Propaganda Spiritual-Style

I recently started looking for information about a Japanese poet named Ryunosuke Satoro because . . . well you have to read some of his or her quotes for yourself (thanks to

Individually, we are one drop; together, we are an ocean.

Extend a hand whether or not you know it will be grasped.

Dream giant, golden, Buddha-sized dreams.

Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectations.

Find patience in the breath of life.

I challenge anyone to find any other texts or quotes by this profoundly inspiring Japanese poet. In fact, find me a poem, published as a poem rather than a quote. I’ll give you my undying respect if you do — though most people have my undying respect, but, for you, I’ll include a year’s supply of Respect Chow to keep its coat shiny and its teeth white . . . but I digress . . .

In seeking information on Satoro, I came across some beautiful Buddhist poetry. I am often drawn to Buddhist texts because they defy my understanding. They are pure beauty from skin to soul, and nothing I do to them reveals much more than the simple truth that beauty is probably a sure sign of something wonderful or something terrible — and that’s an inclusive ‘or.’ Beauty is, sometimes, a sure sign of both.

So, then, I come across a poem by Hanshan, a hermit poet of the Tang Dynasty (sometime between 618 and 906 CE). He lived in a cave. Don’t hold me to any of these facts; I got them from the Internet; and he sounds a lot like at least two sages from my Jewish tradition, and I believe he’ll sound a lot like a couple of sages from other spiritual traditions too. Caves seem to be the wombs of the spirit. But, again, I digress . . .

Hanshan wrote this:

Here’s a message for the faithful
what is it that you cherish
to find the Way to see your nature
your nature is naturally so
what Heaven bestows is perfect
looking for proof leads you astray
leaving the trunk to search among the twigs
all you get is stupid

I was drawn to the last line, wondering if the translator had created the incredible word play — you’re trying to get proof, but all you get is stupid — or if Hanshan actually crafted it. Does Japanese also have a word that means acquire and become? Digressions everywhere I turn . . .

Much Buddhist poetry that I’ve read seems to suggest that we stop trying to change things and, that, as we live within these things that we have stopped changing, their sufficiency and ours will become apparent and unmistakable. Sufficiency is probably the wrong word; try worth or nature or gift or purpose‘ None of them seem quite right, but the stew of them might be what I mean — and all of this striving to understand seems disrespectful to the inspiration.

I noticed something, though: If  you would write these beautiful words in a particular font, emblazon these words against a particular palette of colors, or speak them in a specific timbre, they could be mistaken for fascist rhetoric.

And this isn’t peculiar to Buddhist poetry. It’s true about many time-honored spiritual texts, from many traditions. One of my friends recently posted a picture of a billboard: That love your neighbor thing: I meant it. — God]

Really wonderful, right? Honestly, I love stuff like this especially since there’s no shortage of billboards exhorting me to embrace Christ or else give up any hope for eternal life. BUT, be aware that the word neighbor is key here. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to wonder if there was a difference between neighbors and everyone else. There was. I could go on and on about this, and probably will in another post, but I’ve used up my digressions for the rest of October.

And it occurs to me that the Tao Te Ching and Hanshan and the Torah and the Epistles of Saint Paul and many other sacred texts are not so much about freedom and hope and love as they are about limits and blind fear and ethnocentrism. (At the risk of another digression, I should say that some of Satoro’s quotes defy my proposition; anyone who encourages you to dream big is spitting in the face of totalitarianism; but I’m not yet certain that Satoro isn’t some stay-at-home mom in Cary, North Carolina, so I stand by my proposition.)

But here’s what’s terrific about humanity: we can take these texts that tell us to stay still and let tomorrow worry about tomorrow and stick together and turn them into something good. Human beings aren’t saitisfied to let these lovely texts mean give up or shut down or keep out. We interpret them to mean the world is a good place, live in it and start with a mitzvah you can really do and find the face of God in everyone.

For me, this is compelling evidence that humanity basically tends toward the good. Maybe not in every moment, maybe not in every heart, but in every strand of reality, I believe we aim toward compassion and creation. And that’s the only truth I know.


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