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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 96 CASUAL POEM ON A SPRING DAY The clouds are thin the wind is light the sun is nearly overhead past the flowers through the willows down along the stream people don’t see the joy in my heart they think I’m wasting time or acting like a child T HIS WOULD BE the kind of poem I would write, or wished I could write, if I wrote poems. Ch’eng Hao (1032-1085) was the most famous philosopher of his day and one of the founders of a movement that became known as Neo-Confucianism. His unique contribution to this movement was based on his understanding that the world was the manifestation of li, or principle, and that neither li nor the world existed apart from the other. Ch’eng was especially famous for his lectures. They were attended by thousands of people and were recorded by his stu- dents and later edited for publication by such famous Neo-Con- fucians as Chu Hsi. But, like all Chinese scholar-officials of his About a Poem Red Pine on Ch’eng Hao’s “Casual Poem on a Spring Day” day, he also wrote poems and this one appears in the most mem- orized Chinese anthology, the Chienchiashih, or Poems of the Masters. In this brief quatrain, Ch’eng leads us through his world with stream-of-consciousness artistry and portrays his sense of oneness with that world. Ch’eng’s philosophy is not merely an academic or intellectual posture. He allows us either to stand outside as his critics might have done or to share his experience so that we might better appreciate the arbitrary separation of ourselves from our own world. When I first read this poem, I was reminded of the story in which Chuang-tzu was out walking with Hui-tzu and com- mented on the joy of the fishes swimming in the stream under the bridge on which the two men paused to enjoy their own spring day around 300 B.C. Hui-tzu said, “You’re not a fish. How do you know if the fishes are happy?” Chuang-tzu replied, “You’re not me. How do you know I don’t know the fishes are happy?” Indeed, our knowledge of others is one presumption after another. Then too, our knowledge of ourselves is only slightly less presumptuous. But here, in this poem, presumption disappears. It’s a spring day a thousand years ago in a heart full of joy. ♦