Apr 23 2014

Hsu Yun – An Exquisite Truth

Published by at 8:11 am under Poetry

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 mrcool256 /

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 lower 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

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Hsu Yun – An Exquisite Truth”

  1. Jack Gilleson 23 Apr 2014 at 10:21 am

    Ivan, did you really hit a “home run” with your commentary on this profound writing! There are so many who can testify to this Truth. I do feel that once you arrive at this “peace” with the self and one’s situation, there is the opportunity to discover your calling and role for your life. It is not for any of us to judge what that should be for another. Every choice is part of the Journey, but I feel we all have a “tag on our toe” when we are born. It took me almost 40 years to discover my own. What is interesting is that I loved what I was doing at the time, but I was being drawn to a life of service and it took real courage to make the life decision to act on it. And there is a price, or cost, to such a decision and I paid the price. But like Kazenzakis states in his magnificent work “The Saviors of God”, you prepare until you hear the Cry, then you must choose and act. I hope you have read this, you will feel a strong kinship to his description of the Journey. Thanks for your continued witnesses. I haven’t forgotten that I owe you some money and will send it.

  2. Erinon 23 Apr 2014 at 11:21 am

    Moved by your personal life journey reflections on this poem! “Profound self-acceptance” is what resonates with me. I am still searching though how to be in this culture while being detached from it.

  3. Joyce Stahmannon 23 Apr 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Really lovely, Ivan–the illustration you used of your own life. I have had to learn a lot of humility, which I didn’t have to begin with.

  4. marrobon 23 Apr 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks Ivan. Your personal journey is perhaps the best commentary on the
    simply profound truth of self-acceptance. It takes courage too, to hold up
    a mirror where others can glimpse their own journeys….and smile a little.

    After years of travelling and walking through ‘enchanted ‘ forests and charmed
    by ‘exotic’ people, places, ideas etc. it is good, very good, to ‘wiggle into’
    Reminds me of Eliot’s line ” ….and the end of all our travels……”
    To be at home in oneself is truly a grace.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Davidon 24 Apr 2014 at 10:15 am

    just curious…how significant was Chronic Fatigue Immunology Disorder in your “finding yourself” amidst all the “distractions”?

    by the way, I find your commentary to almost always be really valuable and telling as to the person you are P.S. as an “early stage” Buddhist, how have Buddhist teachings played into your understanding of this poem and therefore your commentary?

  6. Ivan M. Grangeron 24 Apr 2014 at 12:57 pm

    David –

    Good questions. As to the role of chronic fatigue in my process, I wasn’t aware that I was dealing with it in those days. I was definitely struggling through the energetic crashes and rebounds, but I didn’t have a label for it. And perhaps that lack of a definition for what I was going through acted as a prod to me. Not only could I not follow the more typical career path that many of my friends did, I couldn’t see the point. Since life for me was already exhausting, I figured it had better be for a deeper purpose. So, in hindsight, I would say it was actually very important to me, my values, and my motivation.

    As to Buddhism… I certainly was deeply influenced by many central Buddhist concepts and Buddhist iconography, but at the time I also kept a certain distance. The expressions of Buddhism I knew best at that time were rather intellectual and austere, qualities I already had in overabundance. What I knew of Buddhism seemed rather gray and uninspiring to me then. It wasn’t until after I started to “find myself” and really experience blissful opening that I began to more deeply appreciate Buddhism. It was only then that I felt more of a spontaneous kinship to what Buddhism was trying to communicate, not so much a set of doctrines and esoteric technicalities, but living descriptions of beautiful states of awareness. For me, Buddhism came alive in the heart and not the head.



  7. Davidon 24 Apr 2014 at 10:16 am

    I mean, I’m an “early stage” Buddhist, not to imply that you are

  8. George Readingon 26 Apr 2014 at 4:43 pm

    After Chaikhana, the mountain colors intensify.

    Indeed, your personal thoughts on your poetic selections are often as profound for me as the poems you are quoting. They are invitations to pause in my journey, to contemplate . . and to realize that we are all part of a larger of ocean of thought and wonder which has tried to capture the deeper meanings of life itself over so many ions (and perhaps incarnations).

    There is music for me in poetry, especially in its utter simplicity. I can find deeper evocations, sweeter nectar. And it is a reminder of the joys of mindfulness.

    I am grateful for your thoughtful and inspiring contemplations.
    It adds not only context but a welcome intimacy.

  9. aparna (sonam)on 30 Apr 2014 at 5:02 am

    Dear Ivan,

    This, today really speaks to me…….REALLY,….. as always!
    “We all have that same steady glow within us. A saint is simply someone who doesn’t damp it down….”

    that same steady glow……within…. within me…….. mmmm!!!

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