Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Month: January 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Jesus and The Jewel in the Lotus

One of the most popular Buddhist mantras is known as The Jewel in the Lotus, consisting of a six-syllable phrase that Jesus would have loved. There is some debate about the exact origin of the mantra, but it appeared in Buddhist teachings as early as the 11th or 12th century. A  mantra is like a short prayer, which tends to be a word or phrase that, when repeated continuously in meditation and worship, has a positive spiritual effect on the worshiper. Christianity has its share of verses, songs, and early prayers that have become mantras. Consider, for example, the Jesus Prayer (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner”), which is used widely in Christian meditation, especially in the Eastern  Orthodox Church. Or phrases from the Gloria (“Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”) or the Phos Hilaron (“O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!”) or the Te Deum (“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”). Or hundreds of verses from both testaments of the Bible.

Buddhist Mantras are frequently not literally translatable into English, or only loosely so. The Flower in the Lotus is translated in different ways, but the translation I love is from the Dalai Lama. It is the translation I think Jesus would affirm. In the original language, the six syllables are “Om Ma-ni Pad-me Hum.” The syllable “Om” is the essential sound in the Buddhist tradition and has a wide array of applications. It’s the sound you always see/hear a group of monks chanting in any documentary on Buddhism. It is frequently translated for Westerners as the vibration of the Universe/God, which has no literal translation but has great spiritual power. The Dalai Lama translates it in a simple but profound way as purity of mind, body, and speech. I apply this translation in my own meditations as follows: Think only those thoughts that promote the good, the beautiful, the well-being of others; Do only those acts that are healthy for the body and make physical life good; Speak only those words that comfort, build up, and give dignity to other people/creatures. So the Dalai Lama’s translation of this simple syllable, Om, offers not just a definition of a word, but a way of life. Every time I sound that Om, to myself or with others, I am asking for purity of mind, body, and speech.

The next four syllables–mani padme–are generally translated as “jewel” (mani) and “lotus” (padme), hence the name of the mantra. The Dalai Lama considers the  jewel to be a symbol of altruism, compassion, and love. The lotus symbolizes wisdom. If we want to become like a Buddha, or like Jesus, these four syllables represent the path, the way. Compassion combined with Wisdom. Every time I sound the syllables Mani, to myself or with others, I open myself to compassion–from the Latin, com + pati (with + suffer) to suffer with. To suffer with those who suffer, to experience the deep sympathy that leads to action to relieve suffering. Consider Paul’s beautiful hymn to selfless love in I Cor 13.

Well, since I try to keep these postings to about 500 words maximum, I’m going to deal with the last three syllables of the mantra (pad-me hum), and why Jesus would love the whole thing, in another post, in a few days.

Nate Parker’s The Locust Diagrams

The Locust Diagrams, Nate Parker’s first book of poetry, from Noemi Press, is a wild and surprising romp through language and imagery. If your tastes tend toward traditional, rhymed, easily accessible poetry, then The Locust Diagrams will not make you happy. But if your tastes have a ragged edge, if you believe that sometimes poetry has to surprise you into loving it, and if you like a little twisted humor, then Nate’s first book is for you. Here are the opening lines of the first poem in the collection, “Tender”:

“how we eat      glazed donuts/ on the          traintracks/

over the river,   share dark/ bean coffee      while larks/

headbutt      our sugary feet/ & sunlight fills   the woods/

& sears                    the dew.”

These seven lines are packed with beauty and surprise. Sharing donuts on the train tracks “while larks/ headbutt our sugary feet.” What a beautiful surprise of an image, but it’s followed by a very traditional image–“sunlight fills the woods”–which then turns into another stunning surprise when the sunlight “sears” the dew. The choice of that verb, “sears,” in that situation is the mark of a really fine poet. It surprises and at the same time is the perfect word.

One more example, the opening lines of  a poem titled “Children Camping”:

“wind out of Michigan/ shoots/ pine needles

into a light pink/ fat rapt/ creek,

sweetening it down to its slugs.”

Again the images are a fun mixture of traditional and startling. The wind out of Michigan doesn’t “blow” the pine needles; it “shoots” them into the creek–a “light pink fat rapt creek” no less–and the needles sweeten the creek “down to its slugs.” The verbs “shoots” and “sweetening” here, like the verb “shears” in the earlier example, are more marks of real poetic vision.

Some of the poems in the collection are more abstract, more post traditional, in form and language than the examples above. But the beauty, the surprise, the unusual, sometimes eccentric, view of the world is always there.

Support poetry. Get a copy.



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