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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Meditating in Moonlight (by Han Shan)

I first took note of this Han Shan poem thanks to a Twitter posting by @EstherHawdon.  What caught my eye was the first stanza, which struck me as unusual for Tang poetry, going beyond the typical Yin-Yang cosmology as a way of describing the workings of celestial light.  But as @EstherHawdon pointed out to me, the Chinese astronomer Zhang Heng (AD 78-139) had been a very early propounder of the theory that the moon borrows its light from the sun.

In any case, notable as the first stanza is, I find the second stanza even more remarkable -- Han Shan's own unique observations about indirect illumination - how the sun lights the moon and the moon itself provides illumination for the poet's own soul.

Meditating in front
Of a rocky cliff under the
Glow of the full moon
It's brilliant as day time
Everything casts a shadow
But without inherent light

The spirit is a vast void
Naturally clear
Emptiness contained
Such as in the depths
Of a mysterious cave
The same cause that makes
The moon visible makes
The moon a pivot on which
The heart's yearning turns

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Hearing the Midnight Bell (JiaoRan)

 An ancient temple
Atop Cold Mountain
A distant bell
Borne by a fair breeze
The toll lingers
The moon drifts through the trees
Until the last echo expires
A fine rime of frost
Descends from the sky
It's nighttime forever
Meditating at first watch
Deep amid this frame of mind

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Autumn Comes Anew, a poem sent to Magistrate Lu


The ancients studied the past
Hoping to gain perspective
And moderate their passions
To sit beside smoke and fire
Controlling their breath
So my good friend as you look
Upon the clear autumn scene
Up to the empty sky's origin
Where mountains loom as guests
Make no complaint at all and
 Still the sound of string and bow
Only behold the sunset and
The cicadas' rising call 
In the blue green clouds of twilight
Yearning to be reborn

Friday, September 18, 2020

Meditation Poem (by JiaoRan)

Written in the 8th century by the poet and Buddhist monk JiaoRan, this poem has a very contemporary ring to it.  Or maybe it's just that the essence of Buddhist practice hasn't changed too much over the 1300 intervening years.  It's all about standing (or sitting) alone under heaven and earth, studying without movement ...

Ten thousand dharmas
Stream forth from no-gate
One after another until
Wisdom grows faint
Disciples weigh the choices
Open to the novitiate
But standing alone under
Heaven and earth
Is the starting place

Practice is about what exists
Things from the outset
That in stillness persist
The key is to study
Without movement and
Behold the light shining forth
On the origin of all
Ten thousand things