Tag Archives: Wang Wei

#29: After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of the Four Noble Truths


After Teaching the Ancient Chinese Masters, the American English Teacher Considers Buddhism Through an Exploration of The Four Noble Truths

Life is suffering.
Not the physical pain of suffering,
a burnt hand, a broken limb, an illness,
but an uneasiness, a dissatisfaction,
a desire that comes not from a dream or a goal
but from an overwhelming sense of scarcity.

Suffering has causes.
And they are all right between my ears.
Whatever makes me feel disgusted with life
comes from some stupid thing I think I need
in order to be happy, and if I understand
those unfulfilled desires and the thinking
that enables them to haunt my waking hours,
I am half way there.

It is possible to end suffering.
Really? I don’t have to go on
wallowing in self pity or jealousy or envy
or desire for whatever it is I don’t have;
I can jettison regret, guilt, embarrassment
about the past and wild grasping and hand wringing
about the future?  Sign me up.

Suffering ceases through the practice
of the Eightfold Path: right view, right intention,
right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right effort, right mindfulness, and finally,
right concentration.

In my adulthood I have learned
to reject most everything about religion,
but here, after teaching the poems of Li Po
and Wang Wei to high school students,
and finding it necessary for contextual purposes
to introduce them to the Four Nobel Truths,
I find myself without argument or criticism,
humbled and awestruck by this little bit,
by these touchstones of Buddhist practice.

Such an elegant prescription,
I’m tempted to say simple, even,
but I know that is not remotely true,
or at least, not easy. Simple in its
straightforwardness, in the absence
of dogma, in its pure, undeniable wisdom,
but a difficult and complex practice.
I’m not sure I have the stamina,
the discipline, the honesty, the selflessness
to ever become a true practitioner, or,
what might be considered a good Buddhist.

But just having them there
on the page and in my mind,
these Four Noble Truths,
as clear as any prescription by the greatest
psychologists the world has ever known,
gives me a great deal of comfort and, perhaps,
the only and best kind of compass I’ve yet
encountered since abandoning the faith
of my youth, my family, and my culture.
I know I’ll wander off here and there,
meandering, getting stuck in the thickets,
but it’s a path I can follow, imperfectly,
the Middle Way leading me home.


Filed under Poetry

#17: The American Teenagers Have Theories About The Ancient Chinese Masters


The American Teenagers Have Theories About The Ancient Chinese Masters

They’re just making stuff up.
Here’s one that says that Li Po
was Wang Wei’s evil twin,
his doppelgänger,
or that the two poets were,
in fact, the same guy,
a sort of Jeckyl and Hyde affair.
Here’s another that
says Li Po was drunk
ninety-five percent
of his entire life,
her exact words,
and that he killed some
people just because he could.
He was an alcoholic, you see,
and I was thinking that maybe
she mistook the ancient Chinese master
for the character in a Johnny Cash tune,
or she confused the poet’s sacred
devotion to wine with her uncle Bob’s
binge drinking,
which, might be reasonable,
as the result is pretty much the same.

They fixate on Li Po’s wine and women
and on Wang Wei’s mountains,
and one of them was–
or–both of them were captured
by rebels and were let go,
not because they were exonerated,
but because they were such great poets,
all deaf, mouth-burned, mountain
and river-loving, drunk and at peace,
in love with the moon unto death,
so yu and wu it’s not even funny.
And that’s why the T’ang Dynasty was
so great for the Chinese
and those Chinese Zen master poets.


Filed under Poetry

#4: The American Teenager Reads the Ancient Chinese Masters


The American Teenager Reads the Ancient Chinese Masters

Untitled (Wang Wei, translated by David Hinton)

You just came from my old village
so you know all about village affairs.
When you left, outside my window,
was it in bloom—that winter plum?

What the hell?
What village affairs? Who left? Why did he leave?
Where’d he go? What does a plum have to do with village affairs?
What difference does it make whether this guy
saw the plum or didn’t see the plum?
Do plums grow during winters in China?
What the hell?

In Reply To P’ei Ti (Wang Wei, translated by David Hinton)

The cold river spreads boundless away.
Autumn rains darken azure-deep skies.
You ask about Whole-South Mountain:
mind knows far beyond white clouds.

What the hell?
Who’s P’ei Ti?  What’s an azure-deep sky?
What’s he asking?
What ABOUT the damn Whole-South Mountain?
Mind knows? Whose mind?
How does a mind know beyond clouds?
What the hell?

The American teenager does not know how much she knows.
Her questions give rise to answers unspoken, unwritten.

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