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IN PRAISE OF MONASTICS

by Emperor Shunzhi (1638 - 1661, Qing Dynasty)
English translation: John Balcom

Food for all the monasteries in the world is piled as high as a mountain,

Whenever you go with your alms bowl there is food to eat.

Gold and jade are not dear,

Only the monastic’s robe is hard to wear.

I am charged with all the land, the mountains and rivers,

Oppressed by concern for the nation and the people.

For one hundred years, 36,000 days,

Such cannot compare to the ease of half the day of a monastic.

Arriving confused, departing ignorant,

This life lived in vain.

Before birth, who was I?

After birth, who am I?

In adulthood, I am myself.

When I close my eyes, who will I be?

It would be better not to have come, and therefore not have to leave;

Arriving with joy, departing with sorrow.

Joy and sorrow, meeting and parting, all are cause for anxiety.

Who knows when the day of complete ease will come?

If I can know the life of a monastic,

It would not be too late to turn back.

It’s hard to compare a worldly life with that of a monastic:

Free from worries, free from anxieties──at ease.

The food is simple and pure,

One is always dressed in a monastic robe.

Traveling the five lakes and four seas as an honored guest

Because of bodhi planted in previous lives.

All are true arhats

Who wear the Tathagata’s triple robe.

The golden bird and the jade rabbit move from east to west.

To be human one must not scheme.

One hundred years of life is but a midnight dream,

The ten thousand miles of heaven and earth are as a chess board.

King Yu established the nine states, King Tang sent King Jie into exile.

Qin annexed the six kingdoms, but the Han took over them all.

So many heroes from time immemorial;

Now, burial mounds, from north to south.

The emperor’s yellow robe rather than the purple kasa,

From a single thought of ignorance.

I was a monk in the west,

How then was I born into the imperial family?

Eighteen years without freedom;

Fighting in the south, battles in the north──when will I rest?

Today I let it go, and go west,

For a thousand or ten thousand autumns, it matters not.

── from Shengdi Qingliangshan Zhi (Record of the Sacred Clear and Cool Mountains)