Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Harold Stewart

Autumn Landscape Roll
A Divine Panorama

Personages Represented
Cantos 5 to 8
Cantos 9 to 12
Cantos 13 to 16
Cantos 17 to 20
Cantos 21 to 24
Cantos 25 to 28
Cantos 29 to 32

[ Synopsis and Introduction ]



When the Celestial Empire's destined hour
Rose to its zenith blaze of wealth and power,
His Most Illustrious Majesty, Ming Huang,
Sixth in the ruling dynasty of T'ang,
(Whose line discounts the usurping Empress Wu)
Mounted the Dragon Throne. To mark his true
Accession, so sagacious legends tell,
A wheel with sixteen spokes of royal gold
From out of Heaven's blue rotunda fell
To Earth, and round the Middle Kingdom rolled
As solar mandate for that monarch who
Would shower his fortune's lavish patronage
On all the arts, by whose renown his reign
Lives as the brightest sunburst in an age
Of setting splendours, never seen again.

There lived in Ch'ang an at the imperial court
Two painters, rivals in their art, by name
Wu Tao yüan and Li Ssu-hsün, who sought
Their ruler's praise, to rank preeminent
In his regard and gain perennial fame
Throughout his realm by their accomplishment.

The first, Wu Tao tzü, had been humbly born
In northern Honan province, near Lo Yang,
Second and older capital of T'ang,
But orphaned while a boy and left forlorn
In poverty to make his way alone.
Yet Wu was destined not to paint unknown,
For hardly had this gifted youth put on
The cap of manhood than his spirit shone
Through works that his prolific brush outpoured
To flood his studio and fill the sight
Of rich collectors with amazed delight.

When, aired by their unanimous accord,
Praise of his lofty promise flew abroad,
The Son of Heaven, to verify report,
Summoned the rare new prodigy to court,
And marvelled so at his transcendent skill,
That he appointed Wu by sovereign will
Instructor at the Palace. There Prince Ning,
The Emperor's brother, took beneath his wing
This fledgling phoenix, favoured by the throne
To paint at Ming Huang ti's command alone.
Pleasing that connoisseur of cultured parts,
Whose taste was arbiter in all the arts,
Wu soon received promotion, for his
Lord Made him Imperial Painter as reward.

But Wu was numbered, too, among the Eight
Immortals of the Wine Cup, who would fête
The free informal life, and could consort
With Li T'ai-po, archpoet at the court,
Whose inspiration only reached divine
Altitudes soaring on the wings of wine.

Wu was invited once to decorate
With murals Hsing shan Temple's middle gate,
So Ch'ang-an's populace, both young and old,
Highborn or low, as one eye witness told,
Turned out to watch him paint with fabled skill
Bodhisattvas with floating draperies
Of gossamer on an otherworldly breeze.
His free hand swept with such a whirlwind rush
They wondered if a god possessed his brush,
Not wielded at his own but Heaven's will,
Whereby a single stroke of gold could paint
A perfect halo round a Buddhist saint,
Repeating rings as evenly controlled
Till every Lohan's head was aureoled.

But all his Buddhas with supernal smile,
Drawn in so nobly dignified a style
That from them shone a beatific light,
Dazzled the devotee's enraptured sight.

A Taoist priest,who had rebuilt his shrine,
Inquired if Master Wu would next design
New frescoes for his hall in wash and line,
Because he could portray with equal ease
Demoniac or serene divinities,
Ancient hermits and fairy personages,
Or alchemists transfigured into sages
After they took the gold immortal pill.
Wu first invoked his genius from the air
To aid his art by thaumaturgic skill,
Then set to work at once with innate flair
And sketched a pair of dragons, which to mate
Their light and darkness would cooperate
By opposition in a cyclic chase,
And take by counterchange each other's place.
Quick as a dragon startled out of sleep,
Lighter than clouds uncoiling from a steep,
Wu's brush could imitate their contrary motion,
When with lightning's silver horns they gored
A thunderstorm where it obliquely poured
Smudges of rain into the surging ocean.

So while he worked a captivated crowd
Stood round him in a wall to see the lithe
Reptilian armour, glistening scale on scale
In sinuous ripples, seem to worm and writhe
Through swirls of vapour from the hovering cloud
Which, if it rained, the picture would exhale.
But once he dotted in those golden eyes
With ink, the viewers, gasping their surprise,
Beheld the dragons with a clangorous roar
Leap from the white astonished wall and soar
Suddenly skyward, while their live escape
Left the spectators, far below, agape!

Even the Middle Kingdom's overlord,
On viewing Wu's achievement, had been awed
By his three hundred frescoes on the walls
Of Buddhist monasteries and Taoist halls.
So Wu was styled, as critical cachet,
The Sage of Painting, who pursued the Way
Of Brush and Ink, till he attained the class
Inspired by Heaven, which no one can surpass.

Wu took delight in feats of strength and skill,
Though not the army's discipline and drill,
So when commissioned once by General P'ei,
Renowned for vainly bellicose display,
To paint his portrait,Wu with deference
Sent back the ostentatious recompense.

'Ah, since the wind of inspiration died,
'My brush has lain too long becalmed.' he sighed.
'Yet, General, if you did not strike a pose,
'But wearing armour did the warrior's dance
'For which you are so rightly famed, perchance
'Your ardour's mimicry of mortal blows
'Might rouse my spirit from this dull restraint
'And free my captive impetus to paint.'

The General much too eagerly obeyed:
Seeking the forecourt's freedom from constraint,
He donned his martial glory's full array,
And deftly from its scabbard drew the blade
To show his prowess by a rapid play
Of thrust and parried cut, riposte and feint.
All round his body wheeling sabre slashes
Secured him in a cage of steely flashes.
From which his visage with defiant wrath
Arid bristling whiskers glared severely forth.
Finally P'ei Min hurled his sword on high
A hundred feet : it gleamed against the sky,
While the confident expert stood beneath
Ready to catch it in its narrow sheath --
But missed!
Streak lightning sliced the air!
They found
The blade stuck upright, quivering, in the ground!

But Wu's portrayal, drawn at dashing speed,
Immortalised the General's dance indeed,
For brushstrokes, which in rhythmic stillness stand,
Inscribed the cursive dancing by his hand
Upon the silken ground, so brief and fleet
That where the ink ran out and would not write,
They left a cirrous trail of flying white
More spirited by remaining incomplete,
Since recollective insight could divine
The details missing from the implied design.


The second artist could cognately trace
Descent from Shih-min, that ambitious Li
Who, firmly planting T'ang's dynastic tree,
As Vai tsung ably ruled the black haired race.
Ssü-hsün (the after name that was his own)
Later in life became more widely known
As Li the Senior General, whereby one
Distinguished him from Li Chao-tao, his son,
Of junior rank, who painted landscapes too.

During the persecution, when the Heir
Apparent, Shu-tsung, whom she did not bear,
Was poisoned by the upstart Empress Wu,
She forced the younger son to abdicate,
Proscribed the rightful House of Li, and slew
Kinsmen and loyal ministers of state.
But Li, who held the post of magistrate
In Kiang-si province, was forewarned and fled
Chiang-tu in time, so he retained his head.
Safe in seclusion on his country farm,
He painted scenes of solitude and calm,
Till Chung-tsung by a military coup
Deposed the Empress, was enthroned anew,
And deigned to compensate with copious hands
Those banished nobles whom she had debarred.
Then Li, attending court, reclaimed his due:
Raised to a dukedom with manorial lands
And general's rank, he joined the palace guard,
Though as his years already neared three score,
He was more skilled at painting than at war.

But since Ming Huang by his approving praise
Had silenced envious criticism's blame
And set his seal on this old master's name,
Throughout the empire swept a cult and craze
For works by Li, till in his westering days
Legend began to gild his life and fame.

Annalists in the palace could recall
How Li had painted once a waterfall
That tumbled headlong down a standing screen,
To keep the Emperor cool in his retreat
During the summer nights of humid heat.
But when installed behind his bedroom door,
This brought a new discomfort, not foreseen:
Ming Huang complained that down its mountain wall
The brushstrokes plunged with such a soundless roar
That now he could not get to sleep at all!

Chronicles, too, record that Li one day
Allowed his brush in free impromptu play
To sketch a carp with swiftly artless swish
That caught the flexuous swerving by the fish.
Before he could paint in the water weed's
Idly wavering forest where it feeds,
A long continued knocking on his door
Distracted Li, who after vexed delay
Went to admit the ill timed visitor.

On his return, he noticed with dismay
That wind had blown the unfinished sketch away;
But later search revealed the missing sheet
Submerged and blank : his carp had joined the school
Alive and swimming in the garden pool!
So painting more, as natural and neat,
Li dropped them also in the pond -- in vain:
None of those copies came to life again.

When not engaged in painting, Wu and Li
Discussed their art, but seldom could agree.

Li Ssü-hsün

'Your mural paintings, Wu, in black and white
'Are little more than sketches, swift but slight,
'And lack the sumptuous colours seen in mine.'

Wu Tao-tzü

'The Five Hues blind the eye', as Lao-tzü knew,
'But ink alone can hint at every hue.'

Li Ssü-hsün

Your brushwork, brilliant but erratic too,
'Which models forms with fluctuating line
'Instead of wash, derives from Chang Seng-yu.'

Wu Tao-tzü

'Since you established, Li, the Northern School,
'You must obey your own restrictive rule
'For architectural scenes and use set square,
'Compasses, straight edge, with a draughtsman's care.
'But I discard such guides and hold instead
'That measured drawing leaves the picture dead.

Li Ssü-hsün

'I find your argument of no avail,
'For where your vast yet vacant landscapes fail,
'Mine flourish with meticulous detail.'

Wu Tao-tzü

'There was an ancient craftsman once, who made
'A silken green, semi transparent jade
'To imitate a living mulberry leaf,
'So delicately carved in low relief,
'Its map of veins and lucid arteries
'Seemed to flow with the cool green blood of trees.
'Three years of patient handicraft, intent
Upon this leaf like portrait, had he spent
'So that intricate cutting could indent
'Around its profile every nick and notch,
'And even turn to a rain discoloured blotch
'Russet with which the mineral was laced,
'So perfectly was imperfection placed.
'Before the Prince of Sung he then displayed,
'Polished to glossiness, the finished jade;
'And when that lapidary's work was laid
'Among fresh mulberry leaves to rival them,
'A silkworm, curious with hunger, picked
'The leaf of artifice : its senses tricked,
'It tried to bite the jade from tip to stem!
'he Prince of Sung unwittingly allowed
'Wonder to change his face, and so endowed
'The artisan with his patronage and praise
'For skill that could outwit an insect's gaze.
'Hearing of which. Lieh-tzü countered :"Now
If it should take as long as that for Tao
"To make a single bud unfurl with care
"Its crinkled wing into the spring's harsh air,
"Seldom would trees have anything to wear!"'


About that time, the Emperor conceived
A distant longing, not to be relieved,
To view the Chia-ling River, where it roars
Through mountainous Szech'üan and yearly pours
Torrential tribute down its deep ravines
Into the Middle Yangtze, carving scenes
Of wild vertiginous grandeur : peaks that soar
Above the thrust of summits seen before
Tearing the routed vapours as they fled.
Out of their cloud, unrolling overhead,
Plunges the loud white watershaft, to fall
One vertical moment down the granite wall
Where cedars overlean the brink of awe,
And pierce the cloudy spray itself has shed
So far below, it veils the river bed.

But since an artist's brush and ink could draw
What cares of state might never let him view,
Ming Huang had both court painters, Li and Wu,
Summoned at once into his presence, who
Commanded them to travel there and fetch
His western province, captured in a sketch;
Promising him whose work had greater worth
The title:'Prince of Painters, First on Earth.'

They heard his will and willingly obeyed,
Nor without perils or privations made
The journey there. Jolting on donkey back,
They scaled the precipice by its narrow track
Where, like a stilt-legged centipede, it crawls,
Propped up on logs, around the mountain walls.
They dared with groundless feet and sagging hopes
To cross precarious bridges, swung from ropes.
On which their weight set up a sickening sway
Over the hungry gulf, agape beneath.
They raced back by the gorge's waterway,
Shooting the rapids in a hazardous rush
Past underwater crags that wait to crush
The headlong barge between their jagged teeth,
Where turbinal whirlpools suck the wreckage down,
And those the swift strong current swallows drown.
Reaching the capital at dawn, they sought
Immediate audience, due to make report
That their artistic mission was complete
Before the Son of Heaven with the court
Assembled in attendance at his feet.

Always the conscientious craftsman,Li
Produced as proof of steady industry
Sketches of every view and point of view.
But effortless and easy going Wu,
With none to show, for months of leisure spent
Had come as empty handed as he went.
Such lack of preparation for the task
Goaded his patron, somewhat piqued, to ask:
'And where, might we inquire, Wu, are yours
'To challenge Li's supremacy in art?'
Wu's answer broke a tense and awkward pause:
'I have mine all in here.' He tapped his heart.

Then Ming Huang ordered that a quiet hall
Within the palace grounds be set apart,
So that the painters could pursue their art
Where tedious interruptions would not call,
Nor court routine or revelry intrude
On active craft; and contemplative mood.
This hall, divided by a folding screen,
Furnished two light and spacious studios,
Where each competitor could paint unseen,
Tending the visionary seed that grows
Nurtured by silence, stillness, solitude.

Li felt assured, since their return from Shu,
That his rich craft of colours would outshine
Bravura brushwork improvised by Wu.
But first in front of his ancestors' shrine
He bowed three times, to centre, left, and right,
To pray for his success; then set alight
An incense stick to purify the air
And please their spirits. Next he must prepare
His pigments, which he ground himself from rare
And costly minerals of every hue,
Some semi precious stones but others not,
And mixed their powders well with deerhorn glue
Diluted from his water dropping pot.
With ceremonious nicety he chose
His brushes, hanging from their stand in rows:
Some stiff and narrow, others flat and wide,
Or soft and pliant. Dexterously applied
The brush that drew his finest lines was spare,
Plucked in the autumn from a rabbit's hair,
And such was his fastidious craftsmanship,
Tapered to mouse's whiskers at the tip.

To form materials whose amorphousness
Stubbornly worked against his art's success,
Li practised every wash's tone and hue,
Rehearsed each gesture placing line and dot,
Its pressure, speed, direction, with finesse.
His steady arm and brush held upright drew
From sketches briefly noted on the spot
Those diverse details which he integrated
In work not laboured but elaborated.
Still persevering in precise technique,
He struggled up perfection's unclimbed peak;
But though through blindly overclouding doubt
Or barren dullness Li might have to strive,
Undaunted aspiration would survive,
The heights of vision would at last shine out,
His painting triumph, glowingly alive.

But meanwhile Wu would cheerfully prepare
To welcome four old friends, and so as host
Arranged upon his desk with ritual care
Those treasures which a scholar prizes most:
His silk, brush, slab of ink, and shallow stone
To rub it on and water down its tone.

To Wu his ivory silk, pristinely bare
Of natural semblance, absent everywhere,
Would teem with numberless unpainted views.
For whiteness underlies the rainbow hues
Of all the imagined scenes that colour it,
Outstanding from its ground, which they omit;
As from the unmanifested Infinite
Emerge a myriad worlds, whose empty spacing
Defines the universe's stellar placing.
So, during hours when blissfully alone,
Wu's mind in secret would premeditate
And plan his landscape, which might emanate
Out of the void within at lightning speed
To bring surprising gifts, as yet unknown.
His self-forgetful trust in Tao would heed
Intuitive wisdom in a wakeful trance,
And follow instantly prevision's lead,
Which aptly guided brushwork in advance
To change in time with nature's happy chance.
His first sure stroke would also be his last,
For once set down, none needed touching twice.
His brush would sweep the vacant silk as fast
As when across midsummer fields of rice
A fitful gust forces the blades to lean
Over in wave on wave of fleeting sheen.

When painting mountain scenes, Wu would select
A balding brush of sheep's wool with an old
And blunted point to give a rough effect
As strong as rock. His strokes were broad and bold
For craggy facets, hewn with rugged hacks
Of broken ink, as by a woodman's axe.
His spirit could invigorate with lines
Daringly free yet faultlessly controlled
The armoured bark of gaunt gerontic pines,
Whose wind distorted limbs in winter froze,
Gripping a cliff edge with tenacious toes.

Li's scroll was finished in the time required,
But Wu still seemed to while his hours away
In idleness, till on the final day
At dawn his landscape was not yet begun,
But then he seized his brush, at last inspired,
So that by dusk a thousand miles were done,
All in a single journey by the sun.
So deeply did he contemplate the scene,
Steeped in its spirit, luminous, serene,
That he could step across the picture's sill
And roam about inside his scroll at will,
Translated out of earthly space and time
Into an autumn vision more sublime.


The three months had elapsed, the appointed day
Arrived, on which the painters must display
Their rival landscape rolls,complete at last,
And hear the imperial critic's judgment passed.

Li, as the senior artist, first unrolled
His scroll along the table, scene by scene,
So that Ming Huang at leisure could behold
Its frieze of mountains, painted blue and green
In Northern Style.

Li Ssü- hsün

'There lapis lazuli
Has tinted lofty monoliths of blue
That tier their distant peaks against the sky,
Faintly receding till they fade from view.

This nearer range, on which the forest's height
Is shaded mossy green with malachite,
Has every corrugation's rift and fold
Contoured and veined, like lotus leaves, in gold.
The torrent from that gorge's granite lip
Has let a long white skein abruptly slip
Into the chasm where its waters fray,
Unravelling strands until a haze of spray
Has veiled the hollow. Thence it pours again,
Tumbling in tumult through the gap between
Vertical rocks that wall the strict ravine.
Reaching this valley, gently riverain,
Terraced in steps above a thatch roofed villager
It irrigates the rice's flooded tillage,
Where farmers plant out seedlings in the rain.

As we unroll each scene from left to right,
Ten thousand things pass by in time and space,
Painted to bring Your Majesty delight.
My right hand keeps the past,already seen;
Your left still holds the future, while between
We view the current episode and place.
But when rerolled from end to end, see how
That changing world is stored, all out of sight,
In painting's everpresent Here and Now.'

Ming Huang

'Li's picture in its grand triadic plan
Follows the Way of Heaven, Earth, and Man,
By whose harmonious laws he could combine
Minute details in one immense design,
Where nature's ore is so refined by art
That a gold tincture shines through every part.
Our family's foremost painter has displayed
The most accomplished work of his career.
The high tradition is transmitted here :
This landscape, richer than antique brocade,
Instils in us a rare poetic mood,
Where mountain passes open gates of jade
On to a turquoise sky's infinitude.'

But when the Emperor with his courtiers saw
Wu Tao tsu's scroll, the hall was hushed in awe
Of his creative power, so versatile
That he could paint with elegance of style
The exalted theme, yet with adept technique
So fresh and effortless, that none could speak.
Ming Huang, still marvelling in silence, weighed
The magisterial work that he surveyed
Until its artistry could be assayed.

Ming Huang

'Hsieh Ho's First Canon, every painter's guide,
Is here impressively exemplified :
Wu's art is vitally inspired by Ch'i,
The circulating breath of Tao, the Norm
That resonates through every natural form
And gives it life, spontaneously free.
When a disciple asked of Lu-Chü how
To demonstrate Man's true accord with Tao,
The master placed two cithers, which his skill
And ear for pitch had perfectly attuned,
In chambers that adjoined, where all was still.
Whichever string he strummed on one alone,
The other hummed the corresponding tone,
As though by Taoist magic they communed.
So while his elegantly slender nails,
Pointed like plectra, plucked a school of scales,
"Finger this instrument," he answered, "till
"Its vibrant rings concentrically fill
"The pool of quiet with their tingling boom:
"Its twin, untouched in that adjacent room,
"Faintly with fairy music there resounds."
Chuang-tzü relates this legend, which expounds
The Sage's temperament and how attained,
Neither too slack nor tautly overstrained.
For if a single interval be changed
From its true place within the octave's bounds,
Then Heaven's starry ratios are deranged.
Let discord once invade the five tone scale,
The rites for Earth's fertility will fail,
And order in our State no more prevail.
Their key note's rule deposed, the other four
And twenty jangling chords are set at war.'

The expectant court, the anxious rivals waited
While Ming Huang's tact and taste deliberated
On each man's art, and thus adjudicated:

Ming Huang

'General Li, your months of skill and care
Have brought to birth a scroll beyond compare
With any in our realm except for Wu's.
The picture, Wu, that your miraculous powers
Created in a few impromptu hours
Alone can equal Li's. We cannot choose
Between such masterworks, so we accord
Supremacy to both. As our award
Let Wu and Li be named in proclamations
Princes of Painting, for we judge these two
Preeminent throughout all generations.'

The court retired. But Ming Huang signalled Wu
To stay behind for further interview.

Ming Huang

'Your painting, Wu, has caught forever here
Autumn's perennial golden atmosphere.
Such art is more than human. Are your powers
Inherited from Heaven then, like ours?'
Turning to see why he had not replied,
The monarch stared, amazed and mystified:
Wu, having quietly faded from his side,
Was wandering along that weed grown trail
Into his landscape! When, not far ahead,
Wu paused, and looking backward,beckoned him,
The Emperor could not follow where he led,
But only watch his distant figure, dim
And indistinct, diminishing in scale
While passing through the morning's golden haze
That glorified the foot-hills, veil on veil,
Until beyond their range's farthest rim
Wu disappeared at last from mortal gaze.
And wandering on through that pictorial plane,
Lost in his work, was never seen again.


Personages Represented
Cantos 5 to 8
Cantos 9 to 12
Cantos 13 to 16
Cantos 17 to 20
Cantos 21 to 24
Cantos 25 to 28
Cantos 29 to 32

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