Of Ducks, Drunken Songs and Young Beauty
The golden duck vanishes into the gilt brocade.
Singing a rustic song, the drunk returns from the woods
Only the young beauty knows about her love affair.
~ Yuanwu Keqin, Entangling Vines, Case 98
Summer days are already shortening, yet remain warm into the early evening, allowing the bushes and bunches of tomato plants, kale and chard to push hard to make seed before the autumn cooling. The apples have begun to fall before we can catch them and the figs, like wine grapes, are changing color from green to purple. For some reason, the above poem reminds me of summer: perhaps it is the golden color; or the rustic and drunken song; or the young beauty and her love. Below is the strange and magical story that brought Yuanwu’s to write this poem.
Yuanwu visited many teachers, all of whom praised him highly, but when he met Wuzu Fayan, he felt the teacher aloof and uncaring. He decided to leave the monastery, and on departing, Wuzu told him: “Remember me when you are ill with fever.” Not long after, Yuanwu did become sick, and recalling what Wuzu had said, returned to his old teacher. Wuzu laughed and made him his assistant.
One day, a treasury official, who had retired to Sichuan, sought out Wuzu to learn about Zen. Wuzu asked the official if in his youth he had read the lines of a popular poem that went: “She calls to her maid, ‘Little Jade!’, not because she needs something, but just so her lover can hear her voice.” The official said he had. Wuzu said, “The words have a feel of Zen.”
When the official had left, Yuanwu asked Wuzu if the official understood the meaning of the poem. Wuzu replied, “He knows the words.” Yuanwu asked, “’Just so her lover can hear her voice,’” if he knows the words, why doesn’t he understand the meaning?” Wuzu shouted, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?”, and answered himself, ”Cypress tree in the front garden!” At that, Yuanwu was awakened. He went outside the cottage, and
saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing, beat its wings, and crow loudly. Yuanwu said to himself, “Is this not the sound?”
Yuanwu then wrote the above verse, and gave it to his teacher Wuzu, who told him: “I share your joy.”