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Taken from www.dailyzen.com

Mountain Poems
(A Selection)

By Shih-wu (1272-1352)

Here in the woods I have lots of free time. When I don't spend it sleeping, I enjoy composing chants. But with paper and ink so scarce, I haven't thought about writing them down. Now some Zen monks have asked me to record what I find of interest on this mountain. I've sat here quietly and let my brush fly. Suddenly this volume is full. I close it and send it back down with the admonition not to try singing these poems. Only if you sit on them will they do you any good.

Forty-some years I've
Lived in the mountains,
Ignorant of the world's
Rise and fall.
Warmed at night by a stove
Full of pine needles;
Satisfied at noon by a bowl
Of wild plants;
Sitting on rocks
Watching clouds and empty thoughts;
Patching my robe in sunlight;
Practicing silence
Till someone asks
Why Bodhidharma came east,
And I hang out my wash.


I live far off in the wild
Where moss and woods are thick and plants perfumed.
I can see mountains rain or shine
And never hear market noise.
I light a few leaves in my stove to heat tea.
To patch my robe I cut off a cloud.
Lifetimes seldom fill a hundred years.
Why suffer for profit and fame?


This body's existence is like a bubble's
may as well accept what happens
events and hopes seldom agree
but who can step back doesn't worry
we blossom and fade like flowers
gather and part like clouds
worldly thoughts I forgot long ago
relaxing all day on a peak.


My Ch'an hut leans at the summit
Clouds sail back and forth
A waterfall hangs in front
A mountain ridge crests in back
On a rock wall I sketched three buddhas
For incense there's plum branch in a jar
The fields below might be level
But can't match a mountain home free of dust.


I searched creation without success
Then by chance found this forested ridge
My thatch hut cuts through heaven's blue
A moss-slick trail through dense bamboo
Others are moved by profit and fame
I grow old living for Ch'an
Pine trees and strange rocks remain unknown
To those who look for mind with mind


You're bound to become a buddha if you practice
If water drips long enough even rocks wear through
It's not true thick skulls can't be pierced
People just imagine their minds are hard.


Standing outside my pointed-roof hut
Who'd guess how spacious it is inside
A galaxy of worlds is there
With room to spare for a zazen cushion.


Becoming a buddha is easy
But ending illusions is hard
So many frosted moonlit nights
I’ve sat and felt
The cold before dawn.

Shih-wu is almost unknown today. At forty, rather than accepting a temple appointment, he headed into the mountains continuing his life as a hermit. Shih-wu packed his verses with practice pointers and encouragements, allusions to sutras and Ch'an stories. The poems above were written in the fourteen years before his death. Two anthologies of his work were published – his Mountain Poems and a collection of gathas. These have barely kept his name alive in Chinese poetry and his reputation as a Ch'an master has faded even more. Simplicity, naturalness and ease resound through the writing.