Saturday, April 26, 2014

Han Shan - ‘Cold Mountain’

The Tientiei Mountains are my home
mist-shrouded cloud paths keep guests away
thousand-meter cliffs make hiding easy
above a rocky ledge

among ten thousand streams

with bark hat and wooden clogs I walk

along the banks with hemp robe and pigweed staff I walk

around the peaks once you see through transience and illusion

the joys of roaming free are wonderful indeed.

Put a fish on land and he will remember the ocean until he dies.

Put a bird in a cage, yet he will not forget the sky.

Each remains homesick for his true home,

the place where his nature has decreed that he should be.

Man is born in the state of innocence.

His original nature is love and grace and purity.

Yet he emigrates so casually without even a thought of his old home.

Is this not sadder than the fishes and the birds?

Today I sat before the cliffs

I sat until the mists drew off a single crystal stream
a towering ridge of jade
a cloud’s dawn shadow not yet moving
the moons night light still adrift
a body free of dust
a mind without a care.

I love the joys of the mountains,
wandering completely free,
feeding a crippled body another day,
thinking thoughts that go nowhere.

Sometimes I open an old sutra,
more often I climb a stone tower and peer down a thousand-foot cliff
or up where clouds curl around
where the windblown winter moon looks like a lone-flying crane.


For what do people strive?
Money, fame, successful relationships, or the Dharma?
Attain Dharma and gain more than the other three combined.
He who has attained Dharma lacks nothing.

He called himself ‘Cold Mountain’ and lived as a hermit in the T’ien T’ai Mountains in China sometime around 750 to 800.
Han-Shan had worked in the capital for the government during the T’ang dynasty, was well educated and came from a life of privilege, but after a bloody rebellion he had to flee for his life.
Ever since he kept his true identity hidden behind the veil of ‘Cold Mountain’; it can be surmised that his new name and remote habitant were a form of self-preservation.
However, Han-Shan embraced the life of a recluse and wrote more than six hundred poems of which only three hundred have been recovered.
Gary Snyder translated Han-Shan’s poetry and Jack Kerouac dedicated The Dharma Bums to him.


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