The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Book Two, Gathas

Red Pine’s note that the focus of Book Two:Gathas is “less personal and more instructional” probably helps to explain why I didn’t like the poems in this section quite as much as the poems in the first section. Still, there were a number of poems that I did like.

My favorite selection was actually a series of ten poems beginning with “Below High Cliffs.” Here’s my favorite from that series:

Below high cliffs
I don’t dress up my body
I eat roots and wear plants
my socks are hemp my shoes are sedge
dense bamboo shades my windows
thick moss covers the steps in front
desires die in the quiet
cares disappear it’s so still

The Chin River flows from Maoshan northwest into the Yangtze at Nanking and parallels the route between Nanking and Huchou. In number 68 of his Zen Talks, Stonehouse refers to Pinghu’a Fuytsan Temple as Lake Temple. Here, however, the reference must be to Huchou’s Wanshou Temple on Tao-changshan, where Storehouse lived for a time with his teacher, Chi-an. The last line recalls choangtzU: “Though he has a body, he doesn’t harm his mind” (6. 1 a).

Perhaps I like this poem even more than I normally would because I am feeling rather stressed at the moment. It’s a reminder that we can forget our cares if we work at simplifying our lives and quieting our desires.

Certainly much of the stress in our lives is self-made. We want so many things that we drive ourselves crazy longing for them as if they will somehow complete us, and once again make us whole. How strange when we actually get them we are no longer interested in them and find ourselves wishing for something new.

Another favorite poem in this section is:

11 Autumn on the Chin River Road

Everywhere the west wind rains down leaves
chance led me back to Lake Temple’s shelter
among those I knew how many remain
of a thousand worldly cares not one of them is real
all of life’s turmoil turns out to be a dream
clearly every harvest depends upon the seed
knowing this truth has helped make me free
I’ve never followed those who harm their minds

Obviously I haven’t mastered my mind nearly to the extent that Stonehouse has because, no matter how hard I try, I can’t convince my mind that “life’s turmoil turns out to be a dream,” though it often appears so when looking back at events.

However, I’m sure that my body would appreciate it if I were able to hold steady to this idea. I’m convinced that too often stress can defeat the very actions we try to take to resolve perceived “problems,” and at the very least makes it harder than it needs to be to address and solve problems.