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I was raised with the words of the Anglican faith
The King James Bible dinned into my soul like Shakespeare

Once more into the breach, dear friends, through
the valley of the shadow of death
Eli, eli, lama sabachthani, that is the question
Out, out, damn'd spot, and suffer the little children

But the faith I learned is not the faith I was taught

With this, or after this, I learned (or taught myself)
That Karl Marx and Adam Smith were prophets of a sort,
and I didn't believe in either
That everyone had a right to an opinion, just so long as
they didn't force it on me
That every war was a civil war
That the Bomb was a fact and probably caused sex
And more, and more
Just another part of another lost generation
Living without religion in a land of pointless ceremonies
Where the powerless monarch was head of the meaningless church
And the nearest most of us came to worship was standing
for the anthem at the end of a film, if you didn't manage
to get out of the cinema quick enough

Meanwhile ...
In Lhasa when the Portola was built
The workers sifted every clump of soil to make sure
the ants were safely carried out
Now that was for the Fifth Dalai Lama, back around the time
of the English Civil War
But I saw the pilgrims in the Jokhang
I saw the people prostrating themselves for the eight-mile
length of the city
I saw the candles in every window for Tibet's Festival of Lights
I saw that no one could cross a mountain pass (even in a
four-wheel-drive) without adding a stone to the cairn
I saw the prayer-flags on the bridges
I saw the painted Buddhas
I saw the little photos of the latest Dalai Lama, colored by
hand and tucked half-secretly by the side of shrines
Oh, I saw the dirt and the poverty, too, and the satellite dishes
and video shops, and the army trucks and the motorbikes
for the new disaffected young and the flaky electricity
that everyone chose over candles when they could and
the frozen streams and brief and dangerously alluring
sunshine, and I heard the coughing and I smelled the shit
and I knew how bad the worst could be and yet and yet
I felt envy

The rituals I learned were close confined
Cathedrals, works of art
Hush, child, come and see, later there'll be buns for tea

I have felt the glory of the mountain stream
The bleak grandeur of the high pass
The sense of understanding that comes only after the trees stop
The hard edge of survival in the windy snow
The sweet roll of warm water
The teasing heat where the sand awaits the ocean
The yielding, muscle-grabbing, sensuous clutch of the dunes
The warm and sudden rain
The irrepressible touch of the unstoppable breeze
The tumultuous fire of the sky
The terrifying pull of a rip tide, luring, luring, come with me
The purity of walking and walking for days, immaculate,
abandoned, wanting only to walk and never, never to stop
The strange satisfaction of a hunger you almost know will be
relieved, but not quite, not for certain, not unless you find
the way again when you don't even know how you lost it
The impossible wonder of overwhelming love-making
when all is nothing and nothing is all and everything
and everyone is everywhere that no one can be but
they are and it is and that is all and all is nothing and
you are all together
I have felt the presence of Pan

And yet and yet

This is what I saw, the only time that I was God:
A little girl in her Sunday best
Holding her skirt down and looking at her daddy with her
head tilted just slightly to the right and her eyes so big
and her face so patient and serious
Waiting for him to take her photo
In front of the stupa at Syambhunath
On the Buddha's birthday
Full Moon of May
While my stranger's tears were hidden behind shades
As I sat on the wall
Like her
Like the monkeys hustling for scraps on the hill below us
Like the flies and the sweat
Like the flags and the paint
Like the prayers flying from the wheels to the air, to the air,
to the heavenly air beyond

What I knew then I cannot say
Connection connection connection
Sideways, yes
(The girl, the monkeys, the flies, the flags, the prayers)
Backwards, yes
(The greatest of my great-grandparents, here in me)
Forwards, yes
(Myself in thousands yet to come)
And more again and more again
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Not that, not that
O that, O that
The atoms, yes the atoms, the electrical charges turned into
flowers, the endless cycling and cycling of matter
Connection connection connection
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
I speak and am eternal
I am not the Tao
I am in the Tao
I am of the Tao
The Tao is before and behind me
The Tao is around and inside me
Without the Tao there is no me
Without the me there is no Tao
I shall die and I do not speak
I shall speak and I do not die
Speaking, not-speaking, dying, not-dying
The Tao does not care
And why I do is quite beyond the both of us
Simply accept:
I am
The Tao is the way I am
Connection connection connection
On a bad day I really don't care
And on a good one it doesn't matter at all
Connection connection connection

All this must be in the Book of Common Prayer
I know that this is in the Book of Common Prayer
I just never knew where

There is a patch of yellow light dripping near the corner
Beyond its vague and rippling reach the room is darker than
the grey moonlight reflecting off the flagstones outside
More ancient than the stars
This is an inn, Miranda, set back in the centuries
Where men can sit and sip at tea and contemplate in company
Two of them there are young and tough and disappointed,
readying themselves to run through the night from the
demons of two days before that drove them back at
eight thousand meters with their goal all but in sight
Today from Base Camp, tonight to Lukla for the morning plane,
tomorrow to Kathmandu and a flight to Paris and home
They would surely have died
For when the wind comes up on the South Summit
And a storm moves in with casually meaningless violence
And you cannot see to move
And you cannot think
And you cannot wait
And you cannot drink
And you cannot eat
And you cannot breathe
And you cannot walk
And you freeze
You die
Unless, unless … unless there was more than you thought
in your muscles and mind and less than you thought
in the weather
Guess right and live and you can never be totally sure
These men were mad with frustration
Down here, five thousand meters below
Strong again and filled with the need to march, to march,
to exhaust themselves in expiation for a sin they never
This is their failure, here in the valley
I know it
They know it
The guide and the inn-keeper, they know it too
Nobody minds
It is the way of the world
The wrong turn made centuries back
The faith not called religion

Climbing is a test you can only fail by trying to pass

The faith that I learned is a selfish faith
Despite the teaching of religion
Because of the teaching of everything else

You test yourself on the mountain
To find out who you are
To be who you are
To be

But who is doing the learning?

Outside Lhasa there is a holy hill
Where corpses are laid ceremoniously out for the vultures
Sky burial

The soul is not on the mountain top
The soul is not is the burial yard
The soul is not in the ashes
The soul is not in the body or out of the body even when
the body is living or dead

So why should it matter if the tourists want to watch
the sky burial?
Fortunately they are forbidden
(We are forbidden)
Or some poor monk might be sorely tempted
Soul is a magic word
It stands for a thought beyond dictionaries
An idea beyond expression
A sense beyond knowledge
Don't deny it
Don't define it
Don't mess with the soul man
Or he'll blow his horn and wipe you away
Fa Fa-Fa Fa-Fa Fa-Fa Fa (Sad Song) Oh my my

Is there a bee without a hive?
An ant without a nest?
A person alone?

When we send a unit
One of our billions
On a mission to reach for the mountain top
Does the unit feel alone up there?
Does the ant when off scouting for food?
Does the bee?

This poem is out of control

(But if you read that line, remember I chose to let you)

The faith that I learned was the faith of the unity of me
A reductionist faith
An elementally self-aligned faith
Not just, be bad and get punished, be good and get rewarded
But, behind that, you be you
And me be me
And them be certainly them

Do what thou wilt
Just don't tread on me
Does anyone really believe that?
Beat that dog
Starve that mule
Chain that child
Hang that man
Whoa there, pardner, keep your cotton-picking hands off
my death penalty
Tell me, tell me
When Afghani officials shave foreigners' heads for the crime
of wearing shorts on a football pitch, are they barbarians?
When American officials kill a feeble-minded killer, are they?

First thought, best thought
Mmm … possibly

I can sit cross-legged in a darkening room
Reverberating to chants I cannot know as words
Off with the unwashed children
Gently accepted and succored with salty tea
Floating in and out of the trivial details
The monk with dark glasses
The boy with his grin
The abbot in his solemn glory
The novice in the brand-new robe
Floating out and into the deep atmosphere
The deep brown voices
The faith made manifest in song
And I cut right through the religion
And feel the faith behind, in front, beyond, around, around
I can whirl
I can even dance
Two left feet but dancing
And I can touch what they say I can touch
I have practiced the Tumo meditation
Not covered with a frozen blanket like the monks
of Tibet
But wearing a light sweater in the Omni Center in Atlanta
(As secular a shrine as there is)
Attending academic and curious, no more
But following instructions
I loaned my consciousness to the voice from the podium
And suddenly began to burn inside
I doubt I would have melted the ice
But I sure raised my temperature
You could measure it
I did it myself
Was that faith?
I did not believe
Was it technique?
I cannot repeat it
It was something
I don't care what
It was something

But when the choir at King's sings Christmas carols
I feel nothing
Inoculated against that faith by religion

I can speak the words of the faith of my ancestors
I can speak the words of the secular faith
But the faith I truly know
I cannot tell

Faith is real
I am real
I am nothing
Faith is nothing

Nunc dimittis
Help thou mine unbelief