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Poetry in religious writing

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran
edited August 2020 in Arts & Writings

This quote in the quotes thread put me in mind of this...

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud
A flickering lamp - a phantom - and a dream.

I find it beautiful, a particularly inspiring piece of writing that engages me to search for deeper meanings. When I come across writing like that, it’s like scenting the dew of an early morning which invites you to walk in the forest.

In a way poetry is like the finger pointing to the moon, it is not a direct attempt to describe but it carries something of the smell, the taste of it. The words are a hint or a teaching, but the poetic quality is what enchants the heart.

I’ve been reading The Flight of the Garuda by Shabkar, it is a kind of Dzogchen instruction in the form of a series of songs. Sadly not much of the poetry of the songs survived the translation process from the Tibetan original, but a little flavour is still there.

Do you feel that poetry is a help or a hindrance in spiritual writings? Favourite spiritual poems?



  • @Kerome said:
    Do you feel that poetry is a help or a hindrance in spiritual writings? Favourite spiritual poems?

    On the whole I feel it is a great help. Precisely because of the layered meaning expression. I do not value Theravada sutra very highly because it tends towards precision. So I prefer Mahayana texts.

    The quote you mention is an excellent example of multiple meanings.

    My favourite spiritual poems are The Prophet and Tao Te Ching.

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Abou Ben Adhem

    Brings a lump to my throat, every damn time..

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    One that struck a chord with this stanza monks say at funerals ...

    "Transient alas! are all component things,
    Subject are they to birth-and then decay;
    Having gained birth to death the life-flux swings;
    Bliss truly dawns when unrest dies away"

    It's like a mini version of the heart sutra...

  • Beautiful and moving poetry in religious expression predates the texts of early India, and Egypt. It predates all written records. It is an inherent part of our species. It has helped us to grow and to strive.
    Just so:
    All life is the source of all life.
    All that was
    All that is
    All that will be
    All life is in this moment

    Not great epic poetry. But then, I am not and epic poet. ;)<3
    Please enjoy what you have and enjoy what you have not.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    Poetry has the ability to move us, to speak to the heart and emotions, to call these things forth in us where ordinary prose feels dry and unimaginative. I have always very much enjoyed spiritual poetry, like Hakim Sanai or Seng’can.

    Whether it is more true than the prose is certainly a question, it is like it has a different dimension than just the factual.

  • @Lionduck said:
    All life is the source of all life.
    All that was
    All that is
    All that will be
    All life is in this moment

    Not great epic poetry. But then, I am not and epic poet. ;)<3
    Please enjoy what you have and enjoy what you have not.

    Must say I read the signs that say performance cancelled ...
    I am a great believer in life as a poem or other performance art.

    Drop the mike Y

    Look for The Shine
    become what Art Thou
    Sea the brine
    Water The Ocean

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    Poetry is a special language. It helps us to express that which is difficult to express in precise, technical language, such as emotions, a sense of wonder, or deeply spiritual truths that transcend the limits of language. Poetry can convey much, and it is often used in spiritual texts for just that reason. The Bible is full of poetic language, as are the suttas, Rumi, etc. I'm not personally a huge fan of poetry, but I have read some that really speak to me, and I think that it's an excellent medium for spiritual writing even if it doesn't always resonate with me. Here's one that I like:

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver

    And something more personal:

    I'm searching for something.
    Something inside of myself solid yet ephemeral,
    beyond this world yet imminent within every nook and cranny.
    A contradiction.
    An impossibility that I believe in my heart to be true.
    Something deep in the heart of all phenomena that contains within it the seed of all there is.
    Love. Life. Magic. Happiness.
    Something with substance underlying the seemingly chaotic waves of change and inconstancy that rule our lives.
    A refuge within the storm of conditionality.
    A safe haven.
    A true moment.
    Meaning. Awakening. God.
    The names we give may fall short; but it sings to me.

  • DimmesdaleDimmesdale Illinois Explorer

    I think that poetry as well as music have the ability to transport the person into other realms of thought and feeling, and that this may catalyze a lot of latent desires that we otherwise would not be aware of. This may feed our desire for ever-increasing experiences of things like bliss and other forms of experience.

    So in short, I think it could go both ways. You may become inspired to experience Reality more deeply, hence more spiritually I would say. OR it could have the opposite effect of you becoming addicted to lower-grade experiences, and staying at that level.

    Everyone is different, and the various types of poetry all prove that. I am not saying there are inherently "bad" forms of poetry, but as with all things, they may be abused or taken in the wrong way, I think. Or exalted. Like I said, depends....

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