Walking In The Jasmine Garden

Deep Truth & Devotional Fervor In Lalla’s Poems

A many-armed Shiva sitting on a lotus. Lalla's poems are filled with symbolic imagery, and Shiva plays a central role in many.

Lalla -- known also as Lalleshwari or Lal Ded -- was a medieval Kashmiri saint and yogini, whose lovely poems express a variety of themes common to nondual spiritual inquiry.

In Soul’s Jasmine Garden - Lalla’s Poetic Imagery I explore several of these themes: (1) the mystical union of Shiva (the unmanifest) and Shakti (the changing phenomena of the world); (2) the “drunkenness” experienced with the release of yogic “nectar”; and (3) the spiritual “death and resurrection” that accompanies entrance into the unborn deathless “dimension” associated with spiritual liberation.

Lalla’s poems are also filled with references to what in Taoism we call Inner Alchemy: the transformations of body, mind and energy that are associated with yoga or qigong practice. The language she uses to describe these yogic experiences is oftentimes a mixture of the literal and metaphoric, as when she describes what a Taoist text would likely refer to as the lower dantian or Snow Mountain:

In your pelvis near the navel is the source
of many motions called the sun,
the city of the bulb.
As your vitality rises from that sun
it warms …

Every now and again one finds explicit mention of challenges Lalla encounters, in light of her being a woman. Much more common, however, are her songs of joyful glee and ecstatic freedom, at having transcended all dualistic body-based distinctions, gender included.

Read More: Gender & The Tao

And as we’ll see in the following two poems -- translated by Coleman Barks and excerpted from Naked Song – Lalla expresses with equal power and ease as a Jnani and as a Bhakta.

In one moment she points with ruthless clarity to the deepest, most essential truth; and in the next moment (or next poem) we find her swaying ecstatically, waxing eloquent with devotional fervor.

Lalla The Jnani

In the following poem, Lalla describes an “enlightenment” associated with Nirvikalpa Samadhi -- Pure Awareness standing alone, utterly devoid of phenomenal objects.

“Nothing but God” as the “only doctrine” is the “eternal Tao” of Taoism, which cannot be spoken. Her description of it having “no categories of transcendence or non-transcendence” resonates strongly with Buddhism’s Madhyamaka reasoning.

Enlightenment absorbs this universe of qualities.
When that merging occurs, there is nothing
but God. This is the only doctrine.

There is no word for it, no mind
to understand it with, no categories
of transcendence or non-transcendence,
no vow of silence, no mystical attitude.

There is no Shiva and no Shakti
in enlightenment, and if there is something
that remains, that whatever-it-is
is the only teaching.

*

Read More: The Tao That Can Be Spoken: Shantarakshita & The Ten-Thousand-Things

Lalla The Bhakta

In the following poem, we find Lalla – in a more devotional mood – inviting us into the view of Sahaja Samadhi: of the world arising as a Pure Land, as the meeting-place of Heaven and Earth, as the Garden of Eden, a Sacred World, the Word become Flesh. All these are different ways of pointing to her “walking in the jasmine garden” – fully permeated with the fragrance of the Eternal, enjoying the dance of the ten-thousand-things (ever-changing phenomenal forms) fully transparent to the Tao, the Divine, our own True Nature.

Though she “seems to be here” (as the playful appearance of a Kashmiri poet-yogini), the truth of the matter is that it’s just this “walking in the jasmine garden” – nothing more, nothing less.

I, Lalla, entered the jasmine garden,
where Shiva and Shakti were making love.

I dissolved into them,
and what is this
to me, now?

I seem to be here,
but really I’m walking
in the jasmine garden.

*

Read More: Laozi & Ludwig, Playing Chess: Taoist Practice & The Philosophy Of Ludwig Wittgenstein