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“Yong'an ming” 慵菴銘 (Inscription on the Cottage of Idleness) by Bai Yuchan 白玉蟾 (1134-1229)


“Inscription on the Cottage of Idleness” by Bai Yuchan

丹經慵, [I’m] too lazy to read the elixir classics:[1]

道不在。 The Way resides not in books.

藏教慵覽, Too lazy to browse through canonical teachings:

道之皮。 [They scratch but] the surface of the Way.

至道之要, The essence of the ultimate Way

在乎清。 Is above all Pure Emptiness.

何謂清, What is Pure Emptiness?

終日如。 Spending the whole day like a fool.

有詩慵吟, Too lazy to chant my poems:

句外腸。 Brain racking[2] [lies] behind the lines.

有琴慵彈, Too lazy to play my zither:

弦外韻。 The resonance of solitude [dwells] beyond strings.

有酒慵飲, Too lazy to drink my wine:

醉外江。 Legends and heroes [live] beyond drunkenness.[3]

有碁慵奕, Too lazy to play chess:

意外干。 Battles [take place] outside the mind.[4]

慵觀溪山, Too lazy to view brooks and hills:

內有畫。 Within [myself] are paintings.

慵對風月, Too lazy to enjoy the wind and the moon:

內有蓬。 Within [myself] is a Penghu.[5]

慵陪世事, Too lazy to attend to worldly matters:

內有田。 Within [myself] is a thatched hut.

慵問寒暑, Too lazy to care about winter or summer:

內有神。 Within [myself] is the spirit capital.[6]

松枯石爛, [Even if] pines wither and rocks rot:

我常如。 I always remain who I am.

謂之慵菴, To call this place “Cottage of Idleness”:

不亦可[7] How could it not be a good fit![8]

*From Bai Yuchan 白玉蟾 (1134-1229),[9] Haiqiong Yuchan xiansheng wenji 海瓊玉蟾先生文集(preface dated 1442) 6.12a: .

[1] Danjing 丹經 (literary “cinnabar classic”) refers to Daoist classics. Cinnabar is one the main ingredients in Daoist concoctions of the elixir of immortality. [2] The expression changku 腸枯 (guts drained) reverses, for the sake of rhyme, the more usual expression guchang 枯腸 (draining guts) for racking one’s brains for writing. [3] Jianghu 江湖 (literary “rivers and lakes”, here rendered as “legends and heroes”) is a common metaphor for a romanticised world full of excitement and dangers, love and sorrows. [4] Gange 干戈 (shields and glaives) a metonym for war or conflicts. This line can also be read as “There are unexpected fights”. [5] Penghu 蓬壺, or Penglai 蓬萊 is one of the three mountains/islands of immortality in the sea. [6] Shendu 神都 (spirit capital) may be a synonym of Shenzhou 神州 and refers to “the entire world” here. [7] Red characters rhyme. [8] For a somewhat different interpretation, see Lin Yutang’s 林語堂 (1895-1976) translation in the collection Buyi kuai zai 不亦快哉 (Taipei: Zhengzhong shuju, 1993), 33-35. [9] Bai Yuchan (literally “White Jade-toad”) is the Daoist name of Ge Changgeng 葛長庚 (1134-1229), who (despite declared idleness) was a prolific writer, a prominent Daoist figure in Southern China, and a theorist in neidan 內丹 (internal alchemy).

Detail of "Huaiyin xiaoxia tu" 槐蔭消夏圖, attributed to Wang Qihan 王齊翰 (fl. 10th century)

Image credit: Palace Museum, Beijing


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