Song Of The Skin Bag

I have been reading the poem Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage this week. I’ve printed myself a copy and it sits on the table beside my reading chair. The beginning and ending of it along with several lines in the middle stand out for me. The first line gets my attention and the last line(s) point to what the whole thing’s about, fundamentally.

Thinking about it, and I hope this isn’t too much of a stretch, the beginning and ending of the poem is much like the first encounter when arriving for a retreat and then when leaving. As a Prior, and when Guest Master at Throssel, I knew from my own experience years earlier how important that first meeting is. It can set the tone of the entire retreat. So lasting is this impression it is common for people to tell and re-tell their story for years afterwards. One would want that encounter to be a positive one. I’ve told my story countless times!

Leaving stories abound too and often have a twist in them. I was so relieved to leave at the end of my introductory retreat! Meditation was for the birds, not for me. And yet the next day I was seeking out black fabric to make myself a meditation cushion. Like the lines at the end of a poem my retreat ending left me disturbed, (in a good way). On the one hand relieved to be going and on the other knowing on some level I’d be back. Retreats, like the best of poems, has one returning. The last couple of lines of the poem are thus, pointing to fundamental teaching.

If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.

I hope when a person arrives for a retreat in one of the, yet to be made manifest, hermitages they will be inspired with confidence. And at the end of the retreat they will love the skin bag, here and now.

Here are middle lines from the poem which stand out for me this evening as I write.

Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned
away from.

A song to sing along too I’d say!

One thought on “Song Of The Skin Bag

  1. To me “skin-bag” verges on being offensive. The translators used a scholarly 20th Century Japanese text: the sources to what the 9th Century Shitou Xiqian wrote may be many and varied. Translation is hard enough in European languages, more so in old Chinese to Japanese to English. Does it matter?
    “Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
    are only to free you from obstructions.”

    in gassho

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