Buddhist Hermit living in China's Zhongnan mountain range.
Buddhism in the News
Lessons in immortality
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Way of the Hermit.
"Hermit monks" can still be found in remote areas of the world. Monasteries are the traditional venue for Buddhist monks looking to further dedicate their lives to studying and living the Dharma so what of the role of hermit monks?
"Amongst White Clouds." explains:
Traditionalists might argue that these monks are going "rogue" from the historic path for monks and are thus misguided. However, consider the quote from one of these hermit monks:
"There are many hearts in this world--the Buddha has a teaching for the heart of every being."
This Buddhist Master said to be on the final leg of his liberation who resides in the Zhongnan mountains of China in near solitude.
One of the hermit monks on the mountain states,
"Most of the monks here already understand the practice methods, they don't make mistakes. But you must understand the practice. If you don't, you make mistakes and that's nothing but torture."
The men (and one woman--a nun) in this documentary have come to the place where solitude is required to enable their level of near constant meditation and mindful living. Isolation is a very strict, strong and effective teacher in that it forces one to confront that in the end you can't rely upon anyone else for your liberation. Even your fellow monks and practitioners.
In practicing the Dharma in isolation one is forced to be with one's thoughts with nothing much to distract oneself from them day and night. The neurotic mind has little to manipulate out of the hermit monks life as silence and raw, naked, confrontation of nature exposes it's futility. Everyday actions take on new meaning when one has no one or no thing to rely upon to distract one from not just practicing Buddhism in general but total, complete, consuming submersion in mindfulness.
Some say they they wander off because they are near enlightenment and therefore where ever they go they are where they need to be. The lessons of mindfulness, of total immersion into mindfulness have carried them outside the monastery walls to reside in the monasteries of old--the forests and mountains. These locations are Earth's first sacred sites and some of the most pure, inspiring and liberating places. It was under a tree, in solo retreat after all where Buddha finally realized liberation.
For these practitioners the spirit of the monastery/sangha travels with them where ever they go. The monastery is everywhere to them including deep in nature where birds, monkeys and other animals are their teachers and fellow practitioners. As well as the trees, caves, waterfalls and rivers. And from time to time many of these hermit monks meet up with one or more other hermit monks in the area to discuss their practice with each other and stay on track. In this documentary the monks in these Chinese mountains are roughly an hour and a half to one day's hike away from each other.
The hermit nun up on the mountain who quoted the Lengyan Scripture, which says in part, "Though there are words to speak, none of these are real. Talk and talk, like flowers falling from heaven--It's all worthless. So there is really nothing to say."
The nun said, "All of the great masters, if they hadn't endured some hardship they wouldn't have opened their wisdom gate."
Finally, consider these thoughts from the man [Red Pine], who wrote the book on these hermit monks, that inspired this documentary, "Amongst White Clouds":
"I’ve never heard of any great master who has not spent some time as a hermit. The hermit tradition separates the men from the boys. If you’ve never spent time in solitude, you’ve really never mastered your practice. If you’ve never been alone with you practice, you’ve never swallowed it and made it yours. If you don’t spend time in solitude, you don’t have either profundity or understanding — you’ve just carried on somebody else’s tradition."
|Books by Red Pine, pen name of Bill Porter|
|go to bottom for links to interviews and
Bill's a dear friend whose work I greatly admire. His translations reflect a lifetime of in-depth study and work including conferring with Chinese scholars in China. - DC
Bill uses Red Pine for translations and Bill Porter for his own work which so far includes two titles:
The Road to Heaven and one not on this list because it's coming out in September of '08 - Zen Baggage, Counterpoint or maybe Shoemaker and Hoard depending on what the publisher Jack Shoemaker calls it.
The Platform Sutra: the Zen Teaching of Hui-neng, Shoemaker & Hoard, Berkeley, CA, 2006
The Heart Sutra: the Womb of Buddhas, Shoemaker & Hoard, Washington D.C., 2004
Poems of the Masters: China’s Classic Anthology of T’ang and Sung Dynasty Verse, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 2003
The Diamond Sutra: the Perfection of Wisdom, Counterpoint Press, Washington D.C., 2002
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain: Revised and Expanded, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 2000
The Zen Works of Stonehouse: the Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit, Mercury House, San Francisco, CA, 1999
The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China (w/ Mike O’Connor), Wisdom Publications, Boston, MA, 1998
Lao-tzu’s Taoteching: Selected Commentaries of the Past 2,000 Years, Mercury House, San Francisco, CA, 1996
Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom, Mercury House, San Francisco, CA, 1995
Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits, Mercury House, San Francisco, CA, 1993
The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, North Point Press, Berkeley, CA, 1993
P’u Ming’s Oxherding Pictures and Verses, Empty Bowl, Port Townsend, WA, 1983
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 1983
Kyoto Journal Interview - photo
Red Pine on Tricycle without need to subscribe: http://www.tricycle.com/interview/the-chinese-hermit-tradition-an-interview-with-red-pine http://www.tricycle.com/p/1751 http://www.tricycle.com/reviews/where-moon-companion http://www.tricycle.com/brief-teachings/bodhidharmas-teachings
You can use the links on this page to help people find Red Pine's books in libraries near them: http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=red+pine+bill+porter
[Thanks to Jordan Rothstein of BayVajra dot info (Bay Area Tibetan Buddhsim) for sending the Tricycle and library links and a couple of new links - dc - 12-17-11]
A page on Bill in Mountain Songs web site - with good photo. This appears to be a site dedicated to Chinese poetry.
A page on the site of Copper Canyon Press with links to reviews and moreJournalist presents relationship of environment to Chinese society - article
Tree In Winter Here's a guy who's down on Bill. It all started with Bill believing something his father had told him or misunderstanding something his father had said. Bill told me to put this in to make the record complete. - DC
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