Monday, April 29, 2013

Kuan Yin's Gentle Rain

“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.”

This eloquent description of mercy’s virtue, expressed by Shakespeare through his wise young character Portia, could also be said of Kuan Yin. Kuan Yin, the elegant goddess of love, mercy and compassion, is the most popular and widely-worshipped of all Eastern deities. She is sometimes thought of as a bodhisattva: a being who denies herself the opportunity to enter heaven in order to remain in the world and give help and guidance to mortals. 

Kuan Yin embodies loving compassion, and is the support, guide and protector of all living beings. Her name, which means ‘She who sees sounds’, can be interpreted as ‘She who sees the prayers and cries from the hearts of all people as visible images, and gives them her aid and consolation’. When we open our hearts to her, we feel this ‘gentle rain’ of the goddess: a deep and profound understanding of all our sorrows which goes beyond mere language to describe it. We use such terms as ‘compassion’, ‘love’ and ‘mercy’. But these are only words. These qualities well forth from the goddess in an intermingled whole, inseparable from each other. Kuan Yin sees our sufferings, experiences them herself, and bears them all gladly for our sakes. 

Kuan Yin is the creatrix, the friend in need and negotiator with fate. She is the great goddess of life itself, and even goes beyond all boundaries of religion. Statues of her may be found on almost every Taoist holy mountain, and in almost every Buddhist temple. She is honoured in Shinto, and even within Christianity her identity and what she stands for is widely known. She is petitioned by those women who wish to conceive, and her aid is sought in times of illness and adversity. 

Kuan Yin helps us with the relinquishing of our control over situations, allows suppressed emotions to surface, brings tolerance and empathy, and supports us in the development and experiencing of our softer, more feminine side. She is the patroness of women, and children newly come into the world. Kuan Yin brings the strength of mercy, love, forgiveness and healing to our world. Her colours are white and lavender, and her flower is the five-petalled lotus. For our sakes she remains among us, always ready to take our burdens upon herself, and to give her own virtues to us in return.

But even more than this: it is Kuan Yin’s presence which invites us to become as she is, that we ourselves reflect her being in our own behaviour, both towards others and towards ourselves. Her example is a reminder that the goddess is really us, and that transformation is always possible.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spirit of the Valley

Spirit of the Valley

The valley spirit never dies 
Call it the mystery, the woman. 
The mystery, the Door of the Woman, 
is the root of earth and heaven. 
Forever this endures, forever. 
And all its uses are easy.

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 6 
translated by Ursula K. Le Guin 


There are over thirty translations by various writers in English alone of these beautiful and elusive lines from the Tao Te Ching, all of them offering something different, like a slowly-turning crystal which constantly reflects the light from its many facets. But the light itself which the crystal reflects remains unchanged. The Tao is the light, and the way in which we perceive the Tao is the turning crystal.

Of all beliefs, Tao has been described as the most feminine. If it can be said to have a 'message', then that message urges us simply to let things flow, to offer no resistance. From resistance comes struggle and conflict, both in ourselves and in the world through which we move, because we ourselves project those inner feelings into our outer world. It is described as the Spirit of the Valley, because all things naturally flow to the valley. It is also described as a vessel that can never be emptied and never becomes over-full. No matter how much we drink from it, the vessel is inexhaustible. Greater than this: the more we sustain ourselves from it, the more it gives to us. 

The Spirit of the Valley is a young woman, because a young woman's innocence and purity speaks to our own lost innocence, and reminds us that the pain and separation of a lost Eden is itself an illusion, because only in the outer world of forms is Eden ever lost. In the Valley there is nothing to heal, because nothing was ever damaged. In the Valley, all remains whole and unblemished.

But the Spirit is also the Great Mother, wise beyond words, and always ready to advise. We need only make ourselves receptive to her words. As the Tao describes, it is this door of the woman which is 'easy' to open because the more difficult we imagine it is to open, the more difficult we make it to access what in reality costs no effort. And it is the root of earth and of heaven because at the root lies the source of all things: the eternal and eternally-giving Spirit of the Valley. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Lovers

The Lovers

This silence is not the silence
of the vast space between the stars.
Neither is it the silence
of the dim grey light before the dawn.
This is the greater silence of lovers
that has no need of words.
A wide cloth, spread between two
as easily covering as removed:
a white membrane –
both birth-sack and winding-cloth
for past selves left far behind:
forever changed by these infinities
of transformation, gold and white
uniting in an alchemical wedding.
White queen, red king,
and all the world their court.
Glistening, new-formed:
these are no masks they wear
but their true selves
with all else burned away
in the white fire
of love’s simple existence.
For love has no need of masks
and acceptance is all
and everything.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Closer Than Our Breath

Closer Than Our Breath

Are we seekers looking for love, happiness, peace or truth?
Know that all that we seek already exists
Here, in our hearts of hearts.
Let the seeking stop – let us be still,
Let us enter the realm of Silence and realize
True fulfillment and perfect oneness.

By seeking we are only affirming lack
And creating a wall thwarting vision.
Let's stop the search
Let’s call it off and let it go,
And instead, look with the fresh eyes of a new born,
To see without layers of thought, as clear as sunlight,
To see with an open heart as vast as the summer sky,
So we may know that the truth of birth and death
Is closer than our breath

We have sculpted what we wish for into objects,
Things to attain, realize, grasp, and make our own.
In doing so our search is no longer true, our compass awry,
Blind to the truth of who we are.
And who we are is pure awareness itself,
The very source of peace, love, bliss and truth.
We do not need to become, evolve or transform into something else,
But simply to be in our truest essence,
To uncover what is already here,
And if we believe otherwise let us then awaken
From our fitful dreams.

Formless, pure awareness cannot be defined,
Whatever definition or label one may place upon it can never be true.
It cannot be touched
By anything manifested in form, thought or feeling.
It is infinitely pure, infinitely free,
Unbound by space and time,
Self-knowing, self-illuminating, bliss itself.
Without it nothing can be created  
It is the Source, 
The Mother of All.

Yet it is not its creation, but creation is within it
For all exists within pure awareness,
Arising and dissolving within her bosom.
Follow its thread and we’ll discover that
It Is closer than our breath.

Picture by Noell Oszvald

Sunday, April 7, 2013


The black water beckoned. The current here was barely noticeable, and therefore especially dangerous. Only the inhabitants of the district knew the secrets of the river that for generations surrounded the area around the mill and the nearby valley with her silver inconstancy. For a stranger she hid her secrets like a coquettish young mistress. And so she wound her way with soft nibbling movements around the ankles of the innocent admirer who allowed himself to be completely taken in by her carresses, and like the young man tasting fresh love, surrendered to her intoxicating spell.

But as soon as the wild winds of autumn sheered over her waters the river revealed another darker face. Then she cried out and blew her foam-topped waves upwards to the overhanging branches, sighing to grasp what she could not possess. She let her depths seethe and became as dark as the night. The innocent passer-by of summer no longer dared to approach her, and the skimming water beetles disappeared hastily into her darker undercurrents. She raged and stormed like a rejected woman, dragging everything along with her that in her wild anger she could grab hold of. She tore at the banks, shook with her hips until the young trees relented; let the mud from her underbelly swamp the boats of the playing children. She laughed and howled when a child clutched crying to the thin rope of the fragile craft. Then she tugged until the rope was forced loose... and dragging her prey to her secret place deep beneath the surface, carelessly tossed the rope back into the boat as a vain woman tosses her long hair behind her, as the last air bubble on her surface burst like a twig in a fire. Her bosom would rise and fall, rise and fall, with the wild need to destroy.

Until the winds died and the iron cold of winter forced her to silence with its smooth tongue of sleet, covering her body from the depths to the surface under a layer of ice, freezing every movement. Then she surrendered, allowing herself to be walked over. Sharp blades etched lines into her unfathomable soul. Now that the winter freed them from their fears, the villagers illuminated the sails of the windmill and the trees along her naked banks with lanterns. Wooden huts were set up on her ice where tired skaters, huddled over wood fires in braziers, could warm themselves with hot soup.

Sometimes she fought back. Then, just a little, she melted and opened her watery eye. But the people knew her ways too well. They did not allow themselves to be bewitched, but skated instead in a great arc around the gaping hole which had formed. Then she sputtered and spat. But her powers diminished, and instead her sputterings became something rather pathetic. And so with shrunken pride she closed her eye once more.

While she lay imprisoned in her own currents, the river waited confidently for the coming spring. The winter, she knew, would always lose its cold and silent grip over her. She had time. And once the ice had melted and she had regained her natural beauty, then saplings that lined her banks would see her fairness, give her a new sheen, and then she carried out her victory rite. She would sing once more, and let the mill wheels turn at full tilt. She would allow herself to be decorated with water lilies, and her water beetles would smooth the long tangles from her silver hair, and comb the dead branches and drifting boats out of her locks. The tears for those who had been lost would cleanse her banks, and she would flow, her bosom rising and falling, and her hips again would lure the stranger who would lie in her bed. Her dark undercurrents she would keep hidden until the moment when she once more needed to appease her hunger. And the valley dwellers feared that moment. Each year they braced themselves, and each year anew the river extracted her price, and they were not spared. Then there was talk about shutting down the mill and leaving the valley for good. But no-one took the first step, and they dare not look each other in the eye. Instead they gazed towards the dark water where the undercurrent was the strongest, the most invisible, and shook their heads with heavy hearts. Not only did she enchant the unsuspecting stranger. Nobody escaped her allure. 

She gave life and she took it. And so they feared her. But stronger than fear was their love, and as uncontrollable. So they stayed and paid the price, for she flowed as blood through their veins.

Artwork: Water Goddess by Greg Spalenka

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mary Magdalene

These days
the handful of silent stars
to which she projects herself
is more than enough.

There was a time
when she aimed for the sun
and love set all alight.
But now her sun is the pain 
that goes on beating down.
Her heart finds no shade
and all is night.

Only for the pale and distant stars
does she now cast a shadow
but even her star-cast shadow mourns:
the sun stops the perfect completion
for which she yearns
here in this place
beneath the silent stars.

But here…
where sky and sea
and stars and alien shore
enfold her in their sanctuary
and winds of grace
dry up the muddy pools once more…

where passing clouds
shut out the face of night
her tearful footprints
mirror boundless light.

Imagined portrait of Mary Magdalene painted by David Bergen.