Praising Manners

I’ve decided to post poems that speak to me from time to time. Maybe I will eventually post one of my own, if i can get it into interwebz shape.

This poem is one I’ve loved for years. There is an obvious depression theme that captured my interest. Honestly, I used to think this poem was actually written by Robert Bly, rather than only translated by him. It is no surprise, though, to find that the actual poet was Rumi.

I particularly like the following line: “Inner gifts do not find their way to creatures without just respect.”

To me, this poem is about letting go of self-pity, which is something I have often had far too much of. When I was deep in depression, I simply did not have the wherewithal to praise. However, this poem, even in those dark times, was like a homing beacon, calling me to the present time, when the sun is so much more full of light.


Praising Manners

“We should ask God
To help us towards manners. Inner Gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.

If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the world down.

Your depression is connected to your insolence
And refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise-that man or woman
Steals from others every day-in fact is a shoplifter!

The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.

The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.”

-Rumi, as translated by poet Robert Bly



Okay, so I did not quite get around to writing my first gratitude blog on Monday, which was the day I had in mind for it.  But, I did, nevertheless, have a gratitude-filled Monday!

I was sick that day,  and spent it sitting on the couch, snuggling with my dog and my boyfriend, who was also sick. When I first came out to the living room that morning, he was already there, watching a documentary about the current Dalai Lama.

I got drawn in to this artful portrayal of the mistreatment of the Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese government.  The premise of the documentary was an interview with the Dalai Lama, in which he answered ten questions put to him.  The documentary was also a sort of biography of the Dalai Lama and his role in the Tibetan struggle.  The Dalai Himself is pretty funny to watch, because he giggles at the end of pretty much everything he says.  His secretary, as well as other monks, also lent themselves to the telling of the tale.  Most moving, though, were the faces of all the ordinary Tibetans, passing through the range of emotions, but, more often than not, smiling broadly.  It was noted throughout the documentary that often the poor find the greatest ease in taking pleasure in the simple things in life, which are easy for us to take for granted.  The more you accumulate in the material world, the more cares you have, and the more unhappiness (not true for everyone, but it is common, I think).

The most meaningful moment for me, in this moving account, was the description of the mandala.  The mandala is a symbol with spiritual meaning in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  It can be represented via many different artistic media.  According to Wikipedia, “The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T.”  Also, mandalas are made up of complex geometric patterns, and a riot of color.

In the case of the documentary, the mandala was a sand mandala, made of pulverized white stone, which had been dyed in a rainbow of colors.  Tibetan Buddhist monks drew out the pattern of the mandala on the intended surface, and then painstakingly filled each delineated area with the color of sand which had been chosen.  The whole process took a team of monks about a month.

Here is an example of a sand mandala:

But here is the really wonderful thing about these sand mandalas.  They are works of great complexity and beauty, reverently made-only to be destroyed shortly after their completion.  In the documentary, this was done very simply:  the monks simply opened all the windows of their monastery, high in the mountains, and let the winds sweep the mandala away.  All the hard work, all the beauty, gone in minutes.

But this in itself is beautiful.  You see, the monks know that nothing is permanent in this life.  We try, and we try and we try to amass material things and hold on literally for dear life.  We form these attachments to people, as well, and to ideas.  Yet these things are like sand sifting through your fingers.  You get to enjoy them for a finite time, but you must appreciate their beauty while it lasts-before it is gone.  The mandala is both a lesson, and great spiritual practice, for learning to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is, rather than trying desperately to cling to a past moment or hope for a particular future moment.

This is a lesson that I’m struggling with every day.  It makes me crazy, you know?  The world is all about material junk.  Lately I feel like I’ve been living in a world devoid of spirituality.  People are, on the one hand, amassing wealth and “stuff” like crazy, always having to have the nicest cars, houses, gadgets.  On the other hand, some people are breaking their backs just to have enough “material” to survive.  We are run by the material world, and it sucks.  I’m caught up in it too, torn between the love of things (like my iPhone), and the rat race.  I want to hold on to all my stuff, and I often let that stuff define me.  I constantly define myself to myself, instead of just letting myself be.

In a material world, trying so hard to be an unmaterial girl, I am grateful for the mandala.  I am grateful for the beautiful way in which it was explained to me.  It was a moment of unexpected grace, and I am thankful.