And I Disagree!

Girl thanked Zamboni Machine smoothing ice for skating.
Animate and inanimate— Is there a difference?
"Of course there is" replied the poetry teacher,
"a distinction between people and things.
People talk back to you, stones don't!
and if you don't know the difference, you're mad!"
"AND I DISAGREE!" one student shouted out.
What a courageous statement!
Something a sage would say
when one's mind is finely tuned
in harmony with the musical spheres
and one's life is flowing and pulsating
from sugar & spice to serpents & stars.

Memories from Montreux fifteen years ago
now flashes vividly in view—
I was dining in the home of Paul Brunton,
when he told me to prepare the salad.
I tore the lettuce perhaps just a bit too hard,
when my host said "Ouch!" to my disbelief.
It was as though his mind was in that leaf
twinged with pain as I ripped it
away from its mother stem.
"Cutting with a knife would hurt it less"
and I followed without a complaint,
realizing that it was a gentle lesson
on sensitizing the soul to all things.
No wonder ancients described a sage
to be like an eyeball, whose heart
is so expansive that he feels suffering
to things to which most of us are numb.

Later during our stroll on the shores of Lac Leman,
my host pointed out to me the distant mountains
of France and Italy surrounding the calm Swiss Lake.
"And over there is the Castle which inspired Byron
to write "The Prisoner of Chillon" in one night",
he mentioned in a way that set my mind on fire
so when I gazed at the sky, everything seemed
to take on a reddish hue that turned to orange
as the sun begins to sink away from view.
There have been beautiful sunsets in my life,
but this sunset, this sunset makes me sigh
as though the cosmic artist now mature with age
paints his ancient canvas for the very last time.
Now my host breaks his contemplative silence:
"What we're seeing is verily the body of God,
our Mother Earth is very much alive, and so is
our Father Sun, Sister Moon, brother planets—
this galaxy, the Milky Way is a manifestation
of the World Mind, the Mind of God."

The painter Renoir sensed this cosmic view
imagining microbes of a cold as having
a solar system within our nose,
and we human microbes dwelling
in some immense body beyond our ken.

And Wang Yang Ming, the Chinese sage
regards Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things
as one body; the world as one family;
the country as one person.

The small mind distinguihes between objects
as well as between himslf and others.
The great mind transcends this diversity
and sees unity in all things.
But even the small mind can sense
an unity and humanity with everything.
We feel alarm when seeing a child
about to fall into a well,
thus our humanity is linked to the child.
We feel suffering when observing animals
about to be slaughtered,
thus our humanity is linked to animals.
We feel pity for flowers and trees
that are uprooted and destroyed,
thus our humanity is linked to plants.
We feel regret even for tiles
that are shattered and crushed,
thus our humanity is linked to stones.
Does not this show that our mind
is in unity and humanity with all things?
The small mind is selfish and angry
because it is clouded, narrow, and divided.
The great mind is compassionate and peaceful
because it is clear, spacious, and united.
The Great Learning transforms the mind
from the small to the great so that
our clear character is made manifest.

Being rooted to heaven, the great mind's branches
extend to earth and embrace all things.
The blood of ordinary people runs from
generation to generation, but the blood of a poet
runs through all things and all time.

Wordsworth sang of this vision in his Preludes III:
"To every natural form, rock, fruits, or flower,
Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,
Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass
Lay imbedded in a quickening soul, an all
That I beheld respired with inward meaning."

Byron's Prisoner of Chillon was chained
in the darkness of a dungeon cell,
"among the stones I stood a stone"
Chained in body but not in mind,
he felt kinship with spiders and mice
and "my very chains and I grew friends".

Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov echoed:
"Love all God's creation, the whole and every
grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every
ray of God's light. Love the animals,
love the plants, love everything."

Others may call us mad when our love embraces
even plants and stones, but this madness
Plato calls divine— for our soul takes wings
when we behold mysteries of beauty everywhere.
This is the poet's calling to sing of these things.

        — Peter Y. Chou
            Palo Alto, 8-1-1987

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