Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage


One day this week I came face to face with this calligraphy, kindly given to the monastery, of the poem Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage by Shitou (more familiar to us as the Sekito Kisen in our Ancestral Line).

I have read this poem many times, but had not seen this calligraphy (that’s Rev. Mugo holding it up, by the way). I just stopped what I was doing and sat down in front of it, carried away to an as-yet-unbuilt hermitage. Next day I contacted Taigen Dan Leighton who kindly gave his permission for me to quote his translation of the poem in full here so that you can sit with it awhile too.

I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it’s been lived in—covered by weeds.
The person in the hut lives here calmly,
not stuck to inside, outside, or in between.
Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live.
Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.
Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten feet square, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can’t help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?
Perishable or not, the original master is present,
not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed.
A shining window below the green pines—
jade palaces or vermillion towers can’t compare with it.
Just sitting with head covered all things are at rest.
Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all.
Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?
Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned
away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.
Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.

The translation is by Taigen Dan Leighton and Kazuaki Tanahashi, from the book:
Taigen Dan Leighton with Yi Wu, trans. Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi (Boston: Tuttle and Co., 2000), pp. 72-73.

2 thoughts on “Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage

  1. Pingback: Dwelling Within | Jade Mountain Buddha Hall

  2. Just returning from Segaki it was wonderful to read this poem again. Doesn’t it express perfectly the desire for simplicity and sincerity in practice? And the line “don’t separate from this skin bag here and now” completely sums up the teachings we were given during the Retreat !

Comments are closed.