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Poems of the Inner life

by Sangharakshita

... story, so to speak.

Up and down the gravel path, Between the flowering trees, I've walked this Summer afternoon To give my spirit ease.

I could not idly stand, nor sit Upon the grassy ground, For like a mill-wheel in my head The thoughts flew round and round.

Oh thoughts of life and thoughts of death Chased thoughts of love and pain Like golden hawk and sable dove Inside my reeling brain.

The withered hopes like wind-whirled leaves Thick on my heart did come, With dreads like shapes that dance for blood About the sorcerer's drum.

So up and down the shadowy paths, Between the moon-white trees, Through pools of silver, I must walk To give my spirit ease.

And, to conclude, `The Great Work', the work in which in one way or another, we are all engaged.

With grey-green fir and blue-black pine communing, With tulip-tree and smooth camellia, - where The last dark red and first white rose are blooming, I sit, reclining in my cane armchair.

Head propped on hand, from dawn to dusk the garden, Through sparse leaves peering with a thousand eyes, Beholds me as I watch the sunbeams harden And eve drip coldly from the wintry skies.

Day after day, beside my friend the mountain I sit, and as in dream hear close at hand My neighbours, tall bamboo and bubbling fountain, Talking in words that I half understand.

Not indolence or ennui, soul-destroyers, Nor sickness convalescent, holds me here, But the Great Work, which to all mere enjoyers Of `doing' must as idleness appear.

But if against the sun you ever lifted Red wine or emerald water in a bowl, You'll know, recalling how their dregs were sifted, I clear the turbid liquid of my soul.

And since in those dark waters still is lying Thick sediment uncleared, so many days Musing I sit, till, slowly purifying, Shine through them as through crystal the sun's rays.

(Padmavajra) Thank you very much, Bhante, for reading that selection of poems on the theme of `The Path of the Inner Life' - very difficult to sum up, or even to follow, a reading of poems like that, but there were two things that struck me about it. First of all, one of the things that came over for me was the purity with which Bhante wrote and with which Bhante felt in those poems. He said that they were poems he wrote in his early days of practising the spiritual life and you really felt that pure aspiration and inspiration come across. I was also struck by his comments when he said at the beginning that he was going to show some of the ups and downs of somebody's spiritual life and I think that I'd just like to recommend that you read his poetry because you really do get a feeling - amongst other things - for the ups and downs of the spiritual life. We sometimes think that the spiritual life, or the inner life, should be very smooth and straightforward and we get very frustrated and disappointed when it doesn't conform to how it's all laid out in the great treatises. I think we need to read poetry by people like Bhante to get a feeling for the ups and downs, the heights and depths, of spiritual life, of the path of the inner life, so thank you very much Bhante for your poetry reading.

I'm now going to introduce Bhante to you again. We're moving on, we're in a perhaps a number of different guises this afternoon because what Bhante's going to do now is to launch a book. I'm not going to tell you what the book is, he'll do that, so, Bhante is now going to do a book launch.

(Bhante) Yes I'm going to do a book launch, but the first thing I have to make clear is that the book is not by me. So it isn't exactly an exercise in self-promotion. The book was actually written by someone who died twenty-one years before I was born. The author of the book is Edwin Arnold, and the book is The Light of Asia, and it's been published, or perhaps I should say re- published, by Windhorse Publications.

And I must say I'm very pleased, I'm very happy, that Windhorse Publications has decided to reprint this old classic, this favourite of so many Buddhists in the course of the last so many decades. It's certainly an old favourite of mine. Those who've read the first volume of the of my memoirs may recollect that it was one of the very small volumes which I packed into my kit-bag when I went, or rather when I was sent, to India in 1944, and I've had a copy of it, I think, around me ever since that time. It's been with me in many parts of India, it was with me I think during my wandering days, at least for some of them, and it's been with me on many occasions back in the West.

And I'm not only glad, not only happy that Windhorse Publications has decided to bring it out in a new edition, but I'm also happy that they invited me to write an introduction specially for this edition. The book as I've already indicated has been very, very popular with Buddhists and friends of Buddhism, and those interested in the Eastern wisdom as we used to say, and I managed to find out that by 1957 - I don't have any information for after that date - but by 1957 at least 83 bibliographically distinct editions of the book had been brought out in English, in the original language, and there were of course translations into a number of different languages, both Western languages and languages of the East, it was dramatised, it was made into a film believe it or not, I haven't seen the film, but it was made into a film in the very early days of picture-making, and it's been illustrated by artists, some of them famous and some of them not so famous, so in my view Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia is still very much worth reading.

In the course of my introduction I mentioned very briefly five reasons for which it is worth reading, and I'll mention those even more briefly just now. First of all, The Light of Asia tells the story of the Buddha's life up to and including the Enlightenment and of course as Buddhists and people sympathetic to and interested in Buddhism, they all like to know about the Buddha's life especially perhaps before he became enlightened because that possibly makes him feel a little closer to us.

And the second reason for our reading The Light of Asia is that it isn't a prose treatise. Sometimes when you read lives of the Buddha, especially scholarly ones, you get rather bogged down in details about whether he lived in that particular year or that particular decade or whether he died on that particular date or ten years or fifteen years later, you get rather tired of all that sort of thing, and perhaps you get long descriptions of the archeology of the various sites where he lived and taught. You want to know actually about the Buddha's life, and that certainly is what Arnold, Edwin Arnold's poem does give you. It's an epic poem. And very often poetry can move us and inspire us very much more than prose can do, even a prose account of the Buddha's life.

So yes the third reason is that it's a very inspiring work. It gives a very vivid picture of the way in which the Buddha was brought up, left home, struggled for Enlightenment as he too sought to follow the path of the inner life. There are beautiful vignettes of Indian life which those who have been to India, those who have visited India, as many of you have done, can recognise from your own experience, because in some respects India hasn't changed all that much in 2,500 years.

And then again, fourth reason, The Light of Asia is of some historical importance because for many people in the West, for tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, it constituted their very first introduction to Buddhism, to the life of the Buddha, to the Buddha's teaching, so it has that great historical importance.

And fifthly and lastly The Light of Asia was written by a man who loved India and loved the Indian people. Edwin Arnold spent in fact quite a number of years in India as a fairly young man and he happened to be for some years the principal of the (Deccan) College in Poona. It was there that he added to his store of languages - he was already a formidable linguist but when he found himself in India as principal of the Deccan College he took advantage of his opportunities with so many Sanskrit pundits around and he learned Sanskrit, which is a language that not all of us find easy to learn, but he had a gift for languages and he seemed to have learned it quite well, quite quickly.

He is also of importance and interest in connection with the Buddha Gaya Maha Bodhi Temple.

Many of us know about Anagarika Dhammapala's efforts to reclaim and restore the Buddha Gaya Temple on the site where the Buddha gained enlightenment, but not many people know that Dhammapala learned initially about the sad condition of the Buddha Gaya Temple years before he went to India when he read an article about it in, of all places, the Daily Telegraph. I must remind those of you who are not readers of the Daily Telegraph that the Daily Telegraph that the Daily Telegraph was in those days a radical newspaper, and the editor of it for many, many years was none other than Edwin Arnold, and in the course of his travels in India he had noticed the deplorable condition of the Maha Bodhi Temple, so he wrote about it, he agitated in fact for its restoration, he wrote leader articles about it in the Daily Telegraph, and one of those happened to be read by Dhammapala and the rest, as we say, is history.

So we've every reason to read The Light of Asia, or to re-read it if we do happen to have read it before, and I'm therefore very happy that Windhorse Publications has made it available in this beautiful new edition. It's in hardback, and I was very glad to notice that it opens absolutely flat! Sometimes - to me at least as a lover of books - it's very annoying when you open a book and it doesn't open flat so that you can't even see the words at the ...

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