Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Nameless Ones

The tales are true,

I can show you the scars,

The twisted cables

And the broken spars.

They don't care about shutters,

They're not stopped by bars,

The Nameless Ones

Filtered down from the stars.

Three poisons drive Man,

Hate, Delusion and Lust,

But the Nameless Ones

Simply feed when they must.

Some men are from Venus,

Some women from Mars,

But the Nameless Ones

Filtered down from the stars!

This weird little poem owes a great deal to the writings of the great American master, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the virtual father of the genre of cosmic horror. Central to Lovecraft's take on our place in Space and Time is the view that vast forces and intelligences are at play across the vastness of existence and that these "nameless ones" care not one whit for the concerns of the hapless hairless apes dwelling on this little planet.

In one of his finest stories, At The Mountains of Madness, he describes the discovery of the remains of an ancient space-faring race who settled on Earth millions of years ago. Along the way, we learn that all life on Earth is the accidental by-product of their bio-engineering projects. In classic Lovecraft fashion, the protagonists find themselves in a mind-blowing encounter with these elder beings and find all of their previous views and opinions of reality and their place in it blasted away forever in an instant of terrible realization!

I confess that I have been a dedicated fan of Lovecraft since shortly before I began shaving, 43 years or so ago. The dark grandeur of H.P.L.'s vision fascinates me. Over the years I've come to find in it a good deal of the scope and reach of Mahayana Buddhism, sort of a Dharma seen through a glass darkly. This may be just a crazy stretch on my part, but I think Lovecraft might have found the star-spanning wonder of the Avatamsaka Sutra highly interesting. But unlike the Flower-Garland Sutra, Lovecraft's dark dharma holds no hope of liberation, only a blind idiot god howling away at the center of all existence. Any jeweled net Lovecraft would have imagined would turn out to be some sort of horrible trap!

Although disturbing, we should not be alarmed by all this, Lovecraft's dark dharma was created to entertain. Written for his own amusement and for that of his large circle of like-minded friends, the highly rationalistic Lovecraft wrote his scary stories to tease the rational mind. He gives us a close brush with the vast unknown from the safe distance of our armchair.

My little exercise in "dark dharma" came about at the end of a very intense morning of sitting Zazen. It began with the appearance in my mind of a phrase of H.P.L.'s, "filtered down from the stars". The Nameless Ones and the Three Poisons came rushing in close behind and the poem was finished before lunchtime. Phew!

If you have the slightest interest in Lovecraft and his writings, you must check out the outstanding H.P.Lovecraft Literary Podcast!! Hosts Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer have been doing an absolutely fantastic job, working their way through the Master's works in chronological order, discussing each story in depth and having a heck of a lot of fun along the way. I listen to each new episode in my car going to work and they totally make my entire day!

Today's image is a NASA image from the Hubble telescope of the Swan Nebula, a small section of M17, a "hotbed of star formation". Check it out on the blog where I found it, Ecodigerati.