Necromancer I

“It is quite true,” said
my friend the Necromancer,
“that the tusks of dead
elephants have a powerful,
holy magic.” He drew a breath
of smoke from his old pipe
and, exhaling a formless
cloud of Autumn and
the lungs of corpses,
continued: “But, I’m afraid,
only for the elephants.”

Color

It is not a white light
to which the yogin aspires.
The hues by which God
tempts us to the Center
neither turn to mud and tar
nor wash out like blank canvas.
No mere shade approaches this
axial diamond clarity cast
forth as light and dark.
Whether black swamp,
green leaf, or crimson bloom,
each leaps as lightning out
and burns like sacrificial fire
back into the Root.

Religious Symbolism: A brief word

“Throughout its history, mankind has been baffled by profound symbology. More so when it does not conform to its own ‘sweet and refined’ standards. Even when one particular group or cult successfully assimilates it and starts revering it, other groups or cults continue to abhor it. It is natural for one group to abhor the symbols of all others, forgetting conveniently that the ‘other groups’ are doing the same! The picture of the ‘Slain Lamb’ or the cultus of the ‘Sacred Heart’ are just two illustrations to show this. On the other hand, a close look at such symbols will not only dispel our ignorance about them but can also produce positive admiration. Is not the water of the sea, which appears as dark blue or green from a distance, really colourless and transparent when examined at close quarters?” ~ Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses (Sri Ramakrishna Math)

This is an excellent statement on the esoterics of religious symbolism and iconography. Frithjof Schuon has observed that it is inevitable that different religions should have very different, even mutually exclusive, attitudes toward symbolism, as each one has its own “target audience”, a different segment of humanity — ontologically necessary, within the world of relativity — to which it must address itself and bring the outpouring of sanctifying Grace.

Seeds Sprout in Dirt

Father, You have done me a bad turn —
You have given me to know that my
people suffer, that all animals suffer,
that the world itself dies but cannot die.

Father, what is it You want me to do?
I have no power, but entire trust in You.
But this great faith, this trust which You
bless, Your holy knowledge now feels infernal.

It burns deep to hear their cries and
to see the nations crumble, the stench of
rot as the great flies swarm through
Your Temple at the center of the wide world.

The Tree must bloom again, O Father!
The flower-nectar must drip into our mouths
as we lay starved and weeping beneath its
outstretched boughs, for we cannot ourselves reach up.

Let us be made awake by the sweet perfume
that we may finally pluck the ripe fruits
of Heaven’s Tree, take a bite, and pass it
outward, planting the seeds to make the world whole.

Samsaric Experience & Spontaneity

Everything has a season; every process is an epicycle in some larger cycle (probably just an epicycle of yet another cycle, etc.). This is all just a cliche, by now, but allowing it to seem obvious holds us back from seeing its importance. When we try to force things forward, we have as much of a chance of killing them as holding them back. Our three choices appear to be: asphyxiation, hyperventilation, or simply breathing. In the first two cases, there are safety mechanisms built-in by nature: we black out, and our breathing regularizes on its own so that, when we come to, we have the possibility of restarting from a position close to equilibrium. Only in the third case is it possible to remain calm and smile.

This is the experience of time, of memory, of mentation, and of what Buddhism calls “grasping”. This is the basic knowledge behind the mental alchemy of The Kybalion.

Karma Yoga is, according to Lord Kṛṣna in Bhagavad Gita, acting without lusting after the fruits of one’s action. To paraphrase Swami Vivekananda, we have the right to act, but no right to the results; our actions will be successful or not, and we only have so much say in the matter. This is not a philosophy of pessimism, however, but of absolute optimism. Our actions are themselves of supreme value and, when approached in this way, constitute spiritual exercise.

Śaivism redefines Karma Yoga slightly to selfless (i.e. egoless) action. This is not so much a different concept as it is an excavation of the heart of the matter. How can we act without demanding a reward? By, in some sense, becoming the actions themselves, or else constantly reminding ourselves that “it is not I who act, but God who acts in me.” When this attitude is taken in a spirit of humility, much of what interrupts our calm on a regular basis becomes merely trivial, and we begin to act in spontaneity and confidence. Our actions are not merely random, but are no longer semi-conscious reactions. Instead, we act in full awareness and without barriers, simply doing what needs to be done.

For most of us, this is a very gradual process, with periodic explosions of success and failure. We each have so many habitual tendencies which must be undermined. Unlike many forms of therapy or “self-help”, though, we needn’t think that either nothing needs to occur beyond “self-acceptance”, nor that we have to take each flaw or barrier apart piece by piece. Both are fairly unproductive and generally are not realistic anyway. The “I’m okay, you’re okay” approach leaves one feeling empty, in the long run, because never do we actually lose the sense that we could be behaving better, and the piecemeal method is a battle at an impossibly steep angle; the only solution is surrender. Then the real work can get underway.

This lesson applies to literally every area of life, from the most mundane to the deeply spiritual. But we must begin where we are. That is another part of the process of Karma Yoga. Just breathe, smile, and start right where you are sitting.

 

Right This Moment

I don’t share much of my “personal life” on here, and I tend to hold much of my personality itself back. But, well, today I’m struck by the strangeness of humanity, myself included. My mind, my emotions, these are often so alien to me. That, I might say, is why I started to explore “things spiritual” in the first place. For as long as I can remember, the strongest “emotion” or, more precisely, sensation I felt was perplexity. Sometimes it came out as awe and wonder, sometimes as existential terror, and sometimes as viscera-powdering depression. But, really, they all go back to the perplexity. I wouldn’t quite call it confusion, but rather a recognition that there is a pattern there, but that it is way too big or way too small — in any case, not within my section of the spectrum — to be seen. Humans are more a part of this confounding “whole” than we think; one of the weirdest things about us is our shared incapacity to remember, to know what’s good for us, even as it stares us in the face and whispers in our ears.

Well, I’m glad to be here, anyway, even during the painful stuff. I’ve mostly lost my independent streak. Not to say I don’t still ask questions; I do, or I wouldn’t be here. But, as far as taking action, well, I pretty much do what I’m told. I get a signal that it is time to move; I move. It usually doesn’t work out very well, on the surface, but I learn something from it, take something away from it, and always land on my feet. I don’t know why things work like that, but when I question it too much I screw things up. This is that “faith” thing in action, I suppose.

I’m not really trying to philosophize, this time, nor to provide any metaphysical insight. Think of this entry as an addendum to the rest of my writing: less formal and thought-out than my articles, less inspired than my poetry, but just as honest as either. Maybe I’ll do more of this kind of thing, and maybe I won’t. We’ll see. I suppose, like everything else, I’ll do it when it seems the natural course, and not do it if it is merely “personally satisfying”. I guess I just feel the need to share a little bit of myself, right now. Though not entirely fun to do, I think I need to do more of it. Let’s see what happens.

Lancer Triumphant

With the lance of He
Who upon the peacock rides
I pierce the hollow heart
of that only sin, sin
which thinks itself apart.

With that one strike,
I have run anger through,
speared the spleen of greed,
split wide passion’s ribs —
the blood runs fast indeed!

Plant that spear,
O Murugan, O knight!
Set it well and ride!
The asuras flee before you,
where sun, moon, & flame abide.

In Memory of Lord Sluk

A friend of mine, whom I admire deeply, who taught me a lot, and who wouldn’t want me to say very many kind things about him, has passed. He also wouldn’t want me to use euphemisms. He died. Though I wouldn’t try to be him, and couldn’t, I wanted to express something of how he influenced me. So, here are some things I wrote for him.

Sluk Bodhisattva
Late-night Zen happens
as shreds from e-Roshi’s axe
Pure Land welcomes you

For a Friend
Roses are red and
violets are blue, right?, but
this haiku is terrible

Jest
No doubt
You’re laughing right now
seeing how your death
has slowed my heart.
You see the joke in my tears,
the punchline of mourning,
for your grin has become the sky.

I love you, Sluk. I’ll see you around.

Book Review: “False Confessions, False Alarms”

False Confessions, False Alarms: Short Stories
by Jeremy Puma
Strange Animal Publications, 2013
175 pg paperback

It could be tempting, coming in blindly, to call Jeremy Puma’s fiction pretentious. His lush prose and extravagant narratives might strike the eye of some a bit askew. Pretense, however, depends upon pretending, and Jeremy Puma isn’t faking a thing. He doesn’t need to. He’s proven it. Like a demon lord from a medieval book of sorcery, Puma takes his readers on a short tour of a believable hell, a world in which everything happens “for a reason”, each life planned out by a mysterious entity, a god who makes no sense. Scraps of poetry weave in and out of prosody, leading the reader on a chase through multiple universes — not parallel, but flowing around and through one another.

Puma uses the form of short fiction to good effect. The weird and uncanny reveals itself in the midst of perfect banality — just the way it happens in real life — and, very often, we are left wondering exactly where we have ended up. The author isn’t kind enough to give us a neat wrap-up at the end of each story. Though, as with most short fiction, the stories are punchy and do not deviate much from their paths, in this case the rising action occurs just outside the reader’s view; we cannot know with precision where the action began, where it ends, or who is really shaping it.

Theoretically, Jeremy Puma places himself safely in company with Philip K. Dick The pieces present layered satire — sometimes bluntly displayed, and sometimes framed with care. I say that the satire is layered because it is not all addressed to the same place of human experience, and can often be read in reference to several such realms at once: political commentary carries a spiritual message, and religious imagery says something about the place and state of art in culture.

Setting is often as important in these stories as the characters in establishing mood and movement. Several of the pieces included in this volume explicitly share a world, while others would fit in that place, but do not tell us if they are there. Only one — the short play, “Gods and Famous People” — stands entirely aloof of place (and, in fact, of time). This general emphasis on setting is an attractive feature, for me. Speculative fiction which gives too much attention to an individual’s impact on his environment without delving far into the environment’s impact on the individual often comes off as merely trivial — fun, at best, but usually a bit insubstantial.

There are some problems, here. Mostly, these are formal and have to do with the fact of Strange Animal being a new, boutique publisher. For one, the book definitely could have used another round of editing. Though Puma’s style is naturally pretty solid, every writer sometimes leaves in repeated words (like the words “again” or “maybe” both before and after the effected clause, etc.), slightly clumsy phrases, and so forth. Still, all of these can be easily corrected in later printings.

As an artifact, my biggest problem with the book is a simple one, but it really does make a difference: the text is all aligned left rather than justified. In a printed book, this very quickly tires the eyes. Again, not a big deal, and easy to fix, but worth a mention for the sake of the well-being of a small publisher whose success I would love to see.

Quite literally the only bad thing I have to say about Puma’s stories themselves is that the first story of the book, “Delivery”, ends very abruptly; the message of the narrative still comes through with clarity, but it almost feels as if, in this instance, the author wasn’t quite sure what to do to wrap-up once the point had been made. But, really, for only one story in a collection of eight, being a first (fiction) outing for both publisher and author, this is a minor gripe, at most.

If you enjoy tales of the weird, combining realism with the ethereal, you’ll feel right at home in False Confessions, False Alarms. If you like your fiction to acknowledge that there are no easy answers, and that nothing is less obvious than the way out of your private prison cell, you’ll be pleasantly unsettled by a kindred spirit’s wry urban demonology. I, for one, look forward to much more of Puma’s fiction.

Trick

The old saying has it that:
The greatest trick the Devil
ever pulled was to convince
mankind that he doesn’t exist.
As for myself, I must differ.
The Old Boy, I fear, did us
one better: The greatest trick
the Devil ever pulled was to
convince mankind that we do exist.