contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Kabir

AWEN THE SECRET SOUND

“If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you (1) .” When I work with Awen in chanting and meditation, Awen, as a sound, stands for the Oran Mor, “the ancient ‘music behind the world’ that has always been woven into the daily awareness of the adherents of various Celtic traditions” (2). Awen invites me to immerse myself in its pulse and vibration, and to find a unique note within them.

This note, which in practice may manifest also as a felt sense, image or insight, forms the basis of my individual voice when connected to Awen. If truly connected, it speaks with the tongue that cannot not lie, the words flowing from authentic experience. Provided this condition is met, the voice can make use of my limitations as well as my strengths. It draws on my natural desire to communicate, whilst serving a collective purpose. I am not a specialist in the fields of bardistry or seer-ship, not one of the awenyddion. Awen has guided me down a Druid contemplative path in the form of an open inquiry. It is here that my spiritual energy has been ignited, providing me with a story to live and to tell.

Celtic spirituality has been described as “an ongoing initiation into a life of beauty and a mindful preparation for the passage of death … a dynamic orientation to the ebb and flow of the seasons, daily practices that foster an awareness of the passage of our lives, and of thanatology (a vision and study of our death and dying)” (3). It also has an inward pull – to dreams, the Otherworld and back to Source, which is why my practice embraces the physical, psychic and causal domains and the capacity to move between them. I am now clearer about adjusting my inquiry to devote more attention to my journey into later life (4) and its distinctive contexts in nature, culture, place and time.

(1) Sally Kempton Meditation for the Love of it: enjoying your own deepest experience Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2011 (Foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert). Kabir was a poet-singer and mystic from fifteenth century India. In Indian Vedantic/Tantric culture, OM is the primal originative sound. AUM (so like Awen) is its feminine form, the creative energy or Shakti of the cosmos giving shape and substance to the material world.

(2) Frank MacEowan The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditations on the Spirit Wheel Novato, CA: New World Library, 2007 (Foreword by Tom Cowan)

(3) Frank MacEowan The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers and Seekers Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002 (Foreword by Tom Cowan)

(4) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/06/01/a-path-forward/

KABIR: ECSTATIC FLUTE

I know the sound of the ecstatic flute,

But I don’t know whose flute it is.

A lamp burns and has neither wick nor oil.

A lily pad blossoms and is not attached to the bottom!

Where one flower opens, ordinarily dozens open.

The moon bird’s head is filled with nothing but thoughts of the moon,

And when the next rain will come is all that the rain bird thinks of.

Who is it we spend our entire life loving?

Kabir Ecstatic poems Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992 (The English translations are free enough for Robert Bly to call them ‘versions by Robert Bly’. There is an earlier set of translations published by MacMillan in New York in 1915 by Rabindranath Tagore assisted by Evelyn Underhill under the title Songs of Kabir. Whilst I don’t follow Bly in calling the English of the earlier work “useless”, I do find that Bly’s interpretation has more passion and power. The Bly work includes an insightful afterword Kabir and the transcendental Bly by John Stratton Hawley).

A VOYAGE

In a contemplative state, I see myself in a small ocean going yacht, one which can run on sail or on a motor. It is a moonlit night in which it is possible to get a good view of the sea. The yacht seems to be stationary, or almost so. There are no crew on deck. Sophia and I are there together. It is winter and we are both well wrapped up, but I can see her face and make eye contact, which is how I recognize Her. She is somewhat as in my icon, although fully humanized and somewhat older.

She is in charge of the voyage, and she wants to show me the ocean. It is moving, relatively gently but enough to show the arising and dissolution of wave formations – the dance of the swell. Distinctive shapes appear, move, glint, before disappearing into the darkness or being reabsorbed into the mass of water, losing any claim to individuality. My immediate response is to feel the beauty in this process. Then I think, in quick succession, of my personal identity and my coming death. I experience myself as individuated and self-aware as a wave, in this moment. Woven into the hinterland of this experience is anticipation of my dissolution. I need to taste this, and believe it.

Then I find myself wanting to hurry – to perfect my understanding of me and the cosmos before I go. Sophia does not mock me. Rather, She nudges me to remember that I’ve got what I need, and to recall specific existing resources. One is my own review of Not I, Not Other Than I (1) in which Russel Williams talks of a “natural state of oneness with everything … stillness, pure consciousness, emptiness of being” and potentially available to all. It is “based on sense-feeling, and on filling the emptiness with loving kindness”. Williams talks also about following the Way of the Buddha rather than being enrolled in Buddhism. To him, Buddhism is a belief system, whilst the Way of the Buddha is a “recognition system”. I would like to claim the same for the Way of Sophia.

Another resource is my positive feelings towards a Water and Wave, a poem by Kabir (2) which asks the question: “Water, and the waves on it; how to tell them apart?” It also contains the verse:

There is a Secret One inside us;

The planets in all the galaxies

Pass through Her hands like beads.

I can remember this when using the rosary, which I wrote about in my last post (3). I am finding the current phase of my journey one of gifts, invitations, and reminders about where and how to focus my attention. I am understanding more about how to work with Sophia now that an enhanced dedication has been made. It feels now like a living process.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/book-review-not-i-not-other-than-i/

(2) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/poem-water-and-wave/

(3) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/rosary-paidirean-pahjurin-iii/

 

AWEN AND CONTEMPLATIVE DRUIDRY

A Contemplative Druidry (1) reader has asked me to say more about Awen, which had a chapter in the book. Introducing interview extracts in my Awen chapter, I wrote, “Awen is classically seen in Druidry as the power of inspiration, and in particular the creative force for poetry and prophecy. It is what transformed the boy Gwion – though not before further trials and transformations – into Taliesin, the radiant browed Bard. Many of the participants in this work uphold this tradition in its conventional form. Others seek to extend the traditional meaning better to express their own experiences and aspirations. Some don’t connect with Awen experientially and treat it as a convention – mainly as a shared chant, which brings Druids together”.

My self-criticism here is that the chant is itself an experience, frequently state-altering for both the chanters and in a sense for the space. I might have done better to say, ‘some don’t connect with it conceptually’. I see from my interview questions appendix that the Awen question was about meaning. If I did this work again, I would start with the sound, the feeling, and senses of occasion, and work out from those.

Pondering Awen afresh, I find myself drawn to deep human ancestry, and especially the early emergence of speech and music. These brought a new kind of identity: new experiences, new awareness, new feelings, new understanding, new forms of connection and solidarity – new worlds. Unsurprisingly, many cultures have subsequently developed creation stories linking origin with sound. In India, the phrase Nada Brahma tells us that God is sound/the world is made of sound. OM is the primordial sound form, the vibratory essence from which the universe emanates – and the universe needs to emanate only the smallest step (if any) to get to us. Kabir said, “if you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth. Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you” (2). A major philosophical school, Kashmir Shaivism, is referred to as ‘the doctrine of vibration’ (3). It talks of ‘spanda’ as “the primordial vibration at the root of all manifestation, a form of Shakti” (a term equally meaning ‘power’ or ‘goddess’).

Welsh Bardistry gives us Awen and the Taliesin story, which can be read as working with related themes, whilst diverting our main attention to the Bard as trickster/hero. In the old Gaelic world, we have the term Imbhas, equivalent to Awen, and a more touching story about the eating of the salmon of wisdom, in which the old Bard (as I read it) sets himself up to pass on the true nourishment to a promising youth. We also have the notion of the Oran Mor (Song of the World). Frank MacEowan (4) writes: “a conscious knowing of the ancient ‘music behind the world’ has always been woven into the daily awareness of the adherents of various Celtic traditions. In the words of Stuart Harris-Logan, a Gaelic healer, scholar, and author of Singing with Blackbirds, ‘out on the Isle of Barra, the people have long spoken of the Oran Mor as one of the old names of God. The Oran Mor is the Great Song from which all things have arisen’”.

Jason Kirkey (5), an associate of Frank MacEowan, treats ‘Oran Mor’ and ‘Divine Ground’ as synonymous both with each other and with David Bohm’s ‘implicate order’, in which the world of space, time and individual particles are enfolded into an undifferentiated wholeness that provides the holographic pattern (each part contains the pattern of the whole) by which reality unfolds. In Ireland, a sense of the Oran Mor could legitimately continue into Christian times. St. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (6) This greatly moved John Scotus Eriugena, the great Irish philosopher/theologian of the ninth century – the time of Viking invasions in north west Europe. In his commentary on the Gospel he says, “John, the theologian – ascends beyond all visible and invisible creation, passes through all thought and intellect, and deified, enters into God who deifies him … John, the observer of the inmost truth, in the paradise of paradises, in the very cause of all, heard the one Word through which all things are made … Therefore, most confidently he cried out, ‘in the beginning was the Word.” (7) True knowledge and experience of the primal Word are divinizing – a remarkable statement for a western Christian of the day. John Scotus had learned Greek at a monastic school in his native Ireland (then not an available option elsewhere in western Europe) and was familiar with neo-Platonist thought. Perhaps that and his indigenous culture together allowed an understanding that the Word calls us to recognize our own divinity.

Modern Druidry was Universalist before it was Pagan, and retains a willingness to learn from other traditions. I believe that we can use the wider cultural history I’ve identified to inform our sense of what we are invoking when we chant the Awen. This chanting is something which Druid contemplative practitioners share with other Druids. Our unique practice is the ‘Awen space’ that follows the chant. Like other Druids, we do not require people to gather together under the umbrella of a common cosmology. It is OK to have different understandings, and it is OK for us to change and develop our personal understandings over time. That said, I end this piece with a reflection about the broad intentions behind our inherited Celtic spirituality, to provide a cultural context for Awen/Imbhas and where they might fit. It’s from Frank MacEowan (8): “The ancient Celts … were … ever yearning to connect with divine inspiration (imbhas), and ever longing to live a life of beauty imbued with connection and spirit. We are also on this path, and the fulfillment of our collective task as a human community lies in the process of actualizing a deeper communion with these same life-affirming powers. Celtic spirituality is an ongoing initiation into a life of beauty and a mindful preparation for the passage of death. The ancient spirituality of the Celtic peoples has always been a dynamic orientation to the ebb and flow of the seasons, daily practices that foster an awareness of the passage of our lives and of thanatology (a vision and study of our death and dying). This vision is of a life ending in a wondrous death journey to a home we have all been away from. When death is really an experience of going home, what is there to fear?”.

(1) James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: people, practice and potential Amazon/KDP, 2014 (Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm)

(2) Sally Kempton Meditation for the love of it: enjoying your own deepest experience Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2011 (Foreword by Elizabeth Gilbert)

(3) Mark S.G. Dyczkowski The Doctrine of vibration: an analysis of the doctrines and practices of Kashmir Shaivism Delhi, India: Divine Books, 1987

(4)Frank MacEowan The Celtic way of seeing: meditations on the spirit wheel Novato, CA: New World Library, 2007 (Foreword by Tom Cowan)

(5) Jason Kirkey The Salmon in the spring: the ecology of Celtic spirituality San Francisco, CA: Hiraeth Press, 2009 (Foreword by Frank MacEowan)

(6) Holy Bible (authorized version)

(7) The voice of the eagle: John Scotus Eriugena’s homily on the prologue to the gospel of St. John Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2000 ed. (Translated by Christopher Bamford, foreword by Thomas Moore)

(8) Frank MacEowan The mist-filled path: Celtic wisdom for exiles, wanderers and seekers Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002 (Foreword by Tom Cowan)

POEM: WATER AND WAVE

I’m sharing this song of Kabir because I enjoyed it and felt cheered by it.  I liked its devotional and ecstatic note – not my usual one.. I have harmonised it with my way of Sophia by changing a ‘his’ to a ‘her’.

 

 

I have been thinking of the difference

Between water

And the waves on it. Rising,

Water’s still water, falling back,

It is water, will you give me a hint

How to tell them apart?

 

Because someone has made up the word

“Wave”, do I have to distinguish it

From water?

 

There is a Secret One inside us;

The planets in all the galaxies

Pass through her hands like beads.

 

That is a string of beads one should look at with

Luminous eyes.

 

A weaver by trade but a poet-singer by calling, Kabir lived in fifteenth century India. His philosophy incorporated various beliefs of both Muslims and Hindus and later became one of the major influences behind Sikhism. Like Rumi, further to the west and generations earlier, his generously devotional and ecstatic path made him a natural bridge builder between traditions.

Kabir Ecstatic poems Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992 The English translations are free enough for Robert Bly to call them ‘versions by Robert Bly’. Given Bly’s freedom I have changed a ‘his’ to a ‘her’ above to support the poetry of my own gnosis. There is an earlier set of translations published by MacMillan in New York in 1915 by Rabindranath Tagore assisted by Evelyn Underhill under the title Songs of Kabir. Whilst I don’t follow Bly in calling the English of the earlier work “useless”, I do find that Bly’s interpretation has more passion and power. The Bly work includes an insightful afterword Kabir and the transcendental Bly by John Stratton Hawley.

 

KABIR: WATER IN THE HOLY POOLS

There is nothing but water in the holy pools.

I know, I have been swimming in them.

All the gods sculpted of wood and ivory can’t say a word.

I know, I have been crying out to them.

The Sacred Books of the East are nothing but words.

I looked through their covers one day sideways.

What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through.

If you have not lived through something, it is not true.

Kabir Ecstatic poems Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992 (The English translations are free enough for Robert Bly to call them ‘versions by Robert Bly’. There is an earlier set of translations published by MacMillan in New York in 1915 by Rabindranath Tagore assisted by Evelyn Underhill under the title Songs of Kabir. Whilst I don’t follow Bly in calling the English of the earlier work “useless”, I do find that Bly’s interpretation has more passion and power. The Bly work includes an insightful afterword Kabir and the transcendental Bly by John Stratton Hawley).

GROUNDED WISDOM FROM KABIR

I read the songs of Kabir, partly for their power and beauty, partly for their touching humanity and partly to learn something as a contemplative practitioner. The songs themselves, according to John Stratton Hawley, have survived in late manuscripts from different parts of India, modified over time by the region, religion and caste position of their listeners. When it comes to translation, Hawley notes that Robert Bly presents a Kabir who stands for self-reliance (like Emerson), principled disobedience (like Thoreau) “and a set of practices that honors the meeting of mind and body and celebrates the intense emotions that connect them (like Bly himself?)”

So I feel I’m in good company when putting two songs together in a way that makes the second answer the first, in the pursuit of my own inquiry. It’s about this: how do I avoid the trap of working on my small personal narcissism only to embed a larger spiritual narcissism?

Here is the first, scene-setting song.

Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world

I hold to, and keep spinning out!

I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe,

But I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.

So I bought some burlap, but I still

Throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.

I pulled back my sexual longings,

And now discover that I’m angry a lot.

I gave up rage, and now I notice

That I am greedy all day.

I worked hard at dissolving the greed

And now I am proud of myself.

When the mind wants to break its link to the world

It still holds on to one thing.

Kabir says: Listen my friend,

There are very few that find the path.

Here, in the second poem, I find a way through – by not going anywhere. I read the “wanting-creature” below to be bound up in ‘Spiritual’ wanting, rather than the average sensual kind.

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:

What is this river you want to cross?

There are no travellers on the river-road, and no road.

Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?

There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.

There is no tow rope either, and no one to pull it.

There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!

Do you believe that there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?

In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;

There you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,

And stand firm in that which you are.

Kabir Ecstatic poems Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992 (The English translations are free enough for Robert Bly to call them ‘versions by Robert Bly’. There is an earlier set of translations published by MacMillan in New York in 1915 by Rabindranath Tagore assisted by Evelyn Underhill under the title Songs of Kabir. Whilst I don’t follow Bly in calling the English of the earlier work “useless”, I do find that Bly’s interpretation has more passion and power. The Bly work includes an insightful afterword Kabir and the transcendental Bly by John Stratton Hawley).

KABIR & BHAKTI: THE ECSTASY OF DEVOTION

 A weaver by trade but a poet-singer by calling, Kabir lived in fifteenth century India. His philosophy incorporated various beliefs of both Muslims and Hindus and later became one of the major influences behind Sikhism. Like Rumi, further to the west and generations earlier, he followed a devotional and ecstatic path, and like Rumi he was a bridge builder between traditions. The poem below expresses the spirit in his spirituality.

Have you heard the music that no fingers enter into?

Far inside the house

Entangled music – what is the sense of leaving your house?

Suppose you scrub your ethical skin until it shines,

But inside there is no music,

Then what?

Mohammed’s son pores over words, and points out this

And that,

But if his chest is not soaked with love,

Then what?

The Yogi comes along in his famous orange.

But if inside he is colourless, then what?

Kabir says: Every instant that the sun us risen,

If I stand in the temple, or on a balcony,

In the hot fields, or in a walled garden,

My own Lord is making love with me.

Kabir Ecstatic poems Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992 (The English translations are free enough for Robert Bly to call them ‘versions by Robert Bly’. There is an earlier set of translations published by MacMillan in New York in 1915 by Rabindranath Tagore assisted by Evelyn Underhill under the title Songs of Kabir – now republished by in the BiblioBazaar Reproduction Series. Whilst I don’t follow Bly in calling the English of the earlier work “useless”, I do find that Bly’s interpretation has more passion and power. The Bly work includes an insightful afterword Kabir and the transcendental Bly by John Stratton Hawley).

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