The birds have vanished into the sky

by Li Bai

English version by Sam Hamill
Original Language Chinese

The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

-- from Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry, Translated by Sam Hamill

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

We can read a lot into this poem, or very little. This can be a perfect quiet moment in nature, and that is enough. Yet, we can also see in this poem a precise meditation on mind witnessing the Tao.

One way to read Li Po's poem is that the birds are like chattering thoughts. They represent the movement within the mind. But thoughts can soar so high, reach such elevated levels, that they vanish in the sky of mind.

The last of the clouds might be understood as the final obstructions of awareness, limiting the perception of the untainted vast sky-mind. And, with the birds, clouds too “drift into emptiness.”

(Yet, even when clouds are thick and heavy, even when birds flit about in their busyness, the sky itself, original mind, contains it all and remains pure and untainted beyond the obstructions.)

The mountain is that which is eternal, fixed, both rooted in the earth and touching the heavens. Watching this "mountain" of eternal presence long enough, in deep stillness we discover that whatever “I” may be is nowhere to be seen. Everything we reflexively call "me" was never really there in the first place, and "only the mountain remains." The "mountain" is finally recognized as our true self, the only Self, eternal. Effortlessly, we bridge heaven and earth by our very nature. And only That remains.

OR --

You can ignore all of that, and just step into the landscape.



Recommended Books: Li Bai

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry Li Pai: 200 Selected Poems A Feast of Lanterns
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