Translated by Andrew Yang
Those who live in cities cramped with high-rises may not get to see the moon even when it is bright and full. Being accustomed to the hustle bustle of urban life and having to deal with the daily grind to make a living, how many of them can afford the luxury of leaving behind their daily chores and enjoy a paltry moment of tranquility in the wilderness?
For most of us city folks, admittedly, that is not easy. But if you do have a moment, try to sit back and quietly read a few lines from the unique Tang dynasty (618-907) Zen poet Hanshan Zi. You may actually ease off a mind that is so occupied with a will to make it in the world for the achievement of fame and fortune.
Since ancient times, Zen and poetry in China have been inseparable like a hermit and mountains. Zen tries to attain the Dharma nature of suchness and arrive at the truth of life. Poetry, which delights the mind, expresses emotions it experiences in interactions with nature. Thus, mountains and wilderness scenery have naturally become a favourite subject for Zen Buddhist poetry.
Reading Zen poems could transpose one into nature with a sense of divinity. The sound of a brook running by a mountain hut, birds singing in the valley, or the quiet soughing of winds amongst pines, are all melodious movements in praise of nature’s wonder. A blue sky with white clouds, mountain upon mountain mirrored on a lake, and soaring cedars and ancient cypresses, are entirely a manifestation of the universe in harmony.
Once, when Hanshan Zi was staying at Guoqing Temple up on the Tiantai Mountain, he looked around and took in a magnificent view of the landscape. Out of this experience came from his lips one of his many free-spirited poems about living in a mountain,
“My way of life I enjoy, in a stone cave grown with misty thick bush.
Nature and freedom I love, with white clouds to keep me company.
With a path leading to nowhere, and a mind clings on nothing.
On a rock bed I alone sit at night, and a full moon rises over cold hills.”
Hanshan Zi liked a simple life, saying, “My way of life I enjoy”. His way of life is typical of the mind of a Zen Buddhist, tranquil and innocent, fond of nature, and often filled with joy. A Zen state of mind like this is beyond any words.
“…… in a stone cave grown with misty thick bush. / Nature and freedom I love, with white clouds to keep me company.” The Tiantai Mountain, part of the Foxia Mountain Range in Tiantai County, is situated among rolling hills, waterfalls, grottoes and foliage shrouded in fog. In such backcountry, the serenity alone would make a Zen Buddhist feel they are free and unfettered like white clouds floating in the sky. And to a meditating monastic, a mountain cave together with the lingering haze and white clouds would quite easily become a good companion.
Inspite of the passageways between Guoqing Temple and the town, the monk said, “With a path leading to nowhere, and a mind clings on nothing.” Not wanting to go into the bustling world. With a detached mind, the poet was not at all tempted by material desires.
“On a rock bed I alone sit at night, and a full moon rises over cold hills.” Late into the night, by himself, Hanshan Zi meditated on the stone bed. All was serene, as if his mind and all externalities did not exist. In the meantime, a full moon was aloft over the bleak mountains.
Away from the helter-skelter of urban life, the joy of staying in mountains lies in the peace and tranquility it accords. For those without the leisure to leave town and enjoy nature, they may instead spend some time relaxing while going over Hanshan Zi’s verses about finding, in the mountain, a home for the mind.