Thursday, May 30, 2013

Moderation is Meditation - Bhagwad Gita

Those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation.

-Bhagwad Gita

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How can money make you happier -- by spending right ...

Dear Dan,

I have worked very hard for most of my life, and I am getting to feel more secure and comfortable. But I don't feel as happy as I expected, given all my achievements and financial success. I am not one of those hippies who think that money is not important, but it feels like something is missing. What am I doing wrong?


Don't worry. The fact that your financial achievements have not brought you contentment does not mean that you're a hippie. Social scientists have long been troubled by the finding that people basically think money will bring them happiness but it does so less than they expect.

In their fascinating book "Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending," Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton say there are two ways to get more happiness out of our money. The first is to buy less stuff and more experiences. We buy a sofa instead of a ski trip, not taking into account that we will get used to the sofa very quickly and that it will stop being a source of happiness, while the vacation will likely stay in our minds for a long time.There are two possibilities: First, that money cannot buy happiness. Second, that money can buy some happiness, but people just don't know how to use it that way. The good news is that this seems to be the correct answer.

Second, and more interesting, Drs. Dunn and Norton demonstrate that we just don't give enough money away. Which of these would make you happier: buying a cup of fancy coffee for yourself, buying one for a stranger, or buying one for a good friend? Buying a cup of coffee for yourself is the worst. Buying for a stranger will linger in your mind and make you happier for a longer time, and buying for a friend is the best—it would also increase your social connection, friendship and long-run happiness.

So money can buy happiness—if we use it right.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Drone - An original poem


there is a fissure in
your thinking and mine

background music 
is what I am talking about

monotone expression
from ear to ear

a solitary sadness
that is left alone
that is drone

in company
elegant with melody

works well as
mundane contrasts 
with unpredictable shiv

needed embellishment
clarifying home
that is drone

when what you see
is sparkling stars 
in the night

is what I am 
talking about

I-5 Bridge Collapse - An original poem

Bridge collapses
friends again
need not be
for still underneath
a common ground exists

Guru Amardas: Seva and Langar

Guru Amardas Ji and the Langar

Before meeting Guru Angad, Baba Amar Das was a vaishnava and was ever in search of a competent Guru. At the age of 62 he adopted Guru Angad as his spiritual guide and became a 'fervent and zealous votary and willing server of the Guru.' He served him with all his heart and sacrificed his own comfort for the sake of the Guru. He undertook to fetch fresh water for the Guru's ablutions every night, just after mid-might from the river Beas, which was more than 5 km from Khadur. He performed his duty without fail, whatever the season was. After the Guru had bathed, he used to go to the nearby jungle to fetch fuel for the langar. While doing such selfless service he was constantly repeating in his mind the Name of the Lord.
Although he served the Guru day and night, yet he would never make an even the least mention of his services nor would he eat food from the public funds devoted for the Guru's langar, rather he used to contribute liberally to the Community Kitchen from his hard and scanty earnings of his humble trade in grocery which he collected by the hire of a pony for delivering goods from village to village. Guru Amardas developed langar into a regular institution. The Guru's Kitchen, which by then had attained great significance, shifted with him to Goindwal where he had settled down. He emphasized it as a device for expressing the notion of equality in a practical way.
Guru Amardas maintained the tradition of Guru Nanak's social, political and reformatory actions. The zeal and activities of Guru Amardas in preaching the faith 'combined with his genial habits and affable disposition,' he secured many converts to Sikhism. He was a 'grand old man,' just and wise. Humble and sweet as he was, he attracted many to Goindwal. Not only the followers of new faith, started by Guru Nanak, but also many seekers of wisdom and solace would flock around Guru Amardas on the bank of Beas. Sometimes even some of his old associates, whom he had met and made friends before becoming a disciple of Guru Angad, would come to meet him. His followers and friends used to stay at Goindwal for days together and listen to his sermons.
So long as Sikhism was in its infancy and people used to come to the Guru in small groups, for instructions, a single pangat for the sangat sufficed. But now Sikhism had grown in popularity and its votaries daily increased. So Guru Amardas thought of organizing the langar on an extensive scale. During his Guruship the number of followers increased so much that a situation arose when it became necessary to provide the Sikhs with convenient local centres. It was to meet this need that he introduced the Manji-system. Indubhushan Banerjee has rightly observed that "it can easily be surmised that these manjis were the earliest Sikh sangats, and, in all probability, in each and everyone of them a langar was set up."
In later days we so often find that the sangats were 'not merely places of worship but also wayside refractories which gave food and shelter to indigent wayfarers.' The Sikhs who managed the affairs of various sangats also arranged Langars for them. 'It is important to note that the obligation to maintain the Guru's langar was thus extended in scope and meaning, though it seems almost certain that the maintenance of the local sangats were made a charge on the local people.' Guru Amardas laid much stress on the pangat. The rule of the Guru was "Pehle Pangat Phir Sangat", first eat together then meet together. One point is to be understood that the pangat and sangat were not two distinct institution which was generally named as the sangat. These sangats were distinguished from each other after the names of the areas, towns or some of those prominent Sikhs who looked after these sangats.
It is obvious that the sangat habit had along with that the pangat-pleasure had become vital part of Sikhism. Wherever a Sikh might be, he was associated with the sangat and through that made to realize that a Sikh is not only to look to his individual character and spiritual development but is also 'to share the feelings of his fellowmen who assemble in the form of sangat and pangat. And he is also to shoulder his responsibilities as a part of the corporate body of the Panth.' The position of the Guru was sole and supreme religious head and was a great source of unity and solidarity. The sangat at Goindwal assembled at the feet of the Guru but the local sangats gathered around the word or the Shabad of the Guru. they used to sing hymns of the Gurus which were by then in circulation, written in Gurmukhi Script. This was their spiritual food. The food for the body was provided at the langar. Thus sangat and pangat had a common aim to unite the Sikhs in the name of the Guru. And to maintain these, the Sikhs made all possible efforts and sacrifices.
At Goindwal though the greatest delicacies were served in the Guru's langar, the Guru himself lived on coarse food according to his most ascetic habits. "The traveler, the stranger, the beggar, as well as the follower of the Guru, could gratify his palate with the six physical tastes - sweet, salt, sour, biter, pungent and astringent - of Punjabi cookery." The Guru himself took only boiled rice and lentils. In the coronation ode, Guru Amar Das's langar receives a special mention:
"In thy kitchen (O Amar Das), butter and flour are served (in plenty), everyday."
The Guru's kitchen remained open until three hours after nightfall. 'Every day's collections of grain were milled and baked into bread and distributed free.' What he daily received was daily spent and nothing was reserved for the morrow. Whatever remained, after feeding the people, was compassionately thrown to the beasts and birds; and if anything still remained, the good disciples took it to the river Beas and feasted the fish with it. One day Bhai Budha asked the Guru: "Is it right for the Sikhs to eat the choicest viands and dainty food while you are satisfied with a coarse meal ? Issue an order that only such food as you eat shall be served from your kitchen." The Guru replied: "O Bhai Budha, do you think there is a difference between the Sikhs and me? I enjoy the flavor of what the Sikhs eat. Be certain that what enters the Sikhs' mouth is contributed to the Guru's sustenance." On the occasion Bhai Jetha (later known as Guru Ramdas) was also present. He composed the following hymns summing up the idea expressed by the third Guru:
"As a mother is delighted when her child takes food,
As a fish is delighted when it bathes in the water,
So the true Guru is delighted when his disciples find food."
Guru Amardas took a social step forward. 'No one could gain an audience of the Guru without first partaking of the Bread of Grace at the Guru's Langar. This injunction of the Guru finished all distinction of Verna and Ashram (caste and position). Members of all the four classes of the Hindus were required to take food simultaneously on the same level, sitting together on the same matting, with no distinction whatsoever. this was contrary to the old conservative practice which was popular among the Hindus.' Not only eating together was compulsory for all the four classes but also the preparation of the food in the kitchen was to be done by the members of all the four classes. Even people of other communities were welcome in the Guru's langar. None could question whether the dishes were cooked by Brahman or a so-called low caste. All were treated alike. Apart from promoting social equality, the langar eliminated taboos about chauka- the preparation of food in special enclosure.
Another significant act of Guru Amardas was the construction of a Baoli at Goindwal. This was a deep well with eighty four steps leading down to its water. The construction of a Baoli brought about a great change amongst the Sikhs, for it had multifaced effects on their way of life and thought. While taking bath at the bank of the river Beas the caste prejudices were not shaken to the extent they were shaken when the people of different castes started taking bath in the Baoli. At the Beas the people of high and low castes could bath at reasonable distance, so that their caste prejudice were not distributed. But while taking bath in the Baoli, the people of different castes could not keep that distance. As in the langar while eating together the people had a feeling of oneness, the caste prejudice were shed off when they dipped in the same well and sipped from the same water. Before the construction of the Baoli the water for the Guru-Ka-Langar was brought from the Beas and the devotees had to walk up and down a distance of about 1 km for this purpose. Now with the Baoli at a few steps from the langar, the availability of water became very easy. Another benefit of the Baoli was that fresh and clean water was available throughout the year-even in the rainy days when the river water would be muddy and polluted.
The Sikh chronicles tell a charming story of the Mughal Emperor Akbar visiting Guru Amardas at Goindwal. He got down from his horse and walked a little distance bare-footed in his habitual reverence for all saints. It was pointed out to the emperor that it was obligatory for all the visitors to dine in the Guru's langar before meeting the Guru. So, instead of being taken into the Guru's presence he was asked to sit on the ground with other visitors and share the 'Bread of Grace'. The Emperor, who had adopted a policy of generous tolerance, compiled with this requirement and partook of the Langar. On seeing the Guru, he said: "Holy Sir, I find that your langar feeds hundreds of men and women everyday. I want to offer an estate that will suffice to pay its expenses." The Guru thankfully declined the offer and said: "I have already obtained enough from my creator. The people are my 'lands' and estates. the devotees who come from far and near bring the necessary supplies to the langar. Each day's collections are spent the same day, and for the next day we trust in Him. Enough that daily we get our bread. Enough that we are of the 'poor' and think of the Beloved.
When Raja of Haripur came to see the Guru he had also to take meal at the langar along with his Ranis and some other members of the family, before they could meet the Guru. Once some faithful Sikhs sought the permission of the Guru's daughter, Bibi Bhani, to offer her attire and ornaments, so that she might decorate herself like other girls. In reply she chanted a hymn of Guru Nanak: "All the gold and silver is illusion, and false are those who wear them," and reminded the Sikhs that the best use to which money could be put would be to fill the Guru's langar with corn and supply, the necessities of pilgrims. Guru Amardas was ever pleased with those who served selflessly in the langar. When the disciples from far and near came to meet the Guru he would always instruct them to feed the poor. The Guru so often stressed the need and importance of the service through langar. Hereunder are some stories in brief which are mentioned in the Suraj Parkash by Bhai Santokh Singh, and some of them have been also narrated by Macauliffe in the Sikh religion.
Jodh, a Brahmin, was a cook in Guru Amardas's kitchen. Leaving all pride of birth he served there. Whatever the offering the disciples brought to the Guru were handed over to him and he spent all on feeding others. He never allowed slackness to interfere with his duty and fed the hungry at all times, as many as were present. The Guru was pleased with his service of devotion and bestowed on him the spiritual knowledge and the Naam.
Lalu, Durga and Jiwanda were three disciples of the Guru. they took shelter at the feet of the Master and engaged in his service. One day while sitting near him, they asked the Guru: "We are thy servants; kindly show us the Way." "There is nothing like doing good to others," replied the Guru. "Try to serve the others at all times. This can be done in the following way. Listen and ever remember: Give to the poor and the distressed whatever wealth you possess. Wherever you find a destitute person give food and clothes to him. The greatest of all gifts is to give food at all times. Food gives life to mankind. How can other gifts equal it ?"
One day Ugar Sain, Ramu, Dipa and Nagauri came to the Guru, and prayed for instructions. The Guru in his mercy said: "Whenever a disciples come to you offer food to him..." Similarly when once Gangu, Sohan and Bhangu came to pay homage, they got the following instructions: "Share your earning s with others. The food alone is blessed which is taken after being offered to others." "In the ages gone by men used to perform Yajnas and appeased their gods by oblations burnt in fire. In this age you will get the same reward by offering food to the hungry."
The whole congregation of Dalla village came to the Guru once and prayed for general instructions for their conduct. The Guru through his grace was pleased to say: "On the days of Gurpurabs and festivals like Vaisakhi and Diwali, gather together in some place. Prepare Karah Parsaad and distribute it among the assembly. recite and sing the holy Word of the Guru. If you find anyone devoid of clothes, offer new clothes to him. Give food to the hungry and unite in helping others." Guru Amardas says: "Even if he were a most learned person of world wide renown, he would take care to remember that nothing is polluted in the kitchen. All restricted kitchens are false. Only he is pure."
Teja Singh says that from that time onwards there was no sanctity observed about eating and drinking among the Sikhs, may be gathered from the following story taken from the Dabistan-i-Mazahib: "One Partab mal, a learned Hindu said to his son who was inclined to turn Mohammadan, 'If you want to get freedom in eating you may better join Sikhism, where there is no restriction about food."


The story of the Mughal Emperor Akbar and Guru Amardas

Akbar was the emperor of India during the time of Guru Amar Das. He was a virtuous ruler who respected holy men and had a love for divine teachings. His grandfather had met with Guru Nanak Dev ji and his father had met with Guru Angad Dev ji. He himself went to go visit Guru Amar Das ji, the third Guru.
When the emperor requested to see the Guru something funny happened. The emperor was used to people giving him all the privileges in the world but the Guru refused to see him until he had eaten langar with the common people. Guru Amar Das had made a rule that anyone who wanted to see him had to eat langar first. So everyone who met the Guru, sat down in the langar lines with all the common people and ate the same food everyone is served. This way everyone knew that we are all equal and God gives to us all. He made no exception even for the great emperor Akbar.
This showed that the Guru respected God's law, that everyone is equal. It showed that we are all human and we are all equally loved in God's eye's. The Guru didn't care if someone was rich and powerful, he didn't accept these kinds of social rules. So the emperor did indeed sit and eat with everyone else. Akbar was impressed with Guru Amar Das and what an honest holy man he was. This story tells us that God provides for everyone. Everything we need will come to us.

(Source: Sikhnet)

Reading About The Life and Times of Guru Amardas


The Life and Times of Guru Amardas

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

In this episode, we will talk about the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amardas and his role in consolidating the legacy of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad – and in furthering institutions that gave the Sikh religion a firm and solid foundation. Before we do that, let’s revisit the social and political climate of India in the 16th century and the birth of Sikhism under Guru Nanak.

The Muslim invaders first came to occupy Punjab in about 1000 AD and by the 13th century, their power had spread across all of India. This change in ruling class also brought about changes in administration and law and order and a forceful conversion of Hindus to Islam. The Hindu society had also degenerated – the caste system ensured that women, the low castes and the poor were deprived of the basic human right to an honorable living.

Guru Nanak was born in a society deeply divided into Hindus and Muslims. In this society, Guru Nanak’s Sikhs or disciples rebelled against the established social order and created a whole new identity for themselves. To summarize Guru Nanak’s teachings, nam japna or remembering God in one’s actions, kirt karni, or earning through honest and creative work, and wand chhakna- or sharing earnings with others, became the hallmark of the new Sikh society.

Guru Angad, took over Guru Nanak’s mantle, collected his teachings, and combined them together. Guru Angad standardized the Gurmukhi script and gave the Sikhs their own written language. He also established a number of Sikh community centers and placed special emphasis on physical fitness. Guru Angad was able to steer the Sikhs away from the politics and strengthen a community of people who had much more in common amongst themselves than they had with the communities that they previously belonged to. In a deeply divided and discriminatory society, Guru Angad’s Sikhs or disciples created a whole new identity for themselves and in 1552 AD, Guru Angad passed on the leadership of the nascent Sikh faith into the very capable hands of Guru Amardas.

With this background in mind, lets look at the life and times of Guru Amardas.

Guru Amardas was born in the village of Basarke, about 15 kms from Amritsar in Punjab. Due to lack of recorded evidence, it is impossible to exactly identify his date of birth, but most scholars have traced it to May 5, 1479. He was the eldest son of Tej Bhan a farmer and trader, and his wife Lachhmi. His family was engaged in agriculture and trading grains. Amardas grew up to be a successful trader and had reasonable financial resources.

Amardas was married to Mali, also known as Mansa Devi. For many years after marriage, the couple had no children. Eventually, they had four children, Bibi Dani and Bibi Bhani were the elder daughters and Bhai Mohan and Bhai Mohri were the younger twins. Bibi Bhani was married to the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das, and we will talk in more detail about her in a later episode.

Since his childhood, Amardas had a religious bent of mind, which was steeped into the traditional Hindu way of life – he undertook an annual pilgrimage to Haridwar, a revered Hindu city by the banks of the river Ganges, and frequently visited Kurukshetra, another city considered holy by the Hindus. His last trip to Haridwar was at the age of 60. However, neither these visits, nor his charitable works brought him peace of mind or contentment.

For some years, though, Amardas had been familiar with the teachings of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad. His nephew was married to Bibi Amro, Guru Angad Dev’s daughter. Bibi Amro had brought with her the Sikh way of life. She had intense faith in the Sikh Gurus and a zest for selfless service. She recited the hymns of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad and had exposed everyone in the family to the teachings of the Sikh gurus.

While Amardas was disillusioned by his pilgrimages, he asked Bibi Amro to introduce him to Guru Angad. Soon after, he went into the service of Guru Angad at Khadur Sahib.

The next few years were the most rewarding in the life of Amardas and transformed him completely. He left behind the superstitions, the prejudices and the discriminations of the prevailing society and fully embraced the teachings of the Gurus. Amardas became a zealous follower of Guru Angad and despite his advanced age of almost 60, took up largely physical responsibilities.

He made it a daily practice to rise 3 hours before daybreak and fetch fresh water for the Guru’s morning bath. During the day, he worked in the community kitchen, cooking meals and cleaning utensils. In addition, he would go out to gather firewood for the kitchen, for in those days there were no modern cooking facilities and wood burning stoves were the norm. In the morning and evening, he busied himself with meditation or naam japna. The ardent spirit of his selfless service lent a new dimension to his personality. He grew tremendously in stature and won the admiration of everyone who came in contact with him.

Guru Angad was impressed by his service and had considered nominating him as the third guru. Sensing a clash between his sons and Amardas, he asked Amardas to relocate from Khadur and establish a new center of Sikh learning in the new township of Goindwaal – about 8 kms away from Khadur. Amardas relocated to Goindwaal, but still kept his daily routine in service of Guru Angad. Everyday, he walked from Goindwaal to Khadur, and on the way fetch fresh water for the Guru’s bath from the river Beas. He would stop midway at a place now known as Damdama – Damdama literally means a breathing place. The Damdama Sahib gurudwara stands at this historic place – this is different from the Takht Damdama Sahib where Guru Gobind Singh had set up his camp.

After about 12 years of service to Guru Angad, Amardas was appointed as the third guru in the same fashion as Guru Nanak had appointed Guru Angad. Placing an offering of 5 paise and a coconut, Guru Angad bowed before Guru Amardas and recognized him as the new Guru. Guru Angad breathed his last on March 29, 1552 and Guru Amardas assumed full leadership of the Sikhs.

Guru Amardas now established his center at Goindwaal. The new town was on the Grand Trunk Road built by Sher Shah Suri , connecting Lahore in the west to Calcutta in the East. While this allowed trade to flourish, Guru Amardas’ personal life was a model of simplicity. He slept for only 4 hours a day and immersed himself in consolidating the Sikh community. It was Guru Amardas who first advocated that all Sikhs should get together in the month of Baisakh in late spring. this led to the celebration of Vaisakhi and later in 1699, Guru Gobind established the Khalsa on this day.

Guru Amardas introduced many innovations which broke the close affiliation of Sikhs and Hindus. He composed new hymns most notable of which is the “Anand” sung at all religious ceremonies of the Sikhs irrespective of the nature of event, be it a marriage, birth or death. He advocated great importance in sangat – or congregation and in kirtan or singing of the hymns as a mode of ensuring righteous behavior. In total he composed 907 shabads that are part of the Guru Granth Sahib.

To dismantle any caste related discrimination, he mandated the langar – or community meal, for anyone who wished to meet him. To accord women an equal status as men, he condemned the practice of Sati, or burning of widows on their husbands funeral pyre. He also mandated that no women should observe the purdah system, or covering of face with a veil. He advocated for widow remarriage , intercaste alliances and monogamy.

Abolishing such deep rooted prejudices went a long way in creating an equality amongst men and women in the Sikh society. These innovations went directly against the vested interests of the Hindu Brahmins or the Muslim clerics who wanted to assert a tight control on the social structure.

In 1556 AD, Akbar became the Mughal Emperor. He was the most liberal Mughal ruler. When he visited Guru Amardas in 1567, he had to eat and dress like a common man before he could meet Guru Amardas. He was so impressed by the way of life of the Sikhs in Goindwal and the practice of equality amongst all that he gave away the revenues of several large villages to Guru Amardas daughter Bibi Bhani as a marriage gift. This gift also included the village of Amritsar, which later became the nerve center of the Sikhs. The relations between Sikhs and Mughals were at their best during this period.

The number of Guru’s visitors grew so much that Goindwal grew from a small village to a large town. Guru Amardas felt that he alone could not minister to the needs of the thousands of converts who wanted guidance. The establishment of 22 manjis was another important innovation introduced by Guru Amardas. The word manji literally means a cot or a bedstead, but here it denotes a responsible religious position conferred by the Guru on a pre-eminent devotee, or a seat of delegated authority.

Only people of recognized integrity were awarded the distinction of a manji. An essential qualification was that they correctly understood and practiced the teachings of the Sikh gurus. Appointees to the manji’s were called masands, and the most important function of these manjis was to initiate fresh people into the fold of Sikhism. The masands conducted their missionary work individually and through the sangat. They maintained their connection with Guru Amardas through periodic visits to Goindwaal. These visits were later synchronized with the Vaisakhi celebrations. The manjis also helped in promoting knowledge of the Gurmukhi script – which had now gained wide acceptance with the Sikh community.

Guru Amardas passed away peacefully on September 1, 1574 in Goindval, by the river Beas, at a very advanced age of 95. He was the longest living Sikh Guru and the total tenure of his Guruship was 22 years and 5 months. Before his passing away, he insisted that after his death, Sikhs were to engage in kirtan, or singing of Guru’s compositions, and naam japna, or remembering God in their actions. In this he ruled out mourning at death as contrary to Sikh teachings.

Before he died, he appointed his son in law Bhai Jetha, the husband of Bibi Bhani, as the fourth guru – Guru Ram Das. All through his life, Guru Amardas carved out a new and distinctive path for the Sikhs, and helped in consolidating the work of the previous 2 Gurus, thereby laying a rock solid foundation for his successors to build on. In later episodes we will begin to see how this foundation guided the course of action for the later Gurus.

In perspective, Guru Amardas assumed guruship in 1552 AD when Sikhism was in its infancy. Over the next 22 years, he worked tirelessly to chalk out programs for the speedy development of the Sikh society. The contemporary society was deeply divided between Hindus and Muslims and Sikhism was a challenge to the orthodoxy of both.

Guru Amardas was able to take up a whole gamut of important issues and on each one defined the Sikh position with clarity and precision – these issues included

1. Understanding life and death,

2. The importance of kirtan and sangat,

3. The promotion of equlity through langar,

4. Rejecting oppression against women,

and 5. The establishment of manjis or Sikh centers of learning to spread the word of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad.

Finally, an everlasting legacy of Guru Amardas that we cherish today is the getting together of Sikhs from all walks of life and all parts of the world on the occasion of Vaisakhi. He also accomplished the monumental task of compiling all the Sikh scriptures and composed hymns to enhance it. We can clearly say that Guru Amardas took the fullest possible advantage of his opportunities and made a rich and lasting contribution to the growth and development of Sikhism.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Choice - An original poem

We don't blame
birds for 
devouring the cherries 

We don't blame 
the storm for 
destroying a city 

We blame 
a human for 
he has a choice.

Color and Before - A poem by Sultan Valad (Rumi's son)

Spring makes red and white flowers appear on the trees,
But the spring that is the origin of colors is colorless.
Understand what I have said, and give up all talk;
Run to the Origin without color and unite yourself to it.

~Sultan Valad (Rumi's son - Turkey, 13th century)

Beautiful Spiritual Poetry From Janabai, A woman saint from medieval Maharashtra

I was reading about Bhagat Namdev and came across really beautiful poetry from a female saint of his time, Janabai. On this blogpost I am sharing 5 Poems by Janabai that were translated really well by Sarah Sellergren. I really enjoyed these and hope you will too ...
Background on Janabai

Janābāi was a Marāthi religious poetess in the Hindu tradition in India, who was born likely in the seventh or the eighth decade of the 13th century. According to folklore, she died in 1350.

Janabai was born in Gangākhed, Mahārāshtra to a couple with first names rand and Karand. Under the caste system which rigidly existed in India, the couple belonged to the lowest caste. After her mother died, her father took her to Pandharpur.[1] Since her childhood, Janabai worked as a maidservant in the household of Dāmāsheti, who lived in Pandharpur and who was the father of the prominent Marathi religious poet Nāmdev. Janabai was likely a little older than Namdev, and attended to him for many years.

Pandharpur has high religious significance especially among Marathi-speaking Hindus. Janabai's employers, Damasheti and his wife, Gonāi, were very religious. Through the influence of the religious environment around her and her innate inclination, Janabai was all along an ardent devotee of Lord Vitthal, and she was also gifted with poetic talent. Though she never had any formal schooling, she thus composed many high-quality religious verses of the abhang (अभंग) form. Fortunately, some of her compositions got preserved along with those of Namdev. Authorship of about 300 abhang is traditionally attributed to Janabai. However, researchers believe that quite a few of them were in fact compositions of some other writers.

Along with Dnyāneshwar, Nāmdev, Eknāth, and Tukaram, Janabai has a revered place in the minds of Marathi-speaking Hindus who belong especially to the wārakari (वारकरी) sect in Maharashtra. In accord with a tradition in India of assigning the epithet sant (संत) to persons regarded as thoroughly saintly, all of the above religious figures including Janabai are commonly attributed that epithet in Maharashtra. Thus, Janabai is routinely referred to as Sant Janabai (संत जनाबाई).

Catching the thief

I caught the thief of Pandhari
by tying a rope around his neck.

I made my heart the prison cell
and locked him up inside.

I bound him firmly with the Word,
I fettered his holy feet,

I thrashed him, whipped him
with the word so'ham
while Vitthal complained bitterly.

Sorry, O Lord,
says Jani,
by my life I will not let you go.

Cast off all shame

Cast off all shame,
and sell yourself
in the marketplace;
then alone
can you hope
to reach the Lord.

Cymbals in hand,
a veena upon my shoulder,
I go about;
who dares to stop me?

The pallav of my sari
falls away (A scandal!);
yet will I enter
the crowded marketplace
without a thought.

Jani says, My Lord,
I have become a slut
to reach Your home.


What I eat is divine
What I drink is divine
My bed is also divine
The divine is here, and it is there
There is nothing empty of divine
Jani says -- Vithabai has filled
everything from the inside out

How will I repay your debt?

Jani has had enough of samsara,
but how will I repay my debt?

You leave your greatness behind you
to grind and pound with me.

O Lord you become a woman
washing me and my soiled clothes,

proudly you carry the water
and gather dung with your own two hands.

O Lord, I want
a place at your feet,
says Jani, Namdev's dasi.


If the Ganga flows to the ocean
and the ocean turns her away,
tell me, O Vitthal,
who would hear her complaint?

Can the river reject its fish?
Can the mother spurn her child?

Jan says,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.

Namdev - A biography by Swami Sivananda

Sri Swami Sivananda

Namdev of Maharashtra was a saint of mediaeval India.

Namdev was a contemporary of Jnanadev, the famous saint of Maharashtra, being his senior in age by about five years. He was born in 1269 A.D. He came of a family of tailors who were sincere devotees of Vittala of Pandharpur. The family members were observing the Wari of Pandharpur, i.e., going on pilgrimage twice a year on the first eleventh day of the Ashadh (June-July) and Kartik (October-November) months. The family originated from a village called Narsibamani on the bank of the river Krishna, near Karad, in district Satara. Being a great devotee of Vittala and wishing to improve his material prospects, Dama Setti, the father of Namdev, had moved to Pandharpur a year or two before his son’s birth.

Namdev, from his very childhood; was like Prahlad. At the age of two, when he began to talk, the first correct word he uttered was ‘Vittala’, and since then, he continued with the repetition of that sacred name incessantly, without any help or instruction from others. He found great pleasure when every day his mother Guna Bai took him to the temple of Vithoba for offering worship to the Deity. His next step was, when at the age of about seven, he prepared a pair of cymbals and spent his time in dancing and singing, doing Bhajan, to the neglect of everything—food, studies in school, rest, sleep, etc. His devotion to Vithoba was so innocent and sincere that he used to treat Him sometimes as his dearest brother or as his playmate.

One day, as Namdev’s mother was busy, she asked Namdev to take the plate of offerings to Vithoba. Namdev went to the temple, placed the plate of eatables before Vithoba and asked Him to accept the offering. However, when Namdev did not find any evidence of acceptance by Vithoba, he cried so bitterly that Vithoba actually assumed a human form and accepted the offerings gratefully. Namdev’s mother was surprised when her son came back in great joy with an empty plate and explained to her that Vithoba had accepted the offerings by actually consuming the eatables presented in the plate. So, the next day, she herself accompanied Namdev (but without his knowledge) to see and verify for herself the correctness of Namdev’s explanation. The same performance was repeated and the mother had the satisfaction of seeing the Lord actually accepting their offerings. Her joy and pride in Namdev was unbounded. She felt grateful to the Lord that she was the mother of such a great devotee.

Lord Vithoba—his only interest
In other respects, however, Namdev was the despair of his parents, and later, of his wife and other relatives. From the beginning he had no interest in worldly affairs; he neglected studies in school; he would not take interest in his father’s profession as a tailor, or in any other trade. His sole interest was to spend day and night in devotion to Vithoba. His parents were getting old; the family prosperity was waning. Therefore, their dearest wish was that Namdev, while devoting a reasonable spare time to his devotions, should help in maintaining the family in comfort. So, Namdev was sent to the bazaar one day to sell a few pieces of clothes.

But Namdev was innocent of the tricks of the trade. To him, such things as prices, and money and its value, were unknown subjects. He went to the bazaar with the clothes, because his father forced him. He sat there on a stone doing Bhajan, entirely forgetting that he had gone there to sell the clothes. After a few hours the sun set and it was time for him to go to the temple for the evening devotional performance. Then only he remembered that he had not sold the clothes and that he would get a thrashing from his father. He was impatient to go to the temple. He therefore sold all the clothes to the very stone on which he was seated, i.e., he kept the clothes on the stone, appointed another stone as a guarantee that the first one would pay the money the next day, and went to the temple.

Namdev’s father was furious on hearing his son’s adventures and asked him to bring forth Dhondya (which means a stone and which is also used as a proper name among certain classes of people of Maharashtra) who had guaranteed the money. The next day Namdev went back to the bazaar, found that the clothes had vanished during the night and took the second stone (Dhondya) home, as it refused to pay the money, and locked it in a room. He then went to the temple and narrated all the events to Vithoba and explained his difficulties also. When Namdev’s father asked him to show him Dhondya who had guaranteed the money, Namdev replied that Dhondya had been kept in a closed room in the house and ran to the temple. When the father opened the room to demand the money, he found, to his surprise, a lump of gold. Great was the father’s joy; but Namdev was quite indifferent to it. He only praised God for saving him from a thrashing. Thus it went on.

His marriage
In the meantime, Namdev married Radha Bai. Radha Bai was a worldly-minded woman. In response to Namdev’s invitation, Vittal attended the naming ceremony of Namdev’s child in the guise of a human being, named the child ‘Narayana’ and gave good gifts on the occasion.

There was extreme poverty in the house of Namdev. Namdev neglected his worldly duties. Namdev’s mother and wife abused Lord Krishna. Under the guise of Dharma Setti of Vaikunthapuram and the pretence of past friendship with Namdev, the Lord visited Namdev’s house, gave magnificent gifts to Radha Bai and disappeared.

A Bhakta, named Parisha Bhagavat, propitiated Rukmini and got the philosopher’s stone which could convert iron into gold. Parisha’s wife gave the stone to her friend Radha Bai one day. Radha Bai showed the stone to her husband and said that his Bhakti was of no use and was inferior to the Bhakti of Parisha Bhagavat. Namdev threw the stone into the river. Next day Parisha came to know of everything and took Namdev to task. Namdev showed Parisha the place where he had dropped the stone. Parisha searched for the stone and found, not a single stone, but a whole lot. Parisha was struck with wonder. He admired the spirit of renunciation and the spiritual powers of Namdev.

Namdev felt it increasingly difficult to take interest in household affairs and in his parents, wife and children; and no amount of persuasion from all those people or his friends was successful in bringing him back to the worldly life. To him there was only one interest and that was Lord Vithoba. He used to spend hour after hour sitting before Vithoba, talking to Him, discussing spiritual matters with Him and doing Bhajan. To Namdev, Vithoba was the beginning and the end of everything.

Meeting with Jnanadev
When Namdev was about twenty years of age, he met the great saint Jnanadev at Pandharpur. Jnanadev was naturally attracted to Namdev as a great devotee of Vithoba. That he might benefit from the company of Namdev, he persuaded Namdev to go with him to all the holy places on pilgrimage. Namdev did not want to go, as that would mean separation from Lord Vithoba of Pandharpur. However, wiser counsel prevailed and Namdev was induced to go on pilgrimage. This was the most important period in the life of Namdev. Practically from this time, the two great saints almost never separated till death parted them. The pilgrimage extended to all parts of India and almost all the holy places.

On the way, several miracles are reported to have been performed by both Namdev and Jnanadev. Once Namdev and Jnanadev reached the desert of Marwar. Namdev was dying of thirst. They found out a well, but the water was at such a low depth that it was impossible to get it by ordinary means. Jnanadev proposed to assume the form of a bird by his Laghima Siddhi and bring the water up in his beak. But Namdev proved superior to him. He prayed to Rukmini. The level of the water rose miraculously to the surface. The well is seen even today at Kaladji, ten miles off Bikaner.

Namdev and Jnanadev came to Naganathpuri. Namdev started Bhajan in the temple. There was a huge crowd. The temple priests were not able to enter the temple and so became angry. Namdev went to the western gate of the temple and spent the night in doing Kirtan. The image of the temple itself turned to his side.

A Brahmin of Bidar invited Namdev to do Bhajan in his house. Namdev went there with a large number of devotees. The Sultan mistook them for rebel troops and sent General Kasi Pant against them. The general reported to the Sultan that it was only a religious party. The Sultan ordered that Namdev should be arrested and prosecuted. He asked Namdev to rouse a butchered cow to life or embrace Islam. An elephant was sent to crush Namdev to death. Namdev’s mother requested her son to embrace Islam to save his life. But Namdev was prepared to die. Namdev raised the dead cow to life. The Sultan and others were struck with amazement. Namdev won the admiration of the Sultan and his party.

Namdev and Jnanadev met Narsi Mehta at Junagarh; Kabir, Kamal and Mudgalacharya at Kashi; Tulsidas at Chitrakut; Pipaji at Ayodhya; Nanak at a place in the Deccan and Dadu, Gorakhnath and Matsyendranath in other places.

When feeding of Brahmins was done by Namdev at the end of his pilgrimage, Vittal and Rukmini became the cooks and servers. They ate out of the very plate which Namdev used.
Namdev gained much, during the pilgrimage, from the society of Jnaneshwar and from Nivritti who was Jnaneshwar’s elder brother and Guru, and was able to look on this world with a wider vision as the manifestation of God.

As we saw earlier, Namdev’s world began and ended with the Deity ‘Vithoba’ of Pandharpur and he would not recognize any other Deity as the symbol of God. The pilgrimage lasted about five years and during this period Jnanadev advised Namdev to adopt a Guru so that he might be in a position to realise completely the manifestation of the all-pervading God and thus fulfil his own mission in life. Again Namdev hesitated as he thought that such action might alienate his loyalty and devotion to Vithoba. He plainly said that as long as he had the love of Vithoba, he had nothing to desire except constant devotion to Him. In fact, Vithoba was his Guru. It was, however, clear to Jnanadev and other saints in the company that Namdev’s view was rather narrow in the sense that he thought God was centred in the Deity of Vithoba of Pandharpur and they wanted him to acquire the wider vision which they themselves had attained.

One day, in such company, Gora, another saint and a potter by trade, was asked to ascertain which of them were half-baked, i.e., had not realised Brahman. Gora took a small, flat wooden board such as he used to prepare or test the pots and began to pat on the head of everybody. When he came to Namdev and patted on his head, Namdev cried aloud thinking he was hurt. Immediately, all the others in the company began to laugh saying that Namdev was only half-baked and had not become fixed in his spiritual position.

Adopting a Guru
Greatly mortified, Namdev repaired to Vithoba and complained to Him of his humiliation. He said that he saw no necessity for him to have a Guru as he had intimate relationship with Lord Krishna Himself. Lord Krishna said that Namdev did not really know Him. Namdev denied this. Lord Krishna challenged Namdev and asked him to find out His identity that day. Namdev agreed. Lord Krishna took the form of a Pathan horseman and passed before Namdev. Namdev could not recognize the Lord. Namdev agreed to go to a Guru. Lord Vithoba then advised him to adopt Visoba Khechar as his Guru.

Visoba Khechar was one of the disciples of Jnanadev and was living at the time at a village called Avandhya. Namdev proceeded to the village immediately and arrived there at about noon. He took shelter in a temple in order to take some rest. There in that temple he saw a man sleeping with his feet on the Deity Itself. Namdev was shocked, woke up the man and rebuked him for this sacrilege. The man was no other than Visoba himself. Visoba replied, “O Namdev, why did you wake me up? Is there a single spot in this world which is not permeated by God? If you think that such a spot can be found, kindly place my feet there”. Namdev took the feet of Visoba in his hands and moved them to another direction, but the Deity was there. He then moved Visoba in still another direction, but the Deity was there too! Namdev could not find any direction or spot where he could place the feet of Visoba without treading on the Deity. God was everywhere. Having realised this great truth that God had permeated the whole universe, Namdev surrendered himself to Visoba gratefully and humbly. Visoba then advised Namdev at great length. A small portion of Visoba’s advice is given below.

“If you want to be absolutely happy, fill this world with Bhajan and the sacred Name of the Lord. The Lord is the world itself. Give up all ambitions or desires. Let them take care of themselves. Be content only with the name of Vittal.

You need not undergo any hardship or penance in order to go to heaven. Vaikuntha will come to you of itself. Do not be anxious of this life or of your friends or relatives. They are like the illusions of a mirage. One has to spend a short space of time here like the potter’s wheel which goes on rotating even after the potter has left. Make the best of it by keeping the name of Vittal ever in your mind and on your lips and by recognizing Him everywhere and in everyone. This is my experience of life.

“Pandharpur was established on the banks of the river Chandrabhaga as a sort of boat for people to cross safely this ocean of life. Pandharinath is standing there as the boatman-in-charge to take you to the other side; and the most important point is that He does this without asking for any fee. In this way He has saved crores of people who have gone to Him in surrender. If you surrender to Him, there is no death in this world.”

After initiation by Visoba, Namdev became more philosophical and large-hearted. His temple was no longer the small narrow space on the banks of the Chandrabhaga, but the whole world. His God was not Vithoba or Vittal with hands and legs, but the omnipotent infinite Being.

A few days after Namdev had adopted Visoba as his Guru, he was sitting at a place doing his Bhajan. In the meantime, a dog came to the spot and ran away with the bread he had prepared for his midday meal. Namdev ran after the dog—not with a stick in his hand, but with a cup of Ghee; and he addressed the dog thus: “O Lord of the world! Why do You want to eat the dry bread? Take some Ghee along with it. It will taste much better”. Namdev’s realisation of Atma was now complete and overflowing.

After Namdev had returned with Jnanadev from the long pilgrimage, the latter expressed his desire to take Samadhi at Alandi. Namdev therefore accompanied the party to Alandi as he could not part with Jnanadev. He was with Jnanadev to the last moment. He then accompanied the party until the other brothers, Nivritti and Sopan, and their sister Muktabai, left the world. Namdev has left behind a detailed account of the ends of these four saints in beautiful poems. Namdev was so shocked by these events which occurred within a short space of one year that he himself was left with no desire to live in this world. He took his Samadhi at Pandharpur at the age of twenty-six in 1295 A.D.

Namdev was not an author of any big treatise; but he left behind him a large number of Abhangas or short poems, full with the nectar of Bhakti and love towards God. These are exceedingly sweet. Most of these are lost, but there are extant about four thousand Abhangas, which to this day are a great source of inspiration to all who would read them. Some of the Abhangas are found in the Sikh Adi Granth.

The essence of Namdev’s message is: “Always recite the Name of the Lord. Constantly remember Him. Hear His glory. Meditate on the Lord in your heart. Serve the Lord with your hands. Place your head at His lotus feet. Do Kirtan. You will forget your hunger and thirst. The Lord will be near you. You will attain immortality and eternal bliss”.

Namdev’s maid-servant Janabai
No account of the life of Namdev would be complete without a mention of Janabai. She was a maid-servant in the household of Namdev. Nothing is known of her life except that she was Namdev’s maid-servant. She herself forgot sometimes that she had an existence apart from being the maid-servant of Namdev. In several poems on devotion which she has left behind, she describes herself as ‘Nam’s maid-servant’ or ‘Namdev’s Jani’. She was one of the closest followers of Namdev and had no ambition other than to serve Namdev and sing the praises of the Lord Vithoba. For instance, in one of her poems she sings:

“Let me undergo as many births in this world as You please, but grant that my desires are fulfilled. They are that I see Pandharpur and serve Namdev in every birth. I do not mind if I am a bird or a swine, a dog or a cat, but my conditions are that in each of these lives, I must see Pandharpur and serve Namdev. This is the ambition of Namdev’s maid.”

In another place, Janabai writes:
“Give me only this girl, O Hari, that I shall always sing Your sacred Name. Fulfil my only desire that You will accept my humble homage and service. This is all that I desire. Have mercy on me and fulfil my desires. I want to concentrate my eyes and mind on You and have Your Name on my lips. For this the maid Jani falls at Your feet.”

That sums up the philosophy of Janabai and how she attained her desired goal. So intense and sincere was her devotion to Vithoba that the Lord Himself used to lighten her household duties, which, as she became old, she found unable to perform. By her service and devotion to God, she completely succeeded in effacing herself and she got completely merged in Him. A great soul—Janabai! And a greater Master—Namdev!

Break Up - Translation of a Meerabai poem

Even if you break up with me, I will not break up with you!
- Meerabai

I would be the fish
if you were the sea
I would be a bird
if you were a tree

If you were the pearl
I would be the string
If you were the gold
I'd be the shimmering

If you break up with me
I wont break up with you
After your break up
with who'd I make up

A very similar poem by Bhagat Ravidas

If You are the mountain, Lord, then I am the peacock.
If You are the moon, then I am the partridge. ||1||

If You are the lamp, then I am the wick.
If You are the sacred place of pilgrimage, then I am the pilgrim. ||2||

I am joined in true love with You, Lord.
I am joined with You, and I have broken with all others. ||3||

Wherever I go, there I serve You
There is no other Lord Master than You, O Divine Lord. ||4||

Meditating, vibrating upon You, the noose of death is cut away.
To attain devotional worship, Ravi Daas sings to You, Lord. ||5||

O Lord, if You will not break with me, then I will not break with You.
For, if I were to break with You, with whom would I then join? ||1||Pause||

Vulture - A couplet by Guru Arjan

Don't be a vulture.  Enjoy the gifts that you have.  See the sparkling stars!


She flies here there everywhere
Over flowing streams of water
Over gorgeous mountains
Over blossoming forests
Its where she finds death
shiv, the vulture comes and sits!

- Guru Arjan

Guru Arjan's couplet:
firdi firdi deh disha jal parbat banraye
jithe ditha mirtako il bahithi aaye

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The sexiness of Home - A story from Odysseus

This is an excerpt from Odysseus, the great poem by Homer. It shows how the protagonist who has

“Son of Laertes, versatile Odysseus,
after these years with me, you still desire
your old home? Even so, I wish you well.
If you could see it all, before you go—
105 all the adversity you face at sea—
you would stay here, and guard this house, and be
immortal—though you wanted her forever,
that bride for whom you pine each day.
Can I be less desirable than she is?
110 Less interesting? Less beautiful? Can mortals
compare with goddesses in grace and form?”

To this the strategist Odysseus answered:“

My lady goddess, there is no cause for anger.
My quiet Penelope—how well I know—
115 would seem a shade before your majesty,
death and old age being unknown to you,
while she must die. Yet, it is true, each day
I long for home, long for the sight of home. . . .”

Friday, May 17, 2013

Okus Bokus - Passing spiritual tradition through a lullaby

What a beautiful way of passing spirituality.  Through a a lullaby every child gets to learn it.  And then it passes from generation to generation to generation.  

Okus Bokus is actually a Kashmiri Lullaby . The word Okus Bokus over the centuries got corrupted from Hukus Bukus which means who is he and who is me OR Tchekus BeKus again maining who are you and who are me .

The translation is done here .

Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus
Who are you and who am I then tell us who is he the creator that permeates through both you and I

Moh Batuk Logum Deg
Each day I feed my senses/body with the food of worldly attachment and material love (Moh = attachment)

Shwas Khich Khich Wang-mayam
For when the breath that I take in reaches the point of complete purification (Shwas = Breath)

Bhruman daras Poyun chokum
It feels like my mind is bathing in the water of divine love (Bhruman = nerve center in the human brain, poyun = water)

Tekis Takya bane Tyuk
Then I know I am like that sandal wood which is pasted for divine fragrance symbolic of universal divinity. I realize that I am, indeed, divine (Tyuk = Tika applied on the forehead)

The message of this poem is rooted in Kashmiri spiritual tradition. The poem itself is ageless. Some say it came up during Lal Ded’s time, other’s say it dates back to the origin of Kashmir and Kashmiri culture itself. The poem, in later years, was made a song for children. For years it served as a poetic medium to pass down the essence of Kashmiri culture to little ones.

It is said that the tones produced by the arrangement of words in this poem as well as its rhythm has a calming effect for infants and toddlers of all times

Here is the ICIC jingle of Okus Bokus
And here is famous Kashmiri Singer , Kailash Mehra , singing Okus Bokus for Kashmiri Pandit diaspora in USA
Mr Anil Mattoo explaining the same , somewhere in USA

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Apostrophe - An original poem (reacting to today's Wall Street Journal article)


"There's a question mark hanging
on apostrophe's future." is the title
of the most popular article
in today's Wall Street Journal.

The apostrophe is in grave
danger contends the Apostrophe
Protection Society because geographical
names in the US cannot carry an apostrophe.

This happens to fall on Adrienne Rich's birthday.
What kind of calamitous times are these really?
Those trees in her poem are now stumps,
shiv, because metaphors are needless.

And in the meeting-place nearby
the revolutionaries of these times
meet: the comma, semi-colon,
period and their cousin marks.

Infuriated by the blatant racism.
they are now each demanding
an institution of support of their own
lest they suffer the same catastrophe.

The necessity of trees - An original poem

The necessity of trees

The frontyard that made me
had medicinal three trees,
one even with my name.

We would pick Eucalyptus leaves
squeeze their refreshing scents out
between cricket games.

Somedays we would renunciate
colgate for the chewable stems
of the neem tree

The long black fruit from
the amaltas tree was great
for the stomach

These trees outside my window
sway the way of the wind,
shiv, make me think.

The usefulness of trees, and poetry! - Adrienne Rich

On Adrienne Rich's birthday today I am reading her poem, "What kind of times are these."  I like how she connects nature to poetry.  Poetry lulls people in -- whether they agree with you or not, they have to listen to you.  It prevents the listener from shutting down and not listening and then thinking.

I have actually used this at work a lot to inspire people when they are making sub-optimal progress.  Because I know that they can sing, but am not willing to point out they are not singing their best.  To blatantly tell someone they are wrong, to criticize without the hidden reprimand of the poem is dangerous.  Therein lies the importance of trees and metaphors.  Therein lies the importance of poetry.

What kind of times are these
- Adrienne Rich

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

An interesting take on this poem:

Adrienne Rich borrowed the title of this poem from the following poem by German poet Brecht (some interpretations say that Brecht prefers socio-political poetry over nature poetry, and that Rich sees nature poetry as a means to making socio-political changes.

To the Descendants


Truly, I live in dark times!
The frank is the foolish. A smooth brow
Indicates insensitivity. The laughing man
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.

What kind of times are these when
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
Because it includes a silence about so many misdeeds!
That man quietly crossing the street
Is probably no longer approachable by his friends
Who are in need?

It is true: I still earn my keep
But believe me: that’s only by accident. Nothing
I do entitles me to eat my fill.
I’ve been accidentally spared. (If my luck stops
I’ve had it.)

I’m told: eat and drink! Be happy you’ve got it!
But how can I eat and drink when
What I eat I rip off the hungry and
The thirsty lack my glass of water?
And yet I eat and drink.

I’d also like to be wise.
In the old books is written what is wise:
Stay out of the world’s argy-bargy and spend
Your short span without fear,
Also make do without violence,
Repay evil with good,
Don’t fulfil your wishes but forget them,
All that is seen as wise.
All that I cannot.
Really, I live in dark times!


Into the cities I came in the time of disorder
When hunger reigned.
Among men I came in the time of uprising
And I rebelled with them.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.

My meals I ate between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
practised love carelessly
And looked at nature impatiently.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.

The streets led to the swamp of my time.
Language betrayed me to the butcher.
I could do but little. But the rulers
Sat more securely without me, that I hoped.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.

The forces were few. The goal
Lay far distant.
It was clearly discernible, even if for me
Hardly attainable.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.


You who shall emerge from the flood
We went down in
When you speak of our weaknesses
Also the dark time
You have escaped.

For indeed we went, changing countries more often than our shoes,
Through the wars of classes, despairing
When there was but injustice and no rebellion.

Yet we know:
The hate of baseness
Too distorts the face.
Rage against injustice
Too hoarsens the voice. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly.

You however, when it has come to pass
That man is a helper to man,
Remember us
With forbearing.

Here is the another translation of this:

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!

(Bertolt Brecht, "An die Nachgeborenen"; Brecht reads it here)

What kind of times are these, when
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many atrocities!

(Bertolt Brecht, "To Those Born Later," my translation)

Another Translation:

Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)

To those born later

Truly I live in dark times!
Frank speech is naïve. A smooth forehead
Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.

What kind of times are these, when
To talk about trees is almost a crime
Because it implies silence about so many horrors?
When the man over there calmly crossing the street
Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends
Who are in need?

It’s true that I still earn my daily bread
But, believe me, that’s only an accident. Nothing
I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
By chance I've been spared. (If my luck breaks, I'm lost.)

They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat
From the starving
And my glass of water belongs to someone dying of thirst?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would also like to be wise.
In the old books it says what wisdom is:
To shun the strife of the world and to live out
Your brief time without fear
Also to get along without violence
To return good for evil
Not to fulfill your desires but to forget them
Is accounted wise.
All this I cannot do.
Truly, I live in dark times.

I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger reigned.
I came among men in a time of revolt
And I rebelled with them.
So passed my time
Given me to on earth.

I ate my food between battles
I lay down to sleep among murderersI practiced love carelessly
And I had little patience for nature’s beauty. 40
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.
All roads led into the mire in my time.
My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.
There was little I could do. But those is power
Sat safer without me: that was my hope.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.
Our forces were slight. Our goal
Lay far in the distance 50
Clearly visible, though I myself
Was unlikely to reach it.
So passed my time
Given to me on earth.
You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
Bring to mind
When you speak of our failings
Bring to mind also the dark times
That you have escaped. 60
Changing countries more often than our shoes,
We went through the class wars, despairing
When there was only injustice, no outrage.
And yet we realized:
Hatred, even of meanness
Contorts the features.
Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse. O,
We who wanted to prepare the ground for friendship
Could not ourselves be friendly. 70
But you, when the time comes at last
When man is helper to man
Think of us
With forbearance.