Friday, February 4, 2011

The Perfect Sound

Many years ago, when I was practicing Zen at the Providence, RI, Zen Center, I also attended the Quaker meeting in Providence where I met an extraordinary Quaker by the name of Suzanne Schmidt--a passionate peace activist and a lover of sail boats. She inspired this poem.

One of the practices that Quakerism and Zen have in common is listening--listening deeply to what stirs within us, as well as to the sounds that surrounds us. But the sound that we are truly listening for is one that cannot be heard except with the ears of the heart. That is the perfect sound this poem seeks to evoke.

The Perfect Sound

(For Suzanne Schmidt)

Sometimes I wonder what it would sound like if all the weapons in the world were beaten into ploughshares. I imagine it would sound like a tremendous bell ringing out through he whole world, louder than all the Victory bells that rang out during World War II....
--Ann Kellam

Each morning before dawn I ring a large bronze bell
and chant the Bell Chant with the rest of my sangha:

"Vowing this bell sound spreads through the whole universe,
Making all the Hell of Dark Metal bright,
Relieving the three realms of suffering,
Shattering the Hell of Swords.
All beings become enlightened."

I ring the bell, and try to let go of all thoughts--
forget the pretty poetry, the dream of Enlightenment,
my own situation, changing, and always the same, day by day--
just ring the bell, just listen,
experience the world-as-it-is,
the birds outside chirping from the eaves of the temple
as the bell clangs and clangs--
all of us making our first babysteps towards peace.

This morning a woman spoke of the sound
she imagined would be made
if all the weapons in the world were beaten into ploughshares,
the sound of a great bell ringing round the world,
and another woman wept,
silently, but openly, thoughout Quaker Meeting.
I went to her afterwards to offer what comfort I could,
and found her strong and clear as a bell.
She had broken into a munitions plant, beaten on a missile tube
with a balpeen hammer called "Hope,"
served a month in jail, and now awaited sentencing.
She had been weeping not only for herself,
but for the whole world trapped in a Hell of Swords....

In her silent weeping I could hear
the one perfect sound that would heal the world--
a sound that has never existed, and is always with us--
a sound that cannot be heard, or ignored--


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