Awakening to Transcendence: Saikontan

The Roots of Wisdom: Saikontan draws from three major faith streams of China: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. ‘Saikontan’ means “vegetable root discourse”—that is: nothing fancy, just plain-spoken reminders to be awake to this present moment.


1
Mt. Rainier. Photo by JTClimbing
to high elevations
makes the heart
expansive.
Looking out
on flowing waters
takes one’s thoughts
far away.

2
Looking at
the single shred of cloud
or the crane in the field
Wakes one’s thoughts
to transcendence.

3
If you can just sit
with a lute and a book,
Wherever you are becomes
the realm of the sages.

4
Late at night,
when others are at rest,
Sitting alone
I look deep into my heart.

5
In every human heart there is
one volume of the book of Truth,
But all is packed away on the shelves,
pages here and pages there.

6
Be fully open
and put up no barriers.
In this way
you become one substance
with the origin of the universe.

7
If the spirit is
fully in bloom,
One will obtain
the harmonious energy
of the universe.

8
Look peacefully in the garden
as flowers bloom and flowers fall…
Ramblingly follow the sky
as clouds fold up
and clouds stretch away.

9
Watching the reflection of the moon
in the clear deep pool,
I get a glance at the body
beyond this earthly shell.

10
Listening to the sound
of the bell in the peaceful night,
I am called into sobriety
from my dream within a dream.


NOTES

(1) The word “Saikontan” is a rendering of original Chinese title, “Caigentan,” which means “Vegetable Root Discourse.” … “Isobe clarifies the title as meaning ‘Talks by a man who lives on vegetable roots’, or more freely, ‘Talks by a man who lives a plain and humble life’.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caigentan)

(2) This book was written in the late 16th century. The full citation for the translation cited is:  The Roots of Wisdom – Saikontan, by Hung Ying-ming, tr. William Scott Wilson (Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, Kodansha International, 1985). It is a top favorite among all the spiritual books that I have perused along the way.

(3) Saikontan is the translation that I first encountered. I was dazzled by it. Here are three other translations of this text, each delightful in its own way:

Vegetable Roots Discourse: Wisdom from Ming China on Life and Living / Caigentan, by Hong Zicheng, tr. Robert Aitken with Daniel W.Y. Kwok (Shoemaker and Hoard, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc., 2006)

Back to Beginnings: Reflections on the Tao, by Huanchu Daoren (the Taoist name of Hung Ying-ming), tr. Thomas Cleary (Boston and London, Shambhala Publications, 1990)

A Chinese Garden of Serenity: Epigrams from the Ming Dynasty ‘Discourses on Vegetable Roots’, tr. Chao Tze-chiang (Mt. Vernon, NY, The Peter Pauper Press, 1990)

(4) Citations for the numbered quotes as excerpted from from Saikontan: The Roots of Wisdom:

1.     II, 114
2.     II, 107
3.     II, 9
4.     I, 9
5.     I, 57
6.     I, 171
7.     II, 88
8.     II, 70
9.     II, 6
10.   II, 6

>>next>>

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