The following passage comes from The Holy Teachings of Vimalakirti (tr. Robert Thurman), a text that has been called the “jewel of the Mahayana Sutras.”

“Thereupon the Buddha touched the ground of this billion-world-galactic universe with his big toe, and suddenly it was transformed into a huge mass of precious jewels, a magnificent array of many hundreds of thousands of clusters of precious gems, until it resembled the universe of the Tathagata.  Everyone in the entire assembly was filled with wonder, each perceiving himself seated on a throne of jeweled lotuses.  Then, the Buddha said, do you see this splendor of the virtues of the buddha-field?  …This buddha-field is always thus pure, but the Tathagata makes it appear to be spoiled by many faults, in order to bring about the maturity of inferior living beings.”  p. 19, HTV

In the opening paragraph of Inner Revolution Robert Thurman says, in relation to the Buddha’s gesture of placing his toe on the earth, “if we understood the true nature of reality, we would see the planet we live on as the perfect theater for positive evolution that it truly is.”   This echoes so strongly the passage in Keats’ letters   in which he envisions the world as the “ vale of soulmaking,”

Call the world if you Please “The vale of Soul-making” Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say ‘Soul-making’ Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence—there may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions—but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself.  Intelligences are atoms of perception—they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God—how then are Souls to be made?  How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them—so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each ones individual existence?  How, but by a medium of a world like this?                                                   Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, April 21, 1819.

When I first found this passage, in the usual way of such discoveries:  opening at random to it exactly when I needed to read it, it articulated for me an understanding that was then emerging through experience.  I have come to think of the Poem as a “vale of soul-making.”  Language is in the way of the Poem.  The poet is in the way of the poem.   Working through the internal and material obstacles that arise in writing a poem enacts dramas of desire, loss, and ultimately surrender.  The resistance shapes you as you shape the materials of resistance.    In his “Meridian” speech, Paul Celan said, “The poem wants to reach an Other, it needs this Other, it needs an Over-against.” (italics mine)  To use another metaphor, in writing a poem, am I the forge, the iron, or the flame?

 

(2003)