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Ni Zan: Dreaming about Wang Xizhi (幾夢山陰王右軍)

Dreaming

The dream world cannot be found
away from my pillow –
but nowhere on the pillow can I find it.
And when I am in the dream world
my pillow might as well not exist.
Awake, I feel my dreams are empty;
in dream, the waking world has disappeared.
Can I be sure that the waking universe
has no pillow beneath it?
If dream and waking alternate,
which is fantasy, which is real?

Yüan Hung-tao

Pilgrim of the Clouds, Weatherhill, 1978                                                                                            Poems and Essays from Ming China, translated by Jonathan Chaves

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都心

 

都心  -  孟大龍

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After living with Uncle for a few months and continuing my lessons to private students, I felt a great urge to travel again, if only for a few days. I had just been reading the Sutra of Hui Nêng (Wei Lang) which relates how a reputedly illiterate man became Sixth Patriarch of the Zen Sect well over a thousand years ago. Another monk had composed a poem comparing an enlightened mind to a bright mirror on which no dust (illusion) can collect. On having this read to him, Hui Nêng replied with another poem in which he declared that the ‘mirror’ has no existence and asked whereon such dust can collect. In this way he expressed his intuitive understanding of the voidness of all phenomena, including both illusions and the separate minds of individuals. This expression of enlightened understanding of Zen’s deepest truth won for him the Fifth Patriarch’s symbolical robe and bowl. After his death all those centuries ago, his body had miraculously resisted decay and, according to widespread belief, was still to be seen at the Nan Hua Monastery in North Kwangtung…

The present Abbot was no other than the Venerable Hsü Yün (虚云 / Xū Yún), who was believed to be well over a hundred years old, though still able to walk as much as thirty miles a day. He was renowned all over China as the greatest living Master of Zen; so I was delighted to hear the unexpected news that he had just returned after an absence of several months spent in a distant province. Not long after my arrival, I excitedly followed the Reverend Receiver of Guests to pay my respects to this almost mythical personage. I beheld a middle-sized man with a short, wispy beard and remarkable penetrating eyes. He was not precisely youthful-looking as I had been led to expect, but had one of those ageless faces not uncommon in China. Nobody could have guessed that he was already a centenarian. Finding myself in his presence, I became virtually tongue-tied and had to rack my brains for something to say, although there was so much I could profitably have asked him. At last, I managed to ask:

Is this famous monastery purely Zen, Your Reverence?”

Oh yes,” he answered in a surprisingly vigorous voice. “It is a great centre of Zen.”

So you do not worship Amida Buddha or keep his statue here?”

The question seemed to puzzle him, for he took some time to reply.

But certainly we keep his statue here. Every morning and evening we perform rites before it and repeat the sacred name while circumambulating the altar.”

Then the monastery is not purely Zen,” I persisted, puzzled in my turn.

Why not? It is like every other Zen monastery in China. Why should it be different? Hundreds of years ago there were many sects, but the teachings have long been synthesized – which is as it should be. If by Zen, you mean the practice of Zen meditation, why, that is the very essence of Buddhism. It leads to a direct perception of Reality in this life, enabling us to transcend duality and go straight to the One Mind. This One Mind, otherwise known as our Original Nature, belongs to everybody and everything. But the method is very hard – hard even for those who practise it night and day for years on end. How many people are prepared or even able to do that? The monastery also has to serve the needs of simple, illiterate people. How many of them would understand if we taught only the highest method? I speak of the farmers on our own land here and of the simple pilgrims who come for the great annual festivals. To them we offer that other way – repetition of the sacred name – which is yet the same way adapted for simple minds. They believe that by such repetition they will gain the Western Paradise and there receive divine teaching from Amida Buddha himself – teaching which will lead them directly to Nirvana.”

At once reluctantly and somewhat daringly I answered: “I see. But isn’t that a kind of – well, a sort of – of – er – deception? Good, no doubt, but…”

I broke off, not so much in confusion as because the Venerable Hsü Yün was roaring with laughter.

Deception? Deception? Ha, ha, ha, ha-ha! Not at all. Not a bit. No, of course not.”

Then Your Reverence, if you too believe in the Western Heaven and so on, why do you trouble to teach the much harder road to Zen?”

I do not understand the distinction you are making. They are identical.”

But…”

Listen, Mr P’u. Zen manifests self-strength; Amidism manifests other-strength. You rely on your own efforts, or you rely on the saving power of Amida. Is that right?”

Yes. But they are – I mean, they seem – entirely different from each other.”

I became aware that some of the other monks were beginning to look at me coldly, as though I were showing unpardonable rudeness in pertinaciously arguing with this renowned scholar and saint; but the Master, who was quite unperturbed, seemed to be enjoying himself.

Why insist so much on this difference?” he asked. “You know that in reality there is nought but the One Mind. You may choose to regard it as in you or out of you, but “in” and “out” have no ultimate significance whatever – just as you, Mr P’u, and I and Amida Buddha have no real separateness. In ordinary life, self is self and other is other; in reality they are the same. Take Bodhidharma who sat for nine years in front of a blank wall. What did he contemplate? What did he see? Nothing but his Original Self, the true Self beyond duality. Thus he saw Reality face to face. He was thereby freed from the Wheel and entered Nirvana, never to be reborn – unless voluntarily as a Bodhisattva.”

Yet, Reverence, I do not think that Bodhidharma spoke of Amida. Or am I wrong?”

True, true. He did not. But when Farmer Wang comes to me for teaching, am I to speak to him of his Original Self or of Reality and so on? What do such terms mean to him? Morning and evening, he repeats the sacred name, concentrating on it until he grows oblivious of all else. In time, after a month, a year, a decade, a lifetime or several lifetimes, he achieves such a state of perfect concentration that duality is transcended and he, too, comes face to face with Reality. He calls the power by which he hopes to achieve this Amida; you call it Zen; I may call it Original Mind. What is the difference? The power he thought was outside himself was inside all the time.”

Deeply struck by this argument and anxious, perhaps, to display my acquaintance with the Zen way of putting things, I exclaimed:

I see, I see. Bodhidharma entered the shrine-room from the sitting-room. Farmer Wang entered it through the kitchen, but they both arrived at the same place. I see.”

No,” answered the Zen Master, “you do not see. They didn’t arrive at any place. They just discovered that there is no place for them to reach.”

An Extract from The Wheel of Life by John Blofeld, Rider and Company, 1959

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Excerpts from the Zen teaching of Instantaneous Awakening,

by Ch’an Master Hui Hai, translation by John Blofeld.

Q: What method must we practice in order to attain deliverance?

A: It can be attained only through a sudden illumination.

Q: What is a sudden illumination?

A: ‘Sudden’ means ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts instantaneously. ‘Illumination’ means the realization that illumination is not something to be attained.

Q: From where do we start this practice?

A: You must start from the very root.

Q: And what is that?

A: Mind is the root.

Q: How can this be known?

A: The Lankavatara Sutra says: “When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all dharmas (phenomena) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.”

Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?

A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by dhyana (ch’an) and samadhi (ting). The Dhyana-paramita Sutra says: “Dhyana and samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the thoughts remain in tumult and the roots of goodness suffer damage.”

Q: Please describe dhyana and samadhi.

A: When wrong thinking ceases, that is dhyana; when 
you sit contemplating your original nature, that is samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal mind. By 
 samadhi, you withdraw your minds from their surroundings, thereby making them impervious to the eight winds, that is to say, impervious to gain and loss, calumny and 
 eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By concentrating 
 in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says: “All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.” Other names for this 
are ‘deliverance’, ‘gaining the further shore’, ‘transcending the six states of mortal being ‘o’erleaping the three 
worlds’ or ‘becoming a mighty Bodhisattva, an omnipotent sage, a conqueror’!

Q: Whereon should the mind settle and dwell?

A: It should settle upon nondwelling and there dwell.

Q: What is this nondwelling?

A: It means not allowing the mind to dwell upon anything whatsoever.

Q: And what is the meaning of that?

A: Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, being or nonbeing, inside or outside, or somewhere between the two, void or nonvoid, 
 concentration or distraction. This dwelling upon nothing is the state in which it should dwell; those who attain to it 
are said to have nondwelling minds – in other words, they have Buddha-minds!

Q: What are the ‘three methods of training (to be performed) at the same level’ and what is meant by performing them on the same level?

A: They are discipline (vinaya), concentration (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna).

Q: Please explain them one by one.

A: Discipline involves stainless purity. Concentration involves the stilling of your minds so that you remain 
wholly unmoved by surrounding phenomena. Wisdom 
means that your stillness of mind is not disturbed by your giving any thought to that stillness, that your purity is unmarred by your entertaining any thought of purity and that, in the midst of all such pairs of opposites as good and evil, you are able to distinguish between them without being stained by them and, in this way, to reach the state of being perfectly at ease and free of all dependence. Furthermore, if you realize that discipline, concentration and wisdom are all alike in that their substance is intangible and that, hence, they are undivided and therefore one – that is what is meant by three methods of training 
 performed at the same level.

Q: When the mind rests in a state of purity, will that not give rise to some attachment to purity?

A: If, on reaching the state of purity, you refrain from thinking; “Now my mind is resting in purity”, there will be no such attachment.

Q: When the mind rests in a state of void, will that not entail some attachment to void? 
 A: If you think of your mind as resting in a state of void, then there will be such an attachment.

Q: When the mind reaches this state of not dwelling upon anything, and continues in that state, will there not be some attachment to its not dwelling upon anything?

A: So long as your mind is fixed solely on void, there
is nothing to which you can attach yourself. If you want to understand the nondwelling mind very clearly, while you are actually sitting in meditation, you must be cognizant only of the mind and not permit yourself to make judgments – that is, you must avoid evaluations in terms of good, evil, or anything else. Whatever is past is past, so do not sit in judgment upon it; for, when minding about the past ceases of itself, it can be said that there is no longer any past. Whatever is in the future is not here yet, so do not direct your hopes and longings towards it; for, when minding about the future ceases of itself, it can be said that there is no future. Whatever is present is now at hand; just be conscious of your nonattachment to everything – nonattachment in the sense of not allowing any love or aversion for anything to enter your mind; for, when minding the present ceases of itself, we may say that there 
 is no present. When there is no clinging to any of those three periods, they may be said not to exist. Should your mind wander away, do not follow it, whereupon your wandering mind will stop wandering of its own accord. Should your mind desire to linger somewhere, do not follow it and do not dwell there, whereupon your mind’s questing for a dwelling place will cease of its own accord. Thereby, you will come to possess a nondwelling mind – a mind which remains in the state of nondwelling. If you are fully aware in yourself of a
nondwelling mind, you will discover that there is just the fact of dwelling, with nothing to dwell upon or not to dwell upon. This full awareness in yourself of a mind 
 dwelling upon nothing is known as having a clear perception of your own mind, or, in other words, as having a clear perception of your own nature. A mind which dwells upon nothing is the Buddha-mind, the mind of one already delivered, bodhi-mind, uncreate mind; it is also called ‘realization that the nature of all appearances is unreal’. It is this which the sutras call ‘patient realization of the uncreate’. If you have not realized it yet, you must
strive and strive, you must increase your exertions. Then, 
 when your efforts are crowned with success, you will have attained to understanding from within yourself – an understanding stemming from a mind that abides nowhere, by which we mean a mind free from delusion and reality alike. A mind disturbed by love and aversion is deluded; a mind free from both of them is real; and a mind thus 
freed reaches the state in which opposites are seen as void, whereby freedom and deliverance are obtained.

Q: Are we to make this effort only when we are sitting in meditation, or also when we are walking about?

A: When I spoke just now of making an effort, I did not mean only when you are sitting in meditation; for,
whether you are walking, standing, sitting, lying, or whatever you are doing, you must uninterruptedly exert yourselves all the time. This is what we call ‘constantly abiding’ (in that state).

Q: The sutras speak not only of samyak-sambodhi (full enlightenment), but also of a marvellous enlightenment lying even beyond that. Please explain these terms.

A: Samyak-sambodhi is the realization of the identity of form and voidness. Marvellous enlightenment is the 
realization of the absence of opposites, or we can say that it means the state of neither enlightenment nor nonenlightenment.

Q: Do these two sorts of enlightenment really differ or 
not?

A: Their names are expediently used for the sake of temporary convenience, but in substance they are one, being neither dual nor different. This oneness and sameness 
 characterize all phenomena of whatever kind.

This eighth-century classic is a complete translation of the teachings of Ch’an Master Hui Hai (大珠慧海). Hui Hai was one of the early masters, along with Ma Tsu and Huang Po, who followed on from Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch.

Further reading:
• The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma – Outline of Practice
• The Transmission of Mind – Huang Po

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Excerpts from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind

Translated by John Blofeld

All the Buddhas and all sentient Beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons. It is that which you see before you begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things, but that sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it, for that is using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and using mind to grasp

Mind. Even though they do their utmost for a full aeon, they will not be able to attain to it. They do not know that, if they put a stop to conceptual thought and forget their anxiety, the Buddha will appear before them, for this Mind is the Buddha and the Buddha is all living beings. It is not the less for being manifested in ordinary beings, nor is it greater for being manifested in the Buddhas.

As to performing the six paramitas and vast numbers of similar practices, or gaining merits as countless as the sands of the Ganges, since you are fundamentally complete in every respect, you should not try to supplement that perfection by such meaningless practices. When there is occasion for them, perform them; and, when the occasion is passed, remain quiescent. If you are not absolutely convinced that the Mind is the Buddha, and if you are attached to forms, practices and meritorious performances, your way of thinking is false and quite incompatible with the Way. The Mind is the Buddha, nor are there any other Buddhas or any other mind. It is bright and spotless as the void, having no form or appearance whatever. To make use of your minds to think conceptually is to leave the substance and attach yourselves to form. The Ever-Existent Buddha is not a Buddha of form or attachment. To practise the six paramitas and a myriad similar practices with the intention of becoming a Buddha thereby is to advance by stages, but the Ever-Existent Buddha is not a Buddha of stages. Only awake to the One Mind, and there is nothing whatsoever to be attained. This is the REAL Buddha. The Buddha and all sentient beings are the One Mind and nothing else.

Mind is like the void in which there is no confusion or evil, as when the sun wheels through it shining upon the four corners of the world. For, when the sun rises and illuminates the whole earth, the void gains not in brilliance; and, w hen the sun sets, the void does not darken. The phenomena of light and dark alternate with each other, but the nature of the void remains unchanged. So it is with the Mind of the Buddha and of sentient beings. If you look upon the Buddha as presenting a pure, bright or Enlightened appearance, or upon sentient beings as presenting a foul, dark or mortal-seeming appearance, these conceptions resulting from attachment to form will keep you from supreme knowledge even after the passing of as many aeons as there are sands in the Ganges. There is only the One Mind and not a particle of anything else on which to lay hold, for this Mind is the Buddha. If you students of the Way do not awake to this Mind substance, you will overlay Mind with conceptual thought, you will seek the Buddha outside yourselves, and you will remain attached to forms, pious practices and so on, all of which are harmful and not at all the way to supreme knowledge.

This Mind is no mind of conceptual thought and it is completely detached from

form. So Buddhas and sentient beings do not differ at all. If you can only rid yourselves of conceptual thought, you will have accomplished everything. But if you students of the Way do not rid yourselves of conceptual thought in a flash, even though you strive for aeon after aeon, you will never accomplish it. Enmeshed in the meritorious practices of the Three Vehicles, you will be unable to attain Enlightenment. Nevertheless, the realization of the One Mind may come after a shorter or a longer period. There are those who, upon hearing this teaching, rid themselves of conceptual thought in a flash. There are others who do this after following through the Ten Beliefs, the Ten Stages, the Ten Activities and the Ten Bestowals of Merit. Yet others accomplish it after passing through the Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva’s Progress. But whether they transcend conceptual thought by a longer or a shorter way, the result is a state of BEING: there is no pious practising and no action of realizing. That there is nothing which can be attained is not idle talk; it is the truth. Moreover, whether you accomplish your aim in a single flash of thought or after going through the Ten Stages of a Bodhisattva’s Progress, the achievement will be the same; for this state of being admits of no degrees, so the latter method merely entails aeons of unnecessary suffering and toil.

Our original Buddha-Nature is, in highest truth, devoid of any atom of objectivity. It is void, omnipresent, silent, pure; it is glorious and mysterious peaceful joy and that is all. Enter deeply into it by awaking to it yourself. That which is before you is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete. There is naught beside.

 

I became ill and, receiving permission (from His Britannic Majesty’s Embassy) to rest for a few weeks in the country, I went to stay in an old monastery in the heart of the hills beyond Chungking…

… One day, while I was pottering about the monastery, I fell into conversation with the elderly monk in charge of the block-printing press which had for centuries been reproducing Buddhist works from heavy blocks of wood on each of which the text of a single page was beautifully hand-engraved. Thus a book containing one hundred pages required one hundred separate blocks of wood. The disadvantages of this method of printing are obvious; the advantage is that the lovely engravings are preserved virtually for ever, so that reprints can be made at any time. After showing me the press, my guide took me to the library and offered to lend me some of the volumes produced in that monastery during the last several hundred years. They included a work of one of the early Zen Masters, the Tun Wu Ju Chieh Yao Mên Lun, which title can be roughly translated as ‘The Path to Sudden Attainment’; it was composed by the T’ang scholar Hui Hai.

I carried this volume, excellently printed on soft paper, back to my cell and began to examine it. Presently it occurred to me that, though the content was very deep, the wording was such that a man with some knowledge of Zen would not find it too difficult to translate. It contained some very striking paradoxes, of which one caught my eye as soon as I opened the book for the first time.

A fool seeks for the Buddha, not for Mind.

A sage seeks for Mind, not for the Buddha.

… The more I read, the more I was tempted to essay a translation into English, which I finally produced. I know now that it was not a very good translation and that it contained far too many mistakes. Nevertheless, it did open up a new kind of work for me, culminating (up to now) in my new translation of the Dialogues and Sermons of Huang Po, one of the greatest of the early Zen Masters. It is a work which wonderfully expounds Zen, pointing directly to the way for us to come face to face with Reality! I feel that if I were to die tomorrow, at least my life would have produced one fruit of value to seekers after Truth. This is not a specially profitable thought, but somehow comforting. I often think that, if I had not fallen ill at that time and conceived the idea of translating Hui Hai’s book, I might never have thought of embarking upon this kind of work. That is why I feel sure that my Karma caused me that illness, not in the usual way of a penalty for disobeying some of nature’s spiritual or material laws, but that a great purpose might be fulfilled.

John Blofeld, The Wheel of Life, Rider and Company, 1959

Further reading:
• The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma – Outline of Practice
• Instantaneous Awakening – Ch’an Master Hui Hai

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Outline of Practice 
 

Many roads lead to the Path, but basically there are only two: reason and practice. To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to believe that all living things share the same true nature, which isn’t apparent because it’s shrouded by sensation and delusion. Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls, the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and unspoken agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason.

To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: Suffering injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma.

First, suffering injustice. When those who search for the Path encounter adversity, they should think to themselves, “In countless ages gone by, I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of existence, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions. Now, though I do no wrong, I’m punished by my past. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an evil deed will bear its fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice. The sutras say, “When you meet with adversity don’t be upset because it makes sense.” With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason. And by suffering injustice you enter the Path.

Second, adapting to conditions. As mortals, we’re ruled by conditions, not by ourselves. All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions. If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past. When conditions change, it ends. Why delight In Its existence? But while success and failure depend on conditions, the mind neither waxes nor wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the Path.

Third, seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something – always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity. To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop Imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” When you seek nothing, you’re on the Path.

Fourth, practicing the Dharma. The Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure. By this truth, all appearances are empty. Defilement and attachment, subject and object don’t exist. The sutras say, “The Dharma includes no being because it’s free from the impurity of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it’s free from the impurity of self.” Those wise enough to believe and understand these truths are bound to practice according to the Dharma. And since that which is real includes nothing worth begrudging, they give their body, life, and property in charity, without regret, without the vanity of giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. And to eliminate impurity they teach others, but without becoming attached to form. Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment. And as with charity, they also practice the other virtues. But while practicing the six virtues to eliminate delusion, they practice nothing at all. This is what’s meant by practicing the Dharma.

The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated by Red Pine

Further reading:
The Transmission of Mind – Huang Po
Instantaneous Awakening – Ch’an Master Hui Hai

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Cold Mountain: Han Shan

In 2006, Minnesota poet Jim Lenfestey traveled to China with Red Pine (Bill Porter) to seek the cave where 1,200 years before Han Shan discarded the cares of society to live as a hermit poet. St. Paul filmmakers Mike Hazard and Deb Wallwork followed along to document their journey.

In the documentary Burton Watson, Jim Lenfestey, Red Pine and Gary Snyder describe the poet’s life, their relationship with Han Shan and also read from his poems.

Cold Mountain: Han Shan can be watched online here.



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Bada Shanren (八大山人; ‘Mountain Man of the Eight Greats’), was born as Zhu Da (朱耷), in 1626 into a family of scholars, poets, and calligraphers – the Yiyang branch of the Ming imperial family, in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, the traditional residence of the Yiyang prince. He was a purported child prodigy and began writing poetry and painting at a very early age. Zhu Da’s childhood was untroubled and idyllic. However the peaceful world of his youth was shattered to pieces by the violent rise of the Manchus.

He was about eighteen years old when the Manchus took over Beijing and nineteen when Manchu forces occupied Nanchang. Three years later, to disguise his identity, as he was a scion of the Ming imperial family, he took refuge in a Buddhist temple after the Manchu conquest and the deaths of his immediate family. The cause or causes of their deaths are still unclear.

Adopting the name Chuanqi, Zhu Da became a Buddhist priest and soon after a respected Buddhist master, quickly attaining the position of abbot. He also became an accomplished poet and painter; his earliest work still in existence is an album of 15 leaves (1659; Taipei, National Palace Museum). He also produced other works under a variety of Buddhist names – Xeuge, Ren’an, Fajue, and Geshan.

In 1672, after the death of his Buddhist master, Abbot Hong Min, Zhu Da gave up solitary monastic life to pursue his fortune as a monk-artist. He joined the coterie of Hu Yitang, magistrate of Linchuan County, and participated in the celebrated poetry parties held in 1679 and 1680. Zhu Da was blocked however in his attempts to take up an official career because of his lineage and in 1680 was devastated by the departure of his patron Hu Yitang.

Reportedly, Zhu Da went mad. One day, laughing and crying uncontrollably, he tore off his priest’s robe and set it on fire. The burning of the robe signaled the end of Zhu Da’s life as a Buddhist monk, and from then on he lived as a painter. Between 1681 and 1684 he called himself lu (‘donkey’ or ‘ass’), a derogatory name for monks, or lu hu (‘donkey house’). During this period of his life, his style of painting and calligraphy changed radically and became far more abstract, a change influenced by the inner turmoil from which he was suffering.

In 1684, he took the biehao (‘artistic name’) Bada Shanren (‘Mountain Man of the Eight Greats’) and lived the rest of his life in Nanchang as an eccentric Taoist hermit. He is alleged to have written the Chinese word – ya (‘dumb’ – unable to speak) – above his door and although he would laugh, cry, drink a great deal of wine and paint, he would not speak with anyone. “When he felt inclined to write,” said one contemporary, “he would bare his arm, grasp his brush, and make cries like those of a madman.”

A staunch Ming loyalist throughout his life, Bada used painting as a means of protest. His works are the poignant voice of the yimin, the “leftover subjects” of the fallen dynasty. As he once wrote; “There are more tears than ink in my paintings.”

Bada Shanren is now widely regarded as the leading painter of the early Qing dynasty. His work has exerted a huge influence on Chinese painting from the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou of the mid-Qing period and the Shanghai School in the late Qing, to modern painters; Wu Changsuo [吴昌硕] (1844-1927), Qi Baishi [齐白石] (1864-1957), and Zhang Daqian [张大千] (1899-1983).

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In February 1925, I finally entered the Buddhist-hood and became the keeper of the Ajitori Kwannon Hall in a rural place in Higo.

In pine winds at dawn and dusk striking the bell

In April 1926, burdened with unsolvable illusions, I set out on a journey of alms-begging and drifting.

I go in I go in still the blue mountains

Soaking wet this a road-marker stone

Burning heaven on my head I beg I walk

In 1927 and 1928 I drifted aimlessly, along the San’yo Road, along the San’in Road, and in Shikoku and Kyushu.

Alone being eaten up by mosquitoes

Letting the dragonfly stay on my hat I walk on

The road being straight lonesome

Wordlessly I put on today’s straw sandals

Fluttering drunk leaves scatter

Winter shower I’m still not dead

The shadow in the water I am a traveler


Extracts from:

Santoka: Grass & The Tree Cairn, Red Moon Press 2002

Translations by Hiroaki Soto

Read about Taneda Santōka’s life and more of his poetry here

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Mr Five Willows is a native of one knows not where. Nor does one know his name.
Since there are five willows by his house, he has been given the sobriquet of “Mr. Five Willows.”

He is a man of few words, retiring by nature. He has no desire for money or for fame. An avid reader, he does not however, seek extraneous interpretations. Whenever he finds certain books arresting his interest, he forgets his meals.

He has a special weakness for wine, but being poor he cannot always afford it. His friends, aware of this, often invite him to drink. Then he drinks to his heart’s content. But when he is drunk, he takes leave at once.

The walls surrounding his house are dilapidated, giving little protection from the sun or wind. His coarse gown is shabby and threadbare; his rice jar is frequently empty. Yet he lives in contentment, and writes poetry to amuse himself and to express how he feels. Worldly gain or loss does not concern him. This is his way of life.

Biography Of Mr Five Willows, Tao Yuan-Ming (365-427)

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