Sitting Alone in Peace Before These Cliffs

moon before cliff

Sitting alone in peace before these cliffs
the full moon is heaven’s beacon
the ten thousand things are all reflections
the moon originally has no light
wide open, the spirit of itself is pure
hold fast to the void; realize its subtle mystery
look at the moon like this
this moon that is the heart’s pivot

Escorting the Moon
Hānshān Déqīng 1564-1623

I let my mind and body go and gained a life of freedom
my old age is taking place among ten thousand peaks
I don’t let white clouds leave the valley lightly
I escort the moon as far as my closed gate

Hǎo Suí Míngyuè

Shēn xīn fàngxia yǒuyú xián
Chuílǎo shēngyá zài mǎn shān
Bùxǔ báiyún qīng chū gǔ
Hǎo suí míngyuèhù chái guān

Translator: Red Pine-Bill Porter 赤松

cold_mountain_by_andy kunkle

Surprised by Autumn on the Fen
Su Ting 670-727

The North Wind blows white clouds
A thousand miles and across the Fen
The hopes of my heart shudder and fall
I can’t bear the sounds of autumn

Fén Shàng Jīng Qiū
Sū Tǐng 670-727

Běifēng chuī bái yún,
Wàn lǐ dù Fénhé.
Xīnxù féng yáo luò,
Qiū shēng bù kě wén.

Translator: Red Pine-Bill Porter 赤松

yandang mountains near wenzhou

The Zhongnan Mountains
Wang Wei 701-761

Taiyi isn’t far from the Heart of Heaven
Its ridges extend to the edge of the sea
White clouds form before your eyes
Blue vapors vanish in plain sight
Around its peaks the whole realm turns
In every valley the light looks different
In need of a place to spend the night
I yell to a wood cutter across the stream

Zhōngnán Shān
Wáng Wéi 701-761

Tàiyǐ jìn Tiāndū,
Lián shān dào hǎi yú.
Bái yún huí wàng hé,
Qīng ǎi rù kàn wú.
Fēn yě zhōng fēng biàn,
Yīn qíng zhòng hè shū.
Yù tóu rén chǔ sù,
Gé shuǐ wèn qiáofū.

Translator: Red Pine-Bill Porter 赤松

Hanshan (Chinese: 寒山; pinyin: Hánshān; literally: “Cold Mountain”, fl. 9th century) was a legendary figure associated with a collection of poems from the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the Taoist and Chan tradition. No one knows who he was, or when he lived and died. In the Buddhist tradition, Hanshan and his sidekick Shide are honored as emanations of the bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra, respectively. In Japanese and Chinese paintings, Hanshan is often depicted together with Shide or with Fenggan, another monk with legendary attributes.

In Lu Jiuyin’s (Wade–Giles: Lu Ch’iu-Yin) preface to Hanshan’s poems, he claims to have personally met both Hanshan and Shide at the kitchen of Guoqing Temple, but they responded to his salutations with laughter then fled. Afterwards, he attempted to give them clothing and provide them housing, but Lu Jiuyin writes that the pair fled into a cave which closed itself and Shide’s tracks disappeared. This led Lu Jiuyin, governor of Tai Prefecture, to collect Hanshan’s writings, “the poems written on bamboo, wood, stones, and cliffs — and also to collect those written on the walls of peoples’ houses.”[1] However, Burton Watson is of the opinion that Lu Jiuyin did not exist in reality and that his preface to Hanshan’s poems is nothing more than myth. In the introduction to his book, he says of Lu Jiuyin’s preface to the poems:[2]

[The preface], contrary to Chinese custom, is undated. Lu-chiu Yin represents himself as a high official and prefixes his name with a very imposing title. But there is only one mention of anyone by this name to be found in other works of the period, and it refers almost certainly to another person. This fact alone is peculiar enough, if Lu-chiu Yin was in fact as high up in the bureaucracy as his title indicates. Furthermore, the style of the preface, awkward and wordy, hardly suggests the writing of an eminent official. All other sources that tell us anything about Han-shan and Shih-te appear to be later than the preface and based upon it. For all we know, therefore, the whole picture of the two recluses built up in the preface may be nothing more than literary fiction. The poems, however, remain — over three hundred of them….If the reader wishes to know the biography of Han-shan, he must deduce it from the poems themselves.

If we follow Watson and discount the preface of Lu Jiuyin, accepting only the words of the poet himself, we see that Hanshan says only that he wrote his poems on the rocks. Nowhere in the poetry does he say that he wrote them on trees or bamboo or wood or the walls of people’s houses.[citation needed]

The collection of poems attributed to Hanshan may span the entire Tang Dynasty as Edwin G. Pulleyblank asserts in his study Linguistic Evidence for the Date of Hanshan.[3][page needed] He identifies him as the monk Zhiyan (智岩, 577–654), but that has been disputed by Paul Demiéville among others. The Encyclopedia of China gives his date as around 712 and after 793. Jia Jinhua came to the conclusion, after a study of Chan phrases in some 50 of the poems, that this particular group of poems may be attributable to the Chan monk Caoshan Benji (840–901). However, the dates for both Zhiyan and Caoshan Benji contradict Hanshan, who says that he was much older than either.

The poems have often been translated, by Arthur Waley (1954), Gary Snyder (1958), and Burton Watson (1970), among others. The first complete translation to a western language was into French by Patrick Carré (fr) in 1985. There are two full English translations, by Robert G. Henricks (1990), and Red Pine (Copper Canyon Press, 1983, 2000). There is a collection of 130 of the poems, Encounters With Cold Mountain, by Peter Stambler.[4] And there is a collection of 96 poems, Cold Mountain Transcendental Poetry, by Wandering Poet (2005, 2012).[5]

Little is known of his work, since he was a recluse living in a remote region and his poems were written on rocks in the mountains he called home. Of the 600 poems he is thought to have written at some point before his death, 313 were collected and have survived.[6] Among the 57 poems attributed to Hanshan’s friend, Shide,[6] seven appear to be authored by Hanshan, for a total of 320.[7]

All translations here are Red Pine’s, except where noted.

Hanshan’s poetry consists of Chinese verse, in 3, 5, or 7 character lines; never shorter than 4 lines, and never longer than 34 lines. The language is marked by the use of more colloquial Medieval Vernacular Sinitic than almost any other Tang poet.[9] The poems can be seen to fall into three categories: the biographical poems about his life before he arrived at Cold Mountain; the religious and political poems, generally critical of conventional wisdom and those who embrace it; and the transcendental poems, about his sojourn at Cold Mountain.[citation needed] They are notable for their straightforwardness, which contrasts sharply with the cleverness and intricateness that marked typical Tang Dynasty poetry.

Red Pine poem 283:

Mister Wang the Graduate
laughs at my poor prosody.
I don’t know a wasp’s waist
much less a crane’s knee.
I can’t keep my flat tones straight,
all my words come helter-skelter.
I laugh at the poems he writes-
a blind man’s songs about the sun!
(All these terms refer to ways a poem could be defective according to the rigid poetic structures then prevalent.)

Thematically, Hanshan draws heavily on Buddhist and Taoist themes, often remarking on life’s short and transient nature, and the necessity of escape through some sort of transcendence. He varies and expands on this theme, sometimes speaking of Mahayana Buddhism’s ‘Great Vehicle’, and other times of Taoist ways and symbols like cranes.

The following poem begins with the imagery of the burning house and the three carts from the Parable of the Burning House found in The Lotus Sutra, then ends with typical Zen and Taoist imagery of freedom from conceptualizations.

Red Pine poem 253:

Children, I implore you
get out of the burning house now.
Three carts await outside
to save you from a homeless life.
Relax in the village square
before the sky, everything’s empty.
No direction is better or worse,
East just as good as West.
Those who know the meaning of this
are free to go where they want.

This mixed influence is probably due to the high preponderance of Taoists and Buddhists in the same area. The eminent Taoist Ge Hong acclaimed Mount Tiantai as ‘the perfect place for practicing the arts of immortality,’ which is probably also why so many Buddhist temples were established in the vicinity as well.

Red Pine poem 13:

“Brothers share five districts;
father and sons three states.”
To learn where the wild ducks fly
follow the white-hare banner!
Find a magic melon in your dream!
Steal a sacred orange from the palace!
Far away from your native land
swim with fish in a stream!

Many poems display a deep concern for humanity, which in his view stubbornly refuses to look ahead, and short-sightedly indulges in all manner of vice, like eating animal flesh, piling up sins ‘high as Mount Sumeru’. But he holds out hope that people may yet be saved; ‘Just the other day/ a demon became a Bodhisattva.’

Red Pine poem 18:

I spur my horse past ruins;
ruins move a traveler’s heart.
The old parapets high and low
the ancient graves great and small,
the shuddering shadow of a tumbleweed,
the steady sound of giant trees.
But what I lament are the common bones
unnamed in the records of immortals.

cold mountain huangshan-pine

While Hanshan eschewed fancy techniques and obscure erudition, his poems are still highly evocative at times:

Red Pine poem 106:

The layered bloom of hills and streams
Kingfisher shades beneath rose-colored clouds
mountain mists soak my cotton bandanna,
dew penetrates my palm-bark coat.
On my feet are traveling shoes,
my hand holds an old vine staff.
Again I gaze beyond the dusty world-
what more could I want in that land of dreams?

He is hard to pin down religiously. Chan concepts and terminology sometimes appear in his work. But he criticized the Buddhists at Tiantai, and he directed criticism at Taoists as well, having had no problem bringing Taoist scriptural quotations, and Taoist language when describing his mountains, into his poems. Yet, he does not mince words, but tells us precisely where to find the path to Heaven.

Red Pine poem 117:

I deplore this vulgar place
where demons dwell with worthies.
They say they’re the same,
but is the Tao impartial?
A fox might ape a lion’s mien
and claim the disguise is real,
but once ore enters the furnace,
we soon see if it’s gold or base.

Red Pine poem 246:

I recently hiked to a temple in the clouds
and met some Taoist priests.
Their star caps and moon caps askew
they explained they lived in the wild.
I asked them the art of transcendence;
they said it was beyond compare,
and called it the peerless power.
The elixir meanwhile was the secret of the gods
and that they were waiting for a crane at death,
or some said they’d ride off on a fish.
Afterwards I thought this through
and concluded they were all fools.
Look at an arrow shot into the sky-
how quickly it falls back to earth.
Even if they could become immortals,
they would be like cemetery ghosts.
Meanwhile the moon of our mind shines bright.
How can phenomena compare?
As for the key to immortality,
within ourselves is the chief of spirits.
Don’t follow Lords of the Yellow Turban
persisting in idiocy, holding onto doubts.

cold mountain border of thailand and china

The following poem is attributed to Hanshan’s friend, Shide.

The higher the trail the steeper it grows
Ten thousand tiers of dangerous cliffs
The stone bridge is slippery with green moss
Cloud after cloud keeps flying by
Waterfalls hang like ribbons of silk
The moon shines down on a bright pool
I climb the highest peak once more
To wait where the lone crane flies

HanShan lived hermit-like on ‘Cold Mountain’ (Mount Tiantai, Zhejiang province) sometime in the 8th or 9th century CE.  Although not a monk, he was influenced by Chan Buddhism and Taoism, using much of their thematic imagery and language, writing his poems on the trees and rocks and cliff faces of his mountain retreat.  He sometimes criticized those eminent religions as well, and so his poetry speaks from a highly discrete personal conviction.  He seems simply to have been himself.

Since I came to Cold Mountain,
how many thousand years have passed?
Accepting my fate I fled to the woods
to dwell and gaze in freedom.
No one visits the cliffs,
forever hidden by clouds.
Soft grass serves as a mattress;
my quilt is the dark blue sky;
a boulder makes a fine pillow.
Heaven and Earth can crumble and change.

                                                            tr. Red Pine

Children, I implore you:
get out of the burning house now!
Three carts await outside
to save you from a homeless life.
Relax in the village square
before the sky; everything’s empty.
No direction is better or worse –
East just as good as West.
Those who know the meaning of this
are free to go where they want.

                                                            tr. Red Pine

The layered bloom of hills and streams
Kingfisher shades, beneath rose-colored clouds:
mountain mists soak my cotton bandanna;
dew penetrates my palm-bark coat.
On my feet are traveling shoes;
my hand holds an old vine staff.
Again I gaze beyond the dusty world-
what more could I want in that land of dreams?

                                                            tr. Red Pine

In my first thirty years of life

I roamed hundreds and thousands of miles,

walked by rivers through deep green grass,

entered cities of boiling red dust,

tried drugs, but couldn’t make Immortal,

read books and wrote poems on history.

Today I’m back at Cold Mountain:

I’ll sleep by the creek and purify my ears.

                                                            tr. Gary Snyder

Cold Mountain is a house

without beans or walls.

The six doors left and right are open;

the hall is sky blue.

The rooms all vacant and vague –

the east wall beats on the west wall,

at the center nothing.

Borrowers don’t bother me;

in the cold I build a little fire.

When I’m hungry I boil up some greens.

I’ve got no use for the kulak

with his big barn and pasture –

he just sets up a prison for himself.

Once in he can’t get out.

Think it over –

you know it might happen to you.

                                                            tr. Gary Snyder