Notes to Poem:
"Thirteen Ways of Looking at Completion"

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: On October 6, 2009, Nancy Dean Mercury sent me an interesting email: a nice graphic gift wrapped box “for your completion— instead of certainty, let us experience completion / certainty comes around to being uncertain / completion comes around and around”. This sounds pretty philosophical and poetic, and I put it in the back burner for meditation. At the time I was completing Notes to "All Is in the Prayer" and occupied with writing the poem "Mother Bird in the Wild Branches" (Notes) (October 8-17). I didn't even respond to Peter Milton's two emails on his appreciation of my poem and Notes on "Interiors VI: Soundings" which he linked on his web site. Finally on October 24 I finished the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Completion" in two hours at Foothill College Krause Center. Some of the stanzas came to me during my 20-minutes walks around the Palo Alto Cal-Train Station (1:20-1:41 am) after leaving Stanford Green Library at 1:00 am. The 6th stanza refers to Palo Alto Weekly's cropping of Chikanobu's "dream bubble" which I yearned to complete and restore to its wholeness. This reminded me of George Santayana's quote "If I see a circle half-drawn, I yearn to complete it." After learning that Santayana was a mentor of Wallace Stevens at Harvard, I borrowed Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" as a title for this poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Completion" as a format for Zen-like meditation on completion. These Notes are continual contemplations on the themes of circles, cycles, and completion.

Commentary on poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Completion"

Completion is better than certainty—
certainty comes around to being uncertain,
completion comes around and around

This stanza is from Nancy Dean Mercury's email which inspired my mind to explore more on certainty and experience completion. Before Columbus discovered the New World and Magellan's ships circumnavigated the globe, people thought the Earth was flat. Scientists in the 19th century were confident that they could explain all of nature with the laws of gravitation, electricity and magnetism. Just around the corner of the 20th century came Einstein's theory of relativity, E=mc2, quantum mechanics and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Now, we realize that only 4.6% of the mass of the visible universe is ordinary matter. About 23% is thought to be dark matter and 72% to be dark energy. Physicist Amit Goswami says that "Consciousness is the ground of all being." (Photo: Computer-image of dark matter in a galaxy cluster formed in the universe with dark energy)

Seconds turning to minutes to hours—
three hands moving along on the clock
as day turns to night and night to day.

Digital watches do not have the elegance of analog watches and clocks with the three hands of seconds, minutes, and hours ticking away in never-ending cycles of time. The alternating cycles of night & day is symbolized by the Chinese image of Yin & Yang, the harmony of dark & light. These opposites are inherent in each other, so that at the height of noon, night is creeping in, and in the dark heart of midnight, the seed of day is born.

Children love the circus, ferris wheel,
and carousel— not knowing why
riding horses on the Merry-Go-Round.

Victorian Carousel or Galloping Horses
Why children love to go to the circus, ride the ferris wheel and carousel horse at carnivals? Is there some inherent joy when they play Ring Around the Rosie and never tire playing with toy trains that loop around the tracks? Rumi invented the "Sufi Spin" or Whirling Dervish Dance in the 13th century to teach spiritual aspirants to harmonize themselves and experience Cosmic Consciousness.
Darling Harbour Ferris Wheel, Sydney, Australia

I expand the arc of my compass
drawing ever widening circles
like ripples of water in the pond.

Tutorial in creating ripples in Adobe Illustrator
Using the compass in my high school geometry class, I recall the exhilaration of completing my first circle. Then keeping the compass pointer at the center, I expanded the pencil arc and made wider circles. Soon the concentric circles resembled the ripples of water in a pond when a pebble is thrown in. I do not recall ever making an incomplete circle with my compass. No matter how hard I had to turn and twist my wrist, I had to complete drawing the circle. (See William Blake, The Ancient of Days (1794) showing God creating the world with a compass)

Can't believe they cropped Chikanobu's
Magic Lantern— bubbles an't be truncated
otherwise her dream will not be complete!

Palo Alto Weekly,
August 7, 2009
with Chikanobu's
Magic Lantern
"dream bubble" cropped
On August 2, 2009, I visited Stanford Cantor Arts Center with an artist friend and viewed the exhibit "From the Bronze Age of China to Japan's Floating World". Five days later, Palo Alto Weekly's August 7th issue featured this exhibit on its cover (see left). I was horrified that they cropped Chikanobu's Magic Lantern. I could understand they did this for page layout reasons, and went to their web site to see the original "dream bubble" intact. To my amazement, their original photo of this woodcut also had a "cropped bubble". I wondered if Chikanobu's original also had a "cropped bubble" or my memory was faulty seeing a "completed bubble" that day. My August 8th haiku: "Bubbles can't be truncated / otherwise her dream / will not be complete." I also recalled Santayana's quote about completing an incomplete circle (see below).
Yoshu Chikanobu
Magic Lantern:
Foreign Travel
Cantor Arts Center
When I located the original print at a Japanese Chikanobu web site, and found the Magic Lantern "dream bubble" complete, I wrote this haiku: " After discovering / her magic lantern intact, / I feel whole again!" Since Chikanobu's print was under glass at Cantor Arts Museum, my later photos all showed reflections. Here's my enlarged photo cleaned in Photoshop that is still not as sharp as the one on the Japanese site.

My favorite quote from Santayana—
"If I see a circle half-drawn, I yearn to complete it."

George Santayana
Time, Vol. XXVII, No. 5
February 3, 1936
George Santayana (1863-1952) was a philosopher, poet, essayist, and novelist. Born in Spain, he spent 39 of his 89 years in the United States and wrote in English. He graduated from Harvard (B.A. 1886, Ph.D. 1889), studying with William James and Josiah Royce. He taught at Harvard (1889-1912) and was a highly respected and popular teacher. His students included poets (Conrad Aiken, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens), writers (Walter Lippmann, Max Eastman), historian Samuel Eliot Morison, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, and Harvard President James B. Conant. I studied Santayana's writings in Columbia's Contemporary Civilization class. When I saw his "circle quote"
George Santayana
philosopher & poet
in the New York Times Book Review (circa 1963), I clipped the ad and pasted it in my scrapbook as well as jotting down the quote in my journal. I remembered the ad had Santayana in a straw hat (right). The book was Daniel Cory's Santayana: the later years; a portrait with letters (Braziller, NY, 1963). After some search on the web, I found the quote at Ghostly Messenger: Santayana's sense of completion: “What I have yearned for all my life is not so much cosmic unity— like Whitehead, but simply 'completion'. If I see a circle half-drawn, I yearn to complete it.” (My favorite circle story: Giotto's Perfect Circle)

Before they died, Dante finished his
Commedia and Goethe his Faust
seeing their life's work to completion.

Dante Alighieri
Mexico #C308
issued Nov. 23, 1965
700th anniversary
of Dante's birth
Dante completed La Vita Nuova (1294) at the age of 29, and vowed to write a poem to honor his beloved Beatrice that has never been written of any woman. Dante fulfilled this promise 27 years later when he finished La Commedia (1321)— the greatest love poem about the soul's ascent from Inferno to Purgatory to Paradise. He completed it shortly before his death in Ravenna on September 13, 1321 at the age of 56. Goethe's magnum opus Faust was completed on July 20, 1831, eight months before he died in Weimar on March 22, 1832. Dante's guide was Virgil (rational mind) through Inferno and Purgatory, but he needed Beatrice (intuitive feminine soul) to guide him to Paradise. Likewise, Goethe ends his masterpiece Faust (Part II) with the words "The Eternal Feminine leads us above".
Wolfgang von Goethe
Germany DDR #10NB10
issued July 20, 1949
200th anniversary
of Goethe's birth

The point, the line, the surface, and sphere
in the seed, stem, leaf, and fruit appear—
Geometry lesson from Mother Nature!

This insight may be found in Four dimensional Vista (1923) by Claude Bragdon (1866-1946). It inspired me to do a color art project as well as a poem "Orange". Just as the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter are cyclical, we find other examples in Nature. A tiny acorn germinates under the ground and becomes a mighty oak tree that yields acorns as its fruit, whose seed starts the cycle again. A supernova explosion signals the death of a star. However its debris of heavier mass elements and expanding shock waves trigger the birth of new stars. Nova in Latin and Italian is a shortening of nova stella (new star).

Day and Night of Brahma— universe
manifest and unmanifest, only its
waking and sleep cycles are longer.

In Hindu philosophy, the universe is without a beginning (Anadi = beginningless) or an end (Ananta = endless). Rather the universe is projected in cycles. Each cycle is divided into four Yugas (world ages). Time immemorial is measured in cycles called Kalpas. A Kalpa is a day and night for Brahma, the Lord of Creation. Each Kalpa is composed of 1,000 Maha Yugas. A Kalpa = 4.32 billion human years. Kirtha Yuga or Satya yuga (golden age) is 1,728,000 years; Treta yuga (silver age) is 1,296,000 years; Dvapara yuga (copper age) is 864,000 years; and Kali Yuga (iron age) is 432,000 years. One Maha Yuga is 4,32 million years. Brahma, or Lord of Creation, lives for one hundred Brahma years (each made up of 360 Brahma days). After that he dies. So Brahma lives for 36,000 Kalpas, or 36,000 x 2,000 x 4,30,000 human years = 311.4 trillion human years. After the death of each Brahma, there is a Mahapralaya or Cosmic deluge, when all the universe is destroyed. Then a new Brahma appears and creation starts all over again.

Buddha turning the Wheel of Dharma

Buddha turning
the Dharma Wheel
Dharmacakra or "Wheel of Dharma" is a symbol representing Buddha's teaching on the path to enlightenment. It is also translated as "Wheel of Law" or "Wheel of Doctrine". Buddha's first turning of the Wheel of Dharma occurred at Deer Park at Sarnath, Varanasi, where he taught the Four Noble Truths after his Enlightenment. The second turning took place on Vulture's Peak Mountain near Rajagriha, where he spoke about abandoning the ego and not clinging to the phenomenal world. The final turning took place in Vaishali on abandoning clinging to Emptiness. (Buddha's Three Turnings of the Wheel).
Wheel of Dharma

Einstein in his wisdom mudra pose—
both teaching the path to Enlightenment.

Mudra in Sanskrit means "seal" and is a spiritual hand gesture symbolizing states of mind in Buddhism and Hinduism. I had an epiphany in 1979 finding numerous photographs of Albert Einstein in the wisdom mudra pose or chin mudra (vitarka mudra) with thumb touching forefinger. This inspired me to teach a workshop during Intersession at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on "The Wisdom Mudra in Art, Philosophy, and Albert Einstein" (January 14-16, 1980). Compiled a book Albert Einstein & the Wisdom Mudra (48 pages) with many spiritual quotations from Einstein accompanying the mudra photos. Another book The Wisdom Mudra (60 pages) showed Christ and various artists, composers, and writers in the wisdom mudra pose. When I showed these findings to Paul Brunton during my meetings with him in Switzerland (August 1979), PB told me that he took Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan to Mount Athos where they saw mosaics of Christ in various mudra poses (Christian mudras; Einstein's mudra). When the thumb and forefinger are joined in a circle, one experiences calmness of mind. This stillness leads to enlightenment.

The Eye is the first circle—
seeing the beauty of this world
from Mind that is complete and whole.

Emerson quote: “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882),
     Essays: First Series, "Circles" (1841)
Plotinus quote: “Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful.”Plotinus (204-270 A.D.), The Enneads, I.6.9 (250 A.D.)
Eye is from Albert Einstein (E = mc2 may be imagined as "Eye = Mind x complete circle")

Is the Zodiac a Cosmic Clock?
our Sun taking its planetary children
for a joy ride through the constellations.

At the centre of all things resides the sun. Could we find a better place in this most beautiful of all temples, from whence this light illuminates all things at once? Rightly is it called the lamp, the spirit, the ruler of the universe. For Hermes Trismegistus it is the invisible god. Sophocles' Elektra calls it the all-seeing. Thus, the sun sits on its royal throne and guides its children, which circle it.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)
    De revolutionibus orbium caelestium (1543)
    A. Cellarius, Harmonia Macrocosmica
    Amsterdam, 1660. From Alexander Roob,
    Alchemy & Mysticism, Taschen, 1997, p. 59
Our Sun takes about 25,800 years to go around the celestial equator or Zodiac and cross at the same point again. This is called the Platonic Year. When the Earth follows the Sun through each of the constellations, it takes on the characteristics of that astrological age. This was brought to my awareness by Michelangelo's Moses (1515), a marble sculpture I saw in Rome (August 1972). I wondered why Michelangelo depicted Moses with horns on his head. Some attributed this to a mistranslation of Exodus 34.29-5 by Jerome since "horns" could also mean "rays of light" or "halo" (Sir Thomas Browne). Since Moses lived around 1200 BC, and battled with the Egyptian Pharoah Ramesses II (reigned 1279-1213 BC), Michelangelo portrayed Moses with horns because he was the major prophet of the Age of Aries (Ram). Likewise Christ is called "The Fisher of Men" because he represents the Piscean Age. Also the Greek word Ichtys for fish is numerologically the same as Christos. Thus Christianity has dominated the human psyche for the last two millenia. Before Aries was the Age of Taurus the bull, a dominant symbol in Crete and Minoan civilization (circa 2700-1450 BC). A Minoan fresco at Knossos shows a ritual of "bull leaping". Understanding the astrological ages is surely a joy ride for the historians.

If you're tired doing the same thing over
and over, just ask the Earth why it's not tired
revolving the Sun— going around and around

Most people are bored at repetitive tasks doing the same thing over and over again. A friend who takes me hiking always like to explore new paths and trails, saying going back on the same trail is too boring. It then occurred to me that our Earth is revolving around the Sun 365-1/4 days year after year for millions of years. It does not complain, saying “I'm tired and will go around in 360 days this year and speed up next year so average-wise it's 365-1/4 days.” Our Earth makes its yearly circuit exactly 365-1/4 days every time. The human heart pumps blood continuously through the circulatory system. Each day it beats (expands & contracts) 100,000 times and pumps about 2000 gallons of blood. In a 70-year lifetime, it beats more than 2.5 billon times. We need to be thankful to our heart for this repetitive task that sustains our life. Ramana Maharshi tells spiritual aspirants to repeat the mantra "Who am I?" subconsciously over and over if they wish to experience enlightenment and realize their true Self. Repetitive litanies such as the Gregorian chants or Yogic chants of "Om" will also result in peace of mind that brings a heightened state of consciousness. Perhaps planets in our solar system are circling the Sun in a continuous state of prayer.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (10-28-2009)