On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

December 22, 1999

Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage

Shih-t’ou (700-790)

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 square feet, 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 vermilion 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.

Shih-t’ou (700-790)

Shitou Xiqian was an early Chinese Zen master. He was called one of Zen’s two ‘great jewels’ (the other was Mazu Daoyi). For some years, he meditated continually in a hut built on a rock at Nan Monastery, and was thus called Shitou (“Priest Rock Head”)

While many of us have pined for the likes of a grass hut hermitage to live and practice in, meditation in the midst of activity and the chaos of urban life has a depth and value more of us are coming to appreciate.

Rather than create a dichotomy of mountain/retreat/realization vs. city/distractions/compulsion, why not a mind that doesn't create division? Why not a practice that works anywhere? Not that the refreshment of the mountains doesn't have a place for us, but why not create a life that is just enough right where you are?

Instead of engaging the mind where everything is never quite right and we are always seeking for that just right place to train, we can return to the grass hut hermitage within that is always there for us not dependent on outside circumstances.

Make your upper garments into a monk's robe
Make your chair your sitting cushion;
Make the mountains, rivers and great earth the sitting platform;
Make the whole universe your own personal meditation cave.
This is the true practice of the sages of the past and of today.

– Hakuin (1748)

From Blue Sky Hermitage,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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