Asian Mystical Poetry

The mystical poetry of Asia caught hold of my heart many years ago. It was a feeling of familiarity beyond understanding, a feeling of coming home. These poems evoke person-nature-spirit as a holy, harmonious whole.

Be spontaneous
In your own self,
And find the way
That is born in you.
(Jadubindu, India)   

You ask me why
I dwell in
the green mountain;
I smile and
make no reply
for my heart
is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream
and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.
(Li Po, China)

If the heart contains no worldly desires,
You will have autumnal skies and cloudless seas.
If you can sit with just a lute and a book,
Wherever you are becomes the realm of the sages.
(Hung Ying-ming, China)

The blue mountains are what they are,
So are the green waters.
The mountains and rivers are what they are.
Why shouldn’t I, who live with them, be just what I am?
I want a life as real as theirs
Because I am a part of the universe, too.
(Kim In-hu, Korea)     

Climbing to high elevations makes the heart expansive,
Looking out onto flowing waters takes one’s thoughts far away.
Reading books on a night of snow or rain
Purifies the spirit.
Leisurely singing some lines at the crest of a hill
Makes one’s inspiration soar.
(Hung Ying-ming, China)

In later life, quietude my only care.
A million affairs, none my concern.
I know myself no lasting plan
But to go back to this old wood.
Pine winds blow—my girdle is loosened.
Mountain moon shines, I strum my lute.
You ask me the way to the Pattern.
Fishermen’s song deep into the cove.
(Wang Wei, 8th century, China)

I’ve always loved friends of the Way
always held them dear
meeting a stranger with silent springs
greeting a guest talking zen
talking about mysteries on a moonlit night
searching for truth until dawn
when the tracks of our inventions disappear
and we see who we really are
(Red Pine, China)

the moon lights up my door
the wind blows open my robe
sit down on a rock
and hear my mountain song
black hair turns to snow
dawn to evening shade
everything’s dew on the grass
nothing’s meant to last          
(Stonehouse, China)     

Something opens our wings
makes boredom and hurt disappear.
Someone fills the cup in front of us:
We taste only sacredness.

The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.
(Li Po, China)

My soul cries out,
Caught in the snare of beauty
Of the formless one.
As I cry by myself,
Night and day,
Beauty amassed before my eyes
Surpasses numerous moons and suns.
If I look at the clouds in the sky,
I see his beauty afloat;
And I see him walk on the stars
Blazing my heart.
(Fikirchand, India)     

My life is a little oil lamp
Floating on the waves.
But from which landing-pier
Did you set me afloat?
With darkness ahead of me
and darkness behind,
Darkness overlaps my night—
While the necklace of waves
Constantly rings.
The storm of the night
Relentlessly flows
Below the stars,
And the lamp is afloat
On the shoreless space—
As my company.
(Gangaram, India)

I will cast out Wisdom and reject Learning
My thoughts shall wander in the silent Void.
Always repenting of wrongs done
Will never bring my heart to rest.
I cast my hook in a single stream;
But my joy is as though I possessed a Kingdom.
I loose my hair and go singing;
To the four frontiers men join in my refrain.
This is the purport of my song:
‘My thoughts shall wander in the Silent Void.’
(Hsi K’ang, China)

You were foreordained to find the source.
Now, tracing your way as in a dream
There where the sea floats up the sky,
You wane from the world in your fragile boat . . . .
The water and the moon are as calm as your faith,
Fishes and dragons follow your chanting,
And the eye still watches beyond the horizon
The holy light of your single lantern.


1.  Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry, tr. Sam Hamill (Weatherhill, 1993)

2.  Hiding the Universe: Poems by Wang Wei, 8th century

3.  Songs of the Bards of Bengal, tr.Deben Bhattacharya (New York, Grove Press, 1969)

4.  Sunset in a Spider Web: Sijo Poetry of Ancient Korea, tr. Chung Seuk Park, adapted by Virginia Olsen Baron, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.  Kim In-hu, Korea

5.  The Illuminated Rumi, Jalal Al-Din Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks (Harmony, 1997)

6.  The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology (Being 300 Poems of the T’ang Dynasty, 618-906), Kiang Kang-Hu and Witter Bynner (Vintage Books, 1972)

7.  The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse,  Stonehouse, tr. Red Pine [Bill Porter] (Empty Bowl, 1986)

8.  The Roots of Wisdom: Saikontan, Hung Ying-ming, tr. William Scott Wilson (Kodansha Amer Inc., 1985)

9.  Translations from the Chinese, Arthur Waley (Random House, 1941)


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