[ click here for more artwork by Kevin Trammel ]
through Indian Summer we drive
swirling leaves behind us —
death’s glowing portals so near
It’s hot and dry
in the Sierras
like a blowtorch.
The wind in the puckered oaks
sounds like a raging fire.
There’s smoke standing in the air
like the unseen presence
of a dragon.
There was nearby, along a stream, the hacked trunk of a young tree. The rest of it lay where it was cast, in the ditch below. Knowing the neighborhood and those who frequented the path on which this tree once thrived, I knew the boys who did it.
I felt sorrow for the tree and pity for the boys. For, their act had no purpose which might give it authority. It was merely the act of bored and petulant youth exhausting a feeling of powerlessness and aimlessness. I know this because I did the same kinds of things as a child.
As years have gone by like that stream of mountain water, I’ve come to value the companionship of trees. They provide so much: fresh air, inspiration, beauty, majesty, wood for building and for so many essential human needs; they even draw up the water from the earth. Trees provide shelter and an abode not only for human beings, but for countless other creatures. So, it occurred to me as I stood within the forest gazing at its tattered remains, that even in its death the tree had served, for it gave the young men a sense of victory, however sordid and fleeting.
As for the boys, all they really accomplished for themselves was a felling of their own spirit. In living what can one do but love the living? Anything else is death. Even in battle, truly great warriors, who must follow the grim logic of war, honor and celebrate their fallen foes. Those who spit upon the corpses of the defeated are only heaping contempt upon themselves, for no one can escape the body’s death and only a very few truly know whence the gift of life is given.
Bless the trees who signify the gods in order in their orbs beneath heaven, and the ultimate Power that loves and cherishes all. Earthly angels, in no hyperbole, they thrive that animate beings may live and carry out their personal and public affairs in lazy ignorance or in active awareness. Trees are worthy of honor and to be cherished in return. Treating them in this way empowers one to draw nearer to the root of one’s own life and that of all life.
Every night the moon
frolics in the stream —
yet show me what it has touched
or even a shadow.
-A rendition of a poem by Takuan, tr. originally by Lucien Stryk in “The Crane’s Bill”
Walking a path on a hot afternoon,
shedding a heavy mantle of work’s entangling thoughts,
my attention’s drawn to a shadow on the path —
a dark purple swallow
rests with his belly buried
in the sun-baked sand at path’s edge.
As I was already too close for him to stay
he lifted up from his warm bed
with swift and elegant ease
of the swallow.
It was the sweet picture of his silent repose
in the sun-warm sand
that remained luminous on my inner screen
and buoyed my afternoon stroll
as from within I flew
with the gracious glide of the purple martin.
The cover of Gathered Rain is a twig of oleander after the seeds have sprung from their pod. The twig is dropping to the ground in a rainstorm and has just bounced upward after having struck a small puddle.
In reading about the new Apple “space ship and thunder dome” I’m reminded of these most apt words from the dark father:
“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” [ Star Wars, of course ]
Something worth remembering in an age if nihilism, angst, and turmoil, is the potential of the individual. It’s only that which attracts and draws the wisdom of the ages and becomes the rich soil for its propagation and perpetuation. The inherent nature of a human being has promise far beyond what is commonly esteemed in the world. From his unique viewpoint, Nikola Tesla wrote of this in a small article that was printed in the San Antonio Sunday Light, on July 20, 1930. His article was the inspiration for the image above as it was for the larger piece which the newspaper printed as a setting for Tesla’s article, which was entitled, “Man’s Greatest Achievement.”
While Tesla was speaking of the power of the mind over matter and energy, the implication of his drift is that the inherent nature, the soul, of a human being is for complete control over the order of the universe. What tends to be the shadow of this observation is the desire to shape the world to the temporary and narrow views of an individual mind. This mental predisposition is the origin of all the “Frankenstein” stories of the first two thirds of the last century, those stories in which science goes afoul of the harmony of nature. The implication of the boundlessness of human potential, that’s so often missed in the boisterous attraction of greater material control, is that this “human potential” is meant for something more than mere artifice as a means to control. As is said in the San Antonio paper, “Love can hope, where reason would despair.” Love itself is the ultimate potential of the human being. It opens all doors, including those of nature. But love doesn’t exploit, it transcends. Love’s the great weighty power, the gravitas, that tips the scales towards a human being when he or she is weighed against the works of human industry and the ponderous philosophical chords of the mind; for a person without love is as light as a shadow.
The human potential is what’s at the heart of that which great individuals have emanated from their deeper perceptions. It’s the fundamental insight beyond all temporal insight. But it’s so easy to fixate upon the finger that points instead of seeing the thing to which it’s pointing. The being of the individual is great beyond the comprehension of the mind. It’s greatness is also that it is simple, real and immediate. Just waiting to be born within.
The following is a contemplation on something I’ve come to appreciate after some years on a spiritual path. I began as a philosophy student in college and studied for years, seeking to sift the nuggets of truth from the vast “tailings” of baffling experience and the bewildering speculations of so many pundits, scholars, scientists, writers, and experts of all kinds. This is what I’ve come to see and am yet learning to realize. I share it here for those who, like me, are on a similar path.
Reason can rarely steer one right because it cannot see the road upon which one is driving. It merely infers its existence and its contours from the observations of the senses (which everyone knows can be deceived), and through the inculcation of experience and the pronouncements of others. The basic principle here is that logic can only be as sound as the substance on which it feeds. Without true premises, there can only be false conclusions. How does one evaluate a truth?
Reason cannot originate truth. It produces only analysis, which is more likely to be false, at least in some measure, than true. Even if reason stumbled upon a truth, the knowingness that it was a truth would escape one. The only hope of truth is in knowing Truth, directly, without such intermediaries as reason, or a teacher, or a book, or some other external source. Knowing truth is a condition of conscious being, not of thinking. This is the great conundrum of philosophy, science, thought, and the source of human struggle.
The bridge from one’s current state of not-knowing-truth to the truth, is Consciousness. But this faculty, this beingness, must be awakened. That is the real challenge of life, the missing Philosopher’s Stone that can turn the perpetual struggle in darkness into a rewarding discovery of endless gold. It can only be awakened by associating with another whose consciousness is already fully awakened. Nothing else will do.
It appears that the answer to the woe and ill of earthly travail may be quite simple, so plain and evident that it escapes notice. Attached to the intricate machinations of thought, we may be overlooking the obvious truth. An awakened consciousness. We’re told by great ones of the past and present that that can only be achieved through associating with another who is awakened. Such a soul, like a tuning fork, will set one’s own consciousness resonating inwardly. That inward “sound” attracts one to it and becomes a center of discovery and action. Then, as one lives in that state, consciousness expands to embrace all of one’s life. After this, they say, one is free, for truth is simply one’s own true nature, which is immortal, conscious, loving, and free.
reading won’t save us from death
and reading won’t free us from want
then why do we like to be literate
the literate lord it over others
if a grown man can’t read
where can he live in peace
squeeze garlic juice in your crowfoot*
and you’ll forget it’s bitter
-#204, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain,
tr. Red Pine
*Chinese medicinal herb
the rivers are by these storms
made mud red — gashes
at the feet of mountains
raging westward —
the life of the land bled into the sea.
I awoke in the Nectar Hours
before dawn. Outside
the bright face of the moon
gazed down —
just below it Jupiter dangled
like a diamond earing
lambent flames in winter dun —
tears of Diogenes
long blond grasses in canyon fog
strung with crystal pearls
smoke from the stovepipe —
whisked hungrily away
by a greedy wind