Children I implore you

by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine (Bill Porter)
Original Language Chinese

Children I implore you
get out of the burning house now
three carts wait outside
to save you from a homeless life
relax in the village square
before the sky everything's empty
no direction is better or worse
east is just as good as west
those who know the meaning of this
are free to go where they want

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The image of the burning house and the three carts is a reference to a parable from the Lotus Sutra. The fire represents the Buddhist recognition that nothing is fixed or truly solid. The present instant is always, eternally dissolving away, consumed before our eyes by its own transient nature. But we must be careful not to get ourselves trapped in that dissolution of matter and become lost ourselves. So we are given three carts, three possible means of escape:

The first cart is the deer-cart. The deer, being a pure and peaceful animal of the wild, represents the Buddhist arhat who escapes through freedom from passion.

The second cart is a goat-cart. The goat voraciously works for himself, representing the determined escape of self-enlightenment.

The third cart is an ox-cart. The ox, being patient and steady, willing to pull a heavy yoke, represents the bodhisattva who discovers complete freedom through enlightened service to all beings.

When we finally leave the "house" of material consciousness, we begin to recognize that "home" is actually something else. Home is the pure rest of Buddha awareness. In this original mind, we come to ourselves, we know ourselves, and so we are home. For this reason, choosing one of these three carts will "save you from a homeless life."

The "village square" can be understood as the space within the heart. It is the central meeting point of settled awareness.

"Before the sky everything's empty..." The sky, the open sky, is purified mind. When perceived with a settled and purified mind, reality is seen as empty. This is not a bleak realization, however. It is the recognition that all form, beneath the surface is fundamentally formless. Beneath the apparent solidity of manifest reality is a quiet, living flow that cannot be grasped or stopped, but it can be witnessed and participated in. When we truly relax, we too disappear into that spacious current.

Seeing this, "no direction is better or worse..." When our awareness fixates on the world of form, we tend to label certain objects/events/locations as 'good' and others as 'bad.' But, in the deeper awareness of pure witnessing, everything is filled with the same beautiful spaciousness, "east is just as good as west." The tug of desire and aversion eases, the tendency to artificially label surface reality lessens.

Those who know the meaning of this
are free to go where they want.

Recommended Books: Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) 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
More Books >>

Children I implore