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.

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