Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

Han-shan (Cold Mountain), Han-shan (Cold Mountain) poetry, Buddhist, Buddhist poetry, Zen / Chan poetry,  poetry, Taoist poetry Han-shan (Cold Mountain)
China (730? – 850?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
TaoistPoems by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

Both Toaists and Zen Buddhists claim Han-shan as theirs. The poetry of Han-shan shows a familiarity with both traditions, though he seems to have enjoyed poking fun at Taoists and Buddhists alike.

An early biography places the dates of his life in the seventh century, but Red Pine (the translator of The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain) points out arguments that seem to suggest dates in the late eighth century.

It is difficult to speak of Han-shan’s life with historical certainty since so much folk legend has also grown up around him. Autobiographical hints appear in several of his poems and there are a few historical references to him, as well as his two companions, Feng-kan (Big Stick) and Shih-te (Pickup).

As a young man, Han-shan was apparently a part of the privileged civil servant class, but he left his family and wealth at about age thirty to take up the life of a hermit poet, settling in a remote cave beneath a rocky overhang. It was from this natural retreat that Han-shan took his name, which means Cold Mountain or Cold Cliff. (Han-shan is known in Japan as “Kanzan.”)

Han-shan is said to have been handicapped, having difficulty walking. He describes himself in one poem wearing heavy wooden clogs, which are thought to have helped him to walk.

About a day’s journey away was the Kuoching Temple at Mount Tientai. It was there that he befriended Feng-kan (Big Stick) and Shih-te (Pickup). Many stories are told of the antics of these three, as they poked fun at the self-importance of many of the monks, while they themselves, in their foolishness, enacted the true Dharma or Way.

Traditionally, Han-shan is said to have lived to be 120 years old and, in fact, in one of his poems he states that he is over 100 years old, so this may be true.

In the legendary stories surrounding Han-shan, he does not die; he disappears. A high official is said to have finally recognized that Han-shan, despite the crazy image he cultivated, was actually a great spiritual being. The official sent several people to Han-shan’s isolated retreat to bring him back but, on seeing their approach, Han-shan wedged himself into a crack within the cliff wall, crying out “Thieves!” Then the crack closed around him. The fissure of that crack is still said to be visible.

After Han-shan’s disappearance, the poems he had inscribed on local stones and trees were gathered together, along with the poems of his companions, Shih-te and Feng-kan, and they soon began to circulate.

Han-shan was popularized in the West by the Beats. Gary Snyder did an early translation of Han-shan’s poetry and Jack Kerouac dedicated The Dharma Bums to Han-shan.

Poems by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone


Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all
precious heavenly priceless jewel
buried in the skandhas submerged in the body

Beneath high cliffs I live alone

Beneath high cliffs I live alone
swirling clouds swirl all day
inside my hut it might be dim
but in my mind I hear no noise
I passed through a golden gate in a dream
my spirit returned when I crossed a stone bridge
I left behind what weighed me down
my dipper on a branch click clack

Beyond Silence

Blue-green spring water,
white moonlit mountain.

Quiet wisdom of the spirit:
empty gaze beyond silence.

Children I implore you

Children I implore you
get out of the burning house now
three carts wait outside
to save you from a homeless life
relax in the village square
before the sky everything’s empty
no direction is better or worse
east is just as good as west
those who know the meaning of this
are free to go where they want

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain
The pine sings, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Here’s a message for the faithful

Here’s a message for the faithful
what is it that you cherish
to find the Way to see your nature
your nature is naturally so
what Heaven bestows is perfect
looking for proof leads you astray
leaving the trunk to search among the twigs
all you get is stupid

I spur my horse past the ruined city;

I spur my horse past the ruined city;
the ruined city, that wakes the traveler’s thoughts:
ancient battlements, high and low;
old grave mounds, great and small.

Where the shadow of a single tumbleweed trembles
and the voice of the great trees clings forever,
I sigh over all these common bones —
No roll of the immortals bears their names.

My heart is like the autumn moon

My heart is like the autumn moon
perfectly bright in the deep green pool
nothing can compare with it
you tell me how it can be explained

Sitting alone in peace before these cliffs

Sitting alone in peace before these cliffs
the full moon is heaven’s beacon
the ten thousand things are all reflections
the moon originally has no light
wide open the spirit of itself is pure
hold fast to the void realize its subtle mystery
look at the moon like this
this moon that is the heart’s pivot

Someone lives in a mountain gorge

Someone lives in a mountain gorge
cloud robe and sunset tassels
holding sweet plants he would share
but the road is long and hard
burdened by regrets and doubts
old and unaccomplished
called by others crippled
he stands alone steadfast

This rare and heavenly creature

This rare and heavenly creature
alone without peer
look and it’s not there
it comes and goes but not through doors
it fits inside a square-inch
it spreads in all directions
unless you acknowledge it
you’ll meet but never know

You have seen the blossoms among the leaves;

You have seen the blossoms among the leaves;
tell me, how long will they stay?
Today they tremble before the hand that picks them;
tomorrow they wait someone’s garden broom.

Wonderful is the bright heart of youth,
but with the years it grows old.
Is the world not like these flowers?
Ruddy faces, how can they last?

Down to the stream to watch the jade flow

Down to the stream to watch the jade flow
or back to the cliff to sit on a boulder
my mind like a cloud remains unattached
what do I need in the faraway world


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s