Recently I was cut off by some cretin during my morning commute. After a pointless horn blast, I sat fuming and thought, of Cold Mountain. Not the cold mountain where, but the Cold Mountain who.
The Chinese have long revered those who forsake the dust of this world to live in mountains, alone, contemplating the universe. If they are also a poet it seals their reputation. Cold Mountain was just such a recluse, alive during the T’ang Dynasty over 1,500 years ago. After some family tragedy, he took to the hills where he found a cave on Cold Mountain. He made it his home, adopting the name.
Described as a beggar in threadbare clothing, he often sang, laughed and cried to himself. Yet, his first biographer observed, “Every word he uttered was compassionate, meaningful and inspiring.” This odd character left behind some 300 poems. Reading them you are astonished by his insight into the human condition. More remarkable are his descriptions of the natural world. From his perch on Cold Mountain he would rhapsodize over clouds, the moon, the sound of wind. These poems transport you to a place that is magical, alive with the profundity of nature.
One of his poems compares humans to insects stuck in a bowl. Round and round we go, never making it over the edge despite our relentless scrabbling. My days are often like that bowl. The same annoyances gnaw at me; anger at rude drivers, headaches over politics, anxieties from the relentless destruction of the planet. And here’s the clincher. Cold Mountain ends his poem by noting, after all this cyclical angst, one day we wake up to find ourselves…old. As a man on the cusp of retirement I can attest to Cold Mountain’s veracity. Despite my years of outrage, I’m still in the bowl, just old.
But this wise hermit broke free from the circular trap. Look, he advised, and you’ll see clouds, a golden moon. Listen and you’ll hear bird songs, wind through pines, the patter of rain. These things are always present, eternal, pure and truthful. He urged us all to simply stop, consider the clouds and follow the path to Cold Mountain.
With a Perspective, I’m Terence Krista.
Terence Krista is a retiring librarian for the San Francisco Unified School District. He lives in Richmond.