Saturday, March 11, 2017

Introduction to the Tradition of Mystical Love Poetry

How can I say it more simply?
Through a poem, a song, a gaze,
through the yeast-dust on a blueberry?
Through the closed green lids
of a slumbering bean?
How can I say it more simply?
Through the silence between words,
between this breath and the next,
from the place where breath begins?
"I invite you, I invite you, I invite you
to the summer of your heart."


The poet Shelley wrote: “Every original language near to its source is the chaos of a cyclic poem… A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one.” Ancient cultures recognized that the mystery of creation is the mystery of “original language.” So John’s Gospel declares, “In the beginning was the Word.” And India’s Mandukya Upanishad says, “All that ever was, is, or will be is created through a single syllable, Om.”

The poems in this volume reflect this ancient science of mantra. “Mannas” is the Sanskrit root of the English “mind,” and “tra” is the root of the English suffix, “tron,” meaning vehicle - as in "electron," a vehicle for an electrical charge. A mantra is a vehicle to carry the mind back to the source of creation, divine silence. Here in the heart, love awakens. 

Many of these poems also reflect the tradition of the mystical marriage. Poets of Eastern and Western religions understood the intimate play of soul and spirit as the whispering of Lover and Beloved. They created a common poetic iconography, a love-language both sensuous and mystical, which we find in Sufi poets like Hafiz, Hindu poets like Mirabai, the Biblical Song of Songs, the Medieval troubadours, and the parables of Jesus.

 The mystical poetry of all spiritual traditions shares a common language and purpose. The same thread runs through the Biblical Song of Songs and parables of Jesus; the Medieval troubadours and Christian mystics like Mechtilde of Magdeberg or St. Theresa of Avila; Rabia, Rumi, Hafiz, the Sufi poets of Islam; wandering poet-saints of India such as Mirabai and Laladev. Their purpose is not just to entertain but to rebel against external hierarchies of religious power, re-open the gates of the Heart, and restore our birthright of inner radiance.

I dare not criticize scholars more erudite than I, but it is wrong to use the word 'erotic' to describe mystical love poetry, as some of them do. Rumi uses 'wine' to represent a divine inebriation that has nothing to do with alcohol. In the same way, such poets use images of sexual love to describe what the senses can never grasp. 'Eros', from the Greek, refers to passion for an object. But divine love is passion for the subject, the eternal Self.

Thus Jesus uses another word for love, 'agape,' different from either 'eros' (erotic love) or 'philios' (family love).

The poems of Jnaneswar, Jayadev, Mirabai, Lala, Rumi, Hafiz, Rabia, St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila are not erotic. They are beads of 'agape,' threaded on one golden string of symbolic language across the centuries and continents.

The purpose of erotic literature is to arouse sensuality in the lower chakras; the purpose of mystical love poetry is to awaken the heart, a more refined and evolved energy. Mystical love poetry cultivates inwardness; erotic poetry cultivates outwardness. Eros engenders sensuality; mystical love engenders the delicate relationship of awareness with its Source, unveiling the nakedness of the Beloved beyond touch, fragrance and sound. For we only know the Beloved through a transcendental fire, not a fire that burns, but a flame that centers the soul.

Please do not let any scholar diminish the dignity of this holy tradition by telling you that the poetry of mystical love is merely 'erotic,' when it transcends the erotic as the moon transcends its reflection in a still forest pool.
* * * *

Mystical poetry invites not only the mind but the nervous system, at the finest level of feeling, to reconnect broken circuits linking the cerebral cortex to the cardiac plexus. For neuro-cardiologists now know that the heart contains neurons and neuro-peptide transmitters as complex as the brain. The heart is not just a pump, but a neural center of immense emotional intelligence.

This neurological path from mind to heart is broken by fear-based dogmatic religion. Religions that sustain their control through fear and punishment keep human physiology in a constant fight-or-flight reaction. This constant stress prevents our subtle physiology from developing the neural pathways that conduct divine light up the spine, through the heart, into the crown of the head, and down again, in a circuit of rejuvenation. The power is very real, not imagined. It is a subtle nerve current that inebriates us like wine: not with mind-dulling alcohol, but with the ecstatic clarity of God's love.

This divine energy, circulating between the brain and the heart, is called prana shakti  in India's Vedic tradition, chi in  Chinese Taoism, and Holy Spirit in Christianity. The prana flows up through the spine, opening the centers of spiritual experience called chakras: energy-wheels.

This infusion of spiritual energy into the body, and the blossoming of the chakras, is the true meaning of resurrection. Jesus spoke of this transformation in the ajna chakra, the Third Eye in the forehead,  when he said, "The Eye is the light of the body. If that eye is whole, your whole body will be filled with light" (Luke 11:34). But religious dogmatism and the threat of punishment, taught in Jesus' name, prevented the resurrection of our bodies and the second coming of the Christ-Consciousness in our physiology.
* * * *

In mystical poetry, the process of infusing the body with spiritual light, uniting the human individual to God, is imaged and imagined by a universal set of symbols that are remarkably consistent, whether we read the poetry of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or Islam. We can present the key symbols of this mystical vocabulary in a simple list:
* The garden
* Wilderness
* Tree and fruit
* Bridegroom and Bride
* Mystical Marriage and Wedding Feast
* Kiss
* Wine cup and Wine
* Inebriation and Bewilderment
* Tavern (Sometimes the meeting place is a tavern rather than a garden, when the soul and God are imaged as drinking partners and good friends, rather than bride and groom.)

GARDEN: The physiology of spiritual transformation is often depicted as a Garden. This garden is essential to the mystic love poetry of all traditions, East and West. The Tree of Life in the center of this garden grows from the heart. Our primary nourishment was not intended to come from the brain but from the heart. That other tree, the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, bears the fruit of opposites, duality. It is the brain-stem, branching up into the cerebral cortex. We are permitted to witness dualistic thinking, but not to grasp its fruit, lest we fall into a world of conflict created by our own minds. Dualistic thinking, in terms of 'I am right and you are wrong,' is the fruit of this tree, spreading the poison of sectarian conflict. Our true roots are in the heart, not the mind. So the brain-stem must be planted downward, through the spine, in the space of the heart.

The rebel poets invite us to leave the Tree of the Knowledge, and our addiction to dualistic thinking, nourishing ourselves instead from the living Tree in the Garden of the Heart. The heart is a wild place! That means, it is full of natural affections which can be intuitively trusted, rather than the priestly regulations of religious dogma. Here, Lover and Beloved, God and the soul, transcend logic and drink the wine of bewilderment.

Every religious tradition describes this wild Garden in the Heart, the neural center of our original innocence, where unity outshines duality. In the Bible, the Heart is Eden. It is also the garden of mystical marriage in the Song of Songs and in Jesus' parables, where the Bridegroom meets the Bride. This is also the garden of the Resurrection, where Mary Magdalene met Jesus after the resurrection.

This garden is also Vrindavan in Indian poetry, where Radha meets Krishna to dance the Rhasa dance of longing and union. And we cannot forget the wild garden of the Islamic mystics, found in the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyim and in the poems of Rumi: "Out beyond all ideas of right and wrong, there is a field: will you meet me there?"

WILDERNESS: In this wilderness of the Heart, creatures fulfill the real purpose of creation, merging back into the creator with fully individualized awareness. Then Lover and Beloved can be two in one and one in two. We cannot celebrate this Wedding in the cerebral cortex, through dualistic either-or thinking, which insists that one cannot be two and two cannot be one. We only experience this affair with God in the awakened neurophysiology of the heart. This is why the mystics of all traditions have called us to "descend from the mind into the heart": a practical instruction for meditation that is explicitly found in both Eastern and Western texts on meditation (the Shiva Sutras of North Indian Shaivism, and the Philokalia of Orthodox Christianity).

The sacred wilderness of the heart is a central theme in the Jewish Bible as well. The prophet Hosea remembers a time before Israel adopted the pseudo-sophistication of urban life. He recalls their sacred wandering in the wilderness, the divine intimacy of being lost. For when we are most lost in the wild of our original nature, we find ourselves most akin to the Spirit. God calls with yearning to Israel:
"I will woo her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will restore her vineyards... On that day, she will call me My Husband, and will no longer call me My Master! (Hosea 2)
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God sighs:
"I remember the unfailing devotion of  your youth, the love of your bridal days, when you followed me into the wilderness, through a land unsown." (Jeremiah 1)
Jesus also called us back into the wilderness: "Come away by yourselves into the wilderness, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:31) And in La Quest de la Sangral, the anonymous Cistercian author tells us that "each knight entered the forest where it was darkest and there was no way or path."

CUP AND WINE: The empty cup symbolizes the soul as feminine, receptive, waiting on the Lord to be filled with his Word and his Wine. C. S. Lewis referred to this universal language of love when he said, "In relation to God, we are all feminine." The cup must first be cleansed and purified by mindfulness, yoga, and meditation. Then by grace the empty soul my be filled with divine love. Therefor Jesus taught: "First cleanse the inside of the cup" (Mat 23:26). He chose wine as the living symbol of his grace, in the Last Supper, offering it to his disciples: "This cup is the new covenant, the new relationship, of my blood; whenever you drink it, remember me.” (1 Cor 11:25)

Speaking of the wine of love, the Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible invites us, "Eat, friends, and drink, get drunk with love!" (5:1 - "Drink deeply" is a Hebrew euphemism for inebriation.) In his Diwan, Rumi speaks of "the wine that springs from the heart and mixes with the spirit, the wine whose bubbling intoxicates the God-seeing eye" (Ghazal 81). Elsewhere he writes, "I am so drunk, I have lost the way in and the way out." Then Rumi reminds us that, "The true wine is compassion."

One of India's greatest poets, Kabir describes meditation as being "drunk on the juice of Ram's bliss." Another immortal devotional poet of India, Mirabai sings, "I drank the cup of God's music, and I am hopelessly drunk; moreover I stay drunk, no matter what I do to become sober."

Islamic mystics also used the symbol of wine, even though Islam prohibits alcohol. The 14th Century Persian, Mahmud Shabistari, writes:
The wine, lit by a ray from his face,
reveals the bubbles of form,
such as the material world and the soul-world,
which appear as veils to the saints...

Drink wine! for the bowl is the face of the Friend.
Drink wine! for the cup is his eye, drunken and flown with wine.
Drink wine! and be free from cold-heartedness,
for a drunkard is better than the self-satisfied.

The world is his tavern,
his wine-cup the heart of each atom!
And the quintessential Persian poet Hafiz, sings:
Ask not what use
Is drunkenness!
From reason, when you drink,
You are released.
I will drink glass after glass
I will kiss, kiss after kiss,
I will love exceedingly
I will drink endlessly.

INEBRIATION (BE-WILD-ERMENT): Mystics praise the wine of bewilderment. This is not the wine of earthly grapes, though the imagery used in the poems is quite earthy, even shockingly sensual at times. The wine of God's love inebriates us in the sense that it raises our consciousness above the dualistic mind, into the ecstasy of union. Poets describe the ecstasy of union as a kind of mystical drunkenness and bewilderment.

The word, be-wild-erment, is so rich, suggesting not only a state of wonder, but being in the wild. The young Martin Luther wrote, "Bewilderment is the true comprehension." Rhineland Catholic mystic Johann Tauler, a fellow of Meister Eckhart, used wilderness imagery to describe unity of mind and God:
"In unity, all multiplicity is lost. This unity unites multiplicity in an incomprehensibly wild wilderness... the simple hidden wilderness beyond being."
(Johann Tauler, Sermon 6)
Such mystics do not call us to flee from civilization, but to establish a new civilization of the Heart. In his essay On Poetry, Shelley wrote that "the poet is the unacknowledged legislator of reality." Or course, this is also true of the artist, dancer and musician. The revolution that will transmute our reality into "a new heaven and a new earth" does not begin with the programs of political science, the theories of the economics, or the protest of the angry activist. No political or economic reform can change the world until there is a transmutation of the Heart, a resurrection of matter itself in the physiological circuity of the human body.

THE KISS: The author of the Song of Songs sing, "O let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth... for your love is sweeter than wine, and your name is perfume poured out!"
When two lovers kiss, they are so close they cannot see each other's form, or speak. They must close their eyes and be silent as they press their lips together. That is why, in the songs of the Troubadours and all mystical love poetry, the Kiss becomes the symbol of transcendental union between the soul and God. So Rumi sings:
"There is some kiss we all want, the kiss of the body and the Spirit."
The highly developed symbolism of the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip culminates in the sacrament of "the Bridal Chamber," where lovers are united. The archetype of this union is the relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but it is a wedding of souls, transforming erotic love into mystical love. Here the union of lovers results in rebirth into a higher order of love:
"Fully realized human beings are conceived by a kiss, and then they are born." (Analog 17)
The Gospel of Thomas contains a Gnostic saying of Jesus which also describes, in symbolism related to the kiss, how Christ communicates his mystical life directly to the soul:
"Whoever drinks what flows from my mouth will come to be as I am.
* * * *

The transformation of our body's subtlest energy-pathways will empower us to envision unity in the midst of conflict, to evolve competition into cooperation, and to reshape hierarchies into circles of democratic community. The opening of the Heart has profound sociopolitical meaning: it means that we can choose love over power. And this revolution begins with the inspiration of the artist's vision. A single line by Rumi or Haffiz, a verse from the Song of Songs, or an image from the ecstatic songs of Mirabai, can trigger the shift of awareness from the mind to the heart. Thus, the mystical poets are true revolutionaries in every sense.

Full activation of the brain-heart complex is the necessary prerequisite to any meaningful socio-economic transformation. This is why the mystical artist is necessary for political revolution. Without the awakening of the Heart, mere political reforms fall short, replacing one hierarchy of power with another. This is also why, throughout history, mystical poets were exiled, imprisoned, or executed as heretics. They were a gentle but real threat to the power structure, the hierarchy.

Patriarchal systems, both priestly and political, use hierarchy to subjugate the powerless. This reign of fear is more efficiently accomplished through religious dogma than through armies or police states. Mystical poetry casts down the pomp of the over-educated mind, liberates awareness from duality of vision, and demolishes patriarchal systems of authority. Mystical poetry is dangerous! Even the song of the gentle Mary, called the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) contains the language of cultural overthrow and economic revolution. Gentle as its words may appear, the Magnificat is radical:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant... He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent away empty.
As mystical poetry reconnects the flowing circle between brain and heart, it leads us to form circles of community rather than hierarchies of power. When the Circle is complete inside us, the gates of a new Eden spontaneously open in society.

Mystical art does not accomplish this revolution through violence, conflict, confrontation, or even argument. The poetry of the mystic may be ironic, iconoclastic, even shocking in its imagery, using the imagres of sensual love, wine, and ecstatic dance to convey the relationship of God and the soul. But this poetry is never angry or demeaning. The poet of the Heart gives us an invitation, not an ultimatum; inspiration, not creed; possibility, not law.

The endocrine and neural pathways to the Heart must be built with the gentlest of feelings, and freely chosen, never enforced. New protein tracks to the Garden cannot be laid down by the arousal of fear, or the rigidity of commandment. These pathways are soft wilderness trails through the neural landscape of the meditative body, entangled with blossoming vines of tenderness, nourished by Grace. The joyful voice of the Heart calls us not to believe but to surrender.

* * * *

Who told you that you transgressed? Who told you that you sinned? Who told you that the Divine would punish you for becoming Divine again? Now inherit your birthright: you are God's love, flowing back to its Source.

The voice you heard, proclaiming original sin, was the voice of the false priest, the wielder of the staff of Religion. It was not the voice of the Beloved. For your inheritance is original innocence. The only God worthy of your worship is the God who calls you 'lover,' not 'sinner,' the Lord who invites you to unity, not separation.

Spirit created you in the image of Spirit; why would Spirit anoint you with any oil less precious than your own divine Awareness?

Come! Give up fear. Do not build barriers of separation, hiding shamefully from the Lord who walks in the cool of the evening with you, in the Garden of your Heart. Listen not to the voice of judgment, but to the flute of divine longing. Then, when your silence overflows, speak to the Beloved as the Bride spoke, in the Song of Songs:
O let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth... for your love is sweeter than wine, and your name is perfume poured out! (Song of Songs, 1)

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