Thursday, July 18, 2019

A tale of two monks

Jan 15. 2019
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A further note on the Ch’an Buddhist hermit renunciates, Hanshan and Shih Te, might offer a refreshing change for readers.

Yingwai Suchaovanich offers the following as a recorded conversation between the two “crazy wise” monks: Hanshan asked: “If there is someone in the world who blames me, bullies me, insults me, laughs at me, despises me, yells at me, hates me, deceives me, what should I do?”

Shih Te replied: “Only endure him, be humble towards him, let him have his way, avoid him, be patient with him, respect him, ignore him, and, after a few years, visit him.”

Unfortunately this purported conversation could not have, in my opinion, been between these revered practitioners, as it clearly is a behavioural prescription taken directly from conventional Taoist thought. Buddhism does not prescribe behaviours based upon circumstances and Hanshan wrote exquisitely transcendent poems consistent with the crazy wisdom tradition, renowned for producing spiritual eccentrics the world over (see the “Life of St Seraphim of Sarov” or “The Divine Madman, The Life of Drukpa Kunley”, from the Christian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions respectively).

Secondly there are no historical records of conversations between them; all that is extant are poems carved into rocks supposedly collected by the sympathetic Tang official Luqiu Yin.

What we do have, however, in the “Cold Mountain” poems is a tremendously inspiring and free exposition of true wisdom from which everyone can draw courage in the journey toward spiritual freedom.

“On my feet are travelling shoes, my hand holds an old vine staff. Again I gaze beyond the dusty world – what more could I want in that land of dreams?”

Michael Setter

Bang Saray

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