Warren Falcon

Silver Star - 3,058 Points (04/23/52 - xxxx / Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA)

Even Pretty Buddhas - Rumors Exist Of Han Shan's Unfettered Inscriptions Of Wind - Poem by Warren Falcon

From a preface to earliest publication of Han Shan's poems 'Lu Ch'iu-Yin...claims to have personally met both Hanshan and Shide at the kitchen of the temple in Kuo-ch'ing, but they responded to his salutations with laughter then fled.' - Wikipedia on Han Shan

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.

Dates of Han Shan's life are uncertain, anywhere from 5th to 9th century A.D.

'How strange is life in old age
- an old mountain waking up'

White haired, nearer now to
Yellow Spring**, a few teeth remain.
My humor with the world remains intact.
Toothlessness does not block endless
laughter, a small favor of the gods
perhaps. Perhaps not. A human virtue
at any rate. And a strong constitution.

Even alone I laugh out loud, a
victory over my enemies and those
frivolous, ill-tempered gods,
all my youth wasted given over
to their sly manipulations.

Useless it is to demand those lost
years back but suffice it now to
presently steal more boldly from
Kings, Lords, the 'Glorious State.'
Even the temples are not safe from
my pilfering. I kindly repay them
with a poem scrawled on the door
or wall or a nearby rock. It really
is enough recompense for what I
take, a root, some rice, a persimmom.
Nothing more than I need for a day
or two. If they do not know how
to spend my words then so be it.
They have been paid in full. My
conscience, silly thing it is,
is clear as is my mind. Blood
hot, I fear no god yet respect
most men for both good and
bad suffer alike.

My fight is with the gods.
These fickle powers control
mortals who fear invisible
things but I have seen through
them and I laugh and I am unfettered.
Look to your minds mortals and
there find the open sky, the full
land you seek. There are some
others like me who freely roam
without explanation or excuse,
without self rebuke. After so
much youthful, frivolous sanctity
I am an old fool emptied of all
that. I know the ways of those
who speak for the gods. Naivete
about them is especially
dangerous for men.

Still, I cry out time and again in
a dream where I am remaindered
to Silence. When awake I laugh
through tears and avenge nights
from hostile heaven's envious thieves,
their priestly minions mumbling on
robbing men of years on earth.

Even my cave is taxed!
and so is my sleep by such a dream.

Some real troubles come only in sleep.
Why should I be exempt?

A habit now, I sit at the Buddhas feet.
Their faces are convincing enough. I
ignore much evidence to the contrary.
Undergarments even of Buddhas reveal
a truth which does not flinch and I
may perhaps pinch my nose in disgust
even of holy stench all the while
celebrating my own for what else
am I here for? Odor is the Thing!

Even so, in spite of meditations long,
I am flung further into life's fray though
I sway charmed by chants up to the Eight
Celestial Flights, my steps light forgetting
their feet of dung.

Long in exile,
dizzy with The Path,
human beauty broken there beside,
in every field shy flowers want all
our windows and stoops to proudly
present themselves upon.

This only now but happy do I discover.

And I am old, my scent upon the wind
down human lanes where even dogs
take pleasure from the air, where
children play and narrow water flows
and petal by petal night and day the
joyous moon swoons in the liquor of
splash upon stones happy to be worn.

There, almost within reach, the blossoming
tree brightens between darker bricks to truly
dwell. It is for me a shy son of mists to see
in spite of big chunks missing, lost, wasted,
torn out, that the Celestial World is not as
it appears to most, It yearns for much needed
hardness for spirits without shoes still long
to be bread that they may dwell in our finitude.
To them then I am a daffodil dandy at a rusty
gate where heaven and hell conjoin. There
where the thinned road ends vague statues
sway out of focus lamenting their redaction
to stone, no river to move them petal by petal,
unable to move at all, for movement is not nothing.

Even pretty Buddhas pretending eternity
cannot move by themselves alone in need
of human feet and arms. In this way then
they become like me for I too will be
borne by men or wind to the grave no
longer able to move on my own.

Nothing to lose, this rag of selves.
With what glory remains of hungry pockets,
I skip forward singing, La La La, a willful
don, a lord of nothing-much, poems a'pocket,
knowing it's all a shell game but I'm clever
having learned something from all the dice
rolled knowing that here and there (Heaven)
weight matters and that there is more to here
than there. Wised up now I always pack a
change of draws, a piece of broken mirror in
my pocket to gaze within practicing my smiles
to fool the gullible gods who think they are
smiling at themselves.

If stopped and questioned at the Gate to
Yellow Spring, I'll blame you, old Ghost
of too many former selves, a meandering
rumor still muttering the old hymns, who
grants me permission the entrance to boldly storm.

Between what these final breaths remain and
the horizon closing in, my fingers still work.

On behalf of all sentient beings I will plead
the case.

I'll write until the quill is taken from my cold hand.

Even then I shall be dirty with righteous indigence,
only the gods to blame - they love a good
argument anyway. Why should I disappoint?

In dying I become human through and through
which comes from doing.

Be damned and done with mirrors and pockets,
a man can curse at the end having earned the
right to do so -

a wink and a
grin rehearsed,
then come the flies.
Whose hands shall
shoo them, whose
hands un-shoe him
and run quickly
into day?

I leave my poems just as they are.
When I'm gone let the worms correct
spelling and punctuation.

Meanwhile beneath willow tips
I will tease slowly the grasses to laughter
which is the only horizon I have known.



**Yellow Spring is a Chinese version of 'purgatory'

Poet's Notes about The Poem

POEMS OF HAN SHAN - from Wikipedia page about Han Shan

http: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanshan_%28poet%29

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.[11] 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.[10] 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.

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?

Following is the same poem translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

Tier on tier of beautiful mountains and streams
Blue green vistas locked in white clouds
The mist makes my bandanna wet
Dew coats my grass cape
My feet climb in straw sandals
In my hand an old wooden stick
When I gaze down again on the dusty world
It has become a land of phantoms and dreams to me

He is hard to pin down religiously. Chan concepts and terminology sometimes appear in his work. The following poem is translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

High on the mountain top
I can see to every horizon
Sitting alone where no one knows
A lone moon is reflected in the cold stream
The moon is not in the stream
The moon is in the sky
I am singing this song
In this song there is no Zen

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. The following poem is translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

I see the top of Cold Mountain
Alone high above the rest of the peaks
Wind rustles the pines and bamboo
The moon and the tides come and go
I look down far below the green mountain
I discuss Tao with the clouds
I happily enjoy the mountains and waters
My whole being admires the teachings of Tao

Yet, he does not mince words, but tells us precisely where to find the path to Heaven. The following poem is translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

When people look for the road in the clouds
The cloud road disappears
The mountains are tall and steep
The streams are wide and still
Green mountains ahead and behind
White clouds to east and west
If you want to find the cloud road
Seek it within

The following poem is translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

Even with the fastest ship
Or riding a thousand mile horse
You cannot reach my home
People say the place is secluded and wild
A rock cave deep in the mountains
Clouds and thunder all day long
I am not Confucius
My words you will not understand

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.

The following poem is attributed to Han-shan's friend, Shih-te. But Wandering Poet recognizes and translates it as authored by Han-shan[10]:

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

The following poem is translated by Wandering Poet.[10] In this poem you hear the strong, clear voice of Han-shan, unaffected by the many years:

Old and sick, more than one hundred years
Face haggard, hair white, I'm happy to still live in the mountains
A cloth covered phantom watching the years flow by
Why envy people with clever ways of living?

The following poem is translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

I sit cross-legged on the rock
The valleys and streams are cold and damp
Sitting quietly is beautiful
The cliffs are lost in mist and fog
I rest happily in this place
At dusk the tree shadows are low
I look into my mind
A lotus emerges from the dark mud

Red Pine's poem 307:

Whoever has Cold Mountain's poems
is better off than those with sutras.
Write them up on your screen
and read them from time to time.

Following is the same poem translated by Wandering Poet[10]

If you have Cold Mountain poems in your house
They are better for you than sutras
Hang them up where you can see them
Read them and read them again


The poetry from Cold Mountain has influenced the poets of many generations and cultures. He is especially loved by the Japanese, who know him as Kanzan. The following poem is by the Japanese poet, Ryokan, translated by Wandering Poet[10]:

All day I walk in the forest gathering food
At dusk I enter my hut and close the door behind me
I kindle a fire with branches still bearing dried leaves
Quietly I read the poems from Cold Mountain
A rising west wind brings rain sweeping across the land
My little hut creaks and moans under the hand of the storm
But stretched serene upon the floor, I breathe and listen to the rain
There is not a doubt in my heart or a worry to disturb my mind

Hanshan was a sympathetic and important figure for Beat Generation writers Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac. In the introduction to his translation which appeared in the Evergreen Review, Snyder wrote of Hanshan, 'He and his sidekick Shih-te (Jittoku in Japanese) became great favorites with Zen painters of later days - the scroll, the broom, the wild hair and laughter. They became Immortals and you sometimes run into them today in the skidrows, orchards, hobo jungles, and logging camps of America.' Kerouac's The Dharma Bums closes with a vision of Hanshan, and at Snyder's suggestion, Kerouac dedicated the book to the fabled poet.[12]


More about Yellow Springs, the Underworld in early Chinese Cosmology...Han Shan was a Chan Buddhist who rejected such
organized ideas of life and the after life...reading the
concretization of symbolic ideas as well as the deification
of government (kings, lords, etc.) one can also get a sense
of how liberating Buddhism was for many who could achieve
enlightenment no matter their worldly state of wealth and
power or poverty and lack of education and status.

This from wikipedia, a very good, succinct summary:

http: //www.qugs.org.au/queensland-wargamer/afterlife.htm

Chinese Ideas of Heaven and the Afterlife (Pre-Buddhist)
Roleplaying In Asian Settings 3
by Taina Nieminen
The Chinese Soul

The ancient Chinese idea of the soul was dualistic and materialistic. Every person was thought to have two souls: the po and the hun. These were different kinds of souls, and probably represent the historical reconciliation of the northern po and the southern hun. (Early China had more than one culture; the one from the north China plains left the bulk of classical literature and is therefore considered to be the real 'Chinese' culture.) The po appeared around the sixth century B.C., somewhat earlier than the hun (but the southern traditions were not written down until some centuries after the northern ones) . As the northern Chinese expanded and had increasing contact with the southern people, the idea of the hun and the po met. By the third century B.C. (at the latest) they had fused into a single concept of the dual soul.

The po was the earth soul, characterized by yin. It appeared at the moment of conception. The hun was made of lighter stuff - chi - and was yang. (Chi is the 'spirit' that animates everything and permeates the universe.) The hun came into existence at the moment of birth. The po soul was sustained by eating food, the hun soul by breathing chi. (Eating and breathing, the two essentials of life, were thus nicely accounted for.) The two souls separated on death and had different destinations.

The souls were also fundamentally materialistic. They were not immortal, they needed sustenance, and (to some extent) they depended upon the preservation of the body. Both souls eventually ceased to exist as individuals and dissolved back into their constituents: the po into earth and the hun into chi. The length of survival could be increased by feeding them through the sacrificial offerings (meat, rice, wine etc.) that were a part of the rites of ancestor worship. The preservation of the body was also thought to prevent the dissolution of the po soul, by keeping it with the body. This also prevented it from wandering and inflicting misfortune upon surviving relatives. The ancient Chinese, like the Egyptians, spent a great deal of effort in trying to prevent the decomposition of the body.

Each soul had its own afterlife. The hun went to heaven, according to the earliest ideas, and later to its own special underworld. The po either stayed with the body or went to an underworld. (There was no suggestion that these were places of reward or punishment.)

Heaven is a very early Chinese notion. According to Shang Chinese (c.1700 to 1100 B.C.) ideas, Heaven was the dwelling place of God-on-High (Shang-di) . Later, Heaven became an impartial governing principle, in scholarly philosophical theory anyway. Heaven was always a strictly hierarchical place, and its bureaucracy developed in pace with that of the earthly Chinese government. (Given that the Chinese government has been characterized by bureaucracy since its inception, it seems only natural that they should have ascribed the same characteristics to heaven and the underworld.)

According to Shang ideas, not all hun went to heaven - only those of the powerful were admitted (that is, those of earthly kings) . The government of Heaven was responsible for overseeing human activities. There were (in its later development) four Departments: Fate, Longevity, Good Deeds, and Evil Deeds. Each Department kept detailed personal dossiers on all living people. If a person did enough good deeds, their dossier might be evaluated and transferred to the Department of Longevity (which might then grant them a longer life span) . The records were updated on a daily basis and were subject to transfer from one Department to another. This record keeping was a major function of the celestial bureaucracy.
The Underworld of the Yellow Springs

The idea of the Yellow Springs is also early, dating from the eighth century B.C. it was the destination of those po souls which did not stay with the body. It was a miserable place where souls were under the bondage of the Lord or Queen of the Earth. No doubt this was because the Yellow Springs faithfully reflected the hierarchical nature of the mortal world - if a person had a poor and miserable time while alive, they would have the same in the afterlife.

Life could be made easier for the po if it was provided with the necessary amenities: food, clothing, money, precious objects, and servants. These would be placed in the tomb by the surviving relatives. The servants (human and animal) were at first provided by immolating the actual servants of the deceased in the tomb, but with time (during the first half of the first millennium B.C.) this practice ended and inanimate representations of the attendants were placed in the tomb instead.
The Immortals and Mount Tai

Other developments occurred during the second and first centuries B.C. One of these was the appearance of a new and truly immortal spirit - the hsien. A person became a hsien by cultivating the right esoteric practices. These spirits ascended to Heaven, and because the hun (being mortal) could not exist in the same place as the immortal hsien, the hun were summarily evicted.

This meant that a new home had to be found for the hun. Mount Tai (specifically the lower slopes, not the summit) suited the purpose. A new underworld was opened, presided over by the Lord of Mount Tai (who was already in existence and co-opted into the position) . The Lord of Mount Tai was the grandson of the god of heaven, whereas the human Emperor was the Son of Heaven.

This underworld was not a hell - Mount Tai was second only to Heaven in the scheme of things. It too had a bureaucratic government, with the capital at Liang-fu. The power of this bureaucracy gradually expanded until it had the power to send to the mortal world for those souls whose allotted span of time on earth was up, according to the Register of Death.

A newly dead soul had to report to the capital and register. By the second century A.D., their conduct in life had become the subject of investigation. If the soul refused to cooperate, it would be imprisoned and tortured (as was the practice in actual Chinese judicial practice) . Mount Tai was for the hun only; the Lord of Mount Tai had no jurisdiction over the po.

The po souls continued to go to the Yellow Springs, which grew its own bureaucracy. The capital was at Gao-li and, as in Mount Tai, the dead soul was required to report there and register.

These ideas changed dramatically as Buddhism brought into China the idea of immortal souls, heaven and hell as opposing sites of reward and punishment, and the idea of reincarnation. Early translations of texts often rendered niraya (the Buddhist word for hell) as 'the underworld prison in Mount Tai.' These ideas changed Chinese conceptions of heaven and the afterlife, but the foreign ideas themselves were adapted to Chinese culture. In particular, the underworld bureaucracy remained intact (the Buddhist hell was administered by bureaucrats) and continued to be feature of popular Chinese tradition.

Further Reading (all available in the University of Queensland library)

Yu Ying-shih, ''O Soul, Come Back! ' A Study in the Changing Conceptions of the Soul and Afterlife in Pre-Buddhist China, ' Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies,47 (1987) : 363-395. Main source.
Yu Ying-shih, 'New Evidence on the early Chinese conception of afterlife - a review article, ' Journal of Asian Studies,41 no.1 (November 1981) : 81-85.
Michael Loewe, Chinese Ideas of Life and Death: Faith, Myth and Reason in the Han Period (202 B.C.-A.D.220) , London: George Alien & Unwin,1982.
Joseph Needham, 'The Cosmology of Early China, ' in Carmen Blacker and Michael Loewe (ed.) , Ancient Cosmologies, London: George Alien & Unwin,1975, pp.87-109.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, January 4, 2013

Poem Edited: Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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