Sunday, June 10, 2012

Han Shan: a poem

Han Shan, which, I"m told, means Cold Mountain, was one of the numerous hermit/monk/poets who flourished during the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries.  As far as I can tell, his real name is unknown for he took the name of the mountain, Cold Mountain, on which was located the cave he lived in.  According to tradition, most of his poems were found on the walls of his cave, nearby trees, and rock faces after his death.

This is one of them:

No. 4
Looking for a refuge
Cold Mountain will keep you safe
a faint wind stirs dark pines
come closer the sound gets better
below them sits a gray-haired man
chanting Taoist texts
ten years unable to return
he forgot the way he came

-- Han Shan/Cold Mountain --
from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain 
translated by Red Pine

The note to this poem:  "The recitation of sacred writings, such as Lao-Tzu's Taoteching, and the chanting of incantations are among the techniques used by Taoists in their quest to transcend the mortal state."
Perhaps that is why he forgot the way he came.

I think it is written in The New Testament somewhere that a man asked Christ what should he do to be saved.  Christ said he should give up everything, including his family and possessions, and follow him.  IN the past, religious traditions in various cultures seemed to agree that to achieve enlightenment or salvation, one must put aside the things of this world.  I wonder if that belief is still held today.

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