The Clouds Should Know Me by Now - Preface

Buddhist Poet Monks of China

Preface

China’s Confucian elite weren’t the only ones who wrote poems. Buddhist monks also practiced the art that combined insight with the emptiness of language and the harmonies of the human voice. When the Fifth Patriarch wanted to appoint a successor, he asked for a poem. And the poem he accepted as worthy of the robe and bowl of Bodhidharma was from an illiterate kitchen worker. For many Buddhists the ability to compose a poem was just as important as a knowledge of ritual or scripture. For some it was more so. The poem was the lion’s roar and the hermit’s sigh.

But while China’s monks have often been as prolific as scholar-officials in the writing of verse, little of their work has been translated into Western languages—the poems of Han-shan (Cold Mountain) being the rare exception. The purpose of this book, then, is to introduce several more voices of this Buddhist poetic lineage. To this end, each of the translators has chosen the work of a poet monk (or a group of them in Paul Hansen’s case) largely unknown in the West.

Before passing on the results of our joint efforts to the reader, the editors would like to thank those without whose collaboration this book would not have been published. First, we would like to acknowledge the impetus given to this project by Albert A. Dalia, former editorial director of Wisdom Publications .The editors have talked about many books that disappeared with the sunset. Albert kept this one in the sky, as did the publisher, Tim McNeill. Moreover, both encouraged our active participation in the book’s design, accommodating, for example, our desire to include the Chinese text. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than to put such a useful and finely made book in the hands of readers. For this opportunity, we are most grateful.

We are also grateful to our fellow translators. It would have been hard to assemble a more accomplished group. Not only are all longtime students of Buddhist practice and Chinese literature, they are also able poets and have taken the time to search beyond the words for the spirit of the poems they have translated.

Thanks too to J.P. Seaton for including a selection of these translations in the Summer 1998 issue of The Literary Review.

We also thank Andrew Schelling for providing readers a match with which to burn these incense lines and Steve Johnson for contributing his cover photograph of Huangshan that evokes their setting. Finally, we thank Gary Snyder for the opening Han-shan translation and Finn Wilcox for the book’s closing poem recalling a journey to the sacred mountain of Chiuhuashan and his encounter with a lone Buddhist nun whose closest neighbors were tigers. Thus does the present form a bridge to the past.

The Editors
Port Townsend, Washington
Spring, Year of the Tiger

 

 

 

 

Editors’ Note: In romanizing Chinese names and words, the translators have used variations of the Wade-Giles system, though an occasional inconsistency may sometimes appear. Some geographical locations, for instance, have been rendered in Pinyin style to reflect the way they are spelled on contemporary maps of China. Also, both Zen and Ch’an are used to refer to the transmission of understanding begun in China by Bodhidharma. Ch’an is theWadeGiles romanization of the modern Mandarin pronunciation, while Zen represents the standard romanization of the Japanese pronunciation, by means of which the world has learned of this tradition.

 

How to cite this document:
© The Clouds Should Know Me By Now (Wisdom Publications, 1990)

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