Ancient ones say, ‘With what ceases slander?’ Saying, ‘Without debate.’ Also saying, ‘Able to suffer a little disadvantage, then not going so far to suffer greater disadvantages.’ With more than thirty years of repeated experiences, I deeply believe these few words to be true and not false.
Great Master Hóngyī
(Great Master Hóngyī’s Complete Collection)
The following is a beloved classic teaching on patience (忍辱), called ‘Hánshān Asks Shídé’《寒山问拾得》or ‘Hánshān’s [And] Shídé’s Patience Song’《寒山拾得忍耐歌》, with notes on its meaning.
[I] prostrate [to] Mañjuśrī [Bodhisattva, who was the] honourable [Master] Hánshān. Námó [i.e. homage to, and refuge for life in] Samantabhadra [Bodhisattva too, who Master] Shídé definitely was.
Note : Great Master Hánshān (i.e. ‘Cold Mountain’) was Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva’s (文殊菩萨) manifestation, who represents perfect wisdom (大智), and Great Master Shídé (i.e. ‘Picked Up’) was Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s (普贤菩萨) manifestation, who represents perfect practice (大行).
[In] former days, Hánshān asked Shídé, ‘In [this] world, [there are those who] slander me, bully me, insult me, laugh [at] me, slight me, despise me, harm me, [and] cheat [me]. How [should I] deal with [them]?’
Note : As Great Master Hánshān surely already knew the answer, he was asking on the behalf of others, who can benefit from Great Master Shídé’s answer. As these two great masters manifested unconventional yet actually skilful behaviour to teach, they were wrongly regarded by some to be crazy. Thus, the answer below reflects how they personally practised accordingly too.
Shídé said, ‘Simply bear [with] him [or her], let him [be], leave [it to] him, avoid him, endure him, respect him, [and] not pay attention [to] him. Then wait [for a] few years, [with] you then looking [at] him.’
Note : Of course, to avoid needless suffering of oneself, and others who might be affected, there should be fair clarification and correction offered compassionately and reasonably, also for the good of the evil-doer, to dissuade from creating of more negative karma, that will lead to more personal suffering. However, if such efforts are not appreciated, the above advice should be heeded, without becoming like him or her, with hateful retaliation, that creates negative karma personally. There should still be respect, for the person’s hidden Buddha-nature, with avoidance for the time being though, so as to not ‘condition’ the person’s further growth of evil, and to not ‘feed the troll’ by being affected, as ill expected. After substantial time, if there are significant positive changes in the person, fruitful interaction can resume.
Hánshān said, ‘Furthermore, what key [is there, to be] able [to] avoid [these]?’
Shídé said, ‘I once saw Maitreya Bodhisattva’s verses. You [should] also listen [to] me recite [these] verses:
[This] old fart wears patched robes,
[with] plain rice, [his] stomach within [is] filled.
[Having] patched torn [robes] well [for] covering [from the] cold,
[of] ten thousand [other] matters, according [with] conditions then.
Note : Maitreya Bodhisattva who represents perfect loving-kindness (大慈), self-deprecatingly called himself an ‘old fart’ (or ‘geezer’, an ‘unusual’ old man), who is easily content with minimal food, clothing and shelter needed for learning and practising the Buddha’s teachings. This is while he disregards all other external conditions, such as people’s judgement and the environment.
With people scolding [this] old fart,
[this] old fart only says ‘good’.
With people beating [this] old fart,
[this] old fart naturally falls asleep.
Note : Of course, there should be avoiding of being harmed in the first place. If unavoidable, when verbally abused, he only sees it as good riddance of personal negative karma bearing fruit. Even when physically abused, he simply switches off regard of any pain, thus not suffering.
[With] spit upon [my] face,
allowing itself [to] finish drying.
I also save [my] strength,
[and] he also [will be] without afflictions.
Note : Even when ridiculed by being spat upon, he chooses to not quickly wipe it away in disgust, but to let it dry naturally, to practise patience, conserve energy, and let the ridiculer be ‘appeased’, so as to cease doing more evil, to swifter reflect and repent on the evils done. There should also be repentance done on behalf of all involved, and with meritorious virtues created dedicated for resolution.
This kind [of practice for perfecting the] pāramitā [of patience],
then is [the] treasure within wonders.
If knowing this secret,
why worry [about the] path [to enlightenment] not ending?
Note : Although the above practice seems difficult and ‘extreme’, it is a most precious and wonderful way to train patience, to advance towards its perfection. With advancement in this one perfection, all other perfections (of generosity, morality, diligence, concentration and wisdom), being interconnected to the need for patience during practice, will likewise advance, thus progressing on the path towards Buddhahood.
[A] person [might be] weak [but with the] mind not weak,
[a] person [might be] poor [but on the] path not poor.
Wholeheartedly wanting [to] cultivate practice,
always [be] on [the] path within practising.
Note : Even if our bodies might be weak, our spiritual resolve should be all the more stronger. Even if our living circumstances might be poor, our sincere and constant spiritual learning and practice should be all the more richer.
Worldly people love glory [and] splendour,
I however [do] not care about [them].
Fame [and] gain after all become empty,
[leaving] my mind without satisfaction.
Note : As worldly glory, splendour, fame and gain are impermanent and unsubstantial, able to karmically end suddenly, and are not able to be brought over to the next life, they are empty in nature, unable to bring about lasting spiritual satisfaction. As such, even if ‘useful’ to some extent, there should not be much or any care about them, lest they distract from spiritual practice now. And there should be no care about them at all when departing from this life, lest they become attachments that bind us to rebirth.
Piling [up] gold, accumulating [it to be] like [a] mountain,
[it is still] difficult [to] ‘buy’ [extension of] impermanence’s limit.
[Of] Zǐgòng, he [was] able [to] speak [well],
[but] Duke Zhōugōng has divine calculation.
Note : Even with amassing of wealth and riches, not a cent can be spent to keep death away when deadly karma ripens. Even those who are very talented in the worldly sense have to accord with the law of karma. (Zǐgòng was known for eloquence among Confucius’ disciples, and Zhōugōng was believed by some to know what will happen.)
Kǒngmíng [had] great ‘wisdom’ [and] resourcefulness,
Fánkuài saved [his] master [from] disaster.
Hánxìn’s meritorious services [were] great,
[yet] faced death, only [by] one sword.
Note : Even those with great worldly skills and contributions can have their lives swiftly ended. (Kǒngmíng was the strategist Zhūgé Liàng [诸葛亮]. Fánkuài saved Liú Bāng’s [刘邦] life, and Hánxìn had many great military efforts.)
[Of] ancient [and] today’s numerous people,
which one [was able to] live [for a] few thousand [years]?
[With] this one flaunting [as a] ‘hero’,
[and] that one being ‘strong [and] courageous’.
Note : No unenlightened being in our defiled world is able to live on indefinitely, not even the very heroic, tough and brave.
Take a look [at your] two temples’ white [hair],
[and] year after year, [your] countenance’s changes.
[With the] sun [and] moon weaving back and forth,
time available [left passes] like [a] shot arrow.
Note : Be mindful of ageing creeping up as we speak, with the passing of each day and night, and know that our remaining lifespans are decreasing rapidly, with death always approaching.
Not long, [when] sickness comes [to] invade,
lowered [is the] head, [in the] dark sighing.
Personally thinking [of] when young,
not having cultivation [of] practice done [then].
Note : Do not have regret later, when there is crippling old age and painful sicknesses, for not having diligently and adequately learnt and practised the Buddha’s teachings, when there was more time and energy to better do so earlier.
[Having] attained sickness, thinking [of] turning around,
King Yama [is however with] no [way to] transform [life’s] limit.
[With] three inches [of] breath severed already,
[at] that time, which one [is able to] argue?
Note : When dying due to severe sickness, there will be no way to extend life. And when death occurs, there will be no way to say that one does not deserve to die.
Also not debating right [and] wrong,
also not holding family arguments.
Also not contending [between] others [and] oneself,
also not being ‘strong [and] courageous’.
Note : Of course, for the good of one and all, there should be discussing of what is right and wrong, but when it becomes contentious, stirring up the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion on one’s side or on both sides, this would be pointless. So-called ‘strength’ and ‘courage’ in verbal and/or physical ‘fighting’ will be useless then, while true strength and courage would be the practice of patience, without any retaliation.
Being scolded also not speaking,
being asked, like [a] dumb person.
Being beaten also not paying attention,
being pushed, [with the] entire body falling.
Note : When being wrongly accused, rudely interrogated and even struck, unreasonably and relentlessly, if there is no way to properly defend or escape, there is no need to reply, retort or retaliate, which might lead to more of the same. Just go with the flow, but never giving rise to the Three Poisons; only continuing to persevere, in doing what should be done, without the slightest sense of dejection. (There can be silent mindfulness of Buddha’s name for protection, for greater calmness and clarity, and to lessen the negative karma that is causing the suffering.)
Also not afraid [of] people laughing,
also not having [a stern] face.
[Of] sons’ [and] daughters’ endless crying,
also again not attaining sight.
Note : Learn to be calm and fearless in the face of groundless ridicule. If able to do so, even when loved ones are crying over one’s ‘suffering’, such as when dying, there will easily be equanimity, which can lead towards liberation, away from the recurring suffering of rebirth. (When departing, there should be sincere mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha’s name [i.e. 阿弥陀佛: Āmítuófó] to reach his equanimous Pure Land, where there will be no more suffering from rebirth.)
[Those] fond [of] individually contending [for] fame [and] gain,
must with [the] desolate countryside [be as] companions.
I see [these] world[ly] people,
[to] all essentially [be] talking nonsense.
Note : Those vying unscrupulously for worldly advantages, such as for more wealth, pleasure, fame and power, might be banished to afar – both officially in this life, due to breaking of human law, and karmically in the next life, to a lower realm, due to serious breaking of precepts. Thus, such worldly craving harms while offering no spiritual benefits.
[I] urge you [to] immediately turn around,
[to] only [be] with cultivation [of] practice done.
Become a person [of] great character,
[with] one knife cutting, [into] two breaking, [away from the pointless].
Note : With time always running out, all should sever from pointless worldly matters swiftly; to truly focus upon spiritual cultivation, to become spiritually great and liberated.
Leap out [from the] red fire pit,
[to] become a cool person.
Awaken [to] attain long life’s principles,
[with the] sun [and] moon as neighbouring companions.’
Note : Swiftly jump out of the pit boiling hot with the torturous Three Poisons, to gain the calmness and coolness of body and mind, which leads to a longer physical life, for furthering the spiritual life, that is in harmony with the universe. (The swiftest path to attainment of immeasurable life, even before attaining Buddhahood, is by reaching Āmítuófó’s Pure Land.)
Namo Amituofo : Translation & notes by Xiao Laozhuo
How One Who Slighted None Attained Buddhahood