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Soul's Jasmine Garden: Lalla's Nondual Poetic Imagery

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I, Lalla, came through the gate of my soul’s jasmine garden
and found Shiva and Shakti there, locked in love!
Drunk with joy, I threw myself into the lake of nectar.
Who cares if I’m a dead woman walking!

This beautiful poem is offered to us by the 14th century Kashmiri poet-yogini Lalla -- via I, Lalla: The Poems Of Lal Ded (translated by Ranjit Hoskote) -- and exemplifies several themes commonly encountered in the work of mystic-poets of all stripes. Let’s take a closer look at these themes, and the imagery used to express them.

Shiva and Shakti, Locked In Love

Sensual and erotic imagery of this sort is used to point to the experience of softening and dissolving habitual egoic boundaries -- an experience most humans touch into most completely within the context of sexual intimacy. In those moments of deepest intimacy, we are offered a glimpse of the nonduality of subject and object that is the raison d'être of nondual spiritual paths.

Shiva -- representing the unmanifest, or ultimate dimension, or noumenal realm -- appears, in Lalla’s poem, in conjugal embrace with Shakti -- the life-force of the manifest, phenomenal realm, or relative dimension, in a way quite similar to how yin and yang dance within the Taiji Symbol: each playfully containing the other.

Drunk With Joy & Yogic Nectar

Such a dissolution of egoic tensions and rigidity opens the floodgates, as it were, to a reservoir of uncaused happiness and joy. In ceremonial Taoism, the sacrifice of dualistic thoughts, perceptions and actions into the fire of awakened mind is enacted ritually by offering incense to the altar, in a practice known as Baibai:

”To see the entire world as ‘a blazing inferno’ is to offer the ever-changing appearances of our daily life as we might offer a stick of incense, to the altar of our spiritual unfolding. What is actually being ‘burned,’ in this spiritual process, are our dualistic habits of mind, the sacrifice of which gives rise to the bliss of Awakened Mind - the Mind of Tao.”

Dead Woman Walking

When such a sacrifice is complete, the practitioner has undergone a kind of spiritual “death and resurrection” process. What has “died” is the belief in being a separate, unchanging “self” associated with a physical body. What is “resurrected” is the conscious realization of our transpersonal True Self, our Body of Tao. Shakti-in-union-with-Shiva (i.e. alchemically transmuted jing-qi-shen) then functions as the “agent” of non-volitional action, giving rise to, for instance, Lalla’s experience of being a “dead woman walking.”

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