I heard the "Song of the Grass Roofed Hermitage" (by Shitou Xiqian 700-790) at my first extended practice session at Great Vow Zen Monastery.
We chanted it in the evening after an arduous day of practice. The zendo lights are big, glowing, full-moon lanterns. They were turned low which created a soft and slightly other-worldly feel to the zendo.
The group started chanting and the words told a story that was beautiful, and in total harmony with the peace that had descended on the room after a long day of practice.
The story seemed quaint, accessible and one of those stories that draws power from being from long ago and far away. A grass hut. A Zen hermit. Beautiful imagery.
The next day the practice session ended and I went home. Occasionally I would think about the beautiful poem and its imagery drifting in chant through the zendo moons.
I have been back a number of times and always get special joy from this chant. Not long ago I reread the song. The beauty was still there on the surface, but it became clear that there was much more below the surface imagery. Since then, I have memorized the song and use it as a central part of my practice. I'll share the song and then, over several blogs, share my current level of understanding from a number of perspectives.
This song and Hui-neng's version of the 4 Great Bodhisattva Vows are the foundation of my practice.
Song of the Grass Roofed Hermitage, by Shitou Xiqian 700-790
I built a grass hut where there's nothing of value. After it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it is lived in covered by weeds. After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
The person in the hut lives here calmly, not stuck to inside, outside, or in-between.
Places worldly people live, he does not live. Realms worldly people love, he does not love. Though the hut is small it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet an old man illumines forms and their nature. Thus, this Bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can't help wondering; Will this hut perish or not? Perishable or not, the original master is present.
Not dwelling south or north, east or west. Firmly based on steadiness, it can not be surpassed.
A shining window below the green pines - jade palaces or vermilion towers can't compare.
Just sitting with head covered all things are at rest. Thus, this mountain monk does not understand at all.
Living here he no longer works to get free. Who would proudly arrange seats trying to entice guests?
Turn the light to shine within, then just return. The vast inconceivable source can not be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be intimate with their instructions, bind grasses to build a hut, and do not give up.
Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk innocently.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations, are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut, do not separate from this skin bag here and now.