Two Classic Zen Poems

Han-shan and Ryokan

Han-shan

Chinese Buddhist hermit who lived on Mount Han-shan (Cold Mountain) around the middle of the 7th century

I came once to sit on Cold Mountain
And lingered here for thirty years.
Yesterday I went to see relatives and friends;
Over half had gone to the Yellow Springs.
Bit by bit life fades like a guttering lamp,
Passes on like a river that never rests.
This morning I face my lonely shadow
And before I know it tears stream down.

Today I sat before the cliff,

Sat a long time till mists had cleared.

A single thread, the clear stream runs cold;

A thousand yards the green peaks lift their heads.
White clouds—the morning light is still;
Moonrise—the lamp of night drifts upward;
Body free from dust and stain,

What cares could trouble my mind?


The clear water sparkles like crystal,
You can see through it easily, right to the bottom.
My mind is free from every thought,
Nothing in the myriad realms can move it.
Since it cannot be wantonly roused,
Forever and forever it will stay unchanged.
When you have learned to know in this way
You will know there is no inside or out!


From Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the Tang Poet Han-shan, translated by Burton Watson, reprinted with permission from Columbia University Press.


Ryokan

Japanese Zen master and poet (c. 1758—1831)

At Entsu-ji so long ago—

How many times has winter given way to spring?
Beyond the gate a thousand homes,

Yet not a single acquaintance.

When my robe was soiled, I washed it;

If food ran out, we begged in the town.

I pored over the lives of eminent priests
And came to understand their praise of holy poverty.

Thinking back, I recall my days at Entsu-ji
And the solitary struggle to find the Way
Carrying firewood reminded me of Layman Ho;
When I polished rice, the Sixth Patriarch came to mind.
I was always first in line to receive the Master's teaching,
And never missed an hour of meditation.
Thirty years have flown by Since I left the green hills and blue sea of that 
lovely place.

What has become of all my fellow disciples?
And how can I forget the kindness of my beloved teacher?

The tears flow on and on, blending with the swirling mountain stream.


Excerpted from Three Zen Masters: Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan by John Stevens, reprinted with permission from Kodansha International.

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