Meditation Notes to Poem #55:
For the context of sources for the lines, consult my web pages
On the Number 55 to see how this poem was constructed.
Despite the difference in space and time of the composition of each line, what unites
these writers quoted is the number 55. That is, the writer's words appeared in
verse 55, sonnet 55, chapter 55, line 55, or page 55. This poem is a mosaic from
some 64 poets and philosophers all over the world. The sources date from the
Rig Veda of India (1500 BC), the I Ching of China (1000 BC),
and Plato's Timaeus of Greece (360 BC)
to modern American poets such as Mary Oliver's The Leaf and the Cloud (2000).
Because the number 55 is associated with the Platonic Lambda and the
"Soul of the Universe", an extra effort was made to include philosophical
and poetical passages that are positive in outlook. It is from this
subjective selections of inspired writing that this poem was constructed.
May this poem refresh the reader's spirit to find in the words of Wang Wei
that within us "a lamp is always lit" that surpasses the splendor of the stars.
O Light, forget not my song of praise:
"Light" is the 55th word of Genesis I. King David sings of this light
in Psalms 27.1: "The Lord is my light." and in Psalms 28.7:
"The Lord is my strength and my shield... my heart greatly rejoiceth;
and with my song will I praise him." This sentence is the first line uttered by Mary Magdalene
in Chapter 55 of the
Pistis Sophia (circa 150 A.D.) to Jesus.
I've chosen to begin this poem Meditations on 55 with "O Light forget not my song of praise"
in honor of the Platonic Lambda the Soul of the Universe.
Eroica music, Nightride and Sunrise:
These music pieces are both Opus #55 Beethoven's Eroica Symphony #3 (1803)
and Sibelius's Tone poem Nightride and Sunrise (1908).
Beethoven's Eroica Symphony #3 in E flat, Op. 55 is one of his most famous works.
It was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven had admired the ideals of
the French Revolution embodied in Napoleon, but when he crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804,
Beethoven was apparently so disgusted that he erased Napoleon's name from the title page
with such force that he broke his pen. J.W.N. Sullivan (Beethoven, 1927) sees the Eroica Symphony
as "a transcription of personal experience". In the 1st movement (Allegro con brio)
we find Beethoven's courage in defying fate. In the 2nd movement (Marcia funebre: Adagio assai),
a lapse into despair brought on by his deafness (1797).
In the 3rd movement (Scherzo & Trio: Allegro vivace. Alla breve), he celebrates the emergence out of
depression into a new outburst of creative energy
("From today on I will take a new path": Letter
to Krumpholz, 1802). In the 4th movement (Finale: Allegro molto
Poco andante Presto), the variation form symbolizes the range of achievement now open to his
newly-fired "Promethean" spirit. That Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was composed
(June-October 1803), a year after
his Heiligenstadt Testament
suicide note (Oct. 6, 1802), shows how one can rise spiritually out of despair to revolutionize
symphonic music, uplifted by one's love and devotion to art (More on Beethoven's Eroica Symphony).
Nightride and Sunrise, Opus #55 represents a subjective,
spiritual experience of nature as Sibelius told Rosa Newmarch that "the music is concerned with the
inner experience of an average man riding solitary through the forest gloom; sometimes glad to be
alone with Nature; occasionally awe-stricken by the stillness or the strange sounds which break it;
not filed with undue foreboding, but thankful and rejoicing in the daybreak." According to Karl Ekman,
the music was inspired by the sight of dawn at the Colosseum in Rome, where Sibelius had stayed in 1901.
Sibelius also suggested to Levas that the music was inspired by the sight of the northern lights during
a night-time sleigh journey from Helsinki to Kervo, when 'the whole sky was a boundless sea of colours
that shifted and flowed in the most remarkable display until it all ended in a growing clarity.'
Nightride and Sunrise unfolds in three contrasting parts: a galloping section whose length
and dogged, "minimalist" determination produce one of Sibelius's strangest utterances; a brief
hymnic transition in the strings; and an exquisite Northern sunrise whose first rays emerge in
the horns. The "sunrise motif" of Bb-C-Eb, a major 2nd followed by a minor 3rd, "derived from
the medieval Crux fidelis melody", also symbolises the resurrection of Christ. The solemn hymn
as the sun rises is therefore interpretable as such. (Sunrise Painting by
Sibelius: Ondine Recording;
More on Sibelius Opus #55)
being sincere, communing with the Father:
Father is used here not only as the One in the Trinity, but as the Tao,
the source of everything. Father is a symbol to indicate Absolute Being
the First or unmanifest Logos, the Source of all that is. It is a "thrice
[G.A. Gaskell, Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myths (1960), p. 268].
"Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you."
suggests that God will give you what you ask for in prayer. But if we
understand God = Father = Consciousness, then God is conscious of our
needs even before we pray for it. The Chinese sage,
Chou Tun-yi (1017-1073)
opens his book Penetrating the Book of Changes, Chapter 1 with this insight:
"Sincerity is the foundation of the sage. Great is the
ch'ien [First hexagram
of the I Ching, The Creative], the originator!
All things obtain their beginning from it. It is the source of sincerity.
'The Creative's way is to change and transform so that everything will obtain
its correct nature and destiny.' In this way sincerity is established.
It is pure and perfectly good. Therefore 'the successive movement of yin and yang
constitutes the Tao. What comes for the Tao is good, and that which realizes it
is the individual nature.' Origination and flourish characterize the penetration
of sincerity, and advantage and firmness are its completion. Great is the Change,
the source of nature and destiny."
The nightingale whose beauty is all song:
The nightingale is a bird who sings of love, but it is also a
symbol of the connection between
love and death. Shakespeare cites the nightingale 14 times, notably in Romeo and Juliet,
"Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
/ Believe me, love, it was the nightingale."
In his Ode to a Nightingale (1819), John Keats
wished to fly away to the nightingale
not by the wine of Bacchus or drugs but on the inspired wings of poetry
In The Conference of the Birds, a Sufi fable by Farid ud-Din Attar (d. 1230),
we find "Salutations, O Nightingale of the Garden of Love! Open your melodious throat
and sing of spiritual things. By your songs show men the true Way."
The nightingale as the first bird to speak at the conference:
The amorous Nightingale poured emotion into each of the thousand notes of his song,
and in each was to be found a world of secrets. When he sang of these mysteries the birds
became silent. 'The secrets of love are known to me,' he said. 'All night I repeat my songs
of love... I create a tumult among the roses as well as in the hearts of lovers. Always
I teach new mysteries, at each instant I repeat new songs of sadness. When love overpowers
my soul my singing is as the sighing sea.' (translated by C. S. Nott, Shambhala, Boston, 1993, pp. 9, 14).
the Good is close at hand purity of thought:
The first part of this line is from Pythagoras, Golden Verses #55 (circa 500 B.C.)
"Wretches! they neither see nor understand
that their Good is close at hand."
The second part is from Plato, Philebus 55a (360 B.C.)
"the purest possible activity of thought"
Plato (428-348 B.C.) writes (Republic, VI.505a): "the greatest thing to learn is the idea of the Good
by reference to which just things and all the rest become useful and beneficial." He continues
(Republic, VII.518c): "the soul is able to endure the contemplation of essence and the
brightest region of being is the Good." Plotinus (204-270 A.D.) writes (The Enneads, I.vii.1):
"Existing beyond and above Being, It must be beyond and above Act, Mind, or Intellection.
That only can be named the Good to which all is bound and Itself to none. It must be unmoved
while all circles around It, as a circumference around a centre from which all the radii proceed."
He continues (The Enneads, I.viii.2, II.ix.1): "The Good is beyond beautiful, beyond the Highest,
holding kingly state in that Intellectual Cosmos of which the Principle is wholly unlike what is
known as intelligence in us... This the One and the Good is our First principle,
next to it follows Divine Mind, the Primal Thinker, and upon this follows Soul. Such is the
order in nature." I've combined Pythagoras and Plato in this line because we do not see
"the Good is close at hand" unless we have "purity of thought" (mind without agitations and rambling cravings).
When our mind is clear and still, we may share in Dante's experience: "my vision reached the Infinite Goodness"
and his ensuing cosmic enlightenment.
Live in the sunshine of the Overself
find beauty in nature and in yourself:
These lines are from
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, 1.55 & 6.55 (1988):
look for beauty and seek to come into harmony at all times
in Nature, in art, in the world, and in himself.
"The Overself" was coined by Paul Brunton in his Quest of the Overself (1937)
to represent our higher existence, transcending time and intellect, and above
the movement of thought. It is unbroken self-awareness, absolute, unchanging,
infinite and eternal. (pp. 93-94). Living in the sunshine of the Overself
is being like the sun, free from the clouds of desires and cravings.
good cup of tea, the cat mewed in answer:
This line is from James Joyce, Ulysses, page 55 (1922).
Joyce told a friend that after visiting the British Museum and seeing
many Egyptian statues of cats and dogs, he realized that cats and dogs
are never mentioned in the Old and New Testament. He couldn't become
a Christian since the Bible didn't include these pets. Both tea and cats
are frequently cited in Buddhist and Zen lore. In
Bone of Space (1982),
we find them mentioned in these poems of Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927-2004):
Next, the New Year asks the cat,
"Do you understand the New Year?"
"Meow, meow, meow."
The cat only understands meow New Year. (p. 33)
Silence is better than holiness.
Open the door, run away
The dog east, the cat west. (p. 40)
Now drink a cup of tea better than seeing,
Better than hearing. (p. 41)
Someone asked Joju
What is Buddha?
Go drink tea! (p. 74)
Often during discussions on matters of Zen, when a student gets too
convoluted and intellectual, the Master will say "Have a cup of tea!"
One can't speak when drinking tea, thus the student's thought waves
are quietened. When the mind is still, spiritual awakening occurs.
Reason from heaven enlightens all things:
This line is from Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Chapter 55 (1956)
who quoted from Tcheou Tun-yi (1017-1073), a Neo-Confucian sage.
Paul Brunton (Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, 1941, p. 159) writes:
"Reason is the faculty of correct thinking, which seeks truth and which ensures
that its activity shall start with all the observed facts of actual experience."
Later, Paul Brunton (Wisdom of the Overself, 1943, p. 208) quotes
Emperor Akbar (1542-1605):
"The superiority of man rests on the jewel of reason" saying "when purified
from prejudice and egoism, reason is man's most valuable guide to the adequate
understanding and proper conduct of life." Reason supports philosophical
contemplation that checks upon mystical euphoria for students on the
spiritual path. Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529) said that our mind is
pure principle (li),
so we can trust our own judgment, as long as we are careful to identify and
extinguish selfish thoughts that interfere with our mind's functioning.
In Chinese philosophy, reason is equated to pure principle
Plato (428-348 B.C.) sings of reason (Phadreus, 247d): "Of that place beyond the heavens
none of our earthly poets has yet sung, and none shall sing worthily... It is there that true
being dwells, without color or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul's pilot,
can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof."
Plotinus (204-270) identifies reason with the Divine Intellect (Logos):
"The Divine Intellect, then, in Its unperturbed serenity has brought the universe
into being, by communicating from Its own store to matter; and this gift is the reason-form
flowing from it. For the emanation of the intellectual principle is Reason (or Logos), an emanation
unfailing as long as the intellectual principle continues to have place among beings."
(The Enneads, III.ii.2).
"Reason from heaven" may also be equated to "the Word" in the
Gospel of John, I.1:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Reason is highly valued in Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama champions the modern
findings of science if they contradict ancient scriptures.
('The Universe in a Single Atom': Reason and Faith)
two fountains flow palms and pomegranate:
This source of this line is Mohammed's Koran, Surah 55, Lines 50, 68
The nature of the two fountains are not identified, but in Surah 47.15 there is mention
of the rivers of milk and honey. Palm branches represent triumph and victory and is a
solar symbolism (Revelations, VII.9).
Palm Sunday festival celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In Christian art,
martyrs were usually shown holding palms representing the victory of spirit over flesh.
In Judaism, the palm represents peace and plenty, and is one of the Four Species of Sukkot;
the palm may also symbolize the Tree of Life in Kabbalah. The palm tree was a sacred sign of
Apollo in Ancient Greece because he had been born under one in Delos.
Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol
for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah.
In Exodus, XXVIII.33-34, pomegranate images were
woven onto the borders of Hebrew priestly robes. In I. Kings, VII.18-20,
pomegranates were depicted on the Temple of Solomon built in Jersusalem. The myth of Persephone,
the dark goddess of the Underworld, also prominently features the pomegranate. Hades tricked
Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds while she was his prisoner. Because of this,
she was condemned to spend six months in the Underworld every year. Her mother Demeter mourns
and no longer gives fertility to the earth. This was the Greek's rationale for the seasons.
The pomegranate also evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the
Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering pomegranates. Since pomegranates
are associated with female Greek goddesses, we may consider it a lunar symbolism.
Then we may associate palms and pomegranate with the sun & moon, day & night,
male & female. The two fountains that flow are yin & yang or the two streams
of even doubling and odd tripling numbers issuing from the One of the Platonic Lambda
to create the Soul of the Universe (Plato, Timaeus 35b).
Platonic Lambda soul of the universe:
The Platonic Lambda, the Soul of the Universe,
is the sum of the two series (Timaeus 35b):
Sum of the double interval series (powers of 2) =
20 + 21 + 22 + 23 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 = 15
Sum of the triple interval series (powers of 3) =
30 + 31 + 32 + 33 = 1 + 3 + 9 + 27 = 40
Sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus) = 15 + 40 = 55
Now God did not make the soul after the body, although we are speaking of them in this order;
for having brought them together he would never have allowed that the elder should be ruled by
the younger... First of all, he took away one part of the whole , and then he separated a
second part which was double the first , and then he took away a third part which was half
as much again as the second and three times as much as the first , and then he took a fourth
part which was twice as much as the second , and a fifth part which was three times the third ,
and a sixth part which was eight times the first , and a seventh part which was twenty-seven
times the first . After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and
the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing
them in the intervals.
(Benjamin Jowett's translation of Plato's Timaeus, 35b)
sum of one to ten, Aristotle's spheres
The sum of the first 10 numbers = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 = 55
Aristotle postulated a complex arrangement of 55
with varying differential
speeds, all of them constructed of a transparent crystal of infinite purity and perfection.
(Charles-Albert Reichen, A History of Astronomy, Hawthorn, NY, 1961, p. 15)
Since, then, the spheres involved in the movement of the planets themselves are
eight for Saturn and Jupiter and twenty-five for the others, and of these only those
involved in the movement of the lowest-situated planet need not be counteracted the spheres
which counteract those of the outermost two planets will be six in number, and the spheres
which counteract those of the next four planets will be sixteen; therefore the number of all
the spheres both those which move the planets and those which counteract these
will be 55.
Aristotle, Metaphysics 1074a6 (Bk XII or Book Lambda),
translated by W. D. Ross, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1924
stars Dante scattered in his Commedia
Number of stars (29 stella + 26 stelle) Dante scattered in his Commedia = 55.
(Ernest Hatch Wilkins, Thomas G. Bergin, & Anthony J. De Vito,
A Concordance to the Divine Commedy of Dante Alighieri, 1966)
I have positioned Dante in the 55th line of this 100-lines poem Meditations On 55
because Dante placed his own name in the 55th line of Purgatorio XXX.55:
"Dante, perché Virgilio se ne vada," ("Dante, though Virgil's leaving you")
since Beatrice called out his name that she will be guiding him to Paradise.
(Dante's 55 and the Platonic Lambda)
55 our hands touching in prayer
"The sum total of heavenly numbers and earthly numbers is 55. It is this which completes the changes and transformations
and sets demons and gods in movement."
I Ching, Bk II.9.1-2 (c. 1000 B.C.)
Sum of 5 odd heavenly numbers = 1+3+5+7+9 = 25
Sum of 5 even earthly numbers = 2+4+6+8+10 = 30
Sum of the heavenly & earthly series (I Ching) = 25 + 30 = 55
A sunflower displays 3 consecutive
Fibonacci numbers: 21, 34, 55.
Leonardo of Pisa (1175-1250)
discovered the Fibonacci series that is found in
the Golden Section in nature sea shell shapes, branching plants, flower petal and seeds, leaves
and petal arrangements, on pineapples, artichokes, and sunflowers.
When the sufi (whirling dervish) dances,
he raises his right hand to heaven, and lowers his left hand to earth. This ritual dance brings
the blessings of heaven to earth.
When I came across a 1955 Saar semi-postal stamp showing Dürer's
Praying Hands (1508) in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, it inspired the ending to
my poem Speculations on the Soul.
Prayer is a sacred activity bringing 5 and 5 together.
stars grow faint, crows and magpies fly south:
Since this line is from Poem 55 "Red Cliff" by Su Tung-p'o (1082),
more focus will be given to Chinese symbolisms. In China, the South
is associated with the heart and the male principle. Constellations of the southern quadrant
is presided by the phoenix and the color red. (Gertrude Jobes,
Dictionary of Mythology: Folklore and Symbols, 1962, p. 1478)
In Navajo legends, the crow is the Black God, keeper of all game animals.
In Greece, the crow was sacred to Apollo and Athene. In Rome, the crow's croak
was said to sound like the Latin cras ("tomorrow"), linking it with hope.
In China, the crow stood for filial or family love. In Shintoism, the crow
is a divine messenger. St. Paul the Hermit
(circa 233-345) was fed by a crow who brought him a half loaf of bread daily.
(Jack Tressider, Complete Dictionary of Symbols, 2005, p. 129)
Chinese symbolism of the magpie The "Bird of Joy"; good fortune.
A chattering magpie signifies good news, the arrival of guests.
Under the Manchu dynasty it also represented imperial rule.
(J. C. Cooper, Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, 1978, p. 102)
That crows (filial love) and magpies (joy & good fortune) fly south
(presided by the phoenix), this presages a good future rebirth.
(Magpie in Nature & Myth,
Folklore of crows and magpies)
flying off alone in my soaring, dreaming:
"Flying off alone" is from Gary Snyder's "Raven's Beak River At the End", Line 55 (1988)
and "in my soaring, dreaming" is from Michael McClure's Ghost Tantras, #55.3,10 (1967).
This stanza begins with "This shimmering of wind in the blue leaves" from Denise Levertov's
Oblique Prayers, Poem 55 "Of Being" (1984). For the authority on the nature of Being, we must
turn to the enlightened sage Plotinus (204-270 AD), who ended his
The Enneads, VI.9.11:
When the soul begins again to mount, self-gathered it is no longer in the order of being;
it is in the Supreme... move by virtue towards Intellectual-Principle and through the Wisdom
in That to the Supreme. This is the life of the Gods and the godlike, and blessed among men,
liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth
a flight of the alone to the Alone.
When mind is pure, the universe is pure
When mind is happy, the universe is happy:
Dropping Ashes on the Buddha:
Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn, Ch. 55 (1976).
Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193), the Chinese sage of Elephant Mountain, proclaimed:
The four directions plus upward and downward constitute space.
What has gone by in the past and what is to come in the future constitute time.
The universe is my mind and my mind is the universe. This is similar
to Dante's vision when he saw "within a single volume bounded by love,
I saw the scattered leaves of all the universe" (Paradiso XXXIII.86-87).
One who lives in ego-consciousness full of cravings and a cluttered clouded mind
will not experience a world of happiness when events don't go his way. The sage
who lives in cosmic-consciousness without attachment and a clear mirror-like mind
is always happy, at peace in harmony with the world around him.
One who knows learning will surely love it:
These words are from Essentials of Learning, II.55 (1175) from
Chu Hsi (1130-1200). This
Neo-Confucian sage identified the chief principles of human nature as love,
righteousness, reverence, and wisdom. He wrote exhaustive commentaries on
The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, Analects of Confucius,
and The Works of Mencius. Chu Hsi's
Four Books with his commentaries became
required reading in order to pass the civil service examinations, (started in 1315),
which were the gateway to employment in the Chinese Imperial courts. Chu Hsi's
motto on "investigations of things" led to scientific discipline in the
exploration of nature. Hence, Chu Hsi is considered the "Aristotle of China".
In one of Chu Hsi's treatises on geology, he discovered a seashell on a mountain,
and concluded that the region was under water in prehistoric times.
(Siu-Chi Huang, "Chu Hsi's Ethical Rationalism")
enlightenment is really simple
our doubts & concepts make it difficult:
The original quote is from Master Subramuniya's Reflections, page 55 (1971):
Realization of the Absolute is simple.
Our thoughts and concepts make it seem difficult.
I was lucky to meet Master Subramuniya
(1927-2001) at the home of Professor Edelstein
at Cornell (June 13, 1970). He told me this story of a student who asked him:
"How long will it take for me to be enlightened if I studied with you? Ten years?
Twenty years?" Master Subramuniya told him: "Why put up this barrier of ten or
twenty years. You could be enlightened right now if you put your mind to it."
our treasures the pearl in a seashell,
phoenix in flight, and honeysuckle vines:
Our true treasure is not outward possessions but inward peace. To attain
such tranquillity, our mind need to be balanced with the four elements
water (pearl, seashell), fire (phoenix), air (flight), earth (honeysuckle).
The pearl of great price alludes to Matthew, XIII.45-46 when Christ compared it
to the kingdom of heaven: "Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly
pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth and eternal return.
On flight symbolism see comments above relating to Plotinus in
"flying off alone in my soaring" as well as below relating to Dante's
eagle and Confucius' hawk in "the fog disappears, the hawk soars skyward".
The honeysuckle is a symbol for bonds of love, generosity, and devoted affection.
and Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower (1609) was painted by
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) after his return from Italy when the 32 year old Rubens
married the 18 year old Isabella Brant. Honeysuckle symbolizes faithfulness,
so Rubens and his bride are surrounded by honeysuckle vines.
The moon mirrored by a mind free of all
disturbances, even waves reflect its light:
These lines are from Zen Poetry, Verse 55 of Dogen (1200-1253), the founder of Soto Zen.
For Buddhists, the moon symbolizes peace, serenity, beauty, as well as unity of
the Self. In Song of Enlightenment, Yang Chia sings: "One moon appears
reflected in all waters / Wherein all moons from the One Moon derive." For
Taoist, the moon symbolizes Truth, "the eye that shines in darkness."
(J.C. Cooper, Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, 1978, p. 108).
In James H. Austin's Zen-Brain Reflections (MIT Press, 2006),
Appendix A: Other Links between the Moon and Enlightenment
in the Old Zen Literature (pp. 459-461), we find:
"One moon appears in every pool; / In every pool the one moon."
More poems on the moon signifying Zen enlightenment may be found in
Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen (1985).
A mind free of thoughts (waves) is like a clear mirror
reflecting reality or the moon in the sky unperturbed
by its reflections in the pools even if one stirs
the waters, the waves will still reflect moonlight.
Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927-2004) writes in Ch. 22
"The Moon of Clear Mind": "Clear mind is like the full moon in the sky.
Sometimes clouds come and cover it, but the moon is always behind them.
Clouds go away, then the moon shines brightly. So don't worry about clear
mind: it is always there. When thinking comes, behind it is clear mind.
When thinking goes, there is only clear mind. Thinking comes and goes,
comes and goes. You must not be attached to the coming or the going."
(Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, 1976, pp. 51-52)
the fog disappears, the hawk soars skyward:
Source of this line comes from Tung-fang Shuo's
Ling Ch'i Ching, 55th Trigraph (c. 222-419):
"The leopard, ever changing, hides for years in the fog,
One day the great p'eng bird soars straight up to Heaven."
The p'eng bird is cited at the opening of Chuang Tzu's
Works (circa 300 B.C.)
as a giant bird whose wings span 3000 miles at a height of 90,000 miles.
I've dropped both the p'eng bird and the leopard in the fog images for some inspiration
from Dante's Commedia. While consulting
A Concordance to the Divine Commedy of Dante Alighieri, I noticed that nebbia (fog)
occurs 4 times in the Inferno, 5 times in Purgatorio, with zero citations
in Paradiso. When the mind is clear unclouded and at peace, we experience paradise.
Conversely, we find more light (luce, lume, lome) in Dante's Commedia as we
progress from Inferno (11), to Purgatorio (38), to Paradiso (134).
Likewise the eagle (aquila, aguglia) appears more often on Dante's ascent
from Inferno (2), to Purgatorio (4), to Paradiso (6). Since Beatrice
and the eagle can stare at the sun (Paradiso, I.48), Dante must clear his
mind of all doubts (fog) to experience the celestial vision. The eagle or hawk flying
skyward symbolizes our mind's transcendence to heaven. Confucius writes about this in
Doctrine of the Mean XII.3 (circa 500 B.C.): "It is said in the Book of Poetry,
'the hawk flies up to heaven; the fishes leap in the deep.' This expresses how this
Tao is seen above and below." After this poem was written, I found on page 55
of William Carlos Williams' Paterson (1958) these lines: "beyond which, a hawk soars!"
and "the imagination soars". These images from Williams' last work lend further
support that when our mind is clear without clutter, our imagination soars skyward like a hawk.
Lament not the descent of the sunset
for within you a lamp is always lit:
These lines are from The Poetry of Wang Wei, Poem 55 (c. 750 A.D.)
They need not lament the descent of the sun:
Within themselves a lamp is always alight.
Wang Wei (701-761) was a Tang Dynasty Chinese poet,
musician, painter and statesman. He spent ten years studying with the Zen master Daoguang. Since
Wang Wei was a Buddhist, he surely must have known Buddha's
dying words to his disciples
"Be the lamp unto yourself." This advice is for spiritual aspirants to find enlightenment
within oneself through meditation and not to rely so much on others such as gurus or books.
Was Wang Wei aware that the earth was round, that when the sun sets in the East, it is rising
in the West. The real sun is always shining, the illusion of sunrise and sunset is due to the
earth's rotation. Thus when there is sunset in
San Francisco (7:10 pm, 9/19/2006),
there is sunrise on the other side of the globe in
Moscow (7:10 am, 9/20/2006).
The lamp that is alway lit may also refer to the Divine Eye in us alluded by Christ
"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light."
Plato also mentions it
"there is in every soul an organ or instrument of knowledge
that is purified and kindled afresh by philosophic studies when it has been destroyed and blinded by our ordinary
pursuits, a faculty whose preservation outweighs ten thousand eyes, for by it alone is reality beheld."
If you've not experienced yet this ever-lit lamp within, ask yourself what is lighting up your
dream world when your eyes are closed in sleep?
I'm sailing on the void, riding the wind
sprouting wings, realizing the eternal:
These lines are from Su Tung-p'o Selected Poems #55, "Red Cliff" (1082):
I felt a boundless exhilaration, as though I were sailing on the void
or riding the wind and didn't know where to stop. I was filled with a lightness,
as though I had left the world and were standing alone,
or had sprouted wings and were flying up to join the immortals.
In my first version of this poem, I had "sprouting wings to join the immortals" following
Su Tung-p'o (1036-1101), the greatest poet of the Sung dynasty.
Though a Confucian scholar, he was also learned in Taoism and Buddhism (Zen story).
Lin Yutang wrote a biography of him in
The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (1947).
One of my favorite stories of Su Tung-p'o is how he sold a ghost in the marketplace, a sign of
his humor and ingenuity. There are Eight Immortals
in Chinese mythology. They have supernatural powers and are worshipped as gods. Am I enlightened enough
to join them? In my first version, I was saying "Why not?" Then I recalled the story of Pythagoras
when his students wondered why he was not one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece residing at the Temple of Delphi.
Pythagoras replied, "I am not wise, but a lover of wisdom." thus coining the word "philosopher"
(philo = lover, sophia = wisdom). In that same spirit of humility, I'm not
"joining the immortals", but "realizing the eternal" that is within all of us. Besides,
Plato says "the soul is not born and does not die" (Phaedrus, 246a) and that
"the soul of the philosopher alone should recover her wings" (Phaedrus, 249c).
When the wave in the ocean rises and falls, it is mortal in its birth and death.
But when the wave realizes that its essence is water, unborn and undying, it is
enlightened to its true nature. Then it knows that it is immortal, and need not
join the Kingdom of Water. Hence, the next line of this stanza:
Smile! rise and rise again Life refreshed
Yes Yes Yes:
This appears in Allen Ginsberg's Poem 55 "Variations on Ma Rainey's See See Rider"
of his last book Death & Fame (1999). Lines 12-13: "see what I want today / yes yes yes".
It also appears
in the last line of
Molly Bloom's inner monologue that ends
James Joyce's Ulysses (1922):
"and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."
Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes is
a book by Nola Tully (Vintage 2004) subtitled "A Celebration of James Joyce, Ulysses, and 100 Years
of Bloomsday". On the fictional morning of June 16, 1904 Bloomsday, as it has come to be known
Mr. Leopold Bloom set out from his home at 7 Eccles Street and began his day's journey through Dublin
life in the pages of James Joyce's novel Ulysses. This
book commemorates the 100th anniversary
of Bloomsday. James Joyce wanted to end his novel Ulysses on "the most positive word in the English
language". These three positive words come after Allen Ginsberg's "see what I want today" "yes yes yes"
in his Poem 55 of Death & Fame. I've chosen them to end this poem "O Light Forget Not My Song"
in the same spirit on this Meditation on 55 a song of praise to the Soul of the Universe.