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A Comparison Of The Qualities Of The Ideals Of Buddhists And Daoists In Han-Shan's Poem, Cold Mountain

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In Han-shan’s Cold Mountain the poem has attributes that are similar to Buddhist and Daoist perspectives. The poems have different elements that are Buddhist in a sense that Han-san talks about symbolic imagery that is congruent with the ideals of the Mahayana Buddhism. His poetry talks about the difficulties reaching the top of the mountain, which is more than a landscape poem, for they symbolize the spiritual quest for enlightenment and the difficulties and obstacles one encounters along the way. In the world’s most populous country, China was an atheist nation. Before Buddhism, China did not have a sense of elaborate ideas about the after life. Before Buddhism, there was no idea of karma or an elaborate ideas of judgment after death on the basis of one’s deeds. After Buddhism was introduced, the idea of salvation in the afterlife became popular in China very quickly. After some lenient views and hopes of unified nation, Buddhism Temples are being re-built and gaining money as well. It is a golden time in China, the government believes in religion as it unifies the people and having national unity. However, the ability to control and monitor what is going on is a top priority. In the Mt. Putuo in China today in China’s Leap of Faith, communism has tried to overshadow these ancient cultural and religious systems. Buddhism was also a great importance in the development of Taoism. Some people in China already practiced meditation, physical exercises and other forms of self- cultivation before Buddhism was introduced. However, Taoist philosophical thought held some ideas that were similar to the elements of Buddhism. In all, Buddhism affected many aspects of religion in the China, Korea and Japan. These changes and influences allowed the development of Buddhism and had a cultural impact as well.

In Han-shan’s Cold Mountain the poem has attributes that are similar to Buddhist ideals. The mountain is a symbolic meaning to reach enlightenment. The poems are depicted as the poet’s spiritual quest for not only for it’s fascinating scenery but used to describe the way to self-enlightenment. Men ask Han-shan for, “the way to Cold Mountain/Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail” (Eastman 146) Through this, the readers can picture the Cold Mountain as a symbol of supreme enlightenment and a symbol of the formless, a visible nirvana in the universe. Hence, Cold Mountain metaphorically transform from a geographical place to an abstract symbol. Han-shan continues the Taoist perspective by using the mountains to achieve a supreme enlightenment through meditative practice. Han-shan states “Clambering up the Cold Mountain path/ The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on” (Eastman 148). Through this, the readers can see the poet’s supreme state in a Daoist way. It’s natural beauty, clouds, mists and rocks brought him closer to the harmonious and tranquil features of Cold Mountain. Therefore, the mountain is often seen as a suitable vehicle for spiritual transcendence. The poem does not deal with social and family obligations in which Confucian would find appalling. Han-san is secluded in the mountains which is way of nature. Confucianism speaks more on family obligations, social interactions. In contrast, Han-san rejects these concerns, looking out beyond the socio-political world to focusing on wider series of issues. Unlike Confucianism, Han-san is seen to reject world affairs and strive to live in accord with nature.

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In China’s Leap of Faith, Mt. Putuo is a place of worship. There are people who climb the 1,000 steps towards the top of the mountain, as a religious purification and healing, for example, the old lady who wanted to get rid of her bad karma. She climbed the 1,000 steps and managed to reach the top to receive a blessing from the Buddha.

Religious leaders were persecuted in amidst a frenzy called the Cultural Revolution. During the early 1970’s, the Chinese government killed monks and destroyed many mountains on Mt. Putuo. Many temples were destroyed and Monks were considered as parasite. Yet, in the 1980’s the government realized that it is politically dangerous to suppress religion so they became lenient to it and acknowledge religion. Across China, temples are being rebuild, people who are Buddhist can worship freely.

In Mt. Heiti, Japanese monks run a marathon. This symbolic road to enlightenment takes about 100 days to complete. On the marathon, they chant secret prayers at certain stops. The monks use the mountain to allow themselves to be one with nature, discover their inner nature by immersing themselves in it. The monk’s quest is to serve Buddha through many duties but mostly through the physical endurance in running and walking, which is a form of extreme asceticism. These monks are part of Tendai Buddhism, whose teachings is that enlightenment can be attained in the current life. It is through the process of self denial that this can be achieved. The ultimate achievement is the completion of the 1,000 day challenge which would rank among the most demanding physical and mental challenges in the world. Only 46 men have completed the 1,000 day challenge since 1585.

Buddhism is compatible with all the goals of Taoist goal of longevity through oneness with nature and the Confucian goal of social harmony in the nation and with the ancestors. It can be seen through Han-san’s Cold Mountain as the Taoist and Buddhism can be seen as co-exiting within the poem. The influence of Buddhism in China can be seen as a cosmic force now brewing as China’s officials realize that religion should be controlled. The marathon Monks of Japan shows the influence of Buddhism as they achieve enlightenment by climbing up the mountains.


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