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Shambhala Sun | July 2013

About a Poem: Geoffrey Shugen Arnold on Yunus Emre’s “Those Who Learned to Be Truly Human"

Those who learned to be truly human
found everything in being humble.
While those who looked proudly from above,
were pushed down the stairs.
A heart that must always feel superior
will one day lose its way.
What should be within, leaks out.

The old man with the white beard
never sees the state he’s in.
He needn’t waste money on making the Hajj,
if he’s broken someone’s heart.


The heart is the seat of God,
where God is aware.
You won’t find happiness
in either world, if you break a heart.


The deaf man doesn’t hear,
the blind man mistakes day for night.
Yet the universe is filled with light.
We’ve seen how those who came later moved on.


Whatever you think of yourself,
think the same of others.
This is the meaning of the Four Books,
if they have one. 

May Yunus not stray from the path,
nor get on his high horse.
May the grave and the Judgement be no concern,
if what he loves is the face of God.

To be truly human—have we ever been anything other than this? And yet... and yet. Is the most simple always the most difficult? Never apart from my original nature, what kind of “learning” allows me—liberates me—to be truly human?

Look to humility, Yunus Emre sings. But what is that? My dictionary speaks of not being proud or haughty, yes, but also of submission and ranking low. Is this why we find so little interest in humility today, but instead seek our place among those who look proudly from above? How much do we give for this fleeting moment of glory? We grow weary of tumbling down the stairs, only to find that it is we ourselves who keep giving the push.

May I never lose my way, and so my heart. My gift to you is to fill every crack so nothing leaks out. I respectfully plant the seeds for my own patience; may it be resilient. My vow is to break my heart—ruined! shattered!—so I will never break yours. To make my pilgrimage to the heart of being and die there—not just once, but again and again. until the very sense of returning is itself ruined.

May I be the deaf one who hears every sound, the blind one who sees all the beauty and the bro- ken. I admire Yunus for offering clear and direct counsel to himself; I too need this. To love the path so deeply that we never want to part from it. To no longer be drawn to peer through the thin curtains into another’s house, to escape into a different, better life. Even when we see that we can no longer stray from life’s breadth and depth, may we love life and all that is true and be diligent so we never stray one hair’s breath.

My guess is that the truly humble never speak of humility. Perhaps I’m wrong. In any case, I am humbled in the midst of this dharma—God’s original face—by my own need for humility.

Poem from The Drop That Became the Sea, translated by Kabir Helminski and Refik Algan. Courtesy of Shambhala Publications.

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold is the head of the Mountains and Rivers Order and abbot of the Zen Center of New York City. He also manages the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. In full-time zen training since 1986, he received dharma transmission from John Daido Loori Roshi in 1997. His teachings have appeared in various Buddhist journals and in The Best Buddhist Writing 2009. His first book, O, Beautiful End, a collection of Zen memorial poems, was published in 2012.

From the July 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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