Here's a message for the faithful

by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine
Original Language Chinese

Here's a message for the faithful
what is it that you cherish
to find the Way to see your nature
your nature is naturally so
what Heaven bestows is perfect
looking for proof leads you astray
leaving the trunk to search among the twigs
all you get is stupid

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

<<Previous Poem | More Poems by Han-shan (Cold Mountain) | Next Poem >>

/ Image by /

View All Poems by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

(I go back and forth about this particular translation. I like the stinging irreverence of the final line, but the translation is so blunt that it falls like a brick. Maybe we need that linguistic thud to really catch our attention. But there's a part of me that wants to rework the final line. A slap to the face should be done with a hidden, but elegant flourish!)


Even the most sincere of spiritual traditions and practices have a tendency to exhort the seeker to reach outward, to, in effect, seek what is not already there. This is almost inherent in the notion of being a spiritual "seeker" -- to seek, you must be looking for something you don't already have.

Han-shan is reminding us of the essentially non-dual nature of our existence. We are not seeking some sense of God or enlightenment that is "out there" somewhere. We are seeking ourselves, our Self, the eternal spark that is the core of our own nature. We are seeking what we truly are.

As Han-shan says, our "nature is naturally so." We do not need to impose elaborate spiritual concepts upon our perception of ourselves and reality in order to truly see. We must do the opposite, remove all artificial concepts and simply witness what we truly are in stillness. We are naturally of the eternal nature we are. Indeed, "what Heaven bestows is perfect."

Excessive striving and turning the awareness outward -- even when seeking that which is sacred -- makes it that much more difficult to bring the awareness to rest within (the "trunk" to search among the outlying "twigs"). Thus, Han-shan reminds us that "looking for proof leads you astray." In other words, we must stop looking for an objectified, externalized sense of God or the Buddha nature or of ourselves and, instead, discover who is doing the looking through us -- that is when we find God, the Buddha nature, our very Self!

I admit it, I'm a tree-hugger... er, tree TRUNK hugger. (I think there's quite enough stupid out there already...)

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 >>

Here's a message