Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Different Kind of Simple

(I saw in the mist a little village of a few tiled roofs and joyfully admired it.)

There's a stream, and there's bamboo,
there's mulberry and hemp.
Mist-hid, clouded hamlet,
a mild, tranquil place.
Just a few tilled acres.
Just a few tiled roofs.
How many lives would I
have to live, to get
that simple.
Yuan Mei, 1716-1798

Still contemplating something - what is it exactly? Simplicity and complexity? Nice words, but not quite it.

When I read this poem, I can feel that question as a desire to burn through. How many lives? it asks, coming from a place where life is still encumbered somehow. I can imagine perhaps encumbered by excessive thinking, complicating activity, amongst whatever else.

Yuan Mei was, it seems, a fairly busy guy.

Like many of the great Chinese poets, Yuan Mei exhibited many talents, working as a government official, teacher, writer, and painter.

He eventually left public office and retired with his family to a private estate named "The Garden of Contentment." In addition to teaching, he made a generous living writing funerary inscriptions. Among other things, he also collected local ghost stories and published them. And he was an advocate of women's education.

Leading a lay life is rarely simple, even when we try to make it so. Yet, this question of Yuan Mei's seems to be about a different kind of simple - an internal one - that perhaps becomes matched with external circumstances, although maybe not.

Where is that simple to be found in the midst of a life engaged in the world?

It's all fine and well to imagine being a wandering hermit, being away from it all.
But that's the work of those who are living that.

For the rest of us, the world is calling us to remain awake in the world. So, we have to, I think, burn through our holding onto everything. So that we can be with everything. Whether it is "tranquil" or not.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Wouldn't it be nice to slip away for a bit to someplace that is just quiet and simple?

Nathan said...

I'm about due for that.