contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Rainer Maria Rilke

‘RESTING IN GOD’

Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) explores a Christian term in his The Art of Living (1). He says: “In Christianity there is the phrase, ‘resting in God’. When we let go of all seeking and striving, it is as if we are resting in God. We establish ourselves firmly in the present moment; we dwell in the ultimate; we rest in our cosmic body. Dwelling in the ultimate doesn’t require faith or belief. A wave doesn’t need to believe it is water. The wave is already water in the very here and now.

“To me, God is not outside us or outside reality. God is inside. God is not an external entity for us to seek, for us to believe in or not believe in. God, Nirvana, the ultimate, is inherent in every one of us. The Kingdom of God is available in every moment. The question is whether we are available to it. With mindfulness, concentration and insight, touching nirvana, touching our cosmic body or the Kingdom of God, becomes possible with every breath and every step.”

I tend not to use theistic language myself. But I do recognize and understand it, and I also see its value in building bridges between traditions. Thay has an interest in Buddhist Christian dialogue that goes back to the time of his friendship with Rev. Martin Luther King in the 1960’s, after Thay was forced to leave his native Vietnam. He has subsequently written Living Buddha, Living Christ (2).

We can find these bridgebuilding efforts echoed on the Christian side – for example by Father Jean-Yves Leloup, an Orthodox priest, and student of Christian Gnostic gospels, including that of St. Thomas (3). He has also engaged in Christian-Buddhist dialogue with the Dalai Lama (4). We find here a note that has parallels, without being identical, to that of Thich Nhat Hanh.

“His disciples said to him:

When will the dead be at rest?

When will the new world come?

He answered them: what you are waiting for has already come,

But you do not see it.” Logion 51, Gospel of St. Thomas.

“What we have been waiting for, the peace and fullness we yearn for, is already here. … Eternal life is in the very heart of this life. It is the uncreated dimension of our present life, which cannot die. To look for it elsewhere is to depart from it.” Later (Logion 61) Yeshua (Jesus) is translated as saying, ‘I come from the One who is Openness’, and Leloup comments: “Rilke once said Openness is the least blasphemous name for God. It is the name that is least defining and qualifying. Openness is the infinite space within the very heart of space, containing all and contained by nothing.” In Openness, “the body is open to the energies of the cosmos, the heart is open to a deep compassion, and the mind is as clear as a mirror, serenely reflecting the multitude of appearances.”

(1) Thich Nhat Hanh The art of living London: Rider, 2017

(2) Thich Nhat Hanh Living Buddha, Living Christ London: Rider, 2012 (Foreword by David Steindl-Rast; introduction by Elaine Pagels)

(3) Jean-Yves Leloup The gospel of Thomas: the gnostic wisdom of Jesus Rochester, VA: Inner Traditions, 2005 (English translation and notes by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman)

(4) Jean-Yves Leloup Compassion and meditation: the spiritual dynamic between Buddhism and Christianity Rochester, VA: Inner Traditions, 2009 (Translated by Joseph Rowe. Dedications to Father Seraphim at Mount Athos and to the Dalai Lama, Ocean of Comapssion)

POEM: GRAVITY’S LAW

 

How surely gravity’s law

Strong as an ocean current,

Takes hold of even the strongest thing

And pulls it toward the heart of the world.

 

Each thing – each stone, blossom, child – is held in place.

Only we, in our arrogance,

Push out beyond what we belong to

For some empty freedom.

 

If we surrendered to Earth’s intelligence

We could rise up, rooted, like trees …

This is what the things can teach us: to fall,

Patiently to trust our heaviness.

Even a bird has to do that

Before he can fly.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God New York: Riverhead, 1996 (Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

THE FEELING OF TASTE

Juicy apple, pear and banana,

Gooseberry … They all speak of

Death and life in the mouth … I have a presentiment …

Read it from a child’s expression

If she savours them. It comes from far, from far …

Aren’t you slowly becoming aware of something inexpressible in your mouth?

Where a moment ago there were words, a flowing discovery

Is released, startling, from the fruit’s flesh.

Venture to say what your apple is called.

This sweetness, which originally condensed itself,

Spreading out, slowly in being tasted rose up

To achieve a clarity, awake and of transparency,

Resonant of opposites, sunny, earthy, of the here and now – :

Oh the experience of it, the feeling, the joy -, immense!

From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, translated by Robert Temple

ORPHEUS, HERMES, EURYDICE, DEATH

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his poem “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.” in 1904. It broke new ground in shifting the focus from Orpheus to Eurydice. The English translation below is by Stephen Mitchell.

That was the deep uncanny mine of souls.

Like veins of silver ore, they silently

moved through its massive darkness. Blood welled up

among the roots, on its way to the world of men,

and in the dark it looked as hard as stone.

Nothing else was red.

There were cliffs there,

and forests made of mist. There were bridges

spanning the void, and that great blind lake

which hung above its distant bottom

like the sky on a rainy day above a landscape.

And through the gentle, unresisting meadows

one pale path unrolled like a strip of cotton.

Down this path they were coming.

In front, the slender man in the blue cloak –

mute, impatient, looking straight ahead.

In large, greedy, unchewed bites his walk

devoured the path; his hands hung at his sides,

tight and heavy, out of the failing folds,

no longer conscious of the delicate lyre

which had grown into his left arm, like a slip

of roses grafted on to an olive tree.

His senses felt as though they were split in two:

his sight would race ahead of him like a dog,

stop, come back, then rushing off again

would stand, impatient, at the path’s next turn, –

but his hearing, like an odor, stayed behind.

Sometimes it seemed to him as though it reached

back to the footsteps of those other two

who were to follow him, up the long path home.

But then, once more, it was just his own steps’ echo,

or the wind inside his cloak, that made the sound.

He said to himself, they had to be behind him;

said it aloud and heard it fade away.

They had to be behind them, but their steps

were ominously soft. If only he could

turn around, just once (but looking back

would ruin this entire work, so near

completion), then could not fail to see them,

those other two, who followed him so softly:

The god of speed and distant messages,

a traveller’s hood above his shining eyes,

his slender staff held out in front of him,

and little wings fluttering at his ankles;

and on his left arm, barely touching it: she.

A woman so loved that from one lyre there came

more lament than from all lamenting women;

that a whole world of lament arose, in which

all nature reappeared: forest and valley,

road and valleys, field and stream and animal;

and that around this lament-world, even as

around the other earth, a sun revolved

and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-

heaven, with its own disfigured stars -:

So greatly was she loved.

But now she walked beside the graceful god,

her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,

uncertain, gentle and without impatience.

She was deep within herself, like a woman heavy

with child, and did not see the man in front

or the path ascending steeply into life.

Deep within herself. Being dead

filled her beyond fulfilment. Like a fruit

suffused with its own mystery and sweetness,

she was filled with her own vast death, which was so new,

she could not understand that it had happened.

She had come into a new virginity

and was untouchable; her sex had closed

like a young flower at nightfall, and her hands

had grown so unused to marriage that the god’s

infinitely gentle touch of guidance

hurt her, like an undesired kiss.

She was no longer that woman with blue eyes

who had once echoed through the poet’s songs,

no longer the wide couch’s scent and island,

and that man’s property no longer.

She was already loosened like long hair,

poured out like fallen rain,

shared like a limitless supply.

She was already root.

And when, abruptly,

the god put out his hand to stop her, saying,

with sorrow in his voice: He has turned around – ,

she could not understand, and softly answered,

Who?

Far away,

dark before the shining exit-gates,

someone or other stood, whose features were

unrecognizable. He stood and saw

how, on the strip of road among the meadows,

with a mournful look, the god of messages

silently turned to follow the small figure

already walking back along the path,

her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,

uncertain, gentle and without impatience.

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