The wise Chinese poet Han Shan once wrote that in his secluded dwelling, he could be “a person beyond form.”
Away from the “dusty” world, he wrote about mountains peaks and clouds as his neighbors, the echo of the deep river and the flutter of butterflies. He saw trees bloom and turn red, and some die of old age. He felt the mist as it entered his cave, and felt sadness and joy “under his wisteria hat.”
He was away from the world but he felt it. He was on the side, alone, yet fully aware of its madness and beauty, enabling him to laugh and shed tears all at the same time.
Don’t you feel sometimes like Han Shan?
Inspiration: Han Shan 寒山, Chinese Tao and Zen Poet, ca.9th c. Han Shan means “Cold mountain.” I keep a volume of Han Shan’s poetry next to my bed.
I walk in the town’s main square and look up at the deep blue sky. White and grey mingle in the clouds, immense as only tropical clouds can be.
Meanwhile people around me are busy talking and taking pictures of themselves.
A child eating sweet bread leaves a mount of crumbs. Joyous birds gather around him, then fly away as the mother starts to gesticulate.
Did anyone notice the majesty of the clouds? Did anyone notice the joy of the birds?
Enthralled by the sights of autumn, I walk unmindful of the crowd.
Often, I think I am in Ryōkan’s hut.
I see the sky through the window,
the wall next to it hiding the house across the street.
Birds come on the window sill chirping away
enthralled by the morning glory overflowing its small pot.
Cars pass intermittently
and I try to muffle their sound.
Rain falls gently on the roof
and I pretend it is thatched.
I sit like he did.
I push aside the woes of the world,
my mind at peace
I am not in Ryōkan’s hut.
I have to deal with the everyday:
the market and talking to strangers,
walking through filled streets,
thinking of tomorrow,
having a house in order and a wallet also.
I cannot create Ryōkan’s hut,
I can at most pretend that I am in it.
Some of you may not understand,
and as Ryōkan said
“Who can indeed content himself with this manner of life,
Unless he has seen himself altogether lost in the world.”
– Quote from one of Ryōkan’s (Japan, 1758-1831) Chinese poems.
Art: self-portrait by Ryōkan.
a stalk of wild grass
nothing to grasp.
To learn silence.
To be as we are
and not an image.
In a small village in rural China, there was a wise and simple man who had a horse, a beautiful horse. One day, the horse ran away. Some villagers paid the man a visit, telling him how sorry they were and how sad it was that he had lost his horse. The man answered: “maybe.”
A few days later, the horse came back with seven beautiful wild horses accompanying him. The villagers went to see the man again and told him how wonderful that was. The man answered: “maybe.”
A few days later, the man’s son who tried to tame one of the wild horses, was thrown on the ground and broke his leg. The villagers who came to visit the injured young man told his father that it was indeed an unfortunate event. The man answered: “maybe.”
The following week, administrative officials came by the house to sign-up the young man into the Imperial Army. Being injured, he avoided conscription. The villagers rejoiced and told the father how lucky he was. The wise and simple man answered once again: “maybe.”
On the story: This is an old Taoist story that I just put into my own words. The central idea is the one of not seeing advantages and/or disadvantages in things, in not weighting actions and things, in not qualifying them as good or bad. It is fundamental to Taoism. The great Taoist Master Lieh-Tzu (China 4th c. BCE) who lived a few centuries after Lao Tse (China, 6th c. BCE), the author of the “Tao Te Ching,” use to meditate on the “neutrality” of things as a way to go beyond them. The practicality of it as illustrated in the story, is to avoid anxiety by imposing or bending things with our mind.
As the “Tao Te Ching” says:
“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.”
(Ref: No. 2 of the “Tao Te Ching,” trans. by S. Mitchell, 1988)
Sadness is an immense meadow.
A misty meadow filled with elegant trees,
branches laden with silent love.
Live your sadness thoroughly
like a rainy day that seems to never end.
Shed tears. Shed them all.
Let sadness devastate you,
crush your heart
until slowing it to the limits of life.
Then let the intense force of love,
the very root and fruit of sadness,
awake it all.
Let love open your eyes
and pull you up so that you may stand
in the vast meadow of sadness.
Let love reveal to you
that state of grace that only beauty confers.
Let it enrobe you with its immeasurable tenderness.
Yes, the world is often rough and cunning,
shattering our most intimate thoughts
and forcing us to doubt the simple beauty in our lives.
So open your eyes and take in the beauty.
Let all your sadness become a piece of cloud,
then place it inside your heart so that love may find a place to rest.