This rare and heavenly creature

by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine
Original Language Chinese

This rare and heavenly creature
alone without peer
look and it's not there
it comes and goes but not through doors
it fits inside a square-inch
it spreads in all directions
unless you acknowledge it
you'll meet but never know

-- from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Translated by Red Pine

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I really like this verse by the great Taoist/Buddhist poet and prankster Han Shan. It is almost a riddle, a challenge to figure out what this "rare and heavenly creature" is. But the only way to solve the riddle is not through the thought process, but through the awakening process...

It is "alone without peer." It is One, whole, complete, and solitary without any "other."

"Look and it's not there." The normal act of looking requires an observer to be separate from the observed. Looking in that sense requires duality, fragmentation, and separation. In that separation, the One is lost and this "it" is lost.

"It fits inside a square-inch / it spreads in all directions." This is an acknowledgment of the holistic nature of this deep reality. It is found in the heart, in every creature, every cell, every atom -- in the tiniest of containers. Yet this "it" is everywhere, and it is not a different "it" anywhere else. It is both specific and, at the same time, all inclusive.

"Unless you acknowledge it / you'll meet but never know." This is my favorite line. When the awareness truly opens to this eternal reality, it is profoundly... familiar! There is the shocking realization that you have always known it and felt it. The quest isn't to find or "meet" this "heavenly creature," it is to finally recognize or "acknowledge" it -- already present.



Recommended Books: Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry
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