As I’ve had the gift of time of late to lose myself in Zen poetry and the intricate notes on the translation work that has occurred to bring this magical ancient form to my modern American literary sphere, I’ve been baffled by the beauty of duality. So much of the wordplay at work in the simple verse of the Zen masters (and Shakespeare as well) is based on pun or playful exchange of similar meaning or pronunciations of words.
While reading the striking collection, Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment by Audrey Yoshiko Seo in order to research artwork for my tattoo, I came across a discussion on the wordplay between the character for “Dream” (yume) which is pronounced in Chinese as “Mu” which is the central concept in Zen known as the Gateless Gate. Basically translating to the notion that in order to attain enlightenment you must not seek enlightenment. Or as I’ve heard it put by the poet, David Budbill, “It’s best to not appear as if you are on the path, that way no one will ask you where you are going.” The dream-like quality of a Zen perspective allows on to pass through the Gateless Gate.
Copper Canyon Press just published yet another incredibly detailed, thoroughly researched translation by Red Pine, featuring the often overlooked corpus of work by T’ang Dynasty poet, Wei Ying-wu, In Such Hard Times. The first poem in the collection, “The Ninth”, discusses the celebration that occurs on the ninth day of the ninth month which represents the closing of the yang years in which friends gather to drink chrysanthemum wine (how ironic that the word for chrysanthemum is the same as that for wine).
As I prepare for a return to the shack and the life in the land of mists and mountain rain, I hope to spend time pursuing the simple things in life, the teachings of zen master Stillwater (of Zen Shorts, Zen Ties fame) and to get my brushes out and work on the shui.