The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse is a translation and compilation of poems attributed to Ch’an Buddhist monk and hermit Shiwu (石屋 “Stonehouse”) written during two periods of his residency at Xiamu Mountain, during the early to middle 14th century. The edition I read was translated by Red Pine and included the original Chinese text, translated English text, and explanatory notes for almost all of the text. I appreciated this edition as a shufa (Chinese calligraphy) student because it enabled me to see the original Chinese text and see the correspondence between Chinese characters and the words, images and concepts they are meant to convey (at least as translated by Red Pine). Red Pine’s explanatory notes were invaluable for understanding the subtle references, allusions and cultural contexts embedded in the poetry of Shiwu. As for the poems themselves, they are not overt and direct lessons in dharma, but rather consist mostly of Shiwu’s observations of nature, his living arrangement and daily activities as a mountain hermit, and the profound detachment from the world of contrivances and frantic thought that he had achieved. Then again, I have to consider that Shiwu’s observations are in fact overt and direct lessons in dharma after all. Reading the poems was very much like paying a personal visit to Shiwu, and perhaps that is the the real beauty of this book. His personality definitely courses through each verse, and his descriptive abilities easily draw you through time and usher you into a seat by his modest stove and teapot. I mostly read this book at the end of my day, and it really was a very good way to step out of my own daily urgencies and worries, and refocus on the ultimate importance of very simple and natural things.
Tom Delaney, dao-chang.com
(Shiwu “Stonehouse” painting by Shi Tao, 17th cent. CE)