Jul 01 2011

Hsu Yun – This is an exquisite truth

Published by at 9:00 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

This is an exquisite truth:
by Hsu Yun

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.
Inquiring about a difference
Is like asking to borrow string
when you’ve got a good strong rope.
Every Dharma is known in the heart.
After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.
Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.

/ Photo by paul simpson /

I like what that opening statement says:

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.

Whether we’re talking about inspired reformers or shining examples of enlightenment, our instinct is to elevate great souls as unique phenomena. We assume they are somehow other than us. But the liberating truth is that saints are the same as everyone else. The only difference, if we want to call it a difference, is that they don’t cover up their nature as most of us have learned to do. We all have that same steady glow within us. A saint is simply someone who doesn’t damp it down.

Understood this way, the spiritual journey is not one of crushing effort to acquire virtues, to build wisdom, to learn love. We already have all that in abundance. The only work necessary is to let go of the assumptions that keep our true nature hidden.

Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.

I think these are the lines I respond to the most. I don’t know about you, but I spent so much of my life as a teenager and young adult feeling disappointed with where I found myself in the world. I wanted something profound, adventurous, bursting with meaning. Instead, I had a very ordinary middle class American upbringing. I sabotaged my college education and decided to search for something deeper. Most of that search was a painful flailing about, but it did bring me adventures, both internal and external. I lived on Maui for several years, I lived at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had friends in wheelchairs, friends with wealth. I’ve known hippies and bikers and techies and farmers.

While all of that makes for good stories, that ache for something extraordinary just fell away the moment I first settled into a sense of spiritual opening. With that dawning of peace, I also found rest… and a profound sense of self-acceptance. It wasn’t that I had somehow changed into someone new and extraordinary. Instead, I felt profoundly myself for the first time, profoundly my ordinary self. And I can’t describe how serenely blissful that recognition of ordinariness is. I no longer felt the constant need to struggle to attain the extraordinary; the simple, the plain stood revealed as a stunning work of art filling every day.

These lines by Hsu Yun about “fate’s illusions” remind me of how I spent the first three decades of my life struggling against my circumstances to find a fate with meaning, only to discover that the struggle was unnecessary. All I had to do was open my eyes. In every corner of the world, in every life, big and small, the entire mystery of life and death can be found.

After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.

Hsu Yun, Hsu Yun poetry, Buddhist poetry Hsu Yun

China (1839 – 1959) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

The Venerable Master Hsu Yun was born in 1839 or 1840 in the Guanzhou region of China.

When he was 13, Hsu Yun declared that he wanted to join a Buddhist monastery, but his father refused to allow it. He eventually went against his father’s wishes and became an ordained monk at age 20, in 1859.

He had a naturally ascetic temperament and often refused even the minimal food of a monk. He later went on a three year solitary retreat into the forest where he sustained himself primarily on wild greens and pure stream water.

Hsu Yun traveled quite a bit in his life, teaching in many parts of China and Southeast Asia. He is credited by many with revitalizing Buddhist practice throughout much of the region, which was showing signs of degeneration and decline in the period leading up to and following the communist revolution.

Although he attained immense respect, Hsu Yun remained supremely humble and simple in his lifestyle. He chose to live the final years of his long life quietly in his monastery’s cow shed.

More poetry by Hsu Yun

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Hsu Yun – This is an exquisite truth”

  1. nasihaon 01 Jul 2011 at 10:28 pm

    hello Ivan,
    beautiful! these few lines will bring joy to my heart through out the day and i shall remember the last two lines and keep them close warm in heart.
    thank you

  2. Prition 02 Jul 2011 at 2:10 am

    Dear Ivan
    Today of all days your commentry has greatly comforted me and I feel a great urge to relax into what surrounds me.
    Thank you for being and doing what you do. The great ordinariness of life awaits.

    I so remember making a poster to stick on my office wall some 15 or so years ago…. which said – “Accept the challenge of the mundane!”
    For, I too was like you, seeking the extraordinary and heroic and not being able to see the beauty before my very eyes.
    For then I had Eyes wide shut!!

    Lat me sink into the ordinariness of myself and others, today and every day.

  3. Yewtreeon 03 Jul 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    Your story resonates with me too – I had a yearning for adventure and then found that if you strive after it, it doesn’t come, but if you relax and let things happen, adventures come our way anyway. I think the relaxing into ordinariness is, in part, relaxing into your own skin.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Kathyon 05 Jul 2011 at 10:56 am

    Thank you Ivan,
    This was exactly what I needed to read today,
    both the poem and your insight into it.

  5. Janeton 07 Jul 2011 at 2:14 am

    Thank you Ivan you have made my day (again!). Your commentary was so comforting and a clear reminder of moments that I have found but cannot hold onto. I will pin these words to my heart. You are a really special person.

  6. Virginia DemErson 07 Jul 2011 at 8:32 am

    That is a lovely poem and a very profound thought. I like Yewtree’s comment, too: “relaxing into ordinariness.” I hope I get there–or realize I am there–but it’s rained so much here lately, it’s just nice to be reminded how green everything becomes and to look again at the tree bark–so damp and dark.


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