Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Spring 2017

Poetic Approaches to Non-Dual Truth

Poetry and insight into higher Truth often go together, and the Sanskrit word ‘kavi’ means both a sage and a poet. Many poems point the way to the supreme non-dual wisdom, and wisdom in its verbal expression is often transmitted through utterances that are poetic.

The Bhagavad Gita is a poem or song, several of the Upanishads are in verse, and as the centuries passed, spiritual teachers of different traditions, like Rumi, Kabir and Guru Nanak, left teachings in the form of their verses, not to mention the epic poems like the Sanskrit Ramayana of Valmiki, and its later Hindi rendering by Tulsidas as the Rama Charit Manasa, (The Lake of the Deeds of Rama). For many people, this form of expression is easier to assimilate and remember than a prose discourse.

Hari Prasad Shastri translated numerous poems from the Hindi and Urdu traditions, and about 200 of these may be found in the anthology, Indian Mystic Verse. Teachings conveyed through this medium sometimes find a path into the human heart, and a wisely guided interest in poetry can be an indirect aid to our higher development. It can expand and enrich the mind, release new and useful streams of thought, and lift our consciousness above the moods and self-centredness that claim so much of our imaginative power when our mind is left to its own devices.

But such poetry, to influence our inner life, has to have depth and purity. It must evince a selfless appreciation of the beauty of nature, a realisation of the higher potentialities of our nature, and a recognition of the deeper reality in which we live and have our being.

Dr Shastri’s own poems cover many aspects and challenges of the higher life. There is no endeavour to conform to rules of rhyme and metre, but simply to transmit the quality of a particular insight more appropriately through poetry than prose.

Sometimes there is an attempt to express beauty, or what one might regard as a beautiful sentiment. His poem about the grass, published in Indian Mystic Verse, arguably falls within this type. In this poem, the grass, which we usually tread under foot unthinkingly, is given a chance to speak up. It tells us human beings:

Tread softly, softly, softly, O friend.
Do not think me too insignificant
Because I have no self-assertion.
I have self-affirmation,
But thou hast no ear to listen to it.
Tread softly, softly, softly on me, O friend.

The heaven has adorned me with jewels of dew;
The wind caresses me with its soft breath;
The sun kisses me with its light.
Why dost thou treat me as nothing, O man?
Tread softly, softly, softly on me, O friend.

The day will come when thou wilt lie beneath me;
When thy body will be interred deep in the earth;
I, and I alone, will remember thee,
And spread myself kindly and softly
Over the grave which contains thy body,
When all thy friends have gone,
And the flowers on thy grave have withered.
Tread softly, softly, softly on me, O friend.

Dost thou know what I am?
A symbol of humility.
My colour is soothing to thine eyes;
My touch is softer than velvet;
I give refreshing peace to thy heart.
When the trees have shed their leaves
And winter prevails with all its rigour,
When thou art unable to come out
From the hole thou callest thy house,
Still will I spread myself on the ground.
Because I am a true friend and lover,
I will not leave the earth,
Which supports me in every circumstance.
If the floods come and inundate the land,
I will raise my head as soon as they are over
And say to the weeping earth,
‘Grieve not, O dear one, I am still here,
Thy companion, one who really loves thee.’
Tread softly, softly, softly on me, O friend.

Another poem suggests to us methods of teacher-training—our pupil being our own mind.

Be calm, be tranquil and serene
O my mind, O my child.
Do not roll on the earth.
Thy tears distress me
And cause anxiety and fear;
Come, sleep in the contemplation of truth,
O restless child,
Do not soil thy golden locks
In the mud and dirt;
Come let me lift thee up
And press thee to my heart,
O my restless mind, O my dear one.
The toys of sense pleasures
Are meant to delight thee.
Do not take them seriously.
Be calm, be tranquil and serene, O my mind.

As a last example, we may point to poems which help our transit to transcendence—which open a way. Here are a few lines from his poem ‘My Search for Delight’:

My desire, persistent and constant, to find beauty,
Was nothing but the desire to find Thee.
I sought Thee in the jasmine flower, in the rose;
Vain was my search.
I sought to discover Thee
In the splendours of Kashmir and Almora;
Vain was my search, causing me only weariness...
I sought to discover Thee
In the eyes of charming faces;
Deeper and deeper became my disillusionment.
All outer search proving fruitless,
I turned within.
I tore the veil of intellect and will
And contemplated the light which shines forever
As ‘I am, I am, I am’.
The universe became Thy temple,
Every atom a mirror reflecting Thy glory.
Sin and sorrow, virtue and vice,
Took flight forever,
Like autumn leaves driven before the wind.
The song of the breeze was:
‘That thou art, that thou art, that thou art.’
Lightning flashed and revealed Thy peace.
O Thou who art transcendence,
To see Thee is to see all...

If we ask why knowers of ultimate truth are prompted to express themselves through the medium of poetry, one answer is suggested by Hari Prasad Shastri when he wrote:

My words and my actions have no purpose in view of personal gain or approbation. I write to strike a note of adoration in the eternal temple of thy soul, and give a heavenly trend to thy mind.