Master I's Chamber in the Ta-yu Temple

by Meng Hao-jan

English version by J. P. Seaton
Original Language Chinese

I-Kung's place to practice Ch'an:
a hut in an empty grove.

Outside the door, a single pretty peak.
Before the stair, deep valleys.

Sunset confused in footprints of the rain.
Blue of the void in the shade of the court.

Look, and see the lotus blossom's purity:
know then that nothing taints this heart.

-- from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The first several lines of this poem paint for us serene, somewhat lonely images:

a meditation hut in an empty grove...
a mountain peak spied through the doorway...
stairs descending into valleys...
rain puddles reflecting the sunset...
space enclosed by a shaded court...

(By the way, isn't that a wonderful phrase, "footprints of the rain"? As if the rain -- or some spirit of the natural world -- is walking toward us in reflections upon the earth...)

Besides the peace and stillness suggested by these images, what else do you notice? These are human spaces at the edge of the natural world... but there is no human presence here.

These are all images of meditation: harmony, simplicity, nature, and no agitated ego there to stir up the dust.

That last couple of lines--

Look, and see the lotus blossom's purity:
know then that nothing taints this heart.

The purity of the lotus blossom is an important esoteric theme in the poetry of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Picture a lotus flower for a moment. The lotus rises through the murky waters of ponds and lakes yet, when it blooms, it floats upon the surface, its petals shining and untainted by the mud from which it emerged. In the scriptural language and sacred poetry of Hinduism and Buddhism, the lotus perfectly embodies the soul, rising up through the murkiness of worldly experience until it reaches the surface of the spiritual realm and blooms, vibrant and pure, free from all taint and attachment.

This is why Meng Hao-jan immediately follows his mention of the lotus blossom's purity with his reference to the untainted heart. No matter what the heart experiences, loss, sorrow, suffering, disgrace, when it truly opens, it is surprisingly untouched. So much of life wounds. Who can deny it? Yet somehow the battered heart blossoms with such beauty and love, no hint of past hurts.

This untainted opening of the heart is not an emotion, not even something one works at. This is simply what happens. With meditation or prayer, the cultivation of inner quiet and generosity and humility, the heart surprises with its unexpected budding and blossoming. Just wait and watch.


Charlottesville, White Supremecists, and the Cultural Mind

Most weeks paying attention to the news brings heartbreak for some part of the world. But I have been especially feeling the impact of the terrible actions and heightened emotions from the recent white supremecist rally in Charlottesville.

People of goodwill are rightfully horrified by the resurgence of blatant racism within the United States, but I have to say that I'm not as surprised as most. In the 1980s, when I was a teenager, I was aware, through reading materials by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, of just how intensely white supremecist groups were organizing and refashioning themselves to fit modern sensibilities. They have been playing a long-term strategy in the cultural shadows while searching for ways to move once again into the mainstream.

This racialized tendency is a deeply rooted, tenacious problem within the American cultural psyche. It requires real and sustained attention on a national level. And it needs honest explorations of our actual history beyond our cherished myths.

Partly what I'm saying is that this isn't simply a question about what individuals will do -- citizens, activists, police officers, government officials, extremists themselves -- it is just as much a moment for the culture as a whole, to see how it responds. The culture is more than the mathematical sum of individual actions and ideas. It has a sort of life of its own. Each nation, each culture has its own character and personality, seeking to perpetuate itself and justify its existence. We might even say it has a path of spiritual growth along with challenges, both external and internal, to resolve. How it handles those challenges colors its character and journey as it moves forward through history.

We might view this moment, this period in our history as highlighted by Charlottesville, as a moment of testing the national character. How do we respond as individuals and, even more importantly, how do we respond as a nation, as a culture? Do we look deeply and deal with the real sickness, or do we act shocked and then turn away?

As individuals, we influence that cultural growth through our voices, our actions, our thoughts and, most importantly, through the energy we cultivate within the heart and radiate into the world.

Sending blessings and creative inspiration to the culture as a whole, as it seeks to navigate through its spiritual challenges.

Recommended Books: Meng Hao-jan

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan

Master I's Chamber