Author: Han Shan  (1546-1623)

Han Shan, or the “Old Man from the Cold Mountain,” was a great Chanpractitioner, scholar and writer who lived at the close of  the (Chinese) MingDynasty.  He was enlightened many times.  Han Shan wishes to let go of everything, to hold onto nothing, so nothing can hold onto him.  Truth, wisdom and emptiness are the goals for which Han Shan lived.  While Buddha sought enlightenment surrounded by his disciples, Han Shan chose a different path.  “Each individual must find the way for him or herself,” Han Shan advises his readers.  “No one can get sick, age, die, or be born for you.  This suffering only you must bear.  All bitterness and sweetness one must go through on one’s own.”

The poems of Han Shan continues to carry a great fascination for everyone who studies Chan Buddhism (or Zen Buddhism) and Taoism.    All he left behind him were his poems, in which he tells of his solitary life, his thoughts, and his philosophical observation of the world.  His Chan (or Zenobservations made Han Shan an enlightened person among China’s lay Chan followers.

On Clear Mind” describes the method of practice from the state of self to the state of non-self.  Han Shan wrote this poem for a beginning student asking for guidance.  Han Shan compared the mind to the muddy water – in order to calm our mind we have to keep it perfectly still so that the mud will settle to the bottom, leaving the water clear.  If there is a self, the turbulence in the outer realm will cause your mind to move.  The mind emptied of self will naturally be calm and peaceful, remained unaffected by any obstruction.  You will feel free and independent, and as far as you are concerned, nothing can transcend it.

Contemplating Mind” also deals with the approach one should take towards the practice; but it goes further and describes the situation of the mind after enlightenment.  Most of the poem discusses the method of contemplating the emptiness, yet completeness, of the mind.  Han Shan advised the practitioners to avoid all attachments that may arise from meditation, whether they be emotions, thoughts, or pleasant and fearsome states.


True nature is pure and deep like clear, still water.

If beaten with hatred or love, waves of anxiety arise.

Arising without cease, self-nature becomes confused.

Anxiety and ignorance ever increase unconsciously.


Self grasping another is like mud entering water.

Self moved by another is like throwing fat on the fire.

While chaos is taken to be real, self is born.

If self is not born, anxiety, burning for eons, turns to ice.


Thus perfected ones first empty the polluted self.

When the polluted self is emptied, how can the outer realm be blocked.

Resilience is the function of the self forgotten.

As soon as quirk appears, you recognize them immediately.


The point of recognition is enlightenment.

The instant one thought returns to brightness.

All traces are swept away.  That moment is refreshing.

Refreshing and relaxing;

Incomparable and independent;

Tranquil and harmonious;

Nothing can match it.



Look upon the body as unreal;

An image in a mirror; the reflection of the moon in water.

Contemplate the mind as formless, yet bright and pure.

Not a single thought arising,

Empty, yet perceptive; still, yet illuminating.

Complete like the Great Emptiness; containing all that is wonderful.


Neither going out nor coming in, without appearance or characteristics.

Countless skillful means arise out of one mind.

Independent of material existence, which is ever an obstruction.

Do not cling to deluded thoughts, these give birth to illusion.


Attentively contemplate this mind; empty, devoid of all objects.

If emotions should suddendly arise, you will fall into confusion.

In a critical moment bring back the light, powerfully illuminating.

Clouds disperse, the sky is clear.

The sun shines brilliantly.


If nothing arises within the mind, nothing will manifest without.

That which has characteristics, is not original reality.

If you can see a thought as it arises, this awareness will at once destroy it.

Whatever state of mind should come, sweep it away and put it down.

Both good and evil states can be transformed by mind.

Sacred and profane appear, in accordance with thoughts.


Reciting mantras or contemplating mind,

Are merely herbs for polishing a mirror.

When the dust is removed, they are also wiped away.

Great extensive spiritual powers are all complete within the mind.

The Pure Land or the heavens can be travelled to at will.


You need not to seek the real, mind originally is Buddha.

The familiar becomes remote, the strange seems familiar.

Day and night, everything is wonderful.

Nothing you encounter confuses you.

These are the essentials of mind.


The Wonders of the Mind

My mind is like the autumn moon.

Clear and bright as a jade pool.

Nothing compares to its beauty.

How can I describe it?


I live on the mountain, no one knows me.

Between white clouds, I am always alone.


I will leave it to you to change the world.

I am sitting in contented silence between the cliffs.


The current flowed,

The Moon forgot its light,

And I forgot myself as I sat here by the vines.

The birds were far away,

Suffering was far away,

And there were no people.


Spring-water in the Green Creek is clear;

Moonlight on Cold Mountain is white.

Silent knowledge — the spirit is enlightened of itself.

Contemplate the void:  this world exceeds stillness.