses of his rich, creative inner life. But perhaps for some people, most gain glimpses of that from his poetry. Perhaps in his poetry they have more, as it were, intimate glimpses of Sangharakshita. They get glimpses of the way he sees the world, the way he experiences the world, the way he experiences even his inner life. And we're very fortunate today to have Sangharakshita, Bhante as we call him out of respect, we're very fortunate to have him with us and what he's going to be doing is reading a selection from his own poems.

And I'm very, very pleased to be introducing him to you. So without further ado I wanted to keep my introduction minimal, I'd like to hand over to Bhante, to Sangharakshita, to read some of his poems.

Sangharakshita: As you've heard I'm going to be reading a selection of my own poems and when I was first asked to do this I naturally wondered which poems I should read - whether I should read some of the old favourites, or perhaps whether I should read poems I hadn't read before. But in the end I decided I had better read poems which were in accordance with the theme of this FWBO Day, which of course is the Path of the Inner Life. I couldn't help wondering, though, whether actually I had ever written poems which fell strictly under this heading, so I hastily leafed through my complete poems just to refresh my memory and I found that fortunately I had written at least a few poems which were concerned with the Path of the Inner Life. So it's those poems which I'm going to be reading this afternoon. And I should perhaps mention that they all date from the period 1946-1954, which is quite a long time ago, perhaps even before some of you even started thinking about following the Path of the Inner Life. So I must also mention that as I looked through them, and there are just a dozen of these poems, I discovered that they were in fact rather a mixed bag, and that they represented quite a number of different aspects of that Path of the Inner Life. I'm not going to arrange them, I'm just going to read them in chronological order, so that you can see the ups and downs experienced by one person all those years ago as he sought to follow the Path of the Inner Life.

The first poem doesn't have any title.

Water from the thawed out snow Trickles to streamlets far below; Joining with rivers strong and free It pours at last into the sea.

It loitered not among the sedges, Nor hung in rainbows over ledges; It kissed the pebbles as it went, And yet to go it was content.

Oh keep like water in its flow The pristine purity of snow; With deeper currents, swifter streams, Descending through our land of dreams.

Loiter in no stagnant pool, Though mossy banks are green and cool; Sport not long with flags and flowers, Or swallows in the willow-bowers.

The sea our goal, the snow our source - Such is our appointed course, Flowing with sunbeam-spangled motion, Calmly to the moonlit ocean.

The next poem actually is quite a favourite I know with many of you, but many perhaps haven't heard it before. It's the one called `Meditation'.

Here perpetual incense burns; The heart to meditation turns, And all delights and passions spurns.

A thousand brilliant hues arise, More lovely than the evening skies, And pictures paint before our eyes.

All the spirit's storm and stress Is stilled into a nothingness, And healing powers descend and bless.

Refreshed, we rise and turn again To mingle with this world of pain, As on roses falls the rain.

`Music at Night' The noise of day is hushed at last, A cool wind softly blows, And nightingales make beautiful The silence of the rose.

Stilled is the storm of passion, And anxious thoughts depart.

Sweet voices do but make more deep The silence of my heart.

The next poem also has no title but I did read it recently in Amsterdam by special request by one of our friends, having not ever read it in public before.

Above me broods A world of mysteries and magnitudes.

I see, I hear, More than what strikes the eye or meets the ear.

Within me sleep Potencies deep, unfathomably deep, Which, when awake, The bonds of life, death, time and space will break.

Infinity Above me like the blue sky do I see.

Below, in me, Lies the reflection of infinity.

`Aspiration' The dim sun sinks to rest In a west of watery gold.

The young stars climb the sky And there like flowers unfold, In the forest vast of night, Petals of purest light.

So may my heart unfold, When the suns of the world have set, In the forest vast of the Void, Wisdom with Mercy met In that tranquil, silent hour, Like a flower and the scent of a flower.

`Himalayan Sages' Those who have hid themselves on heights of snow, Face to face with the stars and the silver moon, Shall read upon the rocks the Ancient Rune And thus decipher secrets. They shall know - Far from the lips of any earthly lover - What the mists hide and what the winds discover.

And, with grave eyes of wisdom, they shall scan - Pitting terrific wills against th' Unknown, Wringing its secret out of every stone - The origin and destiny of man; Shall see a hundred thousand ages roll Through one brief instant of the human soul.

They shall know utter peace. They shall not feel - Immersed, upon those constellated peaks, In that deep joy whereof no language speaks - The bitterness and bite of brandished steel.

The tumult of the world rolls on and on: They shall not hear or heed it. They have gone Afar upon that path which no man knoweth Save who can frailties and passions tread Underfoot, leave the living and the dead For snowy heights whereon no green grass groweth, And, meditating there, intensify Th' electric urge to thrust beyond the `I'.

`Advent' I listened all day for the knock of the Stranger, And I often looked out from the door.

The table was scrubbed, the brass shining, And well swept the floor.

The shadows grew longer and longer, In the grate the fire flickered and died.

`It's too late. He never will come now' I said, and sighed.

I sat there musing and musing, The spinning-wheel still at my side.

The moonlight came in through the window White like a bride.

As the clock struck twelve I heard nothing But felt He had come and stayed Waiting outside. And I listened - And I was afraid.

`The Face of Silence' Before me through the evening air With robes of saffron hue And one lean, sunbrowned shoulder bare And shadow long and blue He went. I watched him till he turned A turning of the road.

The West one golden glory burned And all the treetops glowed.

With such a flood of beauty came The setting sun that day That him who walked as though in flame Before me on the way I quite forgot. The stars of night Like silver doves did seem On the bare branches to alight - I thought that I did dream.

Then at that turning as I turned Where he had turned before When all the trees like torches burned, At the tree-root I saw Him sitting on a grassy space Poised in some lofty swoon: On his still form and peaceful face Shone bright the broad full moon.

All breathlessly and silently With awe I tiptoed near; And yet - he looked so peacefully - I had no sense of fear.

O'er his still features breathed a calm I had not seen before.

It drew me as some maiden's charm A lover to her door.

The light he saw I could not see, And yet it seemed to glow Upon his face more beauteously Than sunlight on the snow.

At last I turned away, and blessed The womb that gave him birth, Knowing that there in truth was rest And peace for those on earth.

`On The Brink' Here on the river-brink I sit Where thick the tall white lily grows, And feel the clear, cold ripples break With icy kisses on my toes.

The willows trail their almond leaves With one side white, and one side green, Atop the glasswaves tremblingly, While the shrill wind blows cold and keen.

The waves that nibble at my feet Are touched with dull, hard glints of gold, And the shadows of the tired sun Stretch out more long and black and cold.

The moon, by one white star attended, Lies on her bright back crescent-thin.

I weep beside the blackening waves Because I failed to venture in.

`The Gardener' The gardener crops his rose-tree's hundred buds, That when it grows Rich with the breath of Summer, it may bear One perfect rose.

And even so I prune my budding thoughts, That in me should Spring sweetly forth the single perfect bloom Of Buddhahood.

This poem too has no title, but it tells its own ...

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