Aug 16 2017

Meng Hao-jan – Master I’s Chamber in the Ta-yu Temple

Published by at 9:09 am under Poetry

Master I’s Chamber in the Ta-yu Temple
by Meng Hao-jan

English version by J. P. Seaton

I-Kung’s place to practice Ch’an:
a hut in an empty grove.

Outside the door, a single pretty peak.
Before the stair, deep valleys.

Sunset confused in footprints of the rain.
Blue of the void in the shade of the court.

Look, and see the lotus blossom’s purity:
know then that nothing taints this heart.

— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton

/ Image by toehk /

The first several lines of this poem paint for us serene, somewhat lonely images:

a meditation hut in an empty grove…
a mountain peak spied through the doorway…
stairs descending into valleys…
rain puddles reflecting the sunset…
space enclosed by a shaded court…

(By the way, isn’t that a wonderful phrase, “footprints of the rain”? As if the rain — or some spirit of the natural world — is walking toward us in reflections upon the earth…)

Besides the peace and stillness suggested by these images, what else do you notice? These are human spaces at the edge of the natural world… but there is no human presence here.

These are all images of meditation: harmony, simplicity, nature, and no agitated ego there to stir up the dust.

That last couple of lines–

Look, and see the lotus blossom’s purity:
know then that nothing taints this heart.

The purity of the lotus blossom is an important esoteric theme in the poetry of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Picture a lotus flower for a moment. The lotus rises through the murky waters of ponds and lakes yet, when it blooms, it floats upon the surface, its petals shining and untainted by the mud from which it emerged. In the scriptural language and sacred poetry of Hinduism and Buddhism, the lotus perfectly embodies the soul, rising up through the murkiness of worldly experience until it reaches the surface of the spiritual realm and blooms, vibrant and pure, free from all taint and attachment.

This is why Meng Hao-jan immediately follows his mention of the lotus blossom’s purity with his reference to the untainted heart. No matter what the heart experiences, loss, sorrow, suffering, disgrace, when it truly opens, it is surprisingly untouched. So much of life wounds. Who can deny it? Yet somehow the battered heart blossoms with such beauty and love, no hint of past hurts.

This untainted opening of the heart is not an emotion, not even something one works at. This is simply what happens. With meditation or prayer, the cultivation of inner quiet and generosity and humility, the heart surprises with its unexpected budding and blossoming. Just wait and watch.

Recommended Books: Meng Hao-jan

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan

Meng Hao-jan

China (689 – 740) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Meng Hao-jan (also transliterated as Meng Haoran) was a celebrated poet of the Tang dynasty of China. He was also a close friend of the famous Buddhist poet, Wang Wei.

Like many of the educated classes in China, Meng Hao-jan expected to live a life working as a government official, but he failed the civil service exams. He retired to the hilly country of his native Xiangyang (Hubei province) and dedicated himself, instead, to poetry and Ch’an Buddhist practice.

His poetry explored the beauty of nature, the fleeting nature of life, occasionally spiced with political commentary and satire.

More poetry by Meng Hao-jan

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Meng Hao-jan – Master I’s Chamber in the Ta-yu Temple”

  1. Dorothy Walterson 16 Aug 2017 at 10:10 am

    Ivan, I fully agree with your response to this national crisis.
    Here is what I am going to post today:

    “Don’t let your life be governed by what disturbs you.”

    Abu al-Ala al-Ma’arri , c. 973-1058, Arab philosopher, poet, and writer.

    I think this is very sound advice, especially these days when the news is so disturbing. It is easy to get upset over current happenings and let anger and despair take over your awareness. But it is very important not to let these events dominate your life, to acknowledge what is happening, but maintain your own inner balance through your personal connection with that which sustains you best, and above all, what gives you joy.

    I try to have a “witness” awareness, to observe and not get emotionally upset to see what is unfolding. Indeed, I have concern, but do not want to let outer events drive me into depression. You can see without hate, and know without being overwhelmed by grief.

    “Think of your friends as life jackets.” And your friends include all those poets and musicians and artists who have brought inspiration and vision into our world. The Beloved is always with us, no matter what!

  2. Amardeep Singhon 16 Aug 2017 at 11:15 am

    Dear Ivan:

    “Sunset confused in footprints of the rain.
    Blue of the void in the shade of the court.”

    What a beautiful line!

    Beautiful poem and great commentary. Thanks!

    I use the imagery of a lotus now and then in my writing. I have been most impressed by the comparison of a lotus which remains clean in the mud it came from to the eternity and resilience of the soul.

    Warm regards,

  3. Annaon 18 Aug 2017 at 6:04 am

    Hi Ivan,

    I see Ta-you Temple inside of a Human Being,
    who observe inside the arise of the Temple,
    from nowhere,
    from the Emptiness,
    from the Void in the “shade of the court”,
    in the mist, not clear at first,
    flickering, flickering…so fast,
    there is a temple and there is not,
    appear and disappear…

    The lotus blossom’s purity
    from the open heart he can see enlighten the temple,
    and now he can clearly see it and hold on this vision
    for a longer time, even to manifest physically it.

    The door is a metaphor of opening the heart
    to the unknown, the valleys are his old, known beliefs,
    the stair is the steps, he have to
    climb up till to the peak and there…
    just to jump…
    to have the courage to jump up
    into the mist of the Blue Void,
    into the unknown,
    to do his Quantum Leap…

    (The energies on the Planet are so strong now,
    that if we don’t jump, they will push up us
    from the peak!)

    The old reality disappear slowly behind him
    with the confused sunset, no more observable
    in the running dry footprints of the rain…


    Thank you for the beautiful photo!
    It so appropriate,
    the poem is just expressing itself within it 🙂

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