A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.
It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you!
Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.
A feeling of fullness comes,
but it usually takes some bread
to bring it.
Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.
The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.
Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.
and enjoy being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.
There was a feast. The King
was heartily in his cups.
He saw a learned scholar walking by.
“Bring him in and give him
Some of this fine wine.”
Servants rushed out and brought the man
to the king’s table, but he was not
receptive. “I had rather drink poison!
I never tasted wine and never will!
take it away from me!”
He kept on with these loud refusals,
disturbing the atmosphere of the feast.
This is how it sometimes is
at God’s table.
Someone who has heard about ecstatic love,
but never tasted it, disrupts the banquet.
If there were a secret passage
from his ear to his throat, everything
in him would change. Initiation would occur.
As it is, he’s all fire and no light,
all husk and no kernel.
The king gave orders. “Cupbearer,
do what you must!”
This is how your invisible guide acts,
the chess champion across from you
that always wins. He cuffed
the scholar’s head and said,
The cup was drained
and the intellectual started singing
and telling ridiculous jokes.
He joined the garden, snapping his fingers
and swaying. Soon, of course,
he had to pee.
He went out, and there, near the latrine,
was a beautiful woman, one of the king’s harem.
His mouth hung open. He wanted her!
right then, he wanted her!
and she was not unwilling.
They fell to, on the ground.
you’ve seen a baker rolling dough.
he kneads it gently at first,
then more roughly.
He pounds it on the board.
it softly groans under his palms.
Now he spreads it out
and rolls it flat.
Then he bunches it,
and rolls it all the way out again,
thin. Now he adds water,
and mixes it well.
and a little more salt.
Now he shapes it delicately
to its final shape
and slides it into the oven,
which is already hot.
You remember breadmaking!
this is how your desire
tangles with a desired one.
And it’s not just a metaphor
for a man and woman making love.
Warriors in battle do this too.
a great mutual embrace is always happening
between the eternal and what dies,
between essence and accident.
The sport has different rules
in every case, but it’s basically
the same, and remember:
the way you make love is the way
God will be with you.
So these two were lost in their sexual trance.
They did not care anymore about feasting
or wine. Their eyes were closed like
perfectly matching calligraphy lines.
The king went looking for the scholar,
and when he saw them there coupled, commented
“Well, as it I said, ‘A good king
must serve his subjects from his own table!’”
There is joy, a winelike freedom
that dissolves the mind and restores
the spirit, and there is manly fortitude
like the king’s, a reasonableness
that accepts the bewildered lostness.
But meditate now on steadfastness
and clarity, and let those be the wings
that lift and soar through the celestial spheres.
Ayaz and the Thirty Courtiers
The courtiers are jealous of Ayaz.
they tease the king, Why should he get
thirty times what each of us gets?
The king does not answer, but soon they go out
into the desert mountains on a hunting expedition.
The king sees a caravan in the distance.
find out where they are from.
One of the courtiers goes. From Rayy.
where is it going? Her doesn’t know.
The king asks another
to ride and inquire. He does. To Yemen.
What are they carrying? He doesn’t know.
go ask, the king directs another.
They have many different kinds of merchandise.
mostly they’re carrying silver cups made in Rayy.
How long have they been traveling? No response.
it goes on like this until thirty courtiers
have been dispatched.
Then the king tells a story.
one day I sent Ayaz to ask about a caravan.
he came back with the answers to these questions.
He did not have to be lead by me, point by point.
he is strong and lively enough in his curiosity
to follow the natural line.
But this is not by choice, say the courtiers.
it is his God-given personality.
No, says the king. There is a range of human choosing.
this falls within that. There is destiny
but don’t deny your individual freedom.
Shall I go to the market in Mosul
or to Babylon to study magic?
When a person commits murder,
retaliation swings back on him.
When on person drinks wine,
does someone else get the headache?
Take responsibility for your laziness.
that weak-mindedness was your doing.
Harvest it, trace it back
to seed inside yourself.
Action born of your particular being
clings to your legs like your own scared child.
it knows who it belongs to.
Some time ago there was a man named Nasuh.
he made his living shampooing women in a bathhouse.
he had a face like a woman, but he was not effeminate,
though he disguised his virility, so a to keep his job.
He loved touching the women as he washed their hair.
He stayed sexually alert, at full strength
all the time, massaging the beautiful women,
especially the Princess and her ladies-in-waiting.
Sometimes he thought of changing jobs,
of doing something
where he wouldn’t be so constantly lustful,
but he couldn’t quit.
He went to a mystic saint and said,
“Please remember me in a prayer.”
The holy man was spiritually free,
and totally open to God. He knew Nasuh’s secret,
but with God’s gentleness he didn’t speak it.
A gnostic says little, but inside he is full of mysteries,
and crowded with voices. Whosoever is served
that cup keeps quiet.
The holy man laughed softly and prayed aloud,
“May God cause you to change your life
in a way you know you should.”
The prayer of such a sheikh is different
from other prayers. He has so completely dissolved
his ego, nothinged himself, that what he says
is like God talking to God. How could
such a prayer not be granted?
The means were found to change Nasuh.
while he was pouring water into a basin
for a naked woman, she felt and discovered
that a pearl was missing from her earring.
Quickly, they locked the doors.
they searched the cushions, the towels, the rugs,
and the discarded clothes. Nothing.
Now they search
ears and mouths and every cleft and orifice.
Everyone is made to strip
and the queen’s lady chamberlain
probes one by one
the naked women.
has gone to his private closet, trembling.
“I didn’t steal the pearl,
but if they undress and search me,
they’ll see how excited I get
with these nude ladies.
I have been cold and lecherous
but cover my sin this time, PLEASE!
Let me not be exposed for how I’ve been.
He weeps and moans and weeps,
for the moment is upon him.
We have searched everyone but you. Come out!”
At that moment his spirit grows wings, and lifts.
His ego falls like a battered wall.
He unites with God, alive,
but emptied of
His ship sinks and in its place move the ocean waves.
His body’s disgrace, like a falcon’s loosened binding,
slips from the falcon’s foot.
His stones drink water.
His field shines like satin with gold threads in it.
Someone dead a hundred years steps out well
and strong and handsome.
A broken stick
breaks into bud.
This all happens inside Nasuh,
after the call gave him so much fear.
A long pause,
a long, waiting silence.
Then a shout from one of the women, “Here it is!”
The bathhouse fills with clapping.
Nasuh sees his new life sparkling out before him.
The women come to apologize, “We’re so sorry
we didn’t trust you. We just knew
that you’d taken that pearl.”
They kept talking about how they’d suspected him,
and begging his forgiveness.
Finally he replies,
“I am much more guilty
than anyone has thought or said. I am the worse personin the world. What you have said is only a hundredth
of what I’ve actually done. Don’t ask my pardon!
You don’t know me. No one knows me.
God has hidden my sneakiness. Satan taught me tricks,
but after a time, those became easy, and I taught Satan
some new variations. God saw what I did, but chose
not to publically reveal my sin.
And now, I am sewn back into wholeness!
Whatever I’ve done,
Now was not done.
Whatever obedience I didn’t do,
Now I did!
Pure, noble, free, like a cypress,
like a lily,
is how I suddenly am. I said,
And that Oh no! became a rope
let down in my well. I’ve climbed out to stand here
in the sun. One moment I was at the bottom
of a dank, fearful narrowness, and the next,
I am not contained by this universe.
If every tip of every hair on me could speak,
I still couldn’t say my gratitude.
In the middle of these streets and gardens, I stand and say
and say again, and it’s all I say,
I wish everyone
could know what I know.
A Just Finishing Candle
A candle is made to become entirely flame.
in that annihilating moment
it has no shadow.
It is nothing but a tongue of light
describing a refuge.
Look at this
just-finishing candle stub
as someone who is finally safe
from virtue and vice,
The pride and the shame
we claim from those.
Through The Low Gate
Moses put a low gate in the Jerusalem wall,
so that even unconsciously
everyone would have to put down his pack
and lower his head, bowing at least that much,
as though to say,
I pray that I can put down what I carry.
The function given to kings and all authorities
is so that people who won’t bow down
and surrender to the presence
will have one place where they are humble.
The gate was called Babi-Saghir,
the little door.
Consider the world-power you acknowledge
as a small gate you must go through
to pay homage to a dunghill,
and instead of doing that, recognize the holy ones,
who are sweet as sugarcane.
Don’t grovel in front of political leaders
not your highness, say your lowness
to those empty weed-stems. Honor the sun we see by.
Don’t play a cat-and-mouse game.
join the lion and swift deer in their hunt for soul.
Let pot-lickers follow the big basin-licker.
I could continue and make some rulers and administrators
very angry. They know who I’m talking about.
What Jesus Runs Away From
The son of Mary, Jesus, hurries up a slope
as though a wild animal were chasing him.
someone following him asks, “Where are you going?
No one is after you.” Jesus keeps on,
saying nothing, across two more fields. “Are you
the one who says words over a dead person,
so that he wakes up?” I am. “Did you not make
the clay birds fly?” Yes. “Who then
could possibly cause you to run like his?”
Jesus slows his pace.
I say the Great Name over the deaf and the blind,
they are healed. Over a stony mountainside,
and it tears its mantle down to the navel.
over non-existence, it comes into existence.
but when I speak lovingly for hours, for days
with those who take human warmth
and mock it, when I say the Name to them, nothing
happens. They remain rock, or turn to sand,
where no plants can grow. Other diseases are ways
for mercy to enter, but this non-responding
breeds violence and coldness toward God.
I am fleeing from that.
As little by little air steals water, so praise
dries up and evaporates with foolish people
who refuse to change. Like cold stone you sit on
a cynic steals body heat. He doesn’t feel
the sun. Jesus wasn’t running from actual people.
He was teaching a new way.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them a the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Outside, the freezing desert night.
This other night inside grows warm, kindling.
Let the landscape be covered with a thorny crust.
We have a soft garden here.
The continents blasted,
cities and towns, everything
becomes a scorched, blackened ball.
The news we hear is full of grief for that future,
but the real news inside here
is there’s no news at all.
* * *
Which is worth more, a crowd of thousands,
or your own genuine solitude?
freedom, or power over an entire nation?
A little while alone in your room
will prove more valuable than anything else
that could ever be given you.
The Witness, The Darling
Muhammad could mediate
for every kind of disgrace,
because he looked so unswervingly
at God. His eye medicine camefrom his ever-expanding into God.
Any orphan daubed with that salve
will get better. He could see all
the attainments of those on the way.
Hence God called him “the witness.”
The tools of the witness are truthfulness
and keen seeing and the night vigil.
This is the witness a judge listens
most carefully to. A false witness
has some self-interest that makes
his testimony specious.
He can’t see the whole. That’s why God
wants you to deny your desires, so
You will learn to give up self-interest.
It’s the love of the manifest world
that makes you an unreliable witness,.
There is another way of seeing,
that sees through your love of this place,
through the exciting drunkenness to the headache.
the witness can cure that hurting.
God is a just judge,
who calls the true witness,
the eye of pure love,
the reason inside the playfulness
that created phenomena.
The Dream That Must Be Interpreted
This place is a dream.
Only a sleeper considers it real.
Then death comes like dawn,
and you wake up laughing
at what you thought was your grief.
But there’s a difference with this dream.
Everything cruel and unconscious
done in the illusion of the present world,
all that does not fade away at the death-waking.
and it must be interpreted.
All the mean laughing,
all the quick, sexual wanting,
those torn coats of Joseph,
they change into powerful wolves
that you must face.
The retaliation that sometimes comes now,
the swift, payback hit,
it’s just a boy’s game
to what the other will be.
You know about circumcision here.
it’s full castration there!
And this groggy time we live,
this is what it’s like:
A man goes to sleep in the town
where he has always lived, and he dreams he’s living
in another town.
In the dream, he doesn’t remember
the town he’s sleeping in his bed in. He believes
the reality of the dream town.
The world is that kind of sleep.
The dust of many crumbled cities
settles over us like a forgetful doze,
but we are older than those cities.
as a mineral. We emerged into plant life
and into the animal state, and then into being human,
and always we have forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we slightly recall
being green again.
That’s how a young person turns
towards a teacher. That’s how a baby leans
towards the breast, without knowing the secret
of its desire, yet turning instinctively.
Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream,
and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
* * *
In a boat down a fast-running creek,
It feels like trees on the bank
Are rushing by. What seems
To be changing around us
Is rather the speed of our craft
Leaving this world.
* * *
Birdsong brings relief
to my longing.
I am just as ecstatic as they are,
but with nothing to say!
Please, universal soul, practice
some song, or something, through me!
* * *
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.