Today when I met Lao-tzu, it was like meeting a dragon

From Red Pine’s introduction to his edition of the Taoteching.  Something like a Chinese version of Solon and Croesus, only with better thinkers and more likely to be true.

In the same year [516BC], the Keeper of the Royal Archives, which were still in
Wangcheng, received a visitor from the state of Lu. The visitor was a young
man named Kung Fu-tzu, or Confucius. Confucius was interested in ritual
and asked Lao-tzu about the ceremonies of the ancient kings.

According to Ssu-ma Ch’ien, Lao-tzu responded with this advice: “The ancients you admire have been in the ground a long time. Their bones have
turned to dust. Only their words remain. Those among them who were wise
rode in carriages when times were good and slipped quietly away when times
were bad. I have heard that the clever merchant hides his wealth so his store
looks empty and that the superior man acts dumb so he can avoid calling
attention to himself. I advise you to get rid of your excessive pride and
ambition. They won’t do you any good. This is all I have to say to you.” Afterwards, Confucius told his disciples, “Today when I met Lao-tzu, it was like
meeting a dragon.”

… invariably end up as bear food

From Written in Exile: The Poetry of Liu Tsung-Yuan, translated by Red Pine

Deer are afraid of wildcats, wildcats are afraid of tigers, and tigers are afraid of bears. Covered with long shaggy hair and able to stand upright, bears possess exceptional strength and are capable of killing people. In the south of Ch’u there once was a hunter who could make all kinds of animal calls with his flute. One day he took his bow and arrows and his firepot into the mountains, and he made a call to attract deer. He waited, and when a deer appeared, he started a fire, then he shot the deer. But when a wildcat heard the deer call, it came too. The hunter was terrified and pretended to be a tiger to frighten it. But when the wildcat ran off, a tiger appeared. The man was even more terrified and pretended to be a bear. The tiger disappeared. But a bear heard the call and came looking for a mate. When it saw the man, it grabbed him and tore him apart and ate him. It turns out that those who rely on external aids instead of developing what they have within themselves invariably end up as bear food.

Using a pet tiger as a naptime pillow

by Kanō Tan’yū

From Red Pine’s introduction to his Collected Songs of Cold Mountain:

Despite Kuoching’s famous philosopher monks, whenever Cold Mountain visited, he preferred the company of Big Stick (Feng-kan) and Pickup (Shih-te), two men equally cloaked in obscurity.  According to the few early accounts we have of him, Big Stick Suddenly appeared on day riding through the temple’s front gate on the back of a tiger.  He was over six feet tall.  And unlike other monks, he didn’t shave his head but let his hair hang down to his eyebrows.  He took up residence in a room behind the temple library and came and went as he liked.  Whenever anyone asked him about Buddhism, all he would say was, “Whatever.” Otherwise, he hulled rice during the day and chanted hymns at night.

In James Sanford’s introduction to Shi-shu in The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China we get this extra image:

[Cold Mountain’s collected songs] also contain … two poems attributed to their somewhat reclusive fellow traveler, the Zen monk Feng-kan (perhaps best known for his habit of using a pet tiger as a naptime pillow)


How many times will you still sleep / with a jug of wine by your bed

By Kao Shih, from Red Pine’s translation of Poems of the [Thousand] Masters:

To Chang Hsu after Drinking

The world is full of fickle people
you old friend aren’t one
inspired you write like a god
drunk you’re crazier still
enjoying white hair and idle days
blue clouds now rise before you
how many times will you still sleep
with a jug of wine by your bed

And Red Pine’s endearingly unique commentary:

Chang Hsu (fl. 750) was one of China’s greatest calligraphers and was famous for his cursive script, which became more inspired as he drank.  When I was first living in Taiwan, whenever I had to go to Hong Kong to renew my visa I asked my calligraphy teacher (Chuang Yen, curator of the Palace Museum’s Calligraphy and Painting Collection) if I could bring him back brushes or ink, as people in Taiwan were still forbidden to travel to China. But all he ever asked for was Tachu White Lightning. He said he did his best work before dawn, after a cup or two. Chang also loved to drink and was ranked among the Eight Immortals of Wine. It’s said he kept a jug beside his bed so he could drink as soon as he woke up. Blue clouds represent high position and refer to his new post as court calligrapher, which required earlier hours than he was used to. Kao Shih 716-765 uses two of Chang’s nicknames here: ts’ao-sheng (god of shorthand) and tien (crazy).

Let others become buddha or immortals

From Red Pine’s translation of Stonehouse’s (Shiwu) Mountain Poems – poem 142.

Parched wheat and pine pollen make a fine meal
vine flowers and salted bamboo make a tasty dish
when I’m exhausted I think of nothing else
let others become buddha or immortals

I also very much enjoy Red Pine’s commentary and chose this poem out of a handful of similar ones mainly for his sideline contribution.  He is entirely non-traditional – at least for western philology – but utterly charming.

Pine pollen is collected in late spring or early summer.  “Vine flowers” refers to wisteria blossoms, which are removed individually from each raceme and stir-fried.  At the monastery in Taiwan where I lived for several years, we dined through the summer on stir-fried daylily blossoms, picked a day or two before they were due to open.  Among the mountain-dwelling Aini in Yunnan province, I also enjoyed stir-fried bauhinia flowers.