Three poems by Han-Shan

I was reading the chapter devoted to the poet Han-Shan in The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader this morning, and I wanted to share just a few of the wonderful poems collected there (Han-Shan’s name literally means “Cold Mountain,” referring to a remote, craggy spot in the T’ien-t’ai range of eastern China, where this legendary poet is said to have lived the life of a hermit, sometime during the T’ang Dynasty, i.e. early 7th to early 10th centuries):

1. I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
the road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones
the streams broad and banked with thick grass.
Moss is slippery, though no rain has fallen;
pines sigh, but it isn't the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
and sit with me among the white clouds?
3. As for me, I delight in the everyday Way
among mist-wrapped vines and rocky caves.
Here in the wilderness I'm completely free,
with my friends, the white clouds, idling forever.
There are roads but they do not reach the world.
Since I'm mindless, who can rouse my thoughts?
On a bed of stone I sit, alone in the night,
while the round moon climbs up Cold Mountain.

Line 1: “The everyday Way” is a reference perhaps to the words attributed to the Zen Master Ma-tsu Tao-i (709-788): “The everyday mind–that is the Way.”

Line 6: “Mindless” (wu-hsin) is a Buddhist term indicating the state in which all ordinary processes of discriminatory thinking have been stilled. An alternative translation would be, “Since I have no-mind….” In this reading, Han-shan refers not to a quiet condition of mind but to the original emptiness of our common nature.

8. Chattering about food won't fill your belly,
Blabbing about clothes won't stop the cold.
To fill you up, only food will do.
Putting on clothes--that keeps out winter.
But misunderstanding, you mull things over,
always saying, "Seeking the Buddha's too hard!"
Turn your mind back--that's the Buddha!
Don't swivel your eyes around outside.