The Zen Hermit, Ryokan, called a furabo or wild scarecrow
Because the technical demands of e-books preclude them, some illustrations for Meditation in
the Wild are displayed here.
Chapter 3. Chinese Recluses::
Page 116 ff.
The First Patriarch of Chan was Bodhidharma, and the myths which surrounded him gave flavor to the tradition
he founded. Although Bodhidharma seems to have been a real person, most stories about him are of question-
Bodhidharma cut through the civilization he landed in to find a more grounded reality in the wildness of
practice, where behavior was not bound by Confucian civility, the recitation of texts, or the theology of
scholars. Practice was meant to penetrate to the essence of existence. Bodhidharma was crude, like the nine-
teenth-century natural historians’ image of nature driven by survival of the fittest. As Tennyson put it, “Nature,
red in tooth and claw.” Pictures of Bodhidharma show him sometimes with a ferocious grimace and
other times with a mournful expression. He represents a confrontation with life and death laid bare of the
protections of civilization.
Images of 1, 4, 5 and 6 of Bodhidharma are public domain works of art. Such reproductions are in the public domain in the
United States. Image 2 is a woodcut print reproduced by permission of the artist Judith Winograd. Image 3 is by permission of
Chapter 3 Chinese Recluses:
page 142 ff.
Sesshu Toyo, (1420–1506) said: “I went to China with the thought of receiving instructions from masters, yet
I found no masters but the mountains and waters of China.” Sesshu’s painting, The Long Scroll, is considered
one of the major works of Zen or Chan nature painting. In it there are stark rock formations with mist and
trees jutting up from the barren landscape. Sesshu painted The Long Scroll from the sketches and memories he
had of his trip to China 18 years earlier, when he was so impressed by the Chinese landscape. The scroll,
scholars have noted, represents the Zen themes that rocks, trees, mountains all have Buddha-nature and that
humans are insignificant in this larger world. When I look at the scroll I do so with American eyes influenced by
the Lone Ranger galloping through the seeming emptiness of the American West. On first glance I see
dramatic pieces of landscape, apparently inhospitable to agricultural or domestic pursuits, situated in remote
areas, which require hazardous journeys to get to them. The hilly background of the scroll strike one as far away
in the wilds.
Closer examination reveals something quite different. Although the scroll progresses through seasons rather
than through space, each of the seeming wilder parts is either situated between villages or structures of humans
or has within them the infrastructure of society. In one direction the pictorial sequence of the scroll shows a
steep hillside with steps carved out of rock on an excavated ledge (representing years of labor), a walled town
under mountains, and a steep, scraggly treed hillside, again with steps carved out of rocks on the occupied side.
Two people are ascending the steps at the base of which appears to be a cave with lots of people and an inn
where there is a celebration going on. Then there are more hills with a path ascending to a temple, sheer cliffs,
and a curved Chinese-style stone bridge over a stream. Although most of the scenes in the scroll are pictured
below misty mountains, which suggest wildness, the foreground is almost always punctuated with a village,
temple, or well-worn human-constructed pathways. It does not feel nearly as remote as an American National
Park, with concessions at its base and groomed trails leading away into what might be weeks of hiking in
woods and mountains without coming upon another facility. The network of inns and hostels that the government
or Buddhist orders erected every 10 miles or less across the Chinese countryside is frequently portrayed in
Sesshu’s landscape. He depicts a nature void of nonhuman animals.
Reproductions from "the long scroll" comes from an old uncopyrighted Chinese reproduction of "the long scroll."
Han-shan and Shih-te
Cold Mountain, a seventh-century recluse, bore the name of his dwelling place. One of his associates, Pickup,
Shih-te, was the janitor or cook in a monastery who would supply Cold Mountain with scraps of food when
he came to visit. The two are often pictured making fun of the monks. Cold Mountain is dancing and Pickup
is sweeping the monks out of their conventional, stuck places. In one painting he is emaciated, with tattered
clothes, birch bark cap, and wooden clogs. He may have had a limp. In other paintings he is fat and jolly.
The challenges of life out of doors dominate his life. Cold Mountain and Pickup embody Chan irreverence.
Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail.
If your heart was like mine
You’d get it and be right here.
... A recluse needs to be willing to live with:
Thin grass does for a mattress,
Happy with stone under head.
The poems are respectively from
Han Shan (1969). Cold Mountain (G. Snyder, Trans). San Francisco: Four Seasons. no. 6.
Han Shan (1983). The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain (Red Pine, Trans). Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press. no. 9.
Permission to reprint for Meditation in the Wild granted by the publishers. Their reproduction here falls under the doctrine of
To my knowledge the reproductions of Han-Shan and Shih-te or Kanzan and Jittoku, in Japanese, are in the public domain.
The destruction of the landscape of forest monks.
Between 1951 and 1971 the United States spent more than $3 billion in Thailand financing military and
strategic rural development. A goal of American aid was to change Thai village subsistence farming to
commercial agricultural production. This was accompanied by greater extraction of timber. The percentage of
forests in Thailand went from 51% in 1961 to 19% in 1988. The acreage in farming exploded. Thirty large
dams were built, flooding thousands of acres. A number of golf complexes were built on forest land. In
the Northeast development proceeded apace. Most of the hardwood forests in the Northeast were cut down.
The Northeast was 41% forested in 1961 as compared to 14% in 1988. The first paved road to the Northeast
was finished in 1957. Then followed gravel roads into the interior. In the late 1960s the Friendship Highway
was completed to the far reaches of the Northeast, tying the entire area together by a network of paved roads….
In addition to the political impact of the war in Vietnam that made wandering in Thailand impossible, the
forests themselves began to vanish at an exponential rate and with them the wildlife that lived there. By 1970
wild boar had vanished. Tigers were last seen at a forest hermitage in 1972. Between 1958 and 1988, 88% of
the forests of Thailand were destroyed. Pictures of where forests stood now show mile after mile of farms. In
1988 there were huge floods and then student protests about environmental destruction. These led the government
to cancel all forest concessions. Despite this, logging continued, either because of government corruption or
small time illegal cutting. Since the mid-1970s, the forest monks have become so popular that patrons began
to protect the woods around their wats. These woods remain some of the only unaffected forests in
Thailand, although they too are subject to illegal harvesting….
By 1956 one forest monk found himself offered rides while walking along roadways, and many of his students
were not hardy enough to keep up with him. When forest monks wandered during the dry season the shade of
the trees was an important protection. With large trees harvested from those forests which still existed and
trees removed from rice fields, exposure to the sun made wandering more arduous, if not impossible. Also
walking down roads with speeding vehicles became downright dangerous.
By permission of Luke Duggleby/www.lukeduggleby.com This photo was taken in Cambodia where all the same things
which happened in Thailand earlier are now happening. The monks are protesting the destruction of a forest.
Copyright © 2013 Dr. Charles S. Fisher
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