May 23, 2024

Inner Peace: Being like William Blake

"Pity" by William Blake
March 21, 2022

Can we open up to our world as completely as Blake did?

By David Leo Kennedy

We all know by now that a follower of any religion or non-religion can become “enlightened.” I have met people whom I was sure were enlightened who never even heard of my religion (Buddhism). And when we think historically and globally there have been multitudes of benevolent and wise people among us. The other day, during my meditation the name of one of those people came to me: William Blake.

Although he was very much a man of his time (1757–1827), and thus interpreted his experiences through the lens of his contemporary world, reading his poetry one gets the impression of a profound visionary, beyond time and place. Not all religions are the same, but they all seek to make us better humans. Blake was a deep Christian, but I think we can all relate to his ecstatic vision. His “Auguries of Innocence” begins:

To see the World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

Can we open up to our world as completely as Blake did? Can we see the transcendent in our everyday existence? The perfection in a world that seems so horribly imperfect? This takes the kind of inner work described by others in this column and by letting go of our preconceived notions about what constitutes reality, and Blake makes us see it in such a beautifully inspiring way.

The poems in the book I own were selected by Kathleen Raine. In her introduction, she says: “Blake’s …‘City of God’ is not to be attained by altering external conditions which make men not better but only ‘better off,’ but by changing man himself, through awakening from the deadly sleep of unconsciousness. If man changes, his world will change.” Indeed, this is what many of us are trying to do: change ourselves for the better. The book was published in 1970.

Blake spoke out against reason, feeling it diverted us from our spiritual work. I rather favor reason most of the time (need I point out the destructive unreason that is so rampant these days?). But ultimately, he’s right: we can’t reason our way to enlightenment or the transcendent; it takes quieting the mind so that we can awaken to the wisdom and compassion already inside us. Every religion describes it using different terms.

After those first lines in “Auguries,” Blake writes:

A Robin Red breast in a cage

Puts all heaven in a rage…

A dog starv’d at his Master’s gate

Predicts the ruin of the state …”

The poem is quite long and includes many precautions, but here he warns against mistreatment of animals. In fact, it rather sounds like karma, doesn’t it? There’s a tremendous amount more of his poetry, some of it pretty strange, but we cannot hope to easily understand such a great genius and visionary. I recommend reading him.

An active Buddhist for many, many years, David is a native Oregonian. Many of his writings have been published in the Mail Tribune and elsewhere. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (

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Bert Etling

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