Notes to Poem: Ascension

By Peter Y. Chou

This poem was inspired when Denise, a friend from Waverley Writers & Dick Maxwell's Foothill College Poetry Workshops whom I've not heard in ten years emailed me on Sept. 12, 2007. I had not checked my WisdomPortal emails for a month, and was about to dump the 670 spam emails in the trash yesterday when I spotted her email. She has moved away from Palo Alto years ago and writes: "I thought I'd send you a poem I wrote yesterday. I haven't written a poem in 10 years, hope you enjoy my dusty words". Her 14-line poem seemed so simple and just sparkled. It brought back a torrent of memories of Dick's poetry class and how Denise as well as other poets polished my first drafts of poems and improved my craft as a poet. After listening to Domenico Zipoli's Elevazione (1716) (listen) on KDFC 102.1 FM today at 2:22 pm, it inspired this haiku. I've gathered five earlier haikus written after listening to Zipoli's Ascension which never ceases to inspire me. In the tradition of Chinese matching or response poems, I've aligned my poem "Ascension" to Denise's which begins with "In descending order". Because her scaffolding is already in place, it was easy to complete this poem.

Tues., Oct. 2, 2007, 2:22 pm

Music to ascend
to the sun and other stars
but also within.
Tues., Sept. 18, 2007, 10:52 am

Ascend by going
within to your crown chakra—
thousand petals of light.
Sun., Aug. 19, 2007, 11:07 am

Such haunting music—
you're in the midst of angels
playing in heaven.
Thurs., July 5, 2007, 10:33 am

Music such as this
helps the soul's ascent into
the inner sanctum.
Sun., June 3, 2007, 12:40 pm

Ascension— not up
there somewhere, but down in here
is the real heaven!
Wed., May 16, 2007, 11:32 am

Ascension music
composed by Jesuit priest
while in Paraguay.

Here's the poem Denise sent me (left) and my matching poem (right):

In descending order
we fall into our
breath. Whiteness
stirs between.

I gather armloads of
poppies. Ineffable joy
returns and nods at
love's perfect placement.

Jupiter awaits. You pluck
a certain silver streak. I
receive. We weave a
wreath to adorn me.

Such deft drawing in
is our pleasure.
In ascending circles
we rise to our spirit.
Darkness slowly turns
to whiteness of light.

We scatter handfuls of
the thousand-petaled lotus—
Such joy warms the heart
at love's perfect moment.

Buddha smiles. We receive
his blessings and weave
a wreath from the lotus
blossoms for each of us.

Being mindful is our
secret innermost treasure.

Notes to poem "Ascension":

In ascending circles we rise to our spirit.
The ascending circles refer to the seven chakras (wheels) of our spinal cord.

We scatter handfuls of the thousand-petaled lotus
This is the crown chakra (Sahasrara) known as the "thousand-petaled lotus". It is positioned at the top of the head or above it. It is a symbol for enlightenment and the goal of the yogis, where pure consciousness is experienced. Scattering the petals symbolize sharing the fruits of one's enlightenment with others instead of basking in its glory. When Zen Master Kakuan (12th century) saw the final stage of enlightenment depicted as an empty circle in the "Oxherd Drawings", he added two more scenes— "Returning to the Source" (oneness with Nature) and "The Sage Enters the Market Place" (oneness with humanity). He felt that the sage should not enjoy his bliss in solitude, but be actively engaged in helping others to realize their true nature.

Being mindful is our secret innermost treasure.
Mindfulness is one of Buddha's eightfold path to enlightenment.
To be mindful is being attentive to whatever we're doing in the present moment. When our mind is not occupied with regrets of the past or worries of the future, we have more energy to concrete on the task at hand and complete it with ease and efficiency. One who is mindful experiences heaven on earth here and now.

I ascend rocky cliffs
On Sunday, September 16, 2007, I hiked uphill on the Hostel Trail at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills and ascended Elephant Mountain (1200 feet) for a panoramic view of the Bay Area. Going up Ewing Hill (1250 feet), I looked back and saw that Elephant Mountain indeed had the shape of an elephant. At that moment my mind flashed back some 820 years to Lu Hsiang-shan, the Sage of Elephant Mountain whose philosophy I adored.

the Sage of Elephant Mountain
Lu Hsiang-shan or Lu chiu-yüan (1139-1193) lived in Hsiang-shan (Elephant Mountain) in Kiangsi where he lectured and taught philosophy. He led a simple life and thousands of scholars gathered to listen to his simple and straight lectures. In his lecture on righteousness versus profit (1183), he moved his audience to tears.

climbing this mountain is much easier
than tracking him back in time.

The idea here is space travel is easier than time travel.

"The universe is my mind, and my mind is the universe."
Hsiang-shan ch'üan-chi (Complete Works of Lu Hsiang-shan)
"The four directions plus upward and downward constitute the spatial continuum.
What has gone by in the past and what is to come in the future constitute the temporal continuum. The universe (these continua) is my mind, and my mind is the universe."
Section #13, Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (1963), p. 579
Lu's idea of the universe as a space-time continuum predates Einstein's by 720+ years.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (10-2-2007)