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Han Shan's Cold Mountain

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Preface to the Poems of Han-shan


by Lu Ch'iu-yin, Governor of T'ai Prefecture



No one knows what sort of man Han-shan was. There are old people who knew him: they say he was a poor man, a crazy character. He lived alone seventy Li (23 miles) west of the T'ang-hsing district of T'ien-t'ai at a place called Cold Mountain. He often went down to the Kuo-ch'ing Temple. At the temple lived Shih'te, who ran the dining hall. He sometimes saved leftovers for Han-shan, hiding them in a bamboo tube. Han-shan would come and carry it away; walking the long veranda, calling and shouting happily, talking and laughing to himself. Once the monks followed him, caught him, and made fun of him. He stopped, clapped his hands, and laughed greatly - Ha Ha! - for a spell, then left.


He looked like a tramp. His body and face were old and beat. Yet in every word he breathed was a meaning in line with the subtle principles of things, if only you thought of it deeply. Everything he said had a feeling of Tao in it, profound and arcane secrets. His hat was made of birch bark, his clothes were ragged and worn out, and his shoes were wood. Thus men who have made it hide their tracks: unifying categories and interpenetrating things. On that long veranda calling and singing, in his words of reply Ha Ha! - the three worlds revolve. Sometimes at the villages and farms he laughed and sang with cowherds. Sometimes intractable, sometimes agreeable, his nature was happy of itself. But how could a person without wisdom recognize him?


I once received a position as a petty official at Tan-ch'iu. The day I was to depart, I had a bad headache. I called a doctor, but he couldn't cure me and it turned worse. Then I met a Buddhist Master named Feng-kan, who said he came from the Kuo-ch'ing Temple of T'ien-t'ai especially to visit me. I asked him to rescue me from my illness. He smiled and said, "The four realms are within the body; sickness comes from illusion. If you want to do away with it, you need pure water." Someone brought water to the Master, who spat it on me. In a moment the disease was rooted out. He then said, "There are miasmas in T'ai prefecture, when you get there take care of yourself." I asked him, "Are there any wise men in your area I could look on as Master?" He replied, "When you see him you don't recognize him, when you recognize him you don't see him. If you want to see him, you can't rely on appearances. Then you can see him. Han-shan is a Manjusri (one who has attained enlightenment and, in a future incarnation, will become Buddha) hiding at Kuo-sh'ing. Shih-te is a Samantabbhadra (Bodhisattva of love). They look like poor fellows and act like madmen. Sometimes they go and sometimes they come. They work in the kitchen of the Kuo-ch'ing dining hall, tending the fire." When he was done talking he left.


I proceeded on my journey to my job at T'ai-chou, not forgetting this affair. I arrived three days later, immediately went to a temple, and questioned an old monk. It seemed the Master had been truthful, so I gave orders to see if T'ang-hsing really contained a Han-shan and Shih-te. The District Magistrate reported to me: "In this district, seventy li west, is a mountain. People used to see a poor man heading from the cliffs to stay awhile at Kuo-ch'ing. At the temple dining hall is a similar man named Shih-te." I made a bow, and went to Kuo-ch'ing. I asked some people around the temple, "There used to be a Master named Feng-kan here, Where is his place? And where can Han-shan and Shih-te be seen?" A monk named T'ao-ch'iao spoke up: "Feng-kan the Master lived in back of the library. Nowadays nobody lives there; a tiger often comes and roars. Han-shan and Shih-te are in the kitchen." The monk led me to Feng-kan's yard. Then he opened the gate: all we saw was tiger tracks. I asked the monks Tao-ch'iao and Pao-te, "When Feng-kan was here, what was his job?" The monks said, :He pounded and hulled rice. At night he sang songs to amuse himself." Then we went to the kitchen, before the stoves. Two men were facing the fire, laughing loudly. I made a bow. The two shouted Ho! at me. They struck their hands together -Ha Ha! - great laughter. They shouted. Then they said, "Feng-kan - loose-tounged, loose-tounged. You don't recognize Amitabha, (the Bodhisattva of mercy) why be courteous to us?" The monks gathered round, surprise going through them. ""Why has a big official bowed to a pair of clowns?" The two men grabbed hands and ran out of the temple. I cried, "Catch them" - but they quickly ran away. Han-shan returned to Cold Mountain. I asked the monks, "Would those two men be willing to settle down at this temple?" I ordered them to find a house, and to ask Han-shan and Shih-te to return and live at the temple.


I returned to my district and had two sets of clean clothes made, got some incense and such, and sent it to the temple - but the two men didn't return. So I had it carried up to Cold Mountain. The packer saw Han-shan, who called in a loud voice, "Thief! Thief!" and retreated into a mountain cave. He shouted, "I tell you man, strive hard" - entered the cave and was gone. The cave closed of itself and they weren't able to follow. Shih-te's tracks disappeared completely..


I ordered Tao-ch'iao and the other monks to find out how they had lived, to hunt up the poems written on bamboo, wood, stones, and cliffs - and also to collect those written on the walls of people's houses. There were more than three hundred. On the wall of the Earth-shrine Shih-te had written some gatha (Buddhist verse or song). It was all brought together and made into a book.


I hold to the principle of the Buddha-mind. It is fortunate to meet with men of Tao, so I have made this eulogy.








The path to Han-shan's place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse.

Converging gorges - hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs - unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I've lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?




In a tangle of cliffs, I chose a place -

Bird paths, but no trails for me.

What's beyond the yard?

White clouds clinging to vague rocks.

Now I've lived here - how many years -

Again and again, spring and winter pass.

Go tell families with silverware and cars

"What's the use of all that noise and money?"




In the mountains it's cold.

Always been cold, not just this year.

Jagged scarps forever snowed in

Woods in the dark ravines spitting mist.

Grass is still sprouting at the end of June,

Leaves begin to fall in early August.

And here I am, high on mountains,

Peering and peering, but I can't even see the sky.




I spur my horse through the wrecked town,

The wrecked town sinks my spirit.

High, low, old parapet walls

Big, small, the aging tombs.

I waggle my shadow, all alone;

Not even the crack of a shrinking coffin is heard.

I pity all those ordinary bones,

In the books of the Immortals they are nameless.




I wanted a good place to settle:

Cold Mountain would be safe.

Light wind in a hidden pine -

Listen close - the sound gets better.

Under it a gray haired man

Mumbles along reading Huang and Lao.

For ten years I haven't gone back home

I've even forgotten the way by which I came.




Men ask the way to Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain: there's no through trail.

In summer, ice doesn't melt

The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.

How did I make it?

My heart's not the same as yours.

If your heart was like mine

You'd get it and be right here.




I settled at Cold Mountain long ago,

Already it seems like years and years.

Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams

And linger watching things themselves.

Men don't get this far into the mountains,

White clouds gather and billow.

Thin grass does for a mattress,

The blue sky makes a good quilt.

Happy with a stone under head

Let heaven and earth go about their changes.




Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,

The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:

The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,

The wide creek, the mist blurred grass.

The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain

The pine sings, but there's no wind.

Who can leap the word's ties

And sit with me among the white clouds?




Rough and dark - the Cold Mountain trail,

Sharp cobbles - the icy creek bank.

Yammering, chirping - always birds

Bleak, alone, not even a lone hiker.

Whip, whip - the wind slaps my face

Whirled and tumbled - snow piles on my back.

Morning after morning I don't see the sun

Year after year, not a sign of spring.




I have lived at Cold Mountain

These thirty long years.

Yesterday I called on friends and family:

More than half had gone to the Yellow Springs.

Slowly consumed, like fire down a candle;

Forever flowing, like a passing river.

Now, morning, I face my lone shadow:

Suddenly my eyes are bleared with tears.




Spring water in the green creek is clear

Moonlight on Cold Mountain is white

Silent knowledge - the spirit is enlightened of itself

Contemplate the void: this world exceeds stillness.




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.




I can't stand these bird songs

Now I'll go rest in my straw shack.

The cherry flowers are scarlet

The willow shoots up feathery.

Morning sun drives over blue peaks

Bright clouds wash green ponds.

Who knows that I'm out of the dusty world

Climbing the southern slope of Cold Mountain?




Cold Mountain has many hidden wonders,

People who climb here are always getting scared.

When the moon shines, water sparkles clear

When the wind blows, grass swishes and rattles.

On the bare plum, flowers of snow

On the dead stump, leaves of mist.

At the touch of rain it all turns fresh and live

At the wrong season you can't ford the creeks.




There's a naked bug at Cold Mountain

With a white body and a black head.

His hand holds two book scrolls,

One the Way and one its Power.

His shack's got no pots or oven,

He goes for a long walk with his shirt and pants askew.

But he always carries the sword of wisdom:

He means to cut down senseless craving.




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.




If I hide out at Cold Mountain

Living off mountain plants and berries -

All my lifetime, why worry?

One follows his karma through.

Days and months slip by like water,

Time is like sparks knocked off flint.

Go ahead and let the world change -

I'm happy to sit among these cliffs.




Most T'ien-t'ai men

Don't know Han-shan

Don't know his real thought

And call it silly talk.




Once at Cold Mountain, troubles cease -

No more tangled, hung up mind.

I idly scribble poems on the rock cliff,

Taking whatever comes, like a drifting boat.




Some critic tried to put me down -

"Your poems lack the Basic Truth of Tao."

And I recall the old timers

Who were poor and didn't care.

I have to laugh at him,

He misses the point entirely,

Men like that

Ought to stick to making money.




I've lived at Cold Mountain - how many autumns.

Alone, I hum a song - utterly without regret.

Hungry, I eat one grain of Immortal medicine

Mind solid and sharp; leaning on a stone.




On top of Cold Mountain the lone round moon

Lights the whole clear cloudless sky.

Honor this priceless natural treasure

Concealed in five shadows, sunk deep in the flesh.




My home was at Cold Mountain from the start,

Rambling among the hills, far from trouble.


Gone, and a million things leave no trace

Loosed, and it flows through galaxies

A fountain of light, into the very mind -

Not a thing, and yet it appears before me:

Now I know the pearl of the Buddha nature

Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.




When men see Han-shan

They all say he's crazy

And not much to look at -

Dressed in rags and hides.

They don't get what I say

And I don't talk their language.

All I can say to those I meet:

"Try and make it to Cold Mountain."

Edited by Nanashi

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Bought this book a while ago.


Considering i'm not a fan of poetry, I find him to be an interesting poet in the blunt and truthful vein of Charles Bukowski, where poetry is just a format to express short and simple observations and thoughts.

Edited by hyok

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Quick addition...





Buddhist priests don't keep the commandments,

Taoists don't take their immortality pills.

Lots of wise men have lived since ancient times,

and there they lie, under the green hill.




A running theme in his poems is a harsh criticism of Buddhists and Taoists. Not necessarily the teachings of either, but more so the BS of the so-called Holy men and their egos.


One more example...







With mind as lofty as the mountain peak,

And self-righteous look ("Me bow to others?"),

He announces he will lecture on the Vedic canon,

Having mastered all the writings of the

Three Religions.

In his heart there is no trace of shame,

though he breaks the commandments and

ignores the holy laws.

"My sermons are for men of superior


Few are the priests who can compare with me!"

Fools all shower him with praise,

While wise men clap their hands in mirth.

This hoax! This phantom flower of the air!

How could he escape from birth and death?

Better to understand nothing at all,

to sit still and quiet the ills of the mind.

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