The Bounty of Nature

Ink on cotton paper
Two handscroll
Hong Kong November 2011
Overall Dimensions to who all sections on pictorial scroll: 1,312 x 90 cm.

Inscriptions:

Title Slip:

The Master of the Water Pine and Stone Retreat
The Bounty of Nature
With two seals of the artist, 水松石山房Shuisongshi shanfang  (‘TheWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), and The Sage in the Lotus  (pictorial seal)

Handscroll 1.

Title Panel:
The Bounty of Nature
An Elegant Gathering in a Time of Peace
Inscribed at the Terrace of the Garden at the Edge of the Universe in the Autumn of 2011
With two seals of the artist: 水松石山房Shuisongshi shanfang  (‘TheWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), and 石狂 Shikuang (‘Stone Fool’).
69.5 x 139 cm

Painting:

We had decided at the outset that we would leave behind our walking staves  on our days wandering in the mountains.  There were so many powerful staves present with so many great Staff Masters that the potential for an unwieldy build-up of magical forces was ever present.  More to the point, however, since so many of us had decided to partake of nature’s bounty to the full, we might be tempted to forget responsibility and start moving mountains about the place, or changing goats into pretty young girls, or fill the brooks with flooding waters which could easily get out of hand.  But in any case, we all agreed that with judicious intake of the potent local mushrooms, there would be inner magic enough without the need to enhance it.

Random Jotting by the Lost-Stone Hermit

So many years have passed since I last communed with the mighty fungus that  I had almost forgotten the joy, the wonder of it all, as the clouds of knowing dissipate leaving only the crystal clarity of unknowing.  To recline in perfect comfort on a mountainside, listening to the distant thrum of the qin with a nearby bird trilling in harmony.  Floating on stone, above the trees, as if in a bed of clouds, in a realm beyond time and beyond definition; grasping the entire universe and its experience as if it were a tiny, bright gem to be held between thumb and forefinger for personal delight, never to be relinquished again.   Xi Kang could face death with indifference, playing ancient songs behind iron bars, oblivious to his fate; the Minister of the Right could laugh in the face of dismissal and disgrace at the hands of a mere mortal.

Singing of a day beyond the Peach-Blossom Spring for the Old Man who Carries the Staff.   

 

The three Monks of Eagle Ridge Monastery had been inseparable for as long as anyone could recall.  If one turned up, they all did.  They were fine poets, light-hearted companions and great jokers and any gathering was enhanced by their presence.  One of them, Monk Tiao, was an adept at the art of screaming and had developed a very loud voice as a result.  It was one of his party tricks that at some point during a gathering, always exquisitely timed, he would climb to the highest nearby point, helped by his friends, and once there at the appropriate moment, sing out with his impressive volume a song he had learned at the capital many years earlier about a champion horse.  It could be heard several valleys away and never failed to prompt great merriment among all who could hear him which, with his voice, careful timing and the exquisite planning of his friends, usually turned out to be everyone present.  The climb to the peak he chose on this occasion was arduous, and without his walking staff to steady him and smooth the way with its powers, he had to rely on a branch taken from a nearby lightning-blighted tree and the help of his two companions to achieve his goal - although one stopped before the final assault on the pinnacle, finding instead a suitable lower vantage point from which to enjoy the pleasures of his friend’s performance. 

Random Jotting by a Stone Fool

We stumbled across a fine small cache of strange stones on our first day in the mountains.  A Stone Fool can be unpredictable at the best of times but having consumed the Bounty of Nature, I was beyond reason; which may be why I decided to take one of the smaller ones with me wherever mi footsteps might lead me thaday.  Fortunately it was well perforated, and nothing like as large as the one my three friends selected to follow suit.  I present it, along with this note, to my old friend who carries the staff in thanks for a fine and unfettered gathering.

One of the several stones we found on our travels, just as, one by one, we stepped from one state of consciousness into another, was a fine  example, riddled with perforations of the most intriguing kind.  Ah Feng discovered it and asked his friends, the Level-Headed Hermit and Lao Huang, to help him carry it as another  of our number had decided to carry one of the smaller stones.  All were sufficiently disconnected from reality to think the plan a splendid one, but Lao Huang suggested that  since it would take only two to carry it, they should decide through rational discussion which two that would be.  He immediately offered to carry the empty spaces if his two friends would carry the stolid stone parts.  They laughed and claimed that the stone was much heavier than the empty spaces and so that was a foolish offer and, therefore, obviously unacceptable.  Huang then proposed to them that if he could demonstrate the logic of the fact that the empty spaces were heavier than the stone, they would agree to let him take the spaces and they would carry the stone.  They chuckled at the thought of upcoming conversation and immediately agreed.  Huang began: ‘Now then, would you agree that all the matter of the universe could, in theory, be weighed, as the solid matter of this particular stone could be weighed?’  They looked at each other, smiled, and concurred.  ‘And would you agree that there is a finite quantity of matter in the universe.’  Again they had no option but to concur. ‘Would you also agree that nothingness is unlimited and cannot, therefore, be measured or weighed?  And cannot, therefore,  be proven to weigh less than something that is limited in extent, and  by weight.’  As mystics they had fallen into a trap and could not contend this.  ‘So, clearly, what can be weighed and must be limited, cannot be proven to be heavier than what cannot be weighed and is unlimited.’  So you take the stone, I’ll take the holes.’  And off they strode still chuckling beneath their new-found burden.   Upon their return to my home late that evening, the three of them made a presentation to me of the weightier part of the stone, the holes, eloquently expressing their appreciation for my hospitality and my efforts at organizing this elegant gathering.  The stone itself they decided they would keep.

By mid-afternoon on the first day of our outing, reality had been transformed from peak to distant peak for all present although, of course, in many different ways.  Among our number was a former official, so wealthy at the height of his career when he became enlightened, that he could see little point in rejecting also the trappings of wealth to which he had become accustomed.  Indifference, he claimed, was indifference, whether to wealth or poverty, and he was indifferent as to which he would be indifferent to, so he kept his fancy houses and servants, and was attended on this occasion by one young book servant who carried his qin.  He was a fine musician, but as we settled into a pleasant spot to listen to him play along to the wind soughing through the pines, he was quite unable to tune it.  So he handed it back to his servant and began to hum a well-known melody instead.  Soon we all joined in, and by the time we had finished singing all the songs he knew, a pale moon had made its first hesitant appearance.

Random Jotting by the Nodding Hermit

Deeply the spirit roams
Far beyond familiar boundaries of time or place
Companions fade to stone
Stones become companions
My estate stretches to the edge of infinity
My mind far beyond
In the gourd both wine and paradise await
High into the standing stones I climb
In search of the mythical bird
Let none disturb me, Oh my friends!
I shall join thee anon.

Inscribed for The Old Man who Carries the Staff as a memento of time beyond time.

I did not know the Nodding Hermit well before he arrived for our gathering, he had been invited by a friend and I had met him only once before.  But he proved, briefly, a most pleasant companion.  On the first day of our outings, in the afternoon, he climbed high into a mighty gathering of stones and perched there serenely.  As I watched, and the moon rose behind him, he seemed to fade away, to become the stone on which he sat, surrounded by stout companions all as stony as he was, but stalwart and true.  We never saw him again, but when I returned to my home much later that night, I found, in the cleft of a small standing stone beside my hearth, a brief poem from him.  Such a day with such companions on such an outing: one must expect strange events.

Random Jotting by White Stone Mountain Man

Night fell as we tried to retrace our way home
Downward, yes, but also West towards the departing sun?
Or East into the darkening night?
Are East and West still different?
Shadows lengthen
Turning hermits into giants
Into stones that move, reaching out a hand
To help a companion across a bottomless chasm
Best perhaps to rest for the night
But mountain air turns cold at night
Onward, for wine awaits, and a warm hearth.

For my friend who helped me down the mountain like the old goat he may be. 

 

Smoke rises from my thatched retreat, some have returned earlier than other stragglers stumbling home in the darkness laughing still, carting their stones and strange roots, pebbles and thoughts .  Food awaits, and plum wine and the tales of the day to be told around the firelight, poems to write, paintings to begin, and then to our beds to prepare for a second day of the bounties of nature.  Some things have no beginning and no end, and that is fitting.  The pleasures last long into the early hours but some retire early to be alone with their thoughts and memories to the distant sounds of merriment and the smell of woodsmoke.  Ah, the Bounty of Nature is unlimited indeed! 

So long ago, and yet the memories are clear, as clear as the snow-melt in the brook.  Today only one friend remains that I know of from that distant gathering with all its delights.  Today the world is different.  So we sit outside another retreat, just the two of us beneath the trees, as I explain to a passing crow how it was at that elegant gathering.  Fine days, well worth recalling in my bougainvillea years that encourage me to blossom with brush and ink before even my memory fades along with my companions and the stones they have become.

Inscribed by the Master of the Water Pine and Stone Retreat, and of the Nodding Stone Garden and the Garden at the Edge of the Universe - all in the mind, so their glories can never decay.   An Elegy for times gone by…that will come again.

With numerous seals of the artist: 水松石山房Shuisongshi shanfang  (‘TheWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), 攜杖老人 Xiezhang laoren (‘The old man who carries the staff’), 人磨墨墨磨人 Renmomo momoren (‘Man grinds the ink; ink grinds the man’),

石狂 Shikuang (‘Stone Fool’), 无爲Wuwei (‘Without action’),

有意无意 Youyi wuyi (‘Between intention and no intention’), 金石壽  Jinshi shou (‘Indefinite life’), 莫  Moi, 一二三 Yi er san (‘One, two, three’), 意外之喜 Yiwai zhixi (‘A happy accident’),  偶然得之 Ouran dezhi (‘Achieved by accident’), *.

87 x 942 cm

Afterword
At the end of spring in a time of peace, those who responded to my invitation, sent out long before, to gather at my retreat in the Mountains south of the river had all arrived.  The lower peaks were free of snow and the Thatched Hut where Thirty-two Cranes Return had been extended with dormitories for my guests.  Stone Fools and Staff Masters, Wanderers and Hermits, the old and young, have all arrived.   Here among the high peaks the cries of gibbons ring through the gorges and distant snow melts beneath the warming sun to fill the brooks and torrents that flow ever downwards, past my door, and provide a home to abundant, sweet mountain trout.  Here in the bamboo groves, and pine-clad mountainsides, goats tread free beneath soaring eagles.  Here far from the Dusty World we fill these few days with music and chant poems, travel the steep rocky paths and talk of matters of consequence and no consequence.  Here we drink deeply of the plum wine long prepared and stored in old jars in the mountain cave behind my home; here we will eat the mushrooms gathered from the shadowed forest and blessed by the Eybrowless Alchemist who can recognize them and prepare them as well as I can myself.  Here, drinking and reciting, we are content to express ourselves beneath the vast vault of the universe and let our wandering eyes excite our senses as mountains move and strange stones become animated beneath the ever-changing pattern of clouds and the drifting mists of gorge and valley.  Here we meet the spirits of trees and stones, chat with passing spiders, exchange views on mountain life with shy deer and for a timeless moment, wander the days away and laugh and drink through the night.

Seekers after wisdom follow different paths.  Some believe that essential secrets lie in rational discourse; others put their faith in freeing their souls through the gods, or sitting in silence to contemplate the Great Mystery of life.  Some prefer to enjoy the bounty of wine or the abundance of nature’ harvest of other mind-expanding delights.  But once the destination is reached, the journey is rendered incidental and then all such efforts become mere pastimes, joyously entertained to wile away the days.  Then the earnest discussions and the months of sitting; the decades in silent monasteries and the ardent search; whether at court or in the gutters of the world are all forgotten as one steps off the Stage of Time to dwell beyond the gods.  All that experience dissolves in a blink to be replaced by an eternity of timeless comprehension, of light and enlightenment.  Here are gathered those who have grasped this truth, come together as one.  When subsequent generations look here, may they also feel what is in the painting, drawn from memory with brush, blade and ink, tickled forth from the paper, as experience itself was tickled forth from nature’s own beneficent rite all those centuries ago.

Inscribed by the Master of the Water Pine and Stone Retreat in the late Autumn of 2011.

With two seals of the artist: 水松石山房Shuisongshi shanfang  (‘TheWater, Pine and Stone Retreat’), and 石狂 Shikuang (‘Stone Fool’).