Naked Song

by Coleman Barks

LallaLalla lived in Kashmir in the 14th century, when many doctrinal streams were merging: Shaivism, Sufism, Vedantic non-dualism, and other –isms, but Lalla is beyond religious categories, a living combination that cannot be described in those terms.

Born in Kashmir, probably in a village near Srinagar, maybe in 1320, she died near there in 1391. All these facts are speculative. There are stories of her being mistreated as a young wife living with in-laws. Her mother-in-law would put a stone on her plate and cover it thinly with rice, so that it would look like Lalla was getting more food than she actually was. Lalla never complained. And she loved to spend time meditating at the holy shrines. Sent to fetch water, she would stop there. One day her husband, thinking to punish her for dawdling on the way home, struck the jar she was carrying. It broke, but the water remained in place as a jar-shaped column on Lalla’s head. That water became the sacred “Lalla’s Lake” in Kashmir.

Tradition has it that Lalla left home, and the marriage, at twenty-four to become a student of the Hindu teacher, Sed Bayu. It was then also that she began to ignore conventional standards of dress and to wander in a state of ecstatic clarity. One morning as children were making fun of her nakedness, a cloth merchant scolded their disrespect. Lalla asked him for two strands of cloth equal in weight. That day as she walked about, se word a piece of cloth over each shoulder, and as she met with respect or scorn, she tied knots in one or the other. In the evening she came back to the merchant and asked him to weigh the cloth again. The scales swung in balance, of course, no matter how the cloth was knotted. Praise and blame have no substance of their own.


Meditate within eternity.
Don’t stay in the mind.

Your thoughts are like a child fretting
near its mother’s breast, restless
and afraid, who with a little guidance,
can find the path of courage.

– – – – – – –

Wear just enough clothes to keep warm.
Eat only enough to stop the hunger-pang.

And as for your mind, let it work 
to recognize who you are,
and the Absolute, and that
this body will become food
for the forest crows.

– – – – – – –           ™

Meditation and self-discipline
are not all that’s needed, nor even
a deep longing to go through
the door of freedom.

You may dissolve in contemplation,
as salt does is water,
but there’s something more
that must happen.

– – – – – – –

Enlighten your desires.
Meditate on who you are.
Quit imagining.

What you want is profoundly expensive,
and difficult to find,
yet close by.

Don’t search for it. It is nothing,
and a nothing within nothing.

– – – – – – –

Awareness is the ocean of existence.
Let it loose and your words will rage
and cause wounds like fishing spears.

But if you tend it like a fire
to discover the truth,
you’ll find how much of that
there is in what you say. None.

– – – – – – –

™I exhausted myself, looking.
No one ever finds this by trying.

I melted in it and came home,
where every jar is full,
but no one drinks.

– – – – – – –

Your pride in yourself and your wanting,
these steal your energy along the road.

If you can kill these robbers
and become the servant of everyone,
you’ll meet the Lord in meditation
and see what you used to protect
as just a pile of ashes.

– – – – – – –

Everything is new now for me.
My mind is new, the moon, the sun.
The whole world looks rinsed with water,
washed in the rain of I am That.

Lalla leaps and dances inside the energy
that creates and sustains the universe.

– – – – – – –

My teacher put a lotion on my eyes
that dissolved the cataracts,
and now wherever I look I see
the self, God, inner life
everywhere. Lalla,
this is true!

– – – – – – –

™If you live on the breath,
you won’t be tortured
by hunger and thirst,
or the longing to touch.

The purpose of being born is fulfilled
in the state between “I am”
and “That.”

– – – – – – –

On the way to God the difficulties
feel like being ground by a millstone,
like night coming at noon, like
lightning through the clouds.

But don’t worry!
What must come, comes.
Face everything with love,
as your mind dissolves in God.

– – – – – – –

Unconscious people read the scriptures
like parrots saying Ram, Ram,
in their cages.

It’s all pretend-knowledge.
Read rather, with me, every
living moment as prophecy.

– – – – – – –

Coleman Barks was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and educated at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Berkeley. He taught poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia for thirty years. He is the author of numerous Rumi translations and has been a student of Sufism since 1977. His work with Rumi was the subject of an hour-long segment in Bill Moyers’s Language of Life series on PBS, and he is a featured poet and translator in Bill Moyers’s poetry special, “Fooling with Words.” Coleman Barks is the father of two grown children and the grandfather of five. He lives in Athens, Georgia.

Adapted from Lalla: Naked Song, Translated by Coleman Barks. Copyright © 1992 by Coleman Barks. All rights reserved. Maypop Books, Athens, Georgia.