'Mountains and Rivers Without End': Xu Ben, (Chinese, 1335-1380) - handscroll; ink on paper

[Mountains and Rivers Without End: For information about this image,
see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

What is the relationship of thinking to reality? As careful attention shows, thought itself is in an actual process of movement. That is to say, one can feel a sense of flow in the stream of consciousness not dissimilar to the sense of flow in the movement of matter in general. May not thought itself thus be a part of reality as a whole? But then, what could it mean for one part of reality to “know” another, and to what extent would this be possible?

(David Bohm [source])

and (excerpt):

There is smoke and grease, there is
the wrist’s exhaustion, there is laughter,
there is the letter seized in the clock
and the apple’s tang, the river
sliding along its banks, darker
now than the sky descending
a last time to scatter its diamonds
into these black waters that contain
the day that passed, the night to come.

(Philip Levine [source])

Not from whiskey river:

If the contents of mind are like pails and buckets floating in a stream, and the mindstream is like the dynamic flowing of the water, pure awareness is like the water itself in its essential wetness. Sometimes the water is still, sometimes it is turbulent; yet it always remains as it is — wet, fluid, watery. In the same way, pure awareness is never confined or disrupted by any mind-state. Therefore, it is the source of liberation and true equanimity.

When we start to observe the play of the mind, what we most readily notice are the contents of consciousness — the ongoing, overlapping sequence of perceptions, thoughts, feelings. As we develop a subtler, finer, more sustained kind of witnessing, through a discipline like meditation, we discover in addition to these differentiated mind-moments another aspect of the mindstream that usually remains hidden: inarticulate gaps or spaces appearing between our discrete thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. These spaces between the pailsful and bucketsful of water floating in the stream are hard to see at first and impossible to remember because they have no definite form or shape we can grasp. Yet if we do not try to grasp them, these undifferentiated mind-moments can provide a glimpse of the larger reality that lies beyond the mindstream: the pure ground of nonconceptual awareness that encompasses and also surpasses all the activities of mind.

(John Welwood [source])



The evidence was in and it went to the contrary.
The contrary wound around us rather like a river.
The river reacted, spider-like, tangling up its legs
with other wet parts we thought we knew,
such as creeks and fjords and deltas and such.

A beaver sits on the riverbank watching all of this unfold.
He doesn’t know what a fjord is, and he doesn’t care
for other waters, or even other beavers, or the merest
hint of other business, so he removes this evidence.

Then he builds a structure which for years he is rehabbing.
Inside it is hollow and there is his nest.
He is a dark little bastard, all the same.
The water had a fine way of ??being, now it is tortured
by these nests and their vassal.

Yet the river doesn’t overthrow the beaver.
Quite the contrary. The river goes around polite as a snake.
It argues a tiny bit at the edges of the lodge,
where young beavers could be napping.

You and I would let loose a flood of tears. Not the river.
You and I would seep hotly into our darkest places.
Not the river. It is a long way from home
and has that on its mind, the day of rising,
when the temples will all be cleansed
and the whole unfathomable truth will out.

According to the waters. According to their book.

(Sara Miller [source])


Endless Streams and Mountains

Ch’i Shan Wu Chin

Clearing the mind and sliding in
to that created space,
a web of waters steaming over rocks,
air misty but not raining,
seeing this land from a boat on a lake
or a broad slow river,
coasting by.

The path comes down along a lowland stream
slips behind boulders and leafy hardwoods,
reappears in a pine grove,

no farms around, just tidy cottages and shelters,
gateways, rest stops, roofed but unwalled work space,
—a warm damp climate;

a trail of climbing stairsteps forks upstream.
Big ranges lurk behind these rugged little outcrops—
these spits of low ground rocky uplifts
layered pinnacles aslant,
flurries of brushy cliffs receding,
far back and high above, vague peaks.
A man hunched over, sitting on a log
another stands above him, lifts a staff,
a third, with a roll of mats or a lute, looks on;
a bit offshore two people in a boat.

The trail goes far inland,
somewhere back around a bay,
lost in distant foothill slopes
& back again
at a village on the beach, and someone’s fishing.

Rider and walker cross a bridge
above a frothy braided torrent
that descends from a flurry of roofs like flowers
temples tucked between cliffs,
a side trail goes there;

a jumble of cliffs above,
ridge tops edged with bushes,
valley fog below a hazy canyon.

A man with a shoulder load leans into the grade.
Another horse and a hiker,
the trail goes up along cascading streambed
no bridge in sight—
comes back through chinquapin or
liquidambars; another group of travelers.
Trail’s end at the edge of an inlet
below a heavy set of dark rock hills.
Two moored boats with basket roofing,
a boatman in the bow looks
lost in thought.

Hills beyond rivers, willows in a swamp,
a gentle valley reaching far inland.

The watching boat has floated off the page.

(Gary Snyder (excerpt) [source])

About the image at the top of this post: Gary Snyder’s collection called Mountains and Rivers Without End was apparently inspired by a similar (but much longer and larger) inked scroll of the same name; both are in the collection of the Smithsonian’s Freer/Sackler Museums of Asian Art. The scroll which Snyder saw actually includes four large Chinese characters — the Ch’i Shan Wu Chin of the poem’s epigraph — which translate to English as “mountains and rivers without end.” Says that page at the Freer/Sackler site (click on the link there labeled Painting, just below the one labeled Frontispiece):

Over its sixteen-foot length, the composition alternates between mountains and rivers that fill the paper and recede in succession. Human activity and signs of human presence are everywhere. Robed scholar-gentlemen and their servants wander the trails or sit peacefully in walled estates. Cottages and hamlets nestle in mountain dells and stand among trees by the river. Fishing boats and ferries ply the open waters. Set in mid-autumn, the scene culminates at left with a majestic temple under high bluffs overlooking a low range of mist-shrouded peaks.

Human activity dots the landscape, but it often requires careful scrutiny to find the people.

Snyder visited the Free/Sackler in 2008 to read from his collection and explain the painting’s influence on its composition. They’ve made a copy of the complete, almost one-hour talk available, and you can hear it below. Snyder’s voice very easily induces that mindflow state, even when his words are not, technically speaking, poetry.

[Below, click Play button to begin ‘Talk by Gary Snyder (April, 2008)’. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 54:30 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[return to top]

Send to Kindle

Speak Your Mind