The Way to Cold Mountain Part 1

Han Shan, or Cold Mountain was a legendary figure around the Tang Dynasty that was associated with a collection of poetry used by Zen, or Chan, Buddhists and Daoists alike.  He didn’t really keep to conventional tactics of paper, brush, and ink.  He carved on bamboo, wrote on walls, rocks, mountains, etc.  He is often depicted with Shi-de, the pair is always known as Han Shan Shi De.  Some believed that they were manifestations of Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva.  There were no clear dates, or even a given name about Cold Mountain, but the common understanding so far was that he was around sometime during the eighth and ninth centuries.  Most of his footprints were around the Tien Tai Mountains of the area south of Hangzhou.  Many of his works were written near the area.  He wrote about 600 piece of poetry, of which 313 pieces were collected till this day.  The content of his works mainly revolve around his experiences or encounters he has had with people he met or even his thoughts about society.  His works can be of simple observation, natural or social, but can definitely transcend what seem to be mundane facts into ultimate truths.  That was how Zen Cold Mountain was.  For this reason, and the attractiveness of overall biographical mystery, countless poets, scholars, misfits and Zen practitioners today count themselves amongst the devoted.  He never wrote by traditional brush and paper though.  He carved on the walls of the caved he lived in, the trunks of surrounding trees, bamboo husks, etc.  For this paper I will quote one of Cold Mountain’s poetry and share my reflections along with commentary from current Masters.

人問寒山道,寒山路不通。夏天冰未釋,日出霧朦朧.
似我何由屆,與君心不同。君心若似我,還得到其中。

There exist many translations of the above poem since the 1950s by writers such as Burton Watson, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, etc.  I have chosen two translations, one by Red Pine and another by the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for the purposes of this presentation:

Trans. By Red Pine

People ask the way to Cold Mountain,

But roads don’t reach Cold Mountain.

In summer the ice doesn’t melt,

And the morning fog is too dense.

How did someone like me arrive?

Our minds are not the same.

If they were the same,

You would be here.[1]

 

Trans. By Josey Shun and Bhikshuni Heng Yin of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

People ask the way to Cold Mountain:

There is no path.

How do I get there?

My mindset is different.

If your mind becomes like mine,

You will get there with ease.[2]

Cold Mountain himself lived in a cave and would sometimes travel down Tian Tai Mountain at times.  He would also stop at Guo Qing Temple as well.  When people wanted to visit him, they would not know how to find him or where to find him.  Navigation was not yet invented.  When Cold Mountain wrote this poem, was he thinking about the physical phenomena?  Could he have thought that since he could not install lighting to show where he can be located, that people could find him easily through his writings?  Masters such as Venerable Master Hsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan may think otherwise.  His take on the poem is referring to the Cold Mountain inside us.  Venerable Master Hsing Yun taught that because the common person’s mind still differentiates, he cannot connect with the Cold Mountain.  Someone can ask what Cold Mountain’s stage of cultivation was.  Such differentiation like that could not experience what Cold Mountain has experienced.  The mind is like free-flowing water, but because of a single thought of attachment the water solidifies into ice, and even under the summer heat the ice cannot melt.  The sun’s rays can shed light all over, but a single thought of ignorance can be like the thick fog, even the bright sun cannot penetrate through it.  Cold Mountain’s state of mind is like the vastness of space, the layperson’s mind has limits, the stages are quite different, but if our stages are similar, melting the ice mountain of differentiation, disbursing the fog of ignorant views, then our minds can meet each other.

[1] Shan, Han. The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain. Translated by Red Pine. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2000.

[2] Professor Yeh Chia-Ying. “Lectures on Tao Yuanming’s Poems (continued).” 萬佛城金剛菩提海 Vajra Bodhi Sea. January 1, 2000. Accessed December 08, 2017. http://www.drbachinese.org/vbs/publish/356/vbs356p035.htm.

The Precept Body in My Life Part 1

I was fortunate enough to be able to receive precepts from various elders in this lifetime, but I do not let these different transmissions confuse myself in my own practice because I believe that the precepts all have common ground and do not stray too far from the root precepts.  Venerable Master Hsing Yun explained to us when we took precepts under him that the precepts are to be looked at more as a matter of respect for oneself and others’ freedom instead of a form of limitation.  The first five for example he described them as:  (1) To protect lives instead of harming lives, (2) to give instead of steal, (3) to respect one’s character/dignity instead of acting in misconduct, (4) to praise others instead of lying, and (5) to refrain from intoxicants.

When I first heard about the precepts back in the late 90s, I thought they were the same as the Ten Commandments, and thought they were a set of rules we had to live by as a Buddhist and if we defiled them we would be stripped of the label Buddhist or something to that nature.  I did not feel comfortable having that kind of mindset so I did not register for the transmission ceremony.  I was convinced later when I attended a seminar at Hsi Lai Temple, someone asked a question about precepts and the speaker described the first five like the Venerable Master did and then I decided to give it a try.  It was only a one-day ceremony and seminar I thought there was not much to lose at the time.  During the seminar the Master described the precepts again and by then I felt more and more comfortable about the precepts.  The Master gave many examples of upholding the precepts and when would it be okay to bend the precepts instead of defile them (the term defile is more like breaking the precept without turning back whatsoever).

I understood the upholding of precepts as a form of freedom more than a form of constraint because I felt it made sense to me when the Master used an example that those that are incarcerated are constrained because they did not follow the law and those outside follow the law.  That made me connect to this whole precept thing and I felt more confident to continue on with the transmission ceremony.  I feel that upholding the precept is something that I as a Buddhist do on a daily basis, but not necessarily have it as something I would stand out as an independent part of my practice.  For example, my daily practice routines include recitation, contemplation, and prostration, but instead of having the precept practice separate from the three, I sort of incorporate them into my prostration practice as a form of repentance.  Whenever I do my prostrations, as I bow my head towards the prostration stool, I would recite the repentance verse found in the Avatamsaka Sutra, “All the unwholesome karmic acts I have created in the past from beginning-less greed, anger and ignorance, all that arose from my body, speech and mind, for all these I now seek repentance (I usually read this verse in Chinese since that was what I was brought up to do this practice with).”  Another method I picked up from the Venerable Master was before doing something to ask myself, “Would the Buddha do this?”  An example would be when I was at McDonalds, after picking up my order I would go to the drinks and condiments section to get the drinks and ketchup and stuff, when it came down to the napkins, before I would just grab a big stack and stuff my bag before I head out the door, now as I reached for the napkins, I would stop for a few seconds to ask myself, “Do I really need all these napkins?”  “Would the Buddha use so many napkins for one sandwich?”  and then grab only two or three sheets and walked away.  That action of asking myself that question really helped me a lot in upholding precepts, though there were some extreme cases that made me somehow put this whole protocol aside.