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Excerpt from "Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems"

Introduction

by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt


Look
what happens to the scale
when love
holds 
it.

It
stops
working.
— Kabir


In a few simple words, Kabir invites us to step into the balance and grace of love. When we acknowledge the presence of such love in our lives, our awareness expands and our fears recede. We are uplifted and — even if momentarily — we notice the harmonious flow of nature around us. The air seems lighter, and we feel suspended in unending joy and gratitude. 

When we pause and truly look, as Kabir suggests, we realize that love is not a commodity to be earned or bartered for. It is inherent in everything, weaving us all together. Like the sky holding the clouds, love doesn’t grasp or cling to us; it just patiently holds us. And, as in Kabir’s imagery of the scale, love doesn’t erase the world. Instead, it is the doorway within that world to infinite peace and calmness.

Sages and saints have long told us of the sweet, gentle ocean of love. We are never separate from this love, yet in our clouded view we see ourselves as single drops in the ocean, separate from the other drops and the ocean itself. We are bound by self-absorption, longing to connect with all the other drops. We forget that love is so all-pervasive that even we are love. Every thought, every action, every memory — no matter where our human mind places it on the scale of good to bad — is love. 

As long as we believe we are different drops in the ocean, the light of love will refract differently. We speak of being “in love” with the divine or with our lover, spouse, job, artistic idol, car, and so on, all the while forgetting that we, in fact, are not only in love but are love itself. We look outward for love, yet if we begin to truly look in the way that Kabir suggests, our attention begins to turn inward. We can cultivate and nourish a more discerning introspection through meditation or devotional practice. And as our attention sharpens through this inner reflection, the fog of our mind clears, and the cloud of confusion about our identity dissipates. Eventually, with consistent and sincere looking, the seeming edges of our little drops in the ocean yield to the realization of pure love. We find that the journey to love is through love. 

It takes courage to fearlessly accept love and its power to transform us. Yet, as we do, we steadily become an expression of love and its companions: acceptance, joy, patience, compassion, and gratitude. Our words and actions become an extension of the grace and abundance of love. We realize that our true nature is to be free of the constraints we have created, often unwittingly, with the weight of our experiences. 

In an effort to share the story of pure love through poetic voice, in this collection we link the words of poets, songwriters, and playwrights as well as quotes from holy books, lyrics of folk songs and operas, all from a diversity of genres, cultures, and time periods. These works are all a tribute to pure, boundless love.

The diverse voices form a mala, or a garland of 108 prayer beads. Although identified with Eastern traditions, the mala has been increasingly accepted as a sacred tool in other parts of the world. All the beads of a mala are equal, complete in themselves, and yet related to one another. Each turning of the beads steadies and deepens a connection to the Supreme. On a practical level, this collection — like the mala — is an interactive tool allowing the reader to commune with love. We can read the poems aloud in the same way we might recite a mantra or a prayer with a mala. Consistent use helps foster a shift in our neural pathways, so that eventually we become that which we meditate on. We become love. 

At the highest level, the number 108 refers to Allah, the Divine, God, the Beloved, the Great Spirit, the Light, or the Ultimate Truth. In mathematics and science we find numerous references to the number 108. It is a multiple of the essential numbers two, three, and four as well as a product of the powers of one, two, and three. Astrologically, the combination of the nine planets and twelve signs of the sun of the zodiac is 108. In honor of the sacredness of this number, we have organized the book so that there are twelve poems within the nine sections, or phases of the sun’s passage: from dawn through high noon to dusk, to moonlight, and then into the infinite stillness of the night. 

This metaphor reflects the cycle of love from its initial urges until it quietly arrives home in the self-realization of pure love. Some readers may prefer an alternative metaphor: that the fiery essence of love arises from a faint spark into flames of passion and romantic love before fading into embers and settling with devotion into transcendental stillness. The poems express this evolution from a love that has an object to one that is all encompassing. Guiding this metaphor is the philosophical exploration of the role of love in moving through dualism into nondualism. 

When we are absorbed in pure love, we see the world with childlike eyes, free of judgment. We notice the beauty in the ordinary, such as the way sun awakens the morning and the dew rests on a blade of grass. Everything seems to effortlessly pulse, just like the beating of our heart. We feel in sync with the change of seasons, the movement of the tides, and the patterns of the moon. 

It is our wish that by reading and rereading this collection, you will be guided to that place of deep peace and balance and that you will fulfill your highest aspirations on your spiritual path to love. 

Excerpted from the book Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems. Copyright © 2016 by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt. Reprinted with permission from New World Library,  www.newworldlibrary.com

Ravi Nathwani has taught at Tufts and JFK Universities and teaches a variety of Vedic subjects around the U.S. and Mexico. Kate Vogt is an instructor of Yoga Philosophy at the College of Marin Extension in Northern California. 

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