A Good Life

Few people travel to where I am –

The Cold Mountain

Rarely in walking condition, this trail to heaven

Here you hear the song of cicadas

But no noise from the crows

Fallen leaves cleared away by passing clouds

Plenty of stones, almighty mountains!

Living alone, I call it The Right Direction

If you take a closer look

You realize how perfect it is

Safe-guarded by icicles, so cool is the Cold Mountain

Hiding away the green, showing off snow white

Once the sun is out though

Everything reveals its own nature!

Getting warmer and warmer, I sit in heaven

Recognized by no one – even the clouds leaving me alone

How deep these mountains are, how content I am

Plenty of ivory stones, none of the worldly golds

Playing my zither

To entertain the mountain spring

Feet resting upon rocks

Caressed by the mountain breeze

No fan is needed for such cooling ease

Basking in the moonlight, attended by the clouds

I sit in a bliss

For a long time now, Cold Mountain has been this way

Living alone and away

No birth and no death

~ Translated by Dot, from Cold Mountain’s original work in the Tang dynasty


~ 寒山 (唐代)

So Distant Yet So Close

The only thing I know about my paternal great-grandmother, besides her name being Tang De-Fu (湯德富), is that she was the most accomplished practitioner in her Buddhist temple, so accomplished that she passed away sitting in a full-lotus position meditating.

Sometimes I wish I knew more about her. Come to think of it though, what else could be better telltale of a transcendent being, than that specific piece of information about her I already know? Utterly it has spoken it all, hasn’t it? If you could die like our great-grandma did, with that kind of composure, in so sublime a state, attaining such profound realization, what other particulars about you could possibly be further revealing?

I realize I don’t really need to know more about her – I have known everything about her that truly matters.

It would be nice though, if we had a picture of her. The point is not to know what she looked like. The point is to have a focus for gazing, to have an embodiment of the sublime qualities I know she must have acquired – confidence and compassion, forbearance and generosity, rejoice and delight, insight and wisdom, clarity and purity … I yearn for a connection with her. I need her to be less faraway.

So I made this drawing of my great-grandmother, based on my idea about her in my mind’s eye. I certainly lack the skills to convey all her spiritual qualities. But now that I can gaze upon her with all my admiration and appreciation, she is no longer distant in history; she is right here with us.


But then, in the past she’s never really faraway, I realize now. She’s been in my blood. This undercurrent of inherited essence has been there all the time. It is a built-in mechanism, our inborn nature. Thanks to great-grandma’s full-lotus posture, the inspiration it passed on remains fully alive. The seed will sprout one day. I know it has to.