In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
Have ambition and ego ruined my life?
Where have my easy days gone?
If only I had a monk friend to wander off
into the mountains to visit. If only I were
so idle I had time to visit him. If only we
could while away the day drinking tea,
playing flutes, and talking. If only, as the
moon rose, my friend could point the way
home through the dark mountains with
the night sky’s lantern to light the way.
If only I were happy with only that.
As Ryokan once said:
I was away in the calm
of a mountain retreat
Now look at me!
I’ve spent all night listening to wild,
ecstatic jazz, this sacred Black music.
It’s four in the morning, and here I am
at the Odessa on Avenue A and 8th Street,
eating potato pancakes and applesauce
and talking and laughing with friends.
Walking down the street now
with morning dawning over Brooklyn,
I sing praises to the gods
for this, my fortunate life.
That gorgeous young woman I saw on the subway
last night, the one with the round, erect breasts
and sweet, delicate arms and high, fine ass and oh!
those hips, those sleek legs and thin ankles, those eyes,
those lips, that smile, the way her hair fell away from
her graceful neck so gracefully . . .
Han Shan says in thirty years that beautiful young
woman will look like chewed sugar cane. He says
in thirty years she’ll look like me. Yes, Han Shan, yes.
But who cares? It’s now. Now. Just look at her now!
As Ryokan said,
Truly I love this life of seclusion.
Then why do I pine away
for a visit from friends?
when they do come,
why is it that all I can think about
is how to get away,
back into the woods, back to my life
Han Shan says, Perched in these green mountains,
letting my hair grow white, pleased with the years gone by,
happy with today.
Imagine such contentment and happiness.
Yet I know that on Cold Mountain tomorrow always brought
something else as well, for Han Shan also said,
If you hide yourself away in the thickest woods,
how will your wisdom’s light shine through?
A bag of bones is not a sturdy vessel.
Back and forth, back and forth.
That’s the way it goes.
Happy and content one day,
ambition and desire eat you alive the next.
It’s always been this way. Back and forth,
back and forth. That’s the way it goes.
Chia Tao says
drives out thoughts
of fame and fortune.
Chia Tao says
stills the ego-mad mind.
I walk and walk,
but it doesn’t do any good.
My ego-mad mind
dreams on and on.
To wit: this poem,
which came to me
Ryokan says: With what
can I compare this life?
Weeds floating on water.
And there you are with your
dreams of immortality
pretty pompous —
don’t you think — for a
weed floating on water?
The weather is horrible here on Judevine Mountain.
It’s dark and cold all winter. Every day, rain and snow
beat on your head, and the sun never shines. Then
it’s spring and more rain, and ice and mud too. And
after that, the black flies eat you alive, and then the
deerflies, and then the mosquitoes, and then it’s fall
before you even noticed it was summer. Then there
might be a couple of weeks of decent weather and
then it starts to rain and snow again. It’s just awful
living here. I don’t think you’d like it here at all.
You’d better find your own miserable place to live.