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This silly, decrepit old fool

Has lived a wretched, upside-down life.

Searching far and wide for a true friend,

Still he hasn’t found one who knows his sound.

Shoveling snow, digging wells without ever resting;

Using a turtle's hair as pillars to build Way Places.

He's wasted the donors funds and grains

And toiled for an entire life in vain.  

"Roaming-in-Illusion Bhikshu", Hsu Yun.



This crazed fellow - where does he come from? 

For no reason he sticks out his neck during the Dharma-ending Age.

Lamenting that the Sagely Path hangs by a precarious thread,  

He cares not for his own affairs - for whom does he worry?  

On a lonely mountain peak

He sends down a baited hook in catch a carp.

Plummeting to the depths of the ocean bed.

He stokes a fire to fly a sea bubble.

Not finding one who knows his sound.

He sighs in sorrow.

Yet his laughter pierces the void!

Scold him, he doesn't gripe.

Ask him: why don't you put it down?

When will the masses' sufferings come to an end - 

That when I will rest!"


"Roaming-In-Illusion Bhikshu",

composed at age 119 

Yun Chu (Cloud Abode) Mountain



Song Of The Skin Bag


By the Venerable Master Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud, 1840-1959), who wrote this song at the age of nineteen and left it to his two wives when he escaped from his household to become a monk. The marriage to the two women was pressed upon him and never consummated in either case. Later, inspired and deeply moved by the Master’s virtue in the Way, his two wives left home and became Bhikshunis.



Song of the Skin Bag,

The skin-bag lament!

Before the Empty eon, it had no name or form.

Since Buddha Awesome Sound, a hindrance it has been.

Three hundred sixty joints connect the body’s frame,

Eighty-four thousand pores pierce its skin.

One of the triad of primal forces,[1]

A combination of four great elements,[2]

It holds up heaven and pillars earth--a spirit magnificent!

Understanding cause and effect,

Discern the times.

In our review of past and awareness of present, we remain muddled,

All because of confused attachment to this illusory form.

We tire out our parents;

Cling to our wives and children.

Our vain ignorance leaves behind a trail of karmic debts.


Song of the Skin Bag,

The skin-bag lament!

Drinking wine and eating meat confound the mental nature.

Indulging desires in greed for pleasure brings ruin in the end.

The higher the office, the greater influence and power to oppress;

Buying and selling is cheating people by means of craftiness.

Honor, wealth, pride, and excesses--how long can they last?

When misfortune and poverty come, all is spent in an instant.

False discernment of self and others creates inequality.

By harming living things, we treat them as so many weeds.

Every day our reckoning’s based on ignorance, anger, and greed.

Sinking in these perversities, we’re eliminated entirely.

Recklessly we kill, steal, lust, and lie.

Contemptuous of kin and friends, we’re ravaged by love and hate.

Scolding the wind, cursing the rain, deriding the spirits and gods,

Not understanding birth and death, we’re truly at a loss.

Born from a cow’s belly,

We then enter the womb of a mare.

As heads and faces change, who ends up praising and who mourning?

We create much evil,

But plant no blessings.

How vainly we pass from birth and death, toiling all the time.                     

Thence, to the three evil paths:

We fall to the hells,

And suffer bitterly as ghosts or animals.

The sages of old

Kept wagging their tongues,

Like morning chimes and evening drums, trying to stir our heart strings.

Retributions for good and evil are sharp and clear as can be.

They awaken us so that we want to leave the five-fold turbidity.

Song of the Skin Bag,

The skin-bag lament!

Although endowed with form, be not encumbered by it.

It’s an illusory substance, a mere false name-- just a relative dharma.

Quickly turn your heart around and contemplate at ease.

Do not be greedy for fame.

Do not be greedy for profit.

Bid kin goodbye, cut ties of love, and leave the world behind.

Don’t cling to wife,

Don’t pine for children.

Enter the door of emptiness[3]. Receive the Buddha’s precepts.

Seek a bright-eyed teacher,

Ask for instruction.

Investigate dhyana, meditate well. Transcend the Three Realms!

Withdraw your eyes and ears;

Stop scheming.

Once and for all wave goodbye to the mundane red dust.

Subdue the six senses, cut off thoughts.

Without the perception of self or others, afflictions cease.

Be not like the worldly, who sigh at the passing of mist and dew[4].

A robe to shield you,

Food to fill you—

That’s sufficient temporary support for your body’s needs.

Renounce riches and jewels.

Look lightly on body and life.

Reject them as spit and phlegm, and do not hesitate!

Hold precepts purely,

Be blemishless!

In four comportments be clear as ice and pure as jade.

When scolded, don’t be angry;

When beaten, do not hate.

Bear what is hard to bear. Forget about mockery. Overlook sarcasm.

Oblivious to winter and summer,

Be ceaselessly relentless.

From start to finish, hold Amitabha Buddha’s name in mind.

Do not lapse into torpor;

Refrain from getting scattered.

Be like the pine and the cypress, never withering, evergreen.

Doubt not the Buddha.

Doubt not the Dharma.

Inherent awareness lets us know clearly what we see and hear.

Bore through the paper,

Pierce the cowhide[5].

Make your mind perfectly bright and free from error.

Return to the origin;

Reach liberation.

Go back to the source, retrieve your inherent innocence.

Nothing’s not nothing;

Emptiness isn’t empty:

The divine potential’s revealed; its wonder hard to imagine.

When you arrive,

You haven’t toiled in vain.

The impacts of your causal ground are finished.

Now you are known

As a Great Hero,

All ten titles fit perfectly. You are a teacher of many generations.

Ah! The same leaking shell can now manifest

As a complete body pervading ten directions!

With good and evil distinguished clearly, no more mistakes occur. 

So why rely on the false alone and fail to practice the true?

The tai ji “absolute”

Divides into two modes.[6]

The spiritual and vivacious mind turns the qian and kun[7]

Being kings or prime ministers is determined

By practices done in the previous lives.

Wealth and honor or utter poverty are due to people’s past causes.

Once there is birth,

Death then will follow.

Everyone knows this. Why moan and gripe?

For wives and riches,

For heirs and fortune,

You ruin your own future, all due to anger and greed.

For what sort of fame,

For what kind profit

Have I wasted nineteen springs[8]?

A thousand matters are not as you wish them to be.

Embroiled in the world, you’re assailed by hardships constantly.

Once old, your eyes grow dim, your hair turns snowy white.

With no good deeds to your credit, you’ve wasted your whole life!

Days stretch to months,

Months reach to years.

In vain you lament the passage of time, rolling on and on like a wheel.

Who is immortal in this world?

Better return and bow to the One whose compassion is like a cloud[9].

Visit the sacred mountains

Or other sublime places.

Roam as you wish in comfort and ease.

Impermanence comes swiftly. But do you know? Are you aware?

Just how much idle, empty chatter do you want to hear?

Recite “Amitabha!”

End birth and death.

Keep yourself happy. How many can be like that?

Meditate. Investigate dhyana.

Attain the intent of the lineage[10].

Through such endeavors you’ll gain boundless vigor and energy.

Take plain tea and vegetarian food. Let not your mind be greedy.

Throughout the day and night rejoice. Be happy in the Dharma.

Get rid of the perception of self and others.

Do away with this and that.

See that foe and friend are equal; forget about slander and praise.

Gone are impediments,

There’s no shame or insult.

Let your mind be as the Buddhas' and Patriarchs'. What are you waiting for?

The Bhagavan cut the strings of love and climbed the snowy mountains.

Guan Yin bade farewell to kin and became the Buddha’s disciple.

At the time of Emperors Yao and Shun[11]

Hermits Chao and Xu passed their days.

When Chao heard Yao offer him the empire

Chao washed his ears in the stream[12]

Chang Zu Fang

And Liu Cheng Yi

Also gave up officialdom to roam the rivers and mountains.

How in the Dharma’s demise,

Fraught with anguish and difficulties,

Could we, who fail to awaken, compare ourselves to the sages of old.

Indulging ignorance,

Creating ten evils,

We exhaust our energy scheming and reap the world’s scorn.

Weapons, armies, plagues, and droughts-much misery to be borne!

Famines and wars are more and more frequent at every turn.

The daily news is fearful, full of strange forebodings.

In the midst of earthquakes, tidal waves, devastating landslides,

What can we do while caught in this age and time?

This surely is the result of evil done in former lives!  

Faced with such adversity, we can fall into worse confusion.

But even when poor and unfortunate, we can start having good thoughts.

Initiating goods thoughts,

We can enter a monastery and bow to the Dharma King.

Repent and reform our offenses. Then our blessings can grow.

Bow to a bright-eyed teacher.

Seek certification.

End birth and death. See the mind. Understand the nature.

Smashing through impermanence is what we mean by permanence.

The path within the path is found through strong cultivation.

The sages and worthies bequeathed wise sayings and lucid exhortations.

Uphold the Tripitaka teachings with reverence.

Open your heart.

Be truthful to all.

Encourage people to guard what is proper.

Don’t think my words are idle. Don’t fail to pay attention.

Great cultivators will surely see their own natures.

Quickly cultivate.

Be heroically vigorous.

Plant the proper causes of Bodhi;

Aim to be born in the nine lotus grades and certified by the Buddhas.

Let Amitabha Buddha take you to the Western land.

Put down the skin bag; ascend the utmost vehicle.

The Song of the Skin Bag’s sung.

I urge you all to listen!



[1] Heaven, earth, and people.

[2] Earth, water, fire, and wind.

[3] Refers to a Buddhist monastery.

[4] The signs of impermanence, since mist and dew evaporate very quickly.

[5] Bore through the pages of the sutras and deeply penetrate to their meaning; cut through the thick covering of ignorance which is like cowhide.

[6] Heaven and earth, light and dark, etc.

[7] Qian represents the male, yang force. Kun represents the female, yin force.

[8] Venerable Hsü Yün left the home-life at age nineteen.

[9] Reference is to the Buddha, whose Dharma Cloud compassionately shields all living beings.

[10] Lineage refers to the chan (dhyana) school.

[11] Yao and Shun were two sagely kings of the Gold Age of China.  

[12] Emperor Yao heard of the virtue of the two hermit sages Chao and Xu and wanted to abdicate in their favor, but both of them refused. In fact, when Chao Fu heard the offer, he was so displeased that he went to the stream to wash out his ears. Xu Yü, who was downstream tending his ox, had to move upstream because he didn’t want his ox to drink the water, which he said had been polluted by the filth Chao Fu washed out.