Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ideal of Solitary Contemplation


"I didn't know where the temple was, Pushing mile upon mile among cloudy peaks; Old trees, unpopulated paths, Deep mountains, somewhere a bell. Brook voices choke over craggy boulders, Sunrays turn cold in the green pines. At dusk by the bend of a deserted pond, A monk in meditation, taming poisonous dragons." .....................The ideal of solitary contemplation is expressed by a poet of the T'ang era, Wang-wei (699–759)

"I've built a grass hut where there's nothing of value…. The person in the hut lives here calmly, not stuck to inside, outside, or in between…. Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature." .................... Vimalakirti Sutra

This is continuing theme on the philosophy of Sunyata referring to a quote from Vimalakirti Sutra, which is a Mahayana text expounding the philosophy of Sunyata, and a stanza of the poem by Wang-Wei, celebrated 8th-century Chinese poet who named himself after the Vimalakīrti. These two verses, on solitary contemplation and the immateriality of physical domain, are brought together as to how we could seek wisdom through contemplation and an inner state.

In the first text, a journey is undertaken to seek out the existence of a temple of which there is a fore knowledge through a priori inputs, assigning certain uniqueness of which the seeker is aware. The temple is the representation of any belief system or ritual domain or repository of knowledge (like a sage) through which we seek to obtain a higher level of Spiritual consciousness. But as explained, the traveller then passes through mile upon mile among cloudy peaks, old trees, untread paths and deep mountains. These are all symbols of the elements that could not only easily mislead the seeker from the true destination but could endanger his very (spiritual) life.
The 'sun rays turning cold in the green pines' points to the first level of truth. As we know in the cold of the winter the pines loose their green needles as the power of the sun to provide the needed energy for photosynthesis is very low even if there is a clear sky. If the pine remains green then it can do so only through its internal energy. The next part of the text provides the imagery of the 'monk in meditation taming poisonous dragons'. This is the destination the seeker reaches. This is the temple that we must seek. For within each one of us are the poisonous dragons which are impediments to our spiritual progress.

 "A Western poet might want the landscape to reflect his or her feelings and react with sorrow or even despair if it did not; a Chinese poet of landscape, and Wang Wei seems the example par excellence, is willing simply to know that his feelings, however disparate, are allowed to be part of the whole." [1]

In this spirit when we look at the whole stanza of the poetry we realize the seamless texture of the meaning that it conveys.

This now brings us to the text in Vimalakirti Sutra. The immateriality of the physical abode of wisdom and how there is a permeating quality of unhindered flow to and fro from the seeming containment is illustrated in this verse. The abode is qualified by its nature of having no materialistic value. This detachment is a prerequisite for spiritual consciousness to take root in the Self. This is the reason the Sutra says "......Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world In ten square feet..." This is the singularity of the entire cosmos which illumines all forms and their created nature.

Through this integral approach succinctly brought forth in the poetry of Wang-Wei and the immense truth in the Sutra verse, the inner journey through fighting our dragons and Self contemplation, we can attain deeper knowledge of our true identity.

Love to you all. 



[1] "Five Tang Poets: Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, Li Ho, Li Shang-Yin" By David Young; 1990

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