Translations by James M. Hargett


Shih-te() is a pseudonym for an eremitic Buddhist poet who lived during the T'ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). He is reputed to have lived near a place called Han-shan(), which is located in the southern portion of modern day Chekiang() Province. His name is often associated with two Buddhist monks named Han-shan() and Feng-kan() with whom he was friendly, and who came from the Kuo-ch'ing Monastery().

Strictly speaking, we know very little about the life of Shih-te. Only legends have been associated with his life, and there is no preface to his collection of poems. His poems are all untitled, and contain very little biographical information.

Buddhist influence upon the poetry of Shih-te was overwhelming, and this is realized as soon as one reads a few selections of his poems. He was a follower of the Southern School of the Ch'an() sect, which placed great emphasis upon individual effort. Many of the images and terminology one encounters in his poetry are drawn from Buddhist sutras or the sayings of the Southern School of Ch'an. This sect contends that the doctrine of the Buddha is present within the hearts of all men, they need only be awakened to its presence.

The majority of Shih-te's poems are either vehement denunciations of the evils of mortal men, or Buddhist sermons calling upon these unenlightened mortals to mend their evil ways and awaken to the Buddha. Most of his poems are written in the Old Style() form, usually of eight lines with rhymes falling on the even numbered lines.


I am aware of those foolish fellows,
Who support Sumeru with their illumed hearts.1
Like ants gnawing on a huge tree,
How can they know their strength is so slight?
Learning to gnaw on two stalks of herbs,
Their words then become one with the Buddha.
I desperately seek to confess my sins,
Hereafter, never again to go astray.

1Sumeru is the central peak in the Buddhist universe.


My left hand clasps the Dragon Pearl,1
My right hand clasps the Wisdom Sword.2
First I smite an ignorant thief,
The Sacred Pearl then emits a brilliant glow,
Oh, how I grieve for those foolish fellows,
Who long for that life' of boredom.
Once they fall into the Three Evil Paths,3
They'll sense the peril of their future course.

1The Dragon Pearl supposedly is one which is held beneath the chin of a dragon. A full account of this tale is related in the Chuang Tzu, chapter entitled "Lieh Yu K'ou."
2"The Wisdom Sword is a Buddhist term which refers to a
sword which can cut away illusion.
3That is, the hells, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and the realm of animals.


You have acquired this segmented torso,
How amusing is its magnificent form.
Though the face is like a silver platter,
Within the heart it is black as lacquer.
You boil swine and butcher sheep,
Then boast by saying they are sweet as honey.
But after death when criticism falls upon you,
Do not call them false charges!


Oh, to see the people in the world,
Eternally suffering upon the wayward path.
Those unable to comprehend each thought,
Their actions only lead to bitter suffering.


My poems are indeed poems,
Some people call them chants,
But poems and chants are one in the same,
Readers must only examine them carefully.
But if you carefully search and inquire,
You can't discover life's easiness.
It's similar to learning proper conduct,
Surely it's an amusing affair!


There are a myriad of different chants,
To quickly recite them must surely be difficult.
If you wish to be among those who know them,
You need only to come to the T'ien T'ai Mountains
There to sit among secluded grottoes,
Expounding theories, discussing the profound.
If it happens that we do not meet,
It will seem like a thousand mountains between us.


Of course, Han-shan is Han-shan,
And Shih-te is Shih-te.
How can common fools recognize us?
Though Feng-kan, he surely knows us.
When worldlings wish to see us they can't,
When looking for us where can they look?
What, may I ask, is the reason for all this?
It's because we face the Tao with the power of transcendence.


The steelyard reinforced with silver stars,
Its handle woven with emerald silk.
Buyers crowd up to the front,
Sellers crowd back to the rear.
Unconcerned for others' grieving hearts,
All they say is, "I'm a clever fellow."
At death, you'll depart to see the Yama, 1
Your broom, to be placed behind your back!2
Yama is the king of hell.
2A broom was used in preparing for funeral services. 


Often you delight in the Three Poisonous Wines,1
Then you become confused, your senses lost.
You use money to transact imaginary affairs,
Yet these fantasies have become reality to you.
Your sufferings only lead to further sufferings,
Though you renounce them, there is no escape.
You must quickly become awakened,
But this depends on you alone!

These are the source of all passion and delusion. They represent in part the ideas of love, hate, and moral inertia. 


Carefree are those in the secular world,
Often delighting in its sensual pleasures.
When I see these fellows,
My heart bears much concern.
And why pray tell, do I grieve for them?
I think of their suffering in that world!

James M. Hargett teaches Chinese in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Indiana University.