Green Koans Case 30: Hsu-Yu Refuses the Emperor

Clark Strand

Mountains

Case 30: Hsu-Yu Refuses the Emperor

Confucius praised Yao as the wisest of men because he chose the hermit Hsu-yu as his successor. But Hsu-yu refused the privilege, saying, “Even in a deep forest, the wren uses only one branch for his nest. Even beside a river, the tapir drinks only enough to fill his belly.”

BACKGROUND:
Yao
    An early Chinese emperor, thought to have lived around 2,300 B.C.E. When Hsu-yu refused Yao’s offer, Yao found another hermit, Shun, to succeed him.
Hsu-yu    Hermits have lived in remote regions of China—particularly the Zhongnan Mountains—for at least 5,000 years. In the early days, they served as shamans. Later, they became Taoist or Buddhist monks and nuns. Legend tells us that, following the Emperor Yao’s offer, Hsu-yu washed out his ears in a nearby stream.
Wren…tapir    The wren can use no more than one branch in making his nest. The tapir’s belly can hold no more water than it needs. The meaning is rhetorical: What would Hsu-yu want with a kingdom?
NOTE: The story of Yao and Hsu-yu can be found in Bill Porter’s fine book Road To Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits.

COMMENTARY:
If there is one word that characterizes human activity over the past 5,000 years, it is excess. Civilization began with excess food…which led to excess people…which led to that critical mass of excesses that, collectively, we call culture. The power of that culture is so great it convinces us that excess, rather than living, is the point.

This realization drove the first hermits into the Zhongnan Mountains of China. It’s what drove the Desert Fathers into Egypt and what drives many people to live “off the grid” today. The more we have, the more we want. Where will all this lead? Indeed, where will all this lead?

VERSE:
To get to the top
Of Cold Mountain, all you need
Is a walking stick.
Just make sure and don’t buy it
From a camping catalogue.

 

Read all the Green Koans

Image: whitecat singapore

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