An Ode for Bhante



Recently our community celebrated Sangha day at Madhyamaloka by rejoicing in Bhante’ s merits as the founder of our Sangha. Pressure of work made it impossible for me to create anything special for that occasion so I got out the poem ‘Sadhu’ which I had written for Bhante’s seventieth birthday in 1995 and read that as my contribution. (I substituted the word ‘Sangha’ for ‘Birthday’ in the seventh stanza.) I think we were all rather surprised at how well the poem had stood the test of time, and it still seemed to be a true expression of my feelings towards Bhante. When I was writing the poem I had deliberately chosen to write an ode, as ode’s are poems of celebration. I had also been inspired by the truly great odes of the past, notably from Keats and Coleridge, and had always wanted to write an ode partly in homage to them. When the idea was muted that we should all contribute a piece of writing to this new magazine I was very pleased and eagerly suggested a couple of topics that I would like write about. However, when the time came to produce the material I was unable to oblige. My new responsibilities as Western Order Convenor had produced a workload that demanded immediate attention and, although we did agree to spend our mornings during our November at-home writing, I have been unable to do so. I did want to make a contribution though and hope you will forgive me submitting something not special written for the occasion, but something which I hope does give some glimpse of me and my attitude towards my life, my work, and my feeling of love and devotion towards Bhante.

Sadhu — An Ode for Bhante

Delivered on the occasion of the Order celebration of his seventieth birthday on Sunday, 6 August 1995.

My mind stirs, as thoughts of you arise,
And wake the dormant faculties within:
Sweet Mindfulness, and Metta, warm and full,
Which shake Sloth’s dull apparel from my eyes.
Then in my heart, a dance of Joy begins,
Like ripples lapping slowly ’cross a pool,
Until their frothy nature swells and leaps,
Beyond the wat’ry confines of their cell:
Then I am free! No more my spirit sleeps,
But soars aloft in higher realms to dwell.

All this from you, from knowing you, my friend,
All this sweet rich reward from your own hand:
And yet, you gave me nothing I can own,
No ‘thing’ to grasp, no creed I must defend,
No complex laws or rules to understand,
No senseless acts of faith, I must condone.
But only your example shining bright,
A beacon of Compassion, in Life’s pain,
That pours forth loving-kindness day and night,
And lights the path that all may yet attain.

But these frail words, these hyperbolic flights,
No more define your essence than a hand,
Pointing at the moon defines that sphere.
So I sit here, through countless, endless nights,
My willing pen poised ready to command,
Yet nightly do I fail to venture near,
Some rough approximation that might hint,
At all the love and gratitude I feel,
The debt I owe, the thoughts that I would print,
To praise you in accordance with my zeal.

But no thoughts come. No words, No lines divine,
No spark of inspiration fires my mind.
How can we trap Perfection in mere verse?
How tell the endless Patience you endure?
Or by crude rhyme, your kernel thus define?
How can our craft, your Virtue thus rehearse?
Or with mere thought, sufficient worth procure,
To satisfy the dictates of our heart?
Our words can but record their pastel praise,
Bemoan the hopeless frailty of our art,
And hold a splutt’ring candle to your blaze.

Yet knowing you has brought its own reward.
For I have seen your Patience hard at work,
Resting, while your pupils, step by step,
Came to realise with one accord,
The Truth that in their dust-filled eyes did lurk.
For you could see that seeds of goodness slept,
Within the dull confusion of their brain,
And by your skilful actions helped them rout,
The causes of their endless fear and doubt,
And pledge themselves self-knowledge to obtain.

Thus grateful, do we raise our humbled eyes,
To gaze on you who gave our life new breath,
New meaning, and the strength to realize,
That Truth and Beauty, dull the sting of Death.
You taught us too, that Friendship is our goal,
(Not weak and pallid Friendship drained of life,
But fiery, vibrant Friendship, brimming o’er,
With acts of Goodness, charged to make us whole,
And mental states whose Wisdom — like a knife —
Cuts the chains that bind us to this shore.)

So let us raise our spirits in one voice,
To wish you Happy Birthday and Long Life,
And freedom from all sorrows and all strife,
And in your ample merits thus rejoice:
I thank you for your Virtues, and your Charms,
Your Gentleness, your Kindness, your Concern,
Your ceaseless Toil, the Wisdom of your mind,
Your Humour, and your Patience, and your Calm.
I thank you more than ever words can say,
And wish you well on this auspicious day.
So here and now let all our voices raise,
A threefold shout of Sadhu to the skies.
Let’s shake the very heavens with our praise,
’Till tears of joy run streaming from our eyes!


Originally published in Madhyamavani: Spring 1999 (Birmingham: Madhyamaloka, 1999).