Poems

Venerable Mahā Kassapa, the Buddha's strictest disciple, is also known for his composition of one of the finest early examples of nature poetry. Poetry is very popular in Thailand and practitioners in the Thai Wilderness Tradition will occasionally be inspired to poetry. Although they are very difficult to translate satisfactorily, some examples will be presented here, including my own.

 

The most well-known (if not well-understood!) poem is the one written in the 1920's by Luang Pu Mun Bhūridatto himself. A number of monks have tried to translate it, but this version is the only one that tries to preserve its poetic sensibility:

 

Khandhavimutti Sāmaṅgīdhamma – 'The Dhamma-Ballad of Liberation from the Khandhas'.

Luang Pu Mun Bhūridatto could teach any aspect of Dhamma, but he didn't just spoon-feed his disciples information. When he wanted them to develop their own discernment, he would sometimes teach in dense, cryptic Lao poetry-puzzles. Here is one:

'Bananas, Four Bunches'

Four clusters of bananas –

The little novice watches over the bunches,

The established monk sits down and lunches,

"Iti-pi so bhagavā!"

               – What does this mean?

Luang Pu Mun Bhūridatto

'Courage'

Where no Māra stood,

pāramī won't arise;

If Māra never terrorised,

pāramī could not climb high.

 

For a monk to be good,

pāramī must have strength;

For a monk to have length,

Māra's strength – never dread!

 

If a monk is not good,

his pāramī cracked and faint,

his virtue lacks length:

Māra's strength eats his head.

Kruba SiVichai

This was a saying of Kruba SiVichai's that he would quote often. He shared it with Luang Pu Mun Bhūridatto, who shared it in turn with Luang Pu Sao Kantasīlo, who took it up as one of his favourite sayings. 'Māra' is every kind of obstruction personified, and 'pāramī' are the spiritual perfections needed to realise awakening.

This Place

in the late monsoon

of southern Isaan,

the rain is so heavy

even air cannot move.

 

it crowds together

in available places,

insistent and thick

against the sinuses.

 

monk’s robes hang heavy,

sticky, and damp,

and the scent of old wine

somehow clings to the fibres.

 

and the forest is lush

around this empty hut

where the tiled floor is slick

and all the papers are soft.

 

a monk’s heart grows quiet

in late afternoon

– wisdom is found in oppression –

cool evening slips in unimpeded.

 

first, wisdom likes accumulation,

building up knowledge

and drawing relations

– the infrastructure of its path.

 

but soon it becomes

like the air in Isaan,

too heavy to move,

holding one down.

 

this wisdom is good

but stuck on its goodness,

until it’s so heavy

the heart cannot move.


when it can’t go forward

and it can’t return,

oppression is found

in this wisdom.

 

it crowds together

in available places,

insistent and thick

against its own wishes.

this oppression is lush

but a monk’s heart grows quiet

– wisdom is found in oppression –

dispassion slips in unimpeded.

 

now, wisdom is different

– like still, flowing water –

established, but swirling

and letting things go.

 

“this is the nature of body;

this is the nature of mind”

wisdom is tired of oppression

– a monk’s heart slips out unimpeded.

 

the rain is so heavy

even air cannot move,

in the late monsoon

of southern Isaan.

 

and a monk’s robes hang heavy

sticky and damp,

but far from the mind’s

unassailable places.

 

this wisdom is good,

born of dispassion,

when happiness comes

to the place where there’s nothing.

Hāsapañño Bhikkhu
Wat Nong Pah Pong
pansah 2549

This Spinning

                  (down)

 

cicadas serenade us in the failing light

as the shadows in the forest join hands,

while the leaves and the trees melt into night

as the colour and the form disbands.

 

i like the evening - to me it's strangely pleasing

when the mind is evening out:

with the world in retreat, the harshness and heat

can only be fizzling out...

 

to those of you who fear the dark,

what terror would you feel

if the soughing of the wind were all

for evidence your world is real?

 

if loneliness and death you fear,

you'll also flee from peace:

to realise Nibbāna

you must know the heart of death.

                        *   *   *

                     (up)

starlings are the darlings of the choir at dawn
who dramatise the coming of a day;
and the leaves and the trees, now finely drawn
as the veils of the darkness give way.

i also like the morning - to me it seems a warning
with a gentle, mourning plea:
“though the heat will advance, the sun's fiery dance
is a light to help you see”...

to those who fear the naked flame,
what terror would persist
if the mind engulfed in fire were all
for evidence that you exist?

if suffering you can't endure,
you'll blind yourself to truth:
to understand the Noble Truths
you must meet the eyes of pain.

Hāsapañño Bhikkhu
Wat PraThat Foon
October 2552

Poem

A poem is a mailman

Pushing the envelope

To the outermost range

Of where words can go.

 

The limit of the range

Of words,

         Of thoughts,

                    Of concepts,

Is not the end:

 

There is a beyond,

A reality

Of such pure poetry,

Where mere poems

Can find no footing.

 

There is no end,

And no beginning

To this poetry:

No words to deceive.

 

Only this.

Hāsapañño Bhikkhu
Wat Pah Tert Prakiat Sirindhorn
March 2553

Black Magic

The mood that

takes the phone call

destroyed my mother.

 

The mood that

centred the world on me

throws everything at variance.

 

The mood that

sees a man’s shortcoming

turned him into a dog.

 

The mood that

laughed with glee

eats your liver with fava beans.

 

The mood that

feels disrecognised

set fire to all the heavens.

 

The mood that

offered consolation

locks me in a lonely cell.

 

The mood that

answers to my name

never justifies himself:

 

the essential

inherent interior essence

of awareness only knows

 

- it knows no evil,

knows no good,

knows no deception or truth.

 

It simply knows,

and yields up its strange

power to whatever it knows.

 

Without mindfulness

and wisdom, faith and effort yoked

to the teaching of an awakened one

 

awareness

is left unprotected

from perception, feeling, and thought,

 

interpreting sense

contact in harmful, habitual ways, and

black magic rules the world.

Hāsapañño Bhikkhu
Wat Doi Mae Pang
September 2553