Monday, January 3, 2011

Karma Etheree*

Some Taoists believe that each of us has 36,000 gods and goddesses living inside us. We please these deities in us when we think good thoughts, eat good food, and take proper care of our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health. But if we abuse ourselves, they’ll get up in disgust and leave.

Thich Nhat Hahn says that we honor our forebears and our offspring by cultivating mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom.

While thinking about these things, I composed this Etheree.

breath i draw
each word i say
every bite i eat
touches for good or ill
my children, grandchildren and
unseen future generations.
each action pleases or displeases
all my forebears, human and otherwise.

—Dan Gurney

*Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, ending with a final line of ten syllables yielding an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.  Try composing one—you may like it!


Bonnie said...

I like this etheree Dan. A good reminder to be mindful about our choices for the benefit of future generations.

Paul C said...

I also like the idea that our actions hinge directly upon our immediate families as well. We often can't get beyond our independent mind set.

steven said...

well-written dan! 36,000!! that explains my sleepless nights . . .the constant conversation! steven

The Pollinatrix said...

Nice etheree! The 36,000 gods made me muse upon the idea that every cell in my body is a god, something I'd never quite formulated before, but have been coming close to for years. A pre-Epiphany epiphany! I think it came about partly because yesterday I re-read Annie Dillard's, "Each day is a god" poem.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

I love this - so well said.

Sarah Lulu said...

I've not heard that way of looing at things before a framework is struck me as being likely very true. Very true.

Ruth said...

Your word-thoughts work very well in the form of an etheree. That arresting first word: Look. Then the lines that build in breadth, containing the layers of generations, and by the end there is a small mountain of the effects of all that we do and think and say. Very cool.

Reya Mellicker said...


So ... 36,000 eh? No wonder it feels so crowded in here sometimes!

Sabio Lantz said...

Very nice. Never heard of that form of poety. I took your footnote's challenge and tried to compose a quick one during lunch here:

no one
now or then
future, past, present
ancestors or kids
no eyes and no karma
unrelenting freedom now
without watching spirits or ghosts
breathe, speak, eat, walk, act knowing now
carries all hope, love, liberty and awe

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you, Bonnie! Not only future generations, but also past generations (as they live inside us) can benefit from our mindfulness and our gratitude.

Dan Gurney said...

Paul, yes. Our tendency to believe that we're individuals who reside pretty much inside our skins is a pretty limiting view of who and what we are. And worse, it keeps us from experiencing a lot of happiness that becomes available to us when we view ourselves more expansively and spaciously (and graciously) than our default view.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi steven! I thought maybe sleepless nights might be caused by excessive blogging! In any event, my gods and goddesses are usually pretty merciful in regard to allowing me to sleep. It's my unruly smaller thoughts that sometimes compromise my sleep.

Dan Gurney said...

Polli, I love that idea. Thanks for contributing it. Perhaps each cell contains 36,000 gods and goddesses. Who knows? I would think gods can make themselves small enough to fit into pretty small places.

Dan Gurney said...

SBS, thank you!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Sarah Lulu, I agree with you, it's more likely to be true than untrue. I don't trust my five senses to give me anywhere nearly a complete picture of how the universe we live in actually works. Especially karmically. For that, we must trust our instincts, our intuition, our dreams, mystics, and poets.

Dan Gurney said...

Ruth, thank you for that appreciation. I feel honored that you said it. I do enjoy composing Etherees; they encourage me to work with different ways of arranging my thoughts that end up getting me closer to a satisfactory expression of them. And poems, unlike ordinary narrative, don't invite rebuttal/argument in quite the same way. That may lead to more civil discourse, something our culture could use more of.

Dan Gurney said...

Yeah, Reya. Once you start listening, it' amazing how many voices you can hear between the ears.

Dan Gurney said...

Sabio, I'm glad to introduce you to the Etheree, and even more pleased that you'd give it a go. Your Etheree made me laugh--a great companion piece to the one that came out under my pen.

Your Etheree expresses a point of view that has lots of currency these days around here, but I'm not at all sure that the popularity these days of the "no karma view" makes it more descriptive of actual reality.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Dan
I am trying to unravel what your last sentence/paragraph meant.
Correct me if I am wrong but it seemed to say:

"Just because your 'no karma' view is popular, doesn't mean it is right!"

Anyway, the heretical "no karma" view I am alluding to in my poem (which you told Ruth "don't invite rebuke") was actually pretty ancient and not pop -- coming from the dzogchen doctrine of no karma -- also found in the Heart Sutra.

Just to mix up the poetry!

Dan Gurney said...

Sabio, I think your poem is a worthy companion to mine and I'm very pleased you wrote it and posted it in the comments. It balances out my Etheree and expresses another view. I hope you'll write more Etherees. (I sometimes respond to Haiku-like poems I read on blogs with Haiku-like responses.)

So, I want to reiterate, your Etheree pleased me.

You are quite correct to point out that the view you're expressing is not pop and in fact is included in non-dual teachings. And, as you point out, the Heart Sutra denies a lot of things including the Four Noble Truths, for Pete's sake: "No Suffering, No origination of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path leading to the cessation of suffering." It says, "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form" then later it says "in emptiness there is no form."

The Heart Sutra contradicts a lot of things, even itself!!

For the purposes of navigating ordinary everyday "meat-and-potatoes" reality, I have found it useful to heed the ideas of karma, and also to try to walk--without getting priggish about it--the path of wise understanding, wise intention, wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood, wise effort, wise concentration, and wise meditation.

Simultaneously and perhaps paradoxically, I find the non-dual teachings useful, partly because they help to keep me from taking too seriously any of my ideas, even my most cherished ones, and to keep myself from believing too fervently any of my thoughts.

Sabio Lantz said...

Karma as simple, common sense cause and effect are important not to leave behind, eh. But that is not a common way it is used in Asia -- from my experience.

Fated notions of the sin's of one's father's following a child in forms of illness (Judaism) or the notion that ancestors must be appeased or ill fortune will fall upon you (many faiths including Shinto and others) are less than desirable.

Karma as fate with no hope of freedom due to its weight (found commonly in Hinduism and Buddhism in the countries where I lived) is something worth putting a voice out against --- thus my little Etheree.

Thanx again for introducing it. I enjoyed your poem too.

LauraX said...

beautiful Dan...thank you for your inspirational words and teachings! And now I have something new to play with, creating an Etheree! Good for my brain...another healthy choice!!!

Dutchbaby said...

I never knew that I could host 36,000 gods and goddesses within me. I must take roll and see how I've done. I hope it will take a long, long time to complete the task.

Dan Gurney said...

Sabio, I hope you, and others will write more Etherees in response to Etherees. It's like the Renga tradition in Japan--poems written collaboratively. A wonderful new thing.

Dan Gurney said...

Laura X, I hope you will write an Etheree. They're fun!!

Dan Gurney said...

Dutchbaby, take roll! That's great. I cannot imagine trying to keep track of 36,000 of anything. I figure I've taught about 1,000 kids in my entire career as a teacher, more or less, and I'm afraid I cannot keep track of all of them.

Jim714 said...

Hi Dan:

I just saw this and like it. Very well done.

With yourself
With your own mind
And with your own heart
Find the silence within
And then anger will dissolve
Into a natural resolve
To assist others upon the way
Like a sun rising on a brand new day



Dan Gurney said...

Jim, thanks for this. I like it, too. Peace, in many ways, begins and ends with our internal work. When people work for peace in faraway places I always wonder why. So often these same people have fences to mend very close to home.

Did you compose it?