Nov 18, 2022 • 37M

Wayfaring Poet Profile - The Tiantai Trio (Cold Mountain, Big Stick, Pick Up)

Mysterious Figures From the Misty Mountains of China

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Appears in this episode

Frank Inzan Owen
an exploration of Wayfaring, ancient and modern
Episode details

Hanshan (Cold Mountain) (left), Feng-kan (Big Stick) (center), and Shih-te (Pick Up a.k.a. The Foundling (right). by Ueno Jakugen, 18th century, Japan

“Do You Know the Way to Cold Mountain?" — Red Pine

Greetings Good Travelers and Wayfarers:

In this Wayfaring Poet Profile, we’ll be exploring some very different Wayfarers from the others we have looked at thus far. In this episode, we explore Hanshan (Cold Mountain), Shih-te (Pick Up) and Feng-kan (Big Stick) — all mysterious figures in the wider “lineage of Wayfaring Heart-Mind.”

Where the previous seven Wayfaring poets we explored were mostly government officials, associated with the courtly life of ancient China, whose Taoist-Chan meditation practice augmented their lives as artist-intellectuals, here we encounter our first true religious hermits (not just individuals who liked a little solitude now and then, but people who headed up into the wild regions of the world to live and practice).

The Tiantai Trio consists of a lay Buddhist monk (Shih-Te - Pick Up, who worked in a monastery kitchen), a Chan monk (Feng-kan - Big Stick, who was the elder of the three and, apparently, enjoyed riding tigers), and a cave-dwelling “wild man” who was equally a student of Tao and Dharma (Hanshan - Cold Mountain).

The latter is said to have brushed some of his poems on paper and some of his poems on rocks. Actually, he says this himself in one of his poems. Only 300 poems survive of our beloved Cold Mountain. Sometimes — over a cup of organic Lapsang Souchang tea — I sit and ponder what poems may have been “lost” on the cave walls of those Tiantai Mountains.

Then I take a sip and hear Cold Mountain say, “Don’t worry little brother. All poems we don’t catch in our nets travel back down into the simmering dark of the underground spring and wait to be caught on another day.”

Frank Inzan Owen

For a compelling video profile of the poet Cold Mountain, explore the documentary below, which also features poet-translators Red Pine (Bill Porter), Chofu (Gary Snyder), Jim Lenfestey, and Burton Watson:


“Surface: Rainforest Suite 4” / Rainforest / Robert Rich

Guzheng / Lixue Lin-Siedler


The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, translated by Red Pine

The Poetry of Zen, translated and edited by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton, Shambhala Publications

The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt, Shambhala Publications

Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, translated by David Hinton, New Directions Books

Cold Mountain (a graphic novel), written by Sean Michael Wilson, illustrated by Akiko Shimojima, Shambhala Publications

Also, if Cold Mountain interests you, also look for Jim Lenfestey’s book, Searching For The Cave: A Pilgrimage To Cold Mountain

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