Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone

by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine
Original Language Chinese

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all
precious heavenly priceless jewel
buried in the skandhas submerged in the body

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Cold Mountain is Han-Shan's name (translated into English) as well as the place he lived. So when he says "Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone" it has a double meaning: He could be describing a moment in nature being observed, but he is also saying that the moon is shining above himself.

The moon, especially the full moon, has a specific metaphoric meaning in the sacred poetry of Asia. It represents the fully awakened awareness, Buddha-mind. He is declaring the awareness of enlightenment. This is made doubly clear in the final lines where he says that this "heavenly... jewel" is "submerged in the body." That is, his real subject is the "moon" of enlightenment found within.

To say that the moon "shines alone" is the recognition that there is nothing other than that enlightenment. This is a nondualist statement, understood to be saying there is only Buddha-mind and no second, no 'other.'

I especially like the second line: "in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all." The sky is his mind, the thinking mind. When it is clear, the mind is free from thoughts, conceptualization. The mind is no longer trying to force reality into mental forms and instead it finally sees reality unfiltered. But, in that clear sky, the moon, enlightenment, "illuminates nothing at all." The moon that shines down on him, Han-Shan, shines on nothing. In that moment of pure illumination, he recognizes the nonexistence of himself. There is only the moon, quietly, blissfully shining...

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
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Above Cold Mountain