In the sandalwood forest, there is no other tree (from The Shodoka)by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku
English version by Robert Aitken
Original Language Chinese
In the sandalwood forest, there is no other tree.
Only the lion lives in such deep luxuriant woods,
Wandering freely in a state of peace.
Other animals and birds stay far away.
/ Photo by cheetah100 /
This poem paints a fascinating picture for us, but the insight it conveys may not at first be apparent...
In more theistic religious traditions, the lion here would be understood to be God. But since the Shodoka is written within the Zen/Chan Buddhist tradition, we can understand the lion as fully awakened awareness...
Let's back up for a moment. What is really going on here? We have a sandalwood forest with no other trees, and a lion with no other animals.
The sandalwood is an aromatic tree, the source of perfumes and incense. A sandalwood forest is a heavenly place, wild, filled with the meditative scents associated with temples and monasteries. No other trees exist in this forest. The sandalwood claims the territory exclusively for itself. In this heavenly realm, no disruptions find a foothold in the awareness.
The lion, is the master of this wild, pure place. He is an embodiment of the solar presence, bright, kingly, his radiance never waning. He wanders about in free majesty, enjoying the peace of his realm. No other animals, that is, no lesser sense of identity or ego is safe in his presence. The lion in this poem is solitary, the sole ruler of this forest -- all sense of duality and multiplicity falls away in his singular presence.