Old Poems by Sangharakshita


Poems 1946 - 1950



The Taoist Teacher

I did not seek, and so I found;
I travelled rooted to the ground.
Words that in jest I uttered here
Were wisdom in the heavenly sphere.

The Secret of the Universe,
Disputed oft in prose and verse,
I never bothered much about -
And that was how I found it out.

All men's questions and replies
Are sometimes foolish, sometimes wise.
I never asked or answered aught -
And that way I both learned and taught.

If you wish to learn of me
Forget all this immediately;
Forget there's such a thing to do -
And then perchance I'll wink at you.


From the unlocked cage of my heart
White doves of love go winging,
Wild larks of song rise singing,
The ice of my heart is broken, broken,
Joy's fountain leaps in the air;
And all the while no word was spoken:
I only looked at something fair.



Here perpetual incense burns;
The heart to meditation turns,
And all delights and passions spurns.

A thousand brilliant hues arise,
More lovely than the evening skies,
And pictures paint before our eyes.

All the spirit's storm and stress
Is stilled into a nothingness,
And healing powers descend and bless.

Refreshed, we rise and turn again
To mingle with this world of pain,
As on roses falls the rain.

The Parable of the Plough

Where green and purple strips of earth
Stretched to far hills of misty blue,
He walked with slow and solemn step
That sanctified the flowers and dew.

The sun shone fiercely white above
And darted down its quivering flame,
As through the new-ploughed fields the Lord
Of Wisdom and Compassion came.

Two milk-white oxen drew the plough
With meek, boughed heads that seemed to hear
The sighful rustle of the palms
And the dry clods breaking in their rear.

The peasant drove the ploughshare deep
Which two strong hands did strictly guide.
Lo, as he turned his docile team,
The silent Lord was at his side.

He knelt with joined, uplifted palms;
His eyes with tears of joy were dim.
And while he knelt, his oxen seemed
To bow their patient heads with him.

The Lord in mercy sweetly spake -
No hour for high discourses now;
He spoke of simple, homely things,
And parabled upon the plough.

By that so gracious accent, all
The humble ways of field and fold -
Ploughing, sowing, reaping, threshing -
Were touched as though with rays of gold.

Yea, as the Lord discoursed to him,
The hardy peasant quickly saw
In lives of clod, flower, beast and man,
The workings of a common law.

Three milk-white blooms the peasant plucked
And with them touched the Blessed Feet.
`I take my refuge, Lord, in Thee,
Thy Doctrine, and Thine Order meet'.

The Lord stepped o'er the thread-thin stream
And went His calm and solemn way.
The ploughman, joyful, gripped his plough,
And plied a whip of song that day.

'Above Me Broods...'

Above me broods
A world of mysteries and magnitudes.
I see, I hear,
More than what strikes the eye or meets the ear.

Within me sleep
Potencies deep, unfathomably deep,
Which, when awake,
The bonds of life, death, time and space will break.

Above me like the blue sky do I see.
Below, in me,
Lies the reflection of infinity.


Wesak Joy

The swiftest, sweetest pen could ne'er indite
What joy Thou hadst upon that Wesak Night;
And though a voice such as the stars may have
Should breast all music as a swan the wave
And bear on to the utmost verge of sound,
They could not utter forth Thy joy profound.
And this I know; for now, by following Thee
With first weak steps to Perfect Purity,
I bear within my heart a mite of bliss,
And bearing, cannot even utter this.


I listened all day for the knock of the Stranger,
And I often looked out from the door.
The table was scrubbed, the brass shining,
And well swept the floor.

The shadows grew longer and longer,
In the grate the fire flickered and died.
`It's too late. He never will come now'
I said, and sighed.

I sat there musing and musing,
The spinning-wheel still at my side.
The moonlight came in through the window
White like a bride.

As the clock struck twelve I heard nothing
But felt He had come and stayed
Waiting outside. And I listened -
And I was afraid.

Secret Wings

We cry that we are weak although
We will not stir our secret wings;
The world is dark - because we are
Blind to the starriness of things.

We pluck our rainbow-tinted plumes
And with their heaven-born beauty try
To fledge nocturnal shafts, and then
Complain `Alas! we cannot fly!'

We mutter `All is dust' or else
With mocking words accost the wise:
`Show us the Sun which shines beyond
The Veil' - and then we close our eyes.

To powers above and powers beneath
In quest of Truth men sue for aid,
Who stand athwart the Light and fear
The shadow that themselves have made.

Oh cry no more that you are weak
But stir and spread your secret wings,
And say `The world is bright, because
We glimpse the starriness of things.'

Soar with your rainbow plumes and reach
That near-far land where all are one,
Where Beauty's face is aye unveiled
And every star shall be a sun.

The Tramp

I will not read the scriptures
Of advertisements obscene;
I will not offer incense
To the godhead of Machine;
I will not be a pawn in
The game of politics;
I will not sell my birthright;
I will kick against the pricks.

Not in tired but sleepless cities
Where the black smoke shrouds the stars;
Not in the reeking rottenness
Of brothels and of bars;
Not in office or in workshop
Where, labouring night and day,
The sullen millions languish,
One second will I stay.

I will read the Book of Nature
That reveals the things above;
I will offer my heart's incense
To Wisdom and to Love;
I will fill my life with beauty
And with joy transfigure it;
I will rise and claim my birthright
And to Truth alone submit.

By willow-shaded waters
From village snug not far;
On slow-trailed creaking barges
Beneath the Evening Star;
In fields, by hill or valley,
Contented, night and day,
With birds and flowers and butterflies
For ever will I stay.


Sri Pada

I saw His shining footprints
Gleaming in the grass like dew;
The flowers, where they had fallen,
Sweeter and fairer grew:
They led into the distant hills,
Those hills all misty-blue.

I will follow, I will follow,
'Neath the Spring Moon full and bright,
Through field and copse and hollow,
Those footprints of delight,
And walk upon those distant hills
One dawn all golden-white.

'Tis many an age of darkness
Since the days my Lord did pass
Leaving His dewy footprints
Like pearls upon the grass,
And rank weeds have o'ergrown them,
And thorns obscured, alas!

Yet will I follow boldly,
Using the hunter's art,
Until one day I find Him,
From all things else apart,
Sitting beside the Pool of Peace
In the blue hills of my heart.

The Poet's Reply

`With your holy vows,
Your shaven head,
And your stitched-stuff robes
How can you sing still?'
The people said.

They pointed fingers
Of scorn at me.
`A true ascetic
He cannot be;
For his lips are stained
With poesy.'

`Poor fools', I replied,
`These songs of mine
Are the rapturous lilt
Of the life divine;
But yours are tainted
With lust and wine.

`If a song-bird caged
Can sing merrily,
With its wings close clipped
(And such are ye),
Oh how much sweeter
'Twill sing when free!'

'Tired of the Crimson Curtain...'

Tired of the crimson curtain,
Tired of the gilded chair,
Tired of the scented bosom,
Tired of the loosened hair,
I went into the garden
To breathe the sunlit air.

I heard the drowsy murmur
Of flower-emerging bees;
Before the holy Passion Flower
I sank on both my knees;
I talked on Art with tulips;
I fell in love with trees.

Crazed by incessant searches
In the Wilderness of Word,
Crazed by close-printed volumes
Whose dust lies aye unstirred,
I stole into a thicket
To hear a singing-bird.

Perched on a spray of roses
She poured into my ear
The sorrow of the nightingales
For Itylus so dear,
The ecstasies of skylarks,
The lusts of chanticleer.

Maddened with thirst for being,
Maddened with circling round
In the vortex of existence,
Baffled, blinded, bound,
I cast aside three bodies
Which in three worlds are found.

Like an avalanche descended
Unbounded ecstasy;
Unending vistas opened out
Into eternity;
The Ocean of Nirvana
Swallowed the droplet `me'.


Turn away from the world, weary pilgrim,
There is no rest for thee there;
The quietness of star-communing hills
'Twere better for thee to share;
In the silence that lies at the forest's heart
Breathes a peace beyond compare.

In glades where Spring-buds quicken
When frosts no more appal,
In fields and leafy by-lanes red
With ripened fruits of Fall,
The leaves, now green, now yellow, teach
That change must come to all.

Comes peace more cool than the moonlight is
That silvers the gliding stream,
When the stilled heart knows, in the forest depths,
The world is an empty dream,
And turns with delight to the Things That Are
From the things that merely seem.

The Lord of Compassion

In the midnight of the dense ignorance of the world the flower of
Thy Compassion blossomed like a great golden lotus on the
unruffled surface of the waters of Thy Mind,
Whilst the Full Moon of Thine Enlightenment hung overhead in
the azure heavens ablaze with stars...
The wind that bore freezingly from the bare hills and leafless
forests shrill voices of grief, shrieks of pain, sobs of despair,
Returning, blew back thither warm with the infinite fragrance of
the unfolding petals of the great golden lotus of Thy Love...
Though that Full Moon is no more seen gloriously bright in the
azure heavens amidst a host of blazing stars, and though that
wondrous blossom long since closed its dawny petals bright,
Still through the moonless, starless darkness of the midnight of the
dense ignorance of the world
Is wafted, O Lord of Compassion, the exceeding sweetness of the
fragrance of Thy Love.

The White Calf

Outstretched upon the sandy ground
Beneath the trees, beneath the stars,
We watched the silver full moon round
Dapple the earth with silver bars.

After long toil and tardy ease
How sweet it was at last to lie
Silent beneath the moon-blanched trees
Feeling the stillness of the sky.

With sleep at last our lids were sealed
And all the night long we had lain,
But loud from heaven the thunder pealed
And down in torrents rushed the rain.

We scrambled up. The stars were fled,
The wind was straining at the trees
And whipping up our sandy bed
In wavelets like a stormy sea's.

Into a narrow shed of clay
With cowdunged and uneven floor
For shelter then we groped our way,
And shivering bedded in the straw.

Chill through the open doorway blew
The wind, and with the wind the rain,
While we, for more we could not do,
Huddled beside the sacks of grain.

Above, the thunder boomed and crashed,
And all without was dark and drear,
Save when the fitful lightning flashed
And showed the tumult we could hear.

At length, by weariness oppressed,
In spite of cold and wind and rain,
Sprawled on the floor with placid breast
We slumbered till 'twas day again.

Then, as the dawn's first rays did fall
Bright through the open doorway wide,
Turning my head, I saw a small
White calf still sleeping at my side.

Nestling upon the same soft straw
As I, with head to hoof, he lay,
So peacefully that one who saw
Could hardly keep the tears away.

To me that small life did impart
A kind of aching tenderness,
Such as may fill a mother's heart
To see her infant's helplessness.

And in the deepest depths of me
I felt that I had understood
In one clear flash the mystery
Of universal brotherhood.


The Birthplace of Compassion

Buddha Gaya, 1949

Here, where the Goatherd's banyan-tree
O'ershadowed, was, to world forlorn,
The first child of Enlightenment,
Compassion, born.

Seeing men bloom like lotus flowers
With petals closed, or half apart,
Her pulses fluttered underneath
The Buddha-Heart.

And when that high and holy hour
With stars shone down upon her birth,
There opened wide a way to peace
For all on earth.

The Unseen Flower

Compassion is far more than emotion. It is something that springs
Up in the emptiness which is when you yourself are not there,
So that you do not know anything about it.
Nobody, in fact, knows anything about it
(If they knew it, it would not be Compassion);
But they can only smell
The scent of the unseen flower
That blooms in the Heart of the Void.

The Bodhisattva

Because I could not muse apart
In world-oblivious ecstasy,
But felt like fire-drops on my heart
The tears of all humanity,
I cast aside that source of pride
The glittering robe of selfish peace,
And donned the dress of painfulness
Until all others' pain should cease.

In house and market, shop and cell,
Wherever men in bondage be,
Yes, in the very depth of Hell,
My puissant pity sets them free.
Nor shall I cease to strive for peace
Till every trembling blade of grass
That feels with pain the sting of rain
Into Nirvana's bliss shall pass.

Let me endure unending pains,
Drain to the dregs grief's bitterest cup;
While one unhappy life remains
My own I cannot render up.
Nirvana's joy would only cloy
Should it to me alone befall:
Closed evermore Nirvana's door
Unless I enter last of all!

'The Ashes of All My Heartaches...'

The ashes of all my heartaches,
The dust of a hundred dreams,
Are swept away in an instant
When forth one white peak gleams.

After long storm and struggle,
My heart with quietness fills
At the curve of this jade-green river,
The sweep of these dark blue hills.


In the dim green stillness of the pool
There is a redness as of gold
Flashing among the dark brown weeds,
Glimmer on glimmer, bright but cold,
Of the black-finned goldfish beautiful
That breathe down there where the lotus breeds.

Deep in the ocean of my soul
Flickers an anguish red as fire,
Twining among my oozy thoughts,
Glimmer on glimmer of hot desire
Leaping and sparkling beyond control
In the darkness there where the heart contorts.

As the fish that rises for grub or fly
May be laid gasping-golden on sand-strewn shore,
And glimmer no more in the dim green dawn
Of waters where lily and lotus lie,
So the fierce red love that racks me sore
May be laid on the bank of the harsh world's scorn

If up to the surface it should swim
For the grub of words or the fly of phrase
From where like the glimmer of fish in shoal
Now through the dark brown weeds it plays
With a ruby redness, a faint fierce gleam
In the dark green depths of my inmost soul.