Long locked by dust

“Enlightenment poem” (悟道詩) by the Song-dynasty monk Chai Lingyu 柴陵郁 (ca. 11th c.):

I have a shining pearl
Long closed and locked by dust;
This morning, the dust cleared, light arose,
Shone through to the myriad flowers of mountains and rivers.


We learn, gradually, of the shining pearl, the enclosing dust, the incipient transformation—dust spent, light arising. Then, in the dense six characters of the final line, our vision abruptly expands: the light pierces the dust; it graces the mountains and rivers; it ignites the myriad flowers that fleck their slopes and shores!

The dust clearing is a metaphor for Buddhist enlightenment, but its visual power works independently of this. It reminds us that we who have little chance of attaining nirvana still have the wonders of our mortal world. The countless blossoms and boundless hills are miraculous in themselves.

November 2019