Buddhist New Year Song

The dates for the Buddhist New Year differ according to country and tradition. In some cases, it’s the first full moon day in January, and in others, not until the first full moon day in April. The time is not important for it is only a change in the calendar. However, that change can be significant if we use it to produce a change in ourselves. Almost all Buddhist traditions agree that a new year presents an opportunity for a new departure, a new beginning, which can transcend its symbolic aspect, if we use it as a time not only for celebration but also for contemplation, reflection, for practice.

The Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, for instance, suggests a practice of loving-kindness (metta) mediation for the first three days of the New Year. On the first day, we practice for ourselves. On the second day, we practice for people we love. On the third day, we practice for those who make us suffer.

Reflection is an important characteristic of poetry, and as well, the spirit of new departure, new directions. Diane di Prima, a poet who has studied Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, once said, “I think the poet is the first person to begin the shaping and visioning of the new forms and the new consciousness when no one else has begun to sense it; I think these are two of the most essential human functions.”

di Prima has written several poems with Buddhist themes. Here is one apropos for the season:

Buddhist New Year Song

I saw you in green velvet, wide full sleeves
seated in front of a fireplace, our house
made somehow more gracious, and you said
“There are stars in your hair”— it was truth I
brought down with me

to this sullen and dingy place that we must make golden
make precious and mythical somehow, it is our nature,
and it is truth, that we came here, I told you,
from other planets
where we were lords, we were sent here,
for some purpose

the golden mask I had seen before, that fitted
so beautifully over your face, did not return
nor did that face of a bull you had acquired
amid northern peoples, nomads, the Gobi desert

I did not see those tents again, nor the wagons
infinitely slow on the infinitely windy plains,
so cold, every star in the sky was a different color
the sky itself a tangled tapestry, glowing
but almost, I could see the planet from which we had come

I could not remember (then) what our purpose was
but remembered the name Mahakala, in the dawn

in the dawn confronted Shiva, the cold light
revealed the “mindborn” worlds, as simply that,
I watched them propagated, flowing out,
or, more simply, one mirror reflecting another.
then broke the mirrors, you were no longer in sight
nor any purpose, stared at this new blackness
the mindborn worlds fled, and the mind turned off:

a madness, or a beginning?


Copyright © 1990 by Diane di Prima

Diane di Prima, “Buddhist New Year Song” from Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, City Lights Books, 1990.


Revolution is Poetry

I found this on the web earlier this month and I thought it was something that I must share. It’s by Reinald Arenas (1943-1990), a Cuban poet, novelist and playwright, who initially supported the Cuban Revolution of 1959 but eventually became disenchanted and rebelled against it. This is a passage from his memoir, Before Night Falls, which was made into a film in 2000. Apparently he is paraphrasing another Cuban poet and novelist Jose Lezama Lima (1910-1976):

A sense of beauty is always dangerous and antagonistic to any dictatorship because it implies a realm extending beyond the limits that a dictatorship can impose on human beings. Beauty is a territory that escapes the control of the political police. Being independent and outside of their domain, beauty is so irritating to dictators that they attempt to destroy it whichever way they can. Under a dictatorship, beauty is always a dissident force, because a dictatorship is itself unaesthetic, grotesque; to a dictator and his agents, the attempt to create beauty is an escapist or reactionary act.

The other day, I wrote that a smile can be a rescue and a kind word, liberation. In the same way, a revolution can be a poem and revolutionary acts can take many forms. This is from the English edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm. The writer is Sharif S. Elmusa, currently visiting professor at Georgetown University, Qatar campus, from the American University in Cairo, Egypt, where he is an associate professor in the Political Science Department. He is writing of the recent Egyptian Revolution:

They rendered acts of poetry – cleaning the streets, regulating traffic, protecting the national museum, guarding houses, breaking bread with someone – even more poetic. These mundane acts became inspiring moments, like that of a poem, spawning a new spirit, free of the dust that had settled on the conception of work and on those who perform it day after day. Writing a poem and engaging in a revolution are both acts of self-discovery.

The revolution dignifies the ordinary, and elevates it, just as poetry transforms common words into rhythms and meaning.

Since it would be wrong not to include a poem in this post, here is one from Diane Di Prima. Called “the original outlaw poet,” Diane Di Prima is the author of 42 books of poetry and prose, and her work has been translated into at least twenty languages. She is now the 5th Poet Laureate of San Francisco. From Revolutionary Letters (dedicated to Bob Dylan), originally published by City Lights in 1971:

beware of those
who say we are the beautiful losers
who stand in their long hair and wait to be punished
who weep on the beaches for our isolation

we are not alone: we have brothers in all the hills
we have sisters in the jungles and in the ozarks
we even have brothers on the frozen tundra
they sit by their fires, they sing, they gather arms
they multiply: they will reclaim the earth

nowhere we can go but they are waiting for us
no exile where we will not hear welcome home
‘good morning brother, let me work with you
goodmorning sister, let me
fight by your side.’