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 ]



Treading with slippered feet on sacred ground,
He enters, but his long ascent has ended
In vain. Within this huge and gloomy hall,
Devoid of lights, of chanting, unattended,
The chill and solemn silence is profound;
As though, when monks and Master had deserted
And left the temple empty, it reverted
To night and silence anteceding all.
And yet the incense that has smouldered here
Through spiral centuries can still perfume
The holy air to purify this room,
Which with its faint sweet fragrance is aswim.
Diffused in weaving drifts, it wafts to him
As vaguely through the smoke wreathed atmosphere
Wu feels his way. For dimly he discerns
A solitary candle flame that burns,
Flickering amid this vast interior gloom,
On the low altar table. Drawing near
The Mount Sumeru dais, he can remark
Where three great Buddhas, who obscurely loom
Each seated on his throne, a lotus bloom,
Are looking downward from the lofty dark.
Amid the embroidered altar cloth, a bonze
Has set, between the candlestick and vase
Of flowers,an incense burner cast in bronze.
Wu lifts its lid, among whose cloudy scrolls
A dragon writhes, its nostrils as the holes
Snorting odoriferous coils of smoke.
He sprinkles grains of sandalwood, which chars
To grey ash on the inward glowing coals,
And calling on their sacred Names, extols
The Triple Body, whom he would evoke.
Now kneeling, he prostrates three times before
Each of the Buddhas who sublimely soar,
Backed by mandorlas hidden in their height,
Upon the platform's centre. left, and right:
To Vairocana first, the Dharma's Norm,
Who manifests the worlds with name and form
Mirrored in Universal Consciousness;
To Amitabha next, who vowed to bless
All beings with his boundless Life and Light;
To Shakyamuni last, who made descent
To earth and put on man's embodiment.
Wu undertakes the Bodhisattva's Vows.
To gain the Six Perfections, with his brows
Touching the slant set pavement as he bows;
Then,worship over, rises from the floor.

After his blindly venturing steps explore
Cryptic obscurity, as yet untried
Behind the altar on the eastern side,
He feels a plaster wall enclose the bay
Between two columns; fumbling for a way
Of entry, finds within the corner shrine
To which he can retire, till sound or sign
Tells of the monks returned to greet their guest
And offer him his evening rice and rest.
Abruptly baffled by profounder gloom,
Wu can distinguish nothing in this room,
Only that one round window on the right
Dimly admits the glimmering sky of night.
He waits. No one comes. Still he waits,
Immured in his monastic body, whence
Closing the five observant gates of sense,
Attention has retired to seek within
For sanctuary at its central origin,
To which descends supernal influence,
And there, enshrined in silence, concentrates.
His breathing hushed and held, his posture still,
Unheeded on the cushion, long he kneels
Aware of Emptiness alone .....
Quietly round the casement's circle steals
The first pale gleam of moonrise with a cold
Molten effulgence silver tinged with gold,
And lighting up the northern wall reveals
A hanging scroll within its high recess.
The merciful Kuan Yin, as first portrayed
By Wu himself, with woman's gentleness
And grace of aspect, attributes, and dress,
Stands in the silken panel, which descends
Elegant in its length, with border made
From seawave green and silver thread brocade,
Wound on a rod with polished ivory ends.

Arriving uninvited, unforeseen,
Into receptive darkness these serene
And moonlit intimations were dispersed
Earthward from that far luminary's sphere
Of solid coolness; timelessly traversed
The aethereal solitudes of sky, the clear
Aeons of evening air that lie between;
And filled with pure translucence that expanse,
Tranquil in its illimitable trance.
Travelling through a thousand twigs and leaves
Whose intricate thicket tried to intervene.
Filtering through this fretted window screen
Beneath the temple's overhanging eaves,
The lunar intuition interweaves
To spill those sequin lights that float or fall,
Dappled across the rafters, down the wall.
A softened glow of silvergold is shed
Full on her face, and there behind her head
A second moondisc on the silken scroll
Surrounds it with a snowy aureole,
Whose silent music fills the vacant space
About a smooth white lotus bud, her face.
And where a Buddhist nun's long surplice drapes
Her contoured calm with subtly answering shapes,
Blessed by its pure lustration, she receives
Splashes of golden moonlight on her sleeves.
Over the holy vestment on her breast
Lagoons of rare illumination rest,
Which comes at no one's begging or behest,
While round her figure all the silk left bare
Composes from the absent shapes of air
Visible melody with nothing there.

A low legged ebony table has been stood
Beneath her : adumbrated in its wood
As in a sombre mirror, Wu detects
A porcelain mirage, where gloss reflects
One stately shouldered vase without a waist,
Whose stillness moves, yet never can escape
The calm ceramic curves that hold its shape,
Black as the wing from which a raven preens
Such iridescent blue and purple sheens.
Three egret quilled chrysanthemums are placed
Therein with casual asymmetric taste:
An exquisite disarrangement, so refined
It seems by accident and not designed.
In gradual enlightenment, he waits,
Yet does not mind how long he meditates
Upon the moonrise, nor how late the hour.
His hands with esoteric gestures teach
And proffer silently the Dharma's power,
While he recites the vibrant seed of speech
That summons up its own divinity:
Kuan Yin, whose syllable he reiterates
With even rhythmic incantation: "Hrihi"
Out of the painting's few and faded strokes
Against a background vague as shadowed space,
Her visionary image Wu evokes,
Calling her presence forth, till from the scroll
She floats in air upon a lotus base,
Mantled in moonlight with a flowing stole.

Now in her waning summer's later years,
Full blown yet virginal, her face appears
The last pale peony to hold its dense
Petals in loose and ruffled opulence.
Her cheeks, beneath their powdered pallor, own
Faintly suffused a coral undertone.
Her lips that once were buds of crimson, shown
Within its dawning centre, still retain
A trace of rose, faded by sun and rain.

Her handmaid, with attentive pin and comb,
Has dressed her glossy hair to build a dome
Of bright black lacquer. Circuiting its base,
A high tiara lifts above her face
Its gilded filigree where, carved in jade,
Are leaves of apple green that interlace
With constellated blossoms, pearl inlaid.
A cowl of snow half hides her crown : the tall
Chaste windpall for a nun thrown over all,
So that about her sloping shoulders fall
The spotless undulations through its cloth.
Noctural velvet from the brush of moth
Cannot compare in softness with the fine
Downy darkness arching a pencilled line
Over each eye, nor do bare willow boughs,
Bending beneath their snow, excell her brows.
Petals of winter flowering quince are set
As lids upon her lustrous eyes of jet
That dream in slanted slits and all but close
To contemplate her blunt downcurving nose;
Yet as the spring floods brim a silent lake
By night, with no disturbing wave to break
Their tranquil ecstasy, they gaze within.
A plain gold ear ring runs through either lobe
And drops down almost to her rounded chin;
Her wrists are ringed with gold, and where her robe
Parts at the throat, too modest to disclose
Her bosom's amplitude, three pendants strung
Each with a trembling emerald were hung
From that gold necklace resting on her skin,
To ride its snowdrift as her breathing rose
And fell, and emblem in triunity
The Buddha, his, Doctrine his Community.

Her suave nailed fingers, cool and tapering
As young bamboo shoots by a shaded spring,
Enclose a vial's neck, a long slim gourd
Of jade, mottled with green on white, as though
Frondage of moss emerged from under snow.
Immortal waters in this vase are stored
In boundless measure, never all outpoured,
Wherein she ever dips her lustral spray
Of willow leaves, and while they nod and sway
Dripping elixir, sprinkles far about
Dewdrops of mercy, graciously aspersing
Undaunted pilgrim caravans traversing
Desolate Asia's spiritual drought,
Whose arid waste of doubt and dry dismay
Only the Dharma's raincloud can allay.

Her figure's leisurely yet solemn pose
Derived its inward dwelling calm, its pure
Ascension with the lovely curvature,
When some old artisan, her devotee,
Carved from a tusk of mellowed ivory
Her body, which recalls its curve and bends
How gently toward the left as it ascends!
Simplicity alone arranged the lines
Wherein her surplice, which surpasses white,
Clings to her waist and then, as it declines,
Streams into folds and sweeps away to the right,
To pour a pool of drapery and trail
Beside her like the slow foot of a snail;
While across its channelled slope of snow
Her windborne sash and ribbons float and flow
Like fluttering mists and chasing clouds below.
The stately Bodhisattva has put on
A silken underskirt of celadon,
The hue of heaven clearing after rain
On autumn evenings, whose hem is seen
Lapping from beneath her foam white train
In ripples that are blue and yet are green;
And shyly thence one lily foot appears
With toes no bigger than a mouse's ears.

Aboard no earthly shallop does she float
When from remoter shores beyond belief
She sails across to China. For her boat
She stands upon an upturned lotus leaf
Cobwebbed with golden veins. This leafy craft
Being so frail, of such a shallow draught,
Scarcely touches the sea, and lacking sails,
The spirit fills instead her billowing veils
And blows her hither with its inherent gales.


Arising in the window's ring of space,
The full moon slowly shifts across Wu's face
The latticed shadows, till its clearest glance
Shines on his pale uplifted countenance.
Wholly illumined, he is moved to raise
This invocation in appeal and praise:

Wu Tao-tzü

"Welcome, immortal Visitant of Light,
Whom by our rapt devotion we invite
From rare celestial regions! Most serene
Resplendent Vision, bright selenic
Queen of Bodhisattvas, who reveal your face
Mirrored in our benighted minds, reflect
The Western Buddha's solar intellect:
Slanting his glory down through time and space,
Soften for us that radiant source of grace
Which no one can endure to view direct.

Divinity of Pity, who were born
Of Amitabha's single poignant tear,
Dropped from his right eye after gazing down
On universal suffering, we revere
Your spiritual parent's image, worn
Amid the pearls and planets in your crown.
Supreme benevolence arrayed in white,
Your peerless apparition holding in
One hand a perfect lotus bud, draw near
Wearing the snow by moonlight as your gown.
Purity's high exemplar, Kuan Shih Yin,
Arriving from your lunar realm, alight
On heaven's silver brink of clouds tonight.
Like your paternal Buddha, Oh look down
With calm detached compassion in your eyes
Into these ruthless depths of strife and pain!
Regard Samsara's conflict, where in vain
Passion tormented mortals agonise,
Trapped in its blind abyss of transience!
Clinging to life that every moment dies,
Our misery, self inflicted, is immense.
Swollen into a million throated roar
Of anguish, our discordant voices rise
Out of this abject world's dark turbulence
To pierce the callously indifferent skies
With desperate supplications that implore:
'When will the Endless Round renew no more?'

Inclining earthward your responsive ear,
Ever disposed to help the wretched, hear.
Oh hear our piteous litany.
As Kuan Tzü-tsai, who never yet forsook
One sufferer in your world redeeming look!
Prostrate beneath your lotus cushioned feet,
Bringer of Liberation, we entreat
With upward pleading that you condescend
To wear again Man's weary flesh on earth
And tread this dreary mill of death and birth,
Till ignorance, desire, and hatred end.
So halt, one step from Buddhahood, before
Nirvana's final threshhold, pausing now
To heed our cosmic sorrows, whose ascent
Mingles in one tumultuous lament
To touch your kindness at its tender core!

Accept our adoration, as we bow,
And yet once more for every being's sake
In selfless sacrifice sublimely take
Your all embracing Bodhisattva's Vow:
'I will renounce Nirvana, till the last
'Blade of grass, the lowliest stone, has passed
'Beyond Samsara. Never will I seek,
'Never achieve Deliverance for my own,
'Nor enter that exalted bliss alone
'Before the poor and sick, the oppressed and weak.
'But everywhere and forever will I strive
'To bring all yet unborn, all still alive,
'All dead or dying, ultimate release
'From grim impermanence into Light and Peace.'

Limitless Mercy, answering our pleas
As promised, make your opportune descent
Into Rebirth's six circling destinies.
In each put on adept embodiment
That can avert the Eight Calamities
And Eight Afflictions from those adverse states
Through which the slave of karma transmigrates.

Even the Devas, whom the Heavens bless,
Expend their shining fortunes, till divine
Beauty and youth grow dimmer in decline,
And tire of unremitting happiness.
So wake those self indulgent gods, redeemed
From pleasure's tedious aeons, which they dreamed.
Not so the mad Asuras : still they tower
In their titanic pride and lust for power,
Rankled by envy, rashly seeking cause
To wage against the gods vainglorious wars.
Lest their arrogant struggles never cease,
Grant them peace, Great Being, grant them peace.

For now black bellied clouds accumulate
In wrathful mood and brew a squall of hate,
Till louring violence has overstrewn
Your halo's nacreous glow the autumn moon.
Out of the south is roused the wild typhoon,
Whose furious funnel howls gyrating by,
Sucking the frenzied tempest from the sky.
Whirlwind embroils in mutual enmity
The seething surge of lives, the China Sea
Of ceaseless change, where beings in the storm's
Irrational turmoil heave their flux of forms
And clash in ignorant multiplicity.
That watery vortex, churned up by emotion,
Would gulp to hellish depths below the Ocean
Of Birth and Death our selves, like scattered ships
That lightning lashes with malicious whips
Luridly flashing through the rainy gloom,
While demon thunder drums impending doom.

Come when we call your sacred Name that saves
Mariners tossed upon those raging waves,
Sovereign over Southern Seas! Once more
Turn back from Paradise, and looking down
Into Samsara's whirlpool where we drown,
Rescue the shipwrecked from engulfing graves
And help us safely reach the Farther Shore!
A delicate benediction by your palm
Can soothe to wide placidity the deep
Impassioned by an angry swell and calm
Cyclonic conflict till it falls asleep.
A gestured spell can smooth your path before
Over the troubled foam and there restore
Your reign of peace, which in the deathless Void
Beyond existence cannot be destroyed.
So quieten our anxious winds of stress
And still our waves of frantic restlessness.

Pity the pilgrim who attempts in vain
To cross the Gobi's demon haunted plain
Still searching for the Wish Fulfilling Gem,
But trapped by Mara's regiment, who hem
Their captive in with spears, is forced to tramp
Back for interrogation at their camp.
Then should the commandant intimidate
With torture or his wrongful court condemn
The guiltless prisoner, let him concentrate
Upon your power. Though bars incarcerate
His body, you will strike off karmic chains
And free his frightened courage from their pains,
Imparting your detachment's fearlessness
To one who must endure unjust duress.
And though the executioner's sword impends
Above his neck, if, waiting on his knees,
The martyr calls you as the stroke descends,
Struck by intrepid lightning from a heart
Invulnerably calm in face of death,
The flashing blade, instantly snapped apart
In flying pieces, will have slashed the breeze
Of spring, and not his spirit's thread of breath!

Although your Name's miraculous reprieve
Confounds their malice, still his enemies
May cast him out to die by slow degrees
Amid the wilderness's yet uncrossed
Ocean of sand, whose trackless waves deceive
The doubtful wanderer, alone and lost.
Where, through the generations, sun bleached bones
Have foundered in the scorching sand, his groans
Of torment vainly struggle for release
From hunger, yet his cravings do not cease
When starved desires are glutted, but increase.
Bound to Rebirth, the living skeleton
Gnaws at his rest and nags him always on;
Barren of hope, he staggers round and round
The same mirage of dry delirious ground;
Or stumbling on a steep and whitened mound
That crumbles underfoot like screes of stone,
Climbs up the past that he has piled alone:
A ghastly mount of skulls, each one his own!
When his petitions, parched and gasping, plead
That he whom racial karma has accursed
Burns with a terrible self reviving thirst
For incarnation, quickly intercede
And drop sweet dew, lest driven by his need
To quench the hot corporeal desert's lust,
He drinks in handfuls his ancestral dust.
Let him in dread of death be reassured:
Mercy surpassing measure fills your gourd.
Your hands will shed impartial charity
More gently than the rain. Your gifts as free
And unconditional as the sun and air
Will cheer him after failure, loss, despair.

Gazing where down that cliff's declivity
A waterfall dives straight into the sea,
You sit in contemplation on a seat
Of matted grass within your coastal cave's
Hermitage, called 'The Tidal Voice of Waves'.
Your airy messenger, a falcon, bears
A rosary of pearls to your retreat:
The never ending string of plaints and prayers
That day and night your devotees repeat.
Queen of Camellias, Patroness of Tea,
From P'u-t'o Shan, your mountain in the sea,
Travel upon a raft of clouds to view
Our earth's disasters. Urgently arrive
Bringing refreshment from above to strew
The Middle Kingdom with the healing dew
Of Heaven, so that the Sons of Han revive:
Our lives are famine till you shower relief
From illness, age, mortality and grief.

Hear, we beseech you, Nature's Saviouress,
Little affrighted creatures in distress
From human cruelty, who everywhere
Cry out for help! May your devoted care,
Infinite in maternal tenderness
For weak downtrodden beings, always bring
To every sentient and suffering thing
Relief from agony too great to bear.
Answer the dumb, the inarticulate prayer
Of meek defenceless lives and come unsought;
As once your timely rescue helped escape
The eldest son of Lung, the Dragon King,
Who by a deep sea spell had shifted shape
Into a princely bream. When he was caught
In callous nets and hauled with glazing stare
And gasping gills to market, there he lay
With piteous mouth agape, but could not pray
To you for aid and would have drowned in air
Had not your sympathy foreknown his need
And with a providential basket sent
Shan ts'ai, your faithful errand boy, who bought
The limp and helpless victim, whom you freed
To breathe the sea, his vital element.
In gratitude for that compassionate deed,
Lung Wang bestowed on you a glowing pearl,
Which dutiful Lung Nü, his grandchild, brought
Begging to stay and be your servant girl,
So that when dusk descends you could recite
The sutras by its nacreous sphere of light,
Wherein galactic oceans shine and swirl.

Now as Samsara's six spoked wheel rotates
So that you witness from the Western Heaven
The dead reborn in purgatorial states,
Your head erupts with pity, till eleven
Visages crown you with their triple tower;
While to dispense your salvatory power
Your shoulders grow a thousand arms and hands
And round you spread an aura that expands,
An eye amid each palm, in seven bands.
Assume your tantric form to see and save
Those thirsty spectres who are tantalized
By mouths like pin holes,stringy scrannel throated
Drunkards and gluttons, doomed to cling and crave
With starveling limbs but bellies hunger bloated.
Give them deliverance from the vile condition
That their own greed's frustration has devised.

Lastly, descend to reach the direst fates
That karma from the past necessitates,
And grant the damned and demons your remission
From punishments in self imposed perdition
Where both, whom hideous lusts infatuate,
Burn in a quenchless holocaust of hate.
But since your heavenly clemencies compel
The Infernal Judge to banish you from Hell,
Before its fiery pits of crime and vice
Are turned to lotus pools in Paradise
By your benign .......


Here Wu breaks off his prayer,
Growing by gradual degrees aware
Of some distraction, vaguely sensed as strange,
That casts a slight and yet insistent change
Over the scroll, till this intrusive sign
Disquiets his Vision in the moonlit shrine.
Sight is restored to wakefulness and there
He sees a faintly wavering orange glare
Tinting the silken panel as it plays
Over the pale Kuan Yin whom that portrays.

Wu Tao-tzü

"This burning glow that now disturbs my gaze
Returning from its otherworldly trance,
Whence is it cast and why? Its western glance
Is baleful as the dying sun's and yet
That cannot be, for hours ago it set.
The Buddha Hall was dark and desolate
When last I left it, but by some mischance
Can it have caught on fire?"
                                                 A further threat
Inflames these red reflections. Din dismays
Hearing attuned to silence.Voices raise
A flaring uproar, their indignant hate
Hotly denouncing in confused debate
Some heretic by whom they are upset.

Dangerous glare and desecrating noise
Invade Wu's solitary peace and poise,
Driving him forth : he must investigate
Such angry conflagration. At its cause
Consternation suddenly makes him pause,
Shocked, in the staring doorway!
                                                 Through the hall's
Nocturnal grove of columns burns a glow
Of purgatorial firelight. On the walls
Flames in a scarlet agitation throw
Alarming portents where their lurid scrawls
Redden the faded frescoes from below.
While their vivid flickerings leap and lance,
The lurking dark with huge demonic shapes
Mocks them in shadowed parody and apes
Frenzied skeletons coupling as they dance.
Coiling round the vermilion pillars, lithe
Dragons of carved gilt lacquer seem to writhe
Spirally roofward in the ragged glare,
Until its fitfully diminished gleams
Are lost among the massive cedar beams
With brackets branching upward as they bear
The coffered ceiling in the gloomy space
Centrally coved above the altar's dais.

The fire flares up more brightly yet, to show
Where lambent aureoles of gilded wood,
Carved into three leaves from the Bodhi Tree,
Flame to impending crests above the Three
Enlightened Ones.
                But where those statues should
Be seated, as they sat not long ago
On golden petalled lotus thrones, their row
Has been despoiled : one place is vacant!
Counting to left and centre only two,
Confronts the astounding gap! Aghast, his gaze
Locates not on the altar but the floor
The missing image caught amidst a roar
Of turbulent flames the Buddha is ablaze!

Stunned, in a blank and disbelieving daze,
Wu stares at that Ch'an monk who squats before
The burning Shakyamuni by its heat
He dares to warm his impious hands and feet!

Masters and monks on their return have come
Upon this outrage. Some stop short, struck dumb.
Others condemn uproariously by the door
Such flagrant sacrilege, which they abhor.
But Tao-hsüan, who hastens through the hall
Justly incensed that some backsliding fool,
Some crazed inebriate, presumes to flout
The Ten Grave Precepts, reasserts his rule
Of strict Vinaya, raising over all
Authority's imperious voice to shout:


"Stifle that fire at once! You must be drunk,
You dissolute, unruly, rebel monk!
Or have you run amok and raging mad,
Ignorant that you break the Buddhist Law,
That such incendiary desires are bad?"

Fiery rebuke still fails to overawe
Or make this insubordinate monk obey:
Coolly he turns around to toast his back,
Letting the precious Buddha burn away
While he, quite unconcerned, diverts attack.

The Unknown Monk

"Seeking some refuge where a lost, benighted,
And weary mendicant would be invited
To board and bed, I found this cheerless hall
In chilly darkness : no monks here at all.
Being but thinly clad and stiff with cold,
Keenly I felt the autumn's evening damp
That gripped my limbs, but could not thaw their cramp
For want of firewood, till I made so bold
As to haul down this statue from the right.
One Buddha is enough : what use are three?
Surely a second could be spared for me?
The altar candle served to set alight
Only a carved and coloured block of wood
That might obstruct the Way to Buddhahood."


"Rabid iconoclast, why do you rave
Such rank subversion? Quench those flames and save
The, Buddha! Since, irreverent coenobite,
You violate your ordination's vows
Reckless of what the Sangha's rule allows,
You are disgraced and forfeit thus the right
To share our food and shelter for the night."

The Unknown Monk

"Once, in a former life, the Buddha flung
His living flesh over a cliff to feed
A desperate tigress, pitiably in need
Of meat and drink to save her hungry young.
Would he refuse his merely wooden form
To keep a wanderer, starved and frozen, warm?
Do you, his followers, still deny to me
A pilgrim's right to hospitality?"

But now Chih-I, who heads the Tien-t'ai School
And built this temple that observes its rule,
At length approaches, calm and dignified,
As bowing monks fall back on either side.
His noble presence, silencing their din
At once, restores monastic discipline.
Determined that this bonze's ridicule
Of rites and statues, which he should respect,
This wilful profanation, must be checked,
He gains the altar but to face a lack
Of scripture rolls, none standing in their rack!


"Stop, you apostate pyromaniac,
You firebrand sent by some fanatic sect,
Where are the sutra scrolls?"

The Unknown Monk

                 "Torn up for kindling!
Can the true Dharma's meaning be conveyed
On rolls of wasted paper, as you think?
Is not sudden Enlightenment betrayed
By their misleading blots and streaks of ink?
But they can keep my lively blaze from dwindling!"

Seizing another scroll, with glee he rips
The paper into ragged scraps and strips
To feed the flames!

The Unknown Monk

                "Such scribblings are absurd:
Your feet already wander from the Way
Who seek Enlightenment in what they say;
And so, as Ch'an discards the written word,
To Hell with all your sutras!"


                                                "First you dare
Ignite our statue, kept with pious care;
Then, not content with arson, you blaspheme
Against the scriptures that we most esteem.
You are defrocked ; no longer fit to wear
The Samgha's habit, too depraved to bear
The begging bowl that you have so defiled!"

Why has abrupt expulsion not dismayed
The strangely unrepentant renegade?
Impassive in detachment, though reviled,
He starts on this digression in reply,
Whose hidden goal is meant to mystify.

The Unknown Monk

"Seated beneath a lightning riven pine,
Whose jagged branches overhung a ledge
Of rock that jutted from the headland's edge,
I looked far out to where a rising glow
Gilded the range of cloud rims from below
The dark horizon. Still I watched their line,
Waiting in silence till the full moon's globe
Slowly surmounted them and floated free:
A golden pearl above the eastern sea,
On which its path of light began to shine.

My rival's jealous monks had meantime sent
Tao ming, who coveted the Founder's robe
And bowl, to follow me with rash intent
To filch those relics back. But when he crept
Stealthily up behind me where I leant
Against the pine, attempting while I slept
To snatch the Master's mantle from the rock
On which I had laid it, he recoiled with shock:
It clung as close as moss and would not shift!
Nor could he summon strength enough to lift
The empty bowl : he tried but found instead
Its wooden weight grew heavier than lead!"

For I was not asleep, although to view
The moonrise rapt me in a waking trance:
I had sensed his hostile presence in advance.
Freely I offered, as the thief withdrew,
To let him have them both. What if he stole
A wornout patchwork robe, a worthless bowl?
He could not steal the Dharma nor its true
Transmission, which in midnight secrecy
The Fifth Ch'an Patriarch passed on to me."

All are staggered at this delayed surprise.
Even the solemn Abbot must disguise
Astonishment that threatens loss of face.


"What! If we can believe your bold remark
That you were made successor from among
Hung jën's disciples by the Patriarch,
Then you must be ...

The Unknown Monk

                 "I am that Hui-nëng
Who once sold firewood in the market place
To feed my widowed mother. Yet despite
My ignorance that could not read or write,
The wordless teaching given by the Founder
Himself was handed down in line to me,
Not yet ordained, who in the granary
Had trod the pestle as a mere rice pounder.
But Hung-jën warned me that he could foresee
Dangerous envy in the northern camp,
So that for safety I was forced to flee
Before pursuit. I left unseen that night
And travelled south, where I could keep the Lamp
Of Dharma, though in hiding, still alight.
So now decide : am I unfit to wear
The robe as Bodhidharma's chosen heir?"

At this the stern Preceptor can forebear
No longer : righteous wrath aroused at last
Explodes with strong denunciatory blast:


"Can none of you dumbfounded monks restrain
That spurious upstart? He must be insane:
The robe and bowl in his unworthy care
Belong to Shen-hsü as the rightful heir.
That miscreant imposter has no claim
To hold the patriarchal rank and name.
For crimes so sacrilegious, I foretell
That he is doomed to be reborn in Hell!"

Wu Tao-tzü

"Forgive my lay intrusion...."


                    "Who are you
To enter our monastical dispute?"

Wu Tao-tzü

"Eminent monks, my family name is Wu,
My style is Tao-tzü, once of some repute
As Painter at the court of Ming Huang-ti.
I seek to question only, not refute:
Can Hui-nëng deserve this penalty?
Do holy Dharma Masters such as he
Ever descend to Hell?"


                "Indeed we do,
To banish darkness. Surely you must know
That we Ch'an Masters are the first to go?
How else could I be here with all of you
To join in this enlightening interview?"


"The only truth among the tales you tell
Is that from Heaven's threshhold where we dwell
Your pathway leads directly down to Hell!"


Stoked by the sutras that this vandal tore,
The Buddha burns more fiercely than before:
His robes of crimson lacquer start to crack,
Blister, or blacken in the scorching heat.
Yet still serenely seated with his back
Held upright, interlocking legs and feet,
He meditates amid the blaze that frames
His body with a mandorla of flames
In silken tatters, scarlet shot with gold,
Which like a fiery lotus flower unfold
Their overlapping petals round his seat.

His tonsure's blue black curls are neatly cut,
As closely knobbled as a li chi nut.
His ears, renouncing princely rings grew wise
With pierced and pendant lobes. His mindful eyes
Have lowered lids, alert in their repose,
Concentred on a point beyond his nose.
Admonishing these monks, his lips appear
To murmur in the melting heat that blurs
Their nascent smile. His silence seems to preach
A new Fire Sermon for all listeners,
Adapting it by skilful means to each
Who hears his voice with intuition's ear.


"0 monks, all sentient beings are on fire
In worlds on worlds, the universal pyre,
Where through innumerable lives they burn,
Enduring birth, age, sickness,death in turn.
With what, 0 monks, are all these worlds on fire?
Kindled by acts and passions, beings burn
With ignorance, with hatred, with desire,
Themselves determining what fates they earn
As karma's compensating laws require.
The Wheel rolls ever faster in descent
With every year, till near this kalpa's end
That final conflagration will impend
In which mankind, inflamed by martial lust,
Will be reduced to incandescent dust.
As when a Buddha gains Enlightenment,
All who lived noble lives will be reborn
Three levels higher into heavenly realms,
Though ultimate combustion overwhelms
The three inferior worlds that are outworn.

Trapped in a burning house, the body's cage
Of bones ablaze with sensual greed and rager
The foolish tenant does not even try
To escape the flesh but fondly waits to die
Among the flames, to which his craving clings,
And weds from lethargy his sufferings.
His eyes are gloating fireballs that ignite
All that he covets with deluded sight:
The world's allurements, which he would possess
Because they promise permanent delight,
Burn in his gaze to charred repulsiveness.
Two startled craters are his warning ears,
Volcanic caverns that reverberate
With rumorous alarms and rumbling fears
Of danger, if their apprehension hears
His molten depths erupt in wrath or hate.
His nose, which flares its reeking fumaroles
To let the breath respiring through their holes
Fan the interior blaze, must foully smell
The smoke of his own carnal fire in Hell,
Till life has smouldered out, like dying coals.
His mouth's red furnace darts a tongue of flame,
Whose hot abuse and searing lies defame;
Into its gorging cauldron he will thrust
Fuel for thirst and hunger though disgust
Consumes to ash his taste's indulgent lust.
He hugs the infatuating flames that scorch
Tangible forms, although he would abstain.
For all he touches turns to red hot pain,
So that his body feels a living torch
That burns to death again and yet again.
His mind emits a brief attentive spark
Quickly extinguished in unknowing night,
But like a burning rope end kept alight
Only by endless whirling in the dark
So rapidly do its flashing instants gyre,
Illusion sees them weld a wheel of fire.
With this sixth sentience that discriminates
Images gathered from the other five,
His partial self desires ignores, or hates
Their contact's pleasure, apathy, or pain
And, so attached, rekindles his distress
In this inflammable world, where he must strive
For perilous survival, but in, vain.
Sown in the latent Ground of Consciousness,
His past impressions, karma's fiery seeds,
Will germinate, till from that Cosmic Store
Of Memory, their urgent shoots once more
Flare up as future thoughts and words and deeds.

My nobly trained disciple will regard
Ephemeral mind and body as aflame
With lust for wealth, power, women, rank, or fame
Impartial in his calm, he will discard
Worldly attachments, so that he is sure
When consciousness, dispassionate and pure,
Has passed beyond rebirth, its round of strife
Burnt out. He will have lived the holy life,
A liberated Lohan, who indeed
Reaching Deliverance , knows that he is freed
From self at last, his search for
Wisdom ended,
And that this burning world has been transcended."

To Tao-hsüan it seems that through the haze
Of heat arising from the Buddha's blaze,
His right arm, reaching downward, hand extended,
Would summon Ti Tsang from the womb of Earth
To witness his Release from death and birth,
And so confirm that he has broken free
From bondage. For when Mara's rout assailed
His central calm, detached amidst the Round,
All their terrors, all their temptations failed
To move his adamantine constancy.
But, as the Buddha's fingers touch the ground,
The temple shudders! Its rock foundations quake
In six directions with portentous sound
Down to the mountain's roots! As flagstones break,
The floor cracks open, like a dungeon's trap,
In huge upheaval! From the appalling gap
Eruption's subterranean thunderclap
Suddenly shocks'the trembling monks awake!
Dismay beholds a red infernal glare
Burst upward from the abyss to awe the air:
Recoiling from its hellish blast of heat,
They watch as Ti Tsang climbs the steep stone stair
Out of the dreadful chasm at their feet.

Wearing the Order's plain monastic gown,
The Bodhisattva now attains the hall
And kneels before the flaming lotus throne
To answer Shakyamuni's gestured call,
Who ritually lays his right hand prone
On his disciple's shaven ivory crown,
And drapes around his neck the sacred stole
To bless him. Resting on the Buddha's lap,
His left hand holds the wooden begging bowl
That jostling flames with copper burnish wrap
So that it burns white hot and undergoes
Miraculous transformation, turned by them
Into the magic Wish Fulfilling Gem.
The steadfast Buddha, who would thus extol
Ti Tsang for keeping faith, on him bestows
That crystal sphere of light, acuminated
With flaming crest; while round his aureole
Whose slender golden rim is flammulated,
In bright triunity the jewel glows.


"0 loyal Ti Tsang, Subterrestrial Lord
In whom the Dharma's treasure has been stored
Like precious stones in earth's munificence,
Accept my bowl and blessing as reward
For opportune ascent, whose evidence
Proves that your faith is grounded on the base
Of diamond that bears the cavernous space
Below this world. So, self renouncing sage,
Because you seek no praise or recompense
But put the good of all before your own,
I have proclaimed you Regent in my place,
To free mankind imprisoned by this age
Between my past departure from the earth
And Mi lo Buddha's future human birth,
By whom its tyranny will be overthrown.
May this initiating stole endow
With patient fortitude your dauntless will,
Guide of the Dead, while you fulfil your vow
To rid the suffering underworlds of ill.
Heroic Bodhisattva, my unshaken
And never yielding courage, now your own,
Can save the self condemned, who must atone
For karmic evils. Seek the hope forsaken
Who wander lost in Hell, and let them draw
Upon your inexhaustible merit's store
So that from Wu chien's nightmares they awaken,
And lead their minds from darkness up to light."

With right knee bent in homage on the floor,
Right shoulder humbly bared, Ti Tsang once more
Bows in obeisance, while his hands unite
Their lotus bud before the holy feet.
Three times he walks around the Wisdom seat,
Keeping the Buddha always on his right.
As often as his monk's staff strikes the ground,
It's rings emit the Six Perfections' sound,
So that his tread by chance can never harm
The least of creatures, warned by its alarm.
Again, forearmed with valour, he descends
Barefooted those relentless steps of stone
To brave the purgatorial depths alone,
Until the imperious rule of Yen lo ends.


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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