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Refuge for the Unborn

Yeats Converted: Vajrayana in Verse


1. The Tantrika and the Terton

(C.W. 18, Fergus and the Druid)

Tantrika. This whole eve I have ventured through a dream

and seen you tracking forms among the stars:

first, the knot in the cord between two whales,

one leaping to Andromeda, the other diving west,

then, a spindle you divined, but like a vulture’s head,

and then at last the bleeding flower of womanhood,

pushpa, your divination of the Glittering Kid.

Terton. What would you know of riddles such as these, proud lover?

Tantrika. I know no more than this, star-driven seer:

When Krishna danced for me, I was a woman

whose beauty judged the world, and found it lacking.

And beauty then to me became a burden without end,

Though it seemed easy to surrender it,

and cast my heart upon a bed of sorrow.

Terton. What would I show you, then?

Tantrika. How beauty finds itself again,

recast into the dreaming wisdom of the stars.

Terton. Look upon my ageless gaze, the emptiness

of my desire, this will that does not conspire to any human end,

but dances and dissolves in gyres of starry light

where beauty now returns to hunger for itself.

Tantrika. A lover would be foolish to refuse such hunger,

for no look can be lost in such a trenchant dream.

Terton. That it be so, receive this thread and bind

the hungering beauty to your heart, enseal your fate.

Tantrika. I see desire that sidles like a river

from bank to bank, but its dissolving rush

undoes the very borders of its flow,

and gleaming like an omen pearl above,

the moon reflected in the coursing current

shows me the life unborn, in hunger that awaits

the beauty to consume it, and be consumed in turn.

How wonderful and great, how endlessly immense

is this discovery, the treasure-bound romance,

the lover’s dance encircled by the reflected moon.

* * * * *

tantrika One who makes pleasure a spiritual practice. a mystic hedonist. Tantra = weave, continuity. The tantrika uniquely discerns and celebrates the weave of mystical and sensorial impressions

terton In Tibetan tradition, a treasure-finder. A shaman/diviner whodiscovers precious deposits of wisdom and beauty and teachings implanted in the mindstream or the natural world

the knot in the cord A detail of the ecliptic constellation of the Fishes, marked by the star al Risha, alpha Piscium

a spindle… like a vulture’s head Sky diviner’s vision of the open cluster of young stars called the Pleiades, viewed separately as a spindle, but when merged into a larger constellation stretching from the Fishes to the Charioteer, as the head of a vulture

pushpa Sanskrit “blossom,” reference to a woman’s menstral discharge

Glittering Kid Capella, alpha Aurigae, a prominent star in the northern constellation of the Charioteer above the Twins

treasure-bound romanceAn allusion to consort yoga or tantric sexual magic practiced by tertons to optimize their innate skill for discovering treasure



2 .The Ruse of the World

(C.W. 20 The Rose of the World)

What dream is this, oblique samsaric spin

that neither stops nor goes without delay?

This mournful tide arising from within

is just the rushing race of ordinary day—

no one there to win.

We are the unnamed passengers of time,

with or without souls, we bide and pass

as water white adorns the river rime

and rushes for the stars, alas—

we cannot be quite so sublime.

Celestial host or demons in the fray,

unborn identities all hustle for a peek

of what Siddharta saw, numinous display

with each impression breaks: the single rose you seek,

single-minded look that does not go astray.


samsaric spin The endless and beginningless round of blindly recycling conditions of delusional behavior, the vicious circle of rebirth. Sanskrit samsara, “flowing together in a blend or rush”

no one there to win Allusion to the Buddhist doctrine of annata, postulating the absence of a permanent self or identity in the fluent conditions of personal existence, or any existence

rime White ice that forms when water vapor freezes to the surface of objects

celestial host or demons Allusion to the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth in the six lokas or realms: gods, titans, humans, animals, ghosts, demons


3. In Misty Oddiyan

(C.W. 24 The Lake Isle of Innisfree)

The lotus will arise, so splendid on the lake

that a child of tender years might wish a fairy tale

in episodes sublime, if merely to partake

of such a lovely sight, the petals wet and pale.

But I shall not be fanciful in just that way,

not now, not even if the cuckoo lands on me,

for midnight’s just the time to greet the day

and nothing suits impermanence like glee.

I will arise from lotus mist and honor my own dream

without a magic legend for a ruse,

for in my sacred lore there is no life supreme,

immune from human folly and abuse.


Oddiyan Oddiyana, region of northwest Pakistan crossed by the Silk Route, said to be the birthplace of Padma Sambhava, semi-legendary founder of Tibetan Buddhism

if the cuckoo lands of me The cuckoo bird is sacred to the Vajrayana tradition because it leaves its young in the nests of other birds—an allusion to the tulku born into an ordinary family but regarded as the offspring of a monastic lineage, members of whose order claim him from his parents at an early age


4. Where Age is Not

(C.W. 28, When You Are Old)

When you see age ahead, and coming sure

And gazing at your fate, you come across these lines,

Contemplate the way you keep a pure

And steady look, the path your sight defines.

Whoever loved your moments of delight,

And drank your beauty, deeply or not so,

There was one pilgrim of eternal night

Who caught your passion as you let it go.

And leaning into time, testing its dance,

Consider how love turns in ageless poise,

And honor how it brought you to a choice

That reckoned on the timeless flow of chance.


a pure and steady look Sanskrit dharana, effortless concentration that wells rapturously into perfect attention


5. Who With the Tathagata goes?

(C.W. 32, Who Goes with Fergus?)

Who with the Tathagata goes

Across samsara’s winding game,

To meet the no one waiting there?

Seeker, seek as one who knows,

And in your absence be the same:

Unbound, no matter when and where.

And no more turn within to find

The presence that reveals its base,

For emptiness does not abide,

Nor does it liberate the mind,

And silence will at last erase

The Tathagata’s soundless stride.


Tathagata Sanskrit, “one who passes so.” Name applied to the Enlightened One or historical Buddha, but equally to anyone who attains the enlightened state in perfect attention to the transience of all things

samsara The cycle or rebirth or reincarnation; less literally, the same old runaround of habituated acts and attitudes

the presence the reveals its base Tibetan rigpa, the non-originated ground awareness, base of phenomena and the presence that is witness to phenomena; hence, the uncreated matrix of the duality of subject and object

emptiness Sanskrit shunyata, Tibetan stong-pa-nyid, the mysterious presence, not of vacuity, but ototal interdependence of all conditions so that not one entity, object, thought, or perception, exists in and of itself



6. The Lament of the High-Born Lama

(C. W. 35 The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner)

If I retreat from human pain

beneath a gilded roof,

my heart does not reside at ease,

my lonely and aloof

demeanor goes uneffaced—

no person for the proof.

The neophytes cry in the yard

their garments rough,

their logic full of rage

at human stuff.

My contemplations keep

me mired in this bluff.

There’s not a woman to be found

on the Potala’s turf,

the only woman I once loved

has departed like surf:

the mother of my own true mind

hath left me in the lurch.


the neophytes cry in the yard Allusion to the Tibetan practice of verbal debate, required of young monks to hone their dialectic and expository skills

March 24, 2009