The Enlightened Heart


An Anthology of Sacred Poetry

HarperCollins 1989

This collection celebrates the radiance of the enlightened heart as it shines through the world’s cultures and religious traditions. Beginning with selections from the earliest sacred masterpieces — the Upanishads and the Book of Psalms (in new translations by the editor) — The Enlightened Heart also contains poems by the Taoist and Buddhist masters; Rumi and other Sufi masters; Christian poets such as Francis of Assisi, Dante, and George Herbert; Blake, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Rilke, and other modern poets. This unique and inspiring anthology is a record of the highest points of human experience.



“We dance round in a ring and suppose, / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” Robert Frost wrote, looking in from the outside. Looking out from the inside, Chuang-tzu wrote, “When we understand, we are at the center of the circle, and there we sit while Yes and No chase each other around the circumference.” This anonymous center—which is called God in Jewish, Christian, and Moslem cultures, and Tao, Self, or Buddha in the great Eastern Traditions—is the realest of realities.

Self is everywhere, shining forth from all beings,
vaster than the vast, subtler than the most subtle,
unreachable, yet nearer than breath, than heartbeat.
Eye cannot see it, ear cannot hear it nor tongue
utter it; only in deep absorption can the mind,
grown pure and silent, merge with the formless truth.
As soon as you find it, you are free; you have found yourself;
you have solved the great riddle; your heart forever is at peace.
Whole, you enter the Whole. Your personal self
returns to its radiant, intimate, deathless source.
– Mundaka Upanishad

Most of what we call religious poetry is the poetry of longing: for God, for the mother’s face. But the poems in The Enlightened Heart are poems of fulfillment. They were written by the Secret, who has many aliases. Sitting or dancing, all these poets have found themselves inside the circle—some of them a step within the circumference, some far in, some at dead center. Looking out from the center, you can talk about the circumference. But really, there is no circumference. Everyone, everything, is joyfully included.


The Golden God, the Self, the immortal Swan
leaves the small nest of the body, goes where He wants.
He moves through the realm of dreams; makes numberless forms;
delights in sex; eats, drinks, laughs with His friends;
frightens Himself with scenes of heart-chilling terror.
But He is not attached to anything that He sees;
and after He has wandered in the realms of dream and awakeness,
has tasted pleasures and experienced good and evil,
He returns to the blissful state from which He began.
As a fish swims forward to one riverbank then the other,
Self alternates between awakeness and dreaming.
As an eagle, weary from long flight, folds its wings,
gliding down to its nest, Self hurries to the realm
of dreamless sleep, free of desires, fear, pain.
As a man in sexual union with his beloved
is unaware of anything outside or inside,
so a man in union with Self knows nothing, wants nothing,
has found his heart’s fulfillment and is free of sorrow.
Father disappears, mother disappears, gods
and scriptures disappear, thief disappears, murderer,
rich man, beggar disappear, world disappears,
good and evil disappear; he has passed beyond sorrow.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell



The Great Way isn’t difficult
for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion,
and everything will be perfectly clear.
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction,
heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth,
don’t be for or against.
The struggle between good and evil
is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning,
you just trouble your mind’s serenity.
As vast as infinite space,
it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject,
you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get entangled in the world;
don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things,
and all errors will disappear by themselves.

If you don’t live the Tao,
you fall into assertion or denial.
Asserting that the world is real,
you are blind to its deeper reality;
denying that the world is real,
you are blind to the selflessness of all things.
the more you think about these matters,
the farther you are from the truth.
Step aside from all thinking,
and there is nowhere you can’t go.
Returning to the root, you find the meaning;
chasing appearances, you lose their source.
At the moment of profound insight,
you transcend both appearance and emptiness.
Don’t keep searching for the truth;
just let go of your opinions.

For the mind in harmony with the Tao,
all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt,
you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free,
with nothing left to hold on to.
All is empty, brilliant,
perfect in its own being.
In the world of things as they are,
there is no self, no non-self.
If you want to describe its essence,
the best you can say is “Not-two.”
In this “Not-two” nothing is separate,
and nothing in the world is excluded.
The enlightened of all times and places
have entered into this truth.
In it there is no gain or loss;
one instant is ten thousand years.
There is no here, no there;
infinity is right before your eyes.
The tiny is as large as the vast
when objective boundaries have vanished;
the vast is as small as the tiny
when you don’t have external limits.
Being is an aspect of non-being;
non-being is no different from being.
Until you understand this truth,
you won’t see anything clearly.
One is all; all
are one. When you realize this,
what reason for holiness or wisdom?
The mind of absolute trust
is beyond all thought, all striving,
is perfectly at peace, for in it
there is no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow.

Adapted by Stephen Mitchell



We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?—Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell


Most high, all-powerful sweet Lord,
yours is the praise, the glory, and the honor
and every blessing.

Be praised, my Lord,
for all your creatures,
and first for brother sun,
who makes the day bright and luminous.

And he is beautiful and radiant
with great splendor,
he is the image of you, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord,
for sister moon and the stars,
in the sky you have made them brilliant and precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother wind
and for the air both cloudy and serene
and every kind of weather,
through which you give nourishment
to your creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble
and precious and chaste.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother fire,
through whom you illuminate the night.
And he is beautiful and joyous
and robust and strong.

Be praised, my Lord,
for our sister, mother earth,
who nourishes us and watches over us
and brings forth various fruits
with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive through your love,
and bear sickness and tribulation;

blessed are those who endure in peace,
for they will be crowned by you, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord,
for our sister, bodily death,
from whom no living thing can escape.

Blessed are those whom she finds
doing your most holy will,
for the second death cannot harm them.

Praise and bless my Lord
and give thanks to him and serve him
with great humility.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell



One instant is eternity;
eternity is in the now.
When you see through this one instant,
you see through the one who sees.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell



Midnight. No waves,
no wind, the empty boat
is flooded with moonlight.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell



“The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
flows into a pure soul the way that light
rushes into a transparent object.
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
the more complete the joy of heaven is.
And the more souls who resonate together,
the greater the intensity of their love,
and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.”

Translated by Stephen Mitchell



“But you who are so happy here, tell me:
do you aspire to a more profound
insight, or a greater ecstasy?”
She smiled a little, as did the shades beside her;
then answered with such gladness that her whole
being seemed to glow with love’s first fire:
“Brother, God’s generosity itself
calms our will, and makes us want no more
than what we have, and long for nothing else.
If we desired any greater bliss,
we would not be in harmony with Him
whose love assigns us to a lower place.
The essence of this joy is that we all
have given up our personal desires
so that our will is merged with God’s own will.
Therefore our rank in heaven, from height to height,
is just as dear to each particular soul
as to the Master who appointed it.
In His will is our peace: it is the sea
into which all currents and all streams
empty themselves, for all eternity.”

Translated by Stephen Mitchell


A delightful book: you can open it at any page and find a jewel, familiar or new.
— San Francisco Chronicle

An elegant anthology of sacred poetry, chosen with fine taste and purpose.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Stephen Mitchell’s work has always crossed religious boundaries. The Enlightened Heart continues this ecumenism by gathering together poetry from twenty-five centuries, from many cultures and spiritual traditions. Arranged chronologically from the Upanishads to Robinson Jeffers, the book seems to be Mitchell’s version of paradise: here are the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Indian mystics Kabir and Mirabai in conversation with Shakespeare and George Herbert; the Japanese Buddhists Bunin, Gensei, and Basho talk across the continents to Angelus Silesius and Thomas Traherne; Lao-tzu and the Psalmist bow to each other; Dogen and Rumi laugh and dance. These writers have found not just “meaning” but being. There is a sense of joy, of humor, and a depth of wisdom and peace that come through.
— Parabola

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