In Great Master Hānshān’s (憨山大师) ‘Song For Awakening The World’《醒世歌》, he wrote a string of universal reminders and admonitions for spiritual practice. Being timelessly relevant, the teachings encapsulated in his following ten verses should be deeply contemplated upon by all.
(1) With red dust and white waves both obscure and boundless, patience with gentleness is the wonderful prescription. Everywhere according with conditions, prolonging the years, with lifelong knowing of one’s place passing time. [红尘白浪两茫茫，忍辱柔和是妙方，到处随缘延岁月，终身安分度时光。]
Note 1: The great ills of the heavily defiled and clashing nature of this convoluted world requires harmonious forbearance as its cure. To survive well peacefully, where precepts are not broken, let things be by according with the conditions, but also to change them for the better whenever possible, while knowing and keeping your eye on your dedicated mission in this short life.
(2) Stop being with one’s mind’s field concealed, and do not have other persons’ faults propagated. Cautious and prudent during social interactions, be without vexations, patiently doing matters, be good for discussions. [休将自己心田昧，莫把他人过失扬，谨慎应酬无懊恼，耐烦作事好商量。]
Note 2: If there is ‘need’ to hide one’s intentions, it might mean one has evil intentions, that might manifest as evil speech and actions. Thus is it better to be upright and aboveboard. Unless others are unrepentant, and whose transgressions endanger more, they should be privately and kindly advised to change their ways for everyone’s good. As it is difficult to find totally like-minded ones, when with others, be prepared for differences, and to be negotiable, but without breaking your core moral principles.
(3) It is always the hard bowstring that first breaks, with very often seeing the steel knife’s blade easily injuring. Stirring up trouble only because of idle talk’s tongue, provoking and offending is mostly because of the cruel heart. [从来硬弩弦先断，每见钢刀口易伤，惹祸只因闲口舌，招愆多为狠心肠。]
Note 3: Being too headstrong can lead to suffering swiftly, while much flashing of threats can lead to actual harm to oneself and others, be it rashly and/or accidentally. Groundless and destructive gossip will lead to self-harm karmically, be it by direct retaliation or indirectly in other ways, such as by losing others’ trust, by being gossiped about in return. The loose tongue is a dangerous knife, that cuts without drawing blood.
(4) On rights and wrongs, need not having fighting between others and oneself, with each other, why should there be discussing of the bad and good? The world’s matters originally are with many flaws, with this illusory body, how can there be those spared from impermanence? [是非不必争人我，彼此何须论短长，世事由来多缺陷，幻躯焉得免无常。]
Note 4: There is often no need to fight over many worldly and somewhat arbitrary rights and wrongs, that are inconsequential in the long run. Although one should better the world, one should also realise that this is after all a defiled land, not a Pure Land, thus with many faults naturally. With this form that deteriorates in time, why not strive to have immeasurable life in Pure Land, to master how to purify the defiled perfectly?
(5) Suffering some losses, dwelling originally without obstacles, retreating and yielding for three parts is also without harm. In spring days then seeing willow’s green, in autumn’s wind again seeing chrysanthemum flowers’ yellow. [吃些亏处原无碍，退让三分也不妨，春日才看杨柳绿，秋风又见菊花黄。]
Note 5: ‘Great (wo)men of character are able to bow and submit, and to stand tall’ (大丈夫能屈能伸). For the big picture, in order to advance, there might be need to retreat at times. Be willing to give in a little as long as your precepts are not broken, with your original noble goal still in mind. With the impermanent nature of worldly conditions, even cold winter will give in to warm spring, just as hot summer will give in to cooling autumn.
(6) Glory and splendour in the end are the third watch’s dream, wealth and honour are also like the ninth month’s frost. Of ageing, sickness, death and rebirth, who is able to get a substitute? Of the sour, sweet, bitter and hot, oneself has to bear them. [荣华终是三更梦，富贵还同九月霜，老病死生谁替得，酸甜苦辣自承当。]
Note 6: Present worldly grandeur will become as unsubstantial as last midnight’s fleeting dream, as elaborate as it seems, with it as impermanent as snow and dew that vaporises quickly in sun. Remembering that only oneself is responsible for facing the twists and turns in the cycle of birth and death, one should endeavour to awaken from this nightmare now.
(7) People follow clever plans to flaunt their quick wits, while the heavens naturally follow and hold definite assertions. Those flattering, with greed and anger fall into hell, while those fair and upright immediately rise to the heavens. [人从巧计夸伶俐，天自从容定主张，谄曲贪嗔堕地狱，公平正直即天堂。]
Note 7: Those who do not deeply believe in cause and effect (深信因果) might try to outsmart others for personal gain with their limited intelligence, imagining they will get away. The universe however, operates naturally, impeccably and unrelentingly with the law of karma. Those evil with much of the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion will fall into the lower realms of hungry ghosts, hells and animals respectively. Those with Faith and Aspiration mindful of Amitābha Buddha (Āmítuófó) will be swiftly born in his Pure Land instead. (信愿念佛净土生)
(8) Musk deer, because of their fragrance heavy, have their bodies first killed, silkworms, because of their silk being much, have their lives prematurely killed. First take a dose, for regaining composure, calming stomach’s powder, second a small bowl, for harmonising qì, two-olds’ soup. [麝因香重身先死，蚕为丝多命早亡，一剂养神平胃散，两盅和气二陈汤。]
Note 8: Do not envy those who are more wealthy, famous and powerful in worldly ways, for they often had a steep price to pay to get to their current state, and continue to pay much to maintain it. Being ones always envied also places them at great risk before the secretly covetous and jealous. With contentment, it is better to be physically and spiritually calm and composed, than to seek more of what one does not really need.
(9) When alive before, with vain intentions for ten million times, when dead after, leaving empty a pair of hands. With sorrows, joys, departures and unions, every day disturbing, with lifespans fleeting, the poor and prestigious, are every day busying. [生前枉费心千万，死后空留手一双，悲欢离合朝朝闹，寿夭穷通日日忙。]
Note 9: One should plan for actualising realistic and lasting goals, staying focused all the way. All worldly achievements, great as they might be, cannot be brought along to the next life, other than their eventual karmic results, for better or worse. If so, why follow the crowd to be caught up in worldly emotional ups and downs, comings and goings? Why not be more diligent in spiritual practice, which will have stable and lasting benefits?
(10) You should not contend for victory, come to fight to win, as in a hundred years, all over are these dramatic scenes. The moment once sounding of gongs and drums stops, not knowing where your hometown is. [休得争强来斗胜，百年浑是戏文场，顷刻一声锣鼓歇，不知何处是家乡。]
Note 10: Life is too brief to keep competing for short-lived worldly victories, with all these episodes of struggles, dramatic as they might be, mostly fleeting in nature and impact. This life is like a limited stage show. When the accompanying fanfare of musical instruments, which represent supportive conditions cease functioning, the true questions that remain when you have to depart are – ‘Where are you going to? Will be for better or worse? Why not reach Pure Land, to “come home” to your Buddha-nature?’