*As a Keepsake for San Francisco's Gold Mountain Monastery
Dont say that the lives of tiny creatures are insignificant;
They, too, have bones and flesh; they too have skin.
I beg you, kind Sir, do not shoot the birds in the boughs,
For the babies there are waiting for their mother to return.
"Poem on the Prohibition against Taking Life" by Bai Ju-yi
Copied respectfully in the summer of Jia-yin (1974)
by Li Yanwu of Ch'ang-shan
I went to Upasaka Li's (General Li Yan-wu) home today. He wrote a verse in calligraphy, which I read once, closed my eyes, and memorized on the spot. I'm going to recite it for you now. He wrote:
The Black River flows for a thousand years.
The White Mountain towers for ten thousand ages.
My house was tucked away in the secluded foothills.
Plowing the fields, digging a well, we enjoyed simple pleasures.
In my youth, I threw away my writing brush to join the army;
In my old age, I sojourn on the Island of Peng (Taiwan).
When will I return to my hometown,
And run around the firmiana tree in the yard?
The Black River flows for a thousand years. He was from Manchuria, and in Manchuria there is the Black Dragon River (Heilongjiang), which has flowed ceaselessly for thousands of years without interruption.
The White Mountain towers for ten thousand ages. General Li lived near the Eternally White Mountain (Changbaishan), which has always been considered a colossal mountain among all the mountains, like a great hero. Being a military man, he liked to speak of heroes. He was into heroism.
My house was tucked away in the secluded foothills, on a solitary hilltop.
Plowing the fields, digging a well, we enjoyed simple pleasures. During the time of Emperor Yao, “People went to work when the sun rose and retired when the sun set. They dug wells in order to drink water, and planted the fields in order to eat.” “We enjoyed simple pleasures” literally comes from a phrase in the Book of Odes, “May your children be as numerous as grasshoppers.” That means his family was well-developed and happy.
In my youth, I threw away my writing brush to join the army. As a young man, General Li emulated the Han dynasty general Ban Chao, who was originally a scholar but who left his brush behind and went to join the army, feeling he could help the country more effectively that way.
In my old age, I sojourn on the Island of Peng (Taiwan). Now that he is old and his figure is decrepit, he sojourns in Taiwan. Taiwan is just a place to which he has traveled.
"When will I return to my old hometown? When can I return to Eternally White Mountain to take a look?
And run around the firmiana tree in the yard?" On the day of his birth, his mother dreamt of the firmiana tree in the yard. When she awoke, she gave birth to Upasaka Li. In order to repay his mother's kindness, he keeps thinking of going back to circle that firmiana tree. Or perhaps he means that he wants to come back in his next life to be his mother's son again. You see, he hasn't had enough of being her son, so he wants to do it again in his next life.
I read the verse once, closed my eyes, and recited it back to General Li. He exclaimed, "You have an excellent memory!" I said, "It's already declined. My memory was even better when I was young."
If you have patience, then you will have a good memory. Some people say they have bad memories, and it's because they have no forbearance. If you can endure disgrace, you'll be able to remember anything. However, remembering everything is still useless. If you can endure disgrace, you'll achieve dhyana and be vigorous.
※ Editor's Note: When General Li took refuge with the Venerable Abbot he saw a number of inconceivable things (see letter in last issue), and during the ceremony his heart of great compassion was born. With its birth, every thought of desire ceased and what he experienced was subtle and wonderful. At that time the Venerable Abbot gave him a method to cultivate the Way, the mind seal, for it can be said that he had already had an enlightenment. Then the Venerable Abbot taught him this verse:
Walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
Don't separate from This.
Having left This.
You've made a mistake.
The General wrote a poem in reply (the original Chinese poem has been lost, and the Chinese is a translation back from the English):
Every minute, every second, one must be on guard,
Every second, every moment, one must cultivate the Way
Not drifting off for even for an instant,
Not even for a moment can one leave the Middle Way.
※ Excerpted from the combined volume of issues 60, 61, and 62
(March-May, 1976), page 57.