Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cold Mountain Hermit

Today I am at home with my son, who caught the flu and has made the bathroom his home for the afternoon. The Nebraska Zen Center newsletter came in the mail and had a nice article on Han Shan, an eccentric Chinese poet of the 9th Century.

His real name is not known. Han Shan is his pen-name and means 'Cold Mountain." His life story is full of eccentric behavior and wonderful poetry, much of which, unfortunately, has been lost. He supposedly would visit local temples and perform odd jobs, but mostly poke fun at the piety of the monks. He was a rascal. I like eccentric, radical rascals because they keep us fresh and don't live out of well-worn mind-ruts.

Han Shan often wrote of his life in the mountains...

"My true home is Cold Mountain
perched among cliffs beyond the reach of trouble ...

The Tientiei Mountains are my home
mist-shrouded cloud paths keep guests away
thousand-meter cliffs make hiding easy
above a rocky ledge among ten thousand streams
with bark hat and wooden clogs I walk along the banks
with hemp robe and pigweed staff I walk around the peaks
once you see through transience and illusion
the joys of roaming free are wonderful indeed."

His life was harsh at times as well and you can feel his struggles as he writes about what little he had living in the mountains.

"A trifle poor in the past
today I am completely poor
whatever I do does not work out
every road is a treadmill
my legs quake in the mud
my stomach aches on festival days ..."
Yet, over time he wrote of the beauty of inner freedom.

"Cold Mountain is nothing but clouds secluded and free of dust
a hermit owns a cushion of straw
the moon is his lone lamp
his bed of stone overlooks a pool
his neighbors are tigers and deer
preferring the joys of solitude he remains as a man beyond form."

So, what does he have to with the Martial Arts? Nothing much in terms of punch, kick or throw. What he does do is point us in the way of ceasing the struggle within ourselves. He is teaching us through his life the freedom of spirit...the freedom of Emptiness.

I also just like his poetry. Poetry is painting with words. Nonin is a former English instructor and valued poetry in his teachings to us. He often used the poetry of Walt Whitman rather than traditional Zen stories.

Poetry is a wonderful way of expressing the seemingly unexpressable. It is worthwhile for all Martial Artists to read poetry. Many of the old Masters, like Miyamoto Musashi, were poets and artists. We should carry on this tradition as well and consider it as important as doing Kata or Kumite.

Hands palm to palm.

1 comment:

  1. Puerto Rico has more than its fair share of poets per square foot and thus some would spill over onto a dojo, among artist of every persuasion. A few of my poet friends would liken the kata structure to a poem, form and movement, and I suppose maybe it is this that keeps me doing kata. Thus, I know what you mean.

    Good analogy.