The Song of the Skin Bag
Written by Master Xu-Yun
in his 19th year
From "Empty Cloud: The
Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master".
Translate by Charles Luk. Rev. and edited by Richard Hunn
Song of the Skin Bag, (1) the skin
bag is sung. Before the empty aeon (2)
it had neither name nor form,
the Buddha with awe-inspiring voice (3)
it became a hindrance.
hundred and sixty tendons are linked within the body
Enclosed by four and eighty thousand pores.(5)
Divided it splits into heaven, earth and man,
it combines the four elements.
supports heaven, props up earth,
what of its mettle?
cause and effect, discern the times
the stupidity of past and present.
of wrong clinging to illusory forms,
are involved and wife and children loved.
vain indulgence in delusion karma is left behind,
Song of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sung.
wine and eating meat upset the mind-nature,
in pleasure and desire leads to utter ruin
is strong to oppress the innocent(6)
artful against their consciences, how long
wealth and power last, the their pride and their extravagance?
and lowly will not so last while there is cruelty and violence.
between self and others leads to inequality,
living beings as worthless things.
and discerning cause desire, stupidity and hatred,
lost in heresies invites self-destruction..
stealing, adultery and lying have no end,
behavior to others increases attachment and aversion.
the wind and curse the ram is disrespectful to the gods,
comes from ignorance of birth and death.
a cow's womb to enter a mare's belly
sing of or lament your change of form?
acts without a good deed will make
and toilsome your transmigration.
the three evil realms, falling into hell (7)
suffering to animals and hungry ghosts.
sages would oft repeat their warning,
the morning bell and drum at eve are to change your bean.
evil karma bring certain retribution,
then, worldly men, from the five periods of impurity.(8)
of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sung;
owner of form is not entangled by it,
matter to interdependence owes its name -
readily turn his mind within
in sovereign case.
desire for fame and for wealth no craving,
all liking and from the world retire.
love for wife and no affection for children
monastery to keep the discipline;
learned teachers, seek out their teaching
practice and meditation to O'er-leap the three worlds.(9)
you see arid hear, forsake all causal clingings
To escape for ever from
the worldly way.
By taming the six senses
and stopping all your thoughts,
With neither self nor other, no trouble will remain,
worldly men who sigh when mist and dew disperse. (10)
robe to cover you and food enough
your hunger, keep yourself in shape.
away, sacrifice your body and life
a second thought as when you spit or sneeze.
the discipline, be without fault
in your deportment.(11) Be not angry
When insulted, bear no hatred when you are beaten,
all derison by enduring the unendurable.
deviation, without interruption
ever the one thought of Amitabha.
be no dullness, no confusion,
the fir and cypress defy the bitter cold.
more the Buddha, doubt no more the Dharma;
wisdom look clearly into what you see and hear,
paper, cut the hide(12) and go back
source, for self-liberation means
Returning to the spring and source of reality.
neither 'non-existence' nor emptiness
is the potentiality divine, wondrous and inconceivable
reach here al lgrievance ends.
for now you realize the goal.
ten titles of Buddha (13) you will teach a
same leaking shell (14) is now
good and evil karmas are infallible, so why
falsehood instead of practicing the truth?
absolute is split the two extremes appear,
mind turns into heaven and earth.
ministers are noble owing to their past karmas,
rich or noble, poor or humble without previous cause
is birth - there will be death,
since this is known to everyone?
children (and self), for happiness and wealth
are spoiled by anger and desire.
fame or gain did I trifle
Away my last nineteen springs? (16)
Frustrations of a thousand, nay ten thousand kinds
and make your life yet more unbearable.
grow old with failing sight and snow-white hair
have vainly passed a lifetime ignorant of virtue.
to month, from month to year in vain will you
that months and years turn like a wheel.
an immortal in this world of ours?
to revere once more the cloud of compassion (17)
a famous mountain or in some renowned place
at ease in transcendental bliss
you know how fast the temporary flies?
ponder a few expedient sentences,
Amitabha's name, see clearly into birth and death,
happiness beyond the reach of others.
Chan, seek out its aim; the pure
spiritual are only this.
tea and vegetarian food the mind
enjoying Dharma night and day.
both self and other, relinquish 'you' and 'I'
and foe alike forgetting praise and censure
mind is free from hindrance and disgrace
and Patriarchs regards its Oneness as being without use?
One renounced his love to climb the snowy mountains(18)
left home to become a son of the Buddha. (19)
In the days of Yao and Shun(20) lived Zhao
throne was offered to Zhao he washed his ears.(22)
Remember Zhang Zi-fang and Liu Cheng-Yi
away their glory, retiring from the world.
period of termination when troubles lie ahead, (23)
you not awaken to vie with the ancestors?
in ignorance, commiting the ten evils
your ingenuity and wins the world's contempt.
droughts and floods are frequent,
famine and strife succeed each other and
tales prevail misfortune follows.
earthquakes, landslides and tidal waves
you do in order to escape?
in past transmigrations
falsehood and frustration
and in trouble virtue should first be cultivated,
a monastery worship with virtuous heart the King of the Law,
and reform from past wrong deeds improve your lot.
learned teachers, seek your experience to seal,
then leave both birth and death to realize the Mind-nature,
exposed reveals eternity.
in path within your practice.
and sages left clear sayings to reform the world,
not then the teaching of the Tripitaka.
and deep sincerity
all human beings to be righteous
my words as idle nor forget them,
leads to perception of self-nature.
your practice, be ever zealous,
sowing of Bodhí is the direct cause of awakening.
stages alter rebirth in the lotus are testified by the Buddha,
will take you to the Western Paradise.
your bag of skin, leap en the Vehicle Supreme.
the Song of the Skin Bag, hearken to it friends !
1. The human body is likened to a skin-bag which obstructs
our realization of the truth.
2. The empty aeon is regarded as coming after that of
the destruction of the world systems and preceding that of their
formation, the latter being followed by that of 'existence'.
3. Bhimsa-garjita-ghosa-svara-raja (short form
Bhímsa-raja) or the King with awe-inspiring voice, the
name of countless Buddhas, successively appearing during the
aeon free from misery, decay, calamities, epidemics, etc.
4. The digit 3 symbolizes the past, present and future,
or time. The digit 6 stands for the six worlds of existence
and the six directions north, south, east, west, the zenith
and nadir, or space.
5. The digit 8 stands for the eight consciousnesses
and the digit 4 for the four elements: earth, water, fire and
air which constitute the human body.
6. The Master's father was an official.
7. The three evil realms: hungry ghosts, animals
8. The five periods of impurity: (1) the aeon
in decay when it suffers deterioration giving rise to form;
(2) Deterioration of views, selfishness etc., arising; (3) Passions
and delusions arising from desire, anger and stupidity in which
pride and doubt prevail; (4) the subsequent increase in human
miseries and decrease in happiness and <5) the gradual shortening
of human life to ten years.
9. The Triple realms' of Desire, form and formlessness.
10. All worldly men are grieved about the impermanence
of things which are likened to mist and dew.
11. That is, while walking, standing, sitting
12. Bore the paper of the sutras to extract
the correct meaning and pierce the ox-hide ignorance to realize
13. The ten titles of a Buddha are: (1) Tathagata,
He who comes thus as do all other Buddhas; the absolute
'coming'; (2) Arhat or one worthy of worship; (3) Samyak-sambuddha,
Omniscient; (4) Vidyacarana-sampanna perfect
knowledge and conduct; (5) Sugata, the well-departed;
(6) Lokavid, knower of the world; (7) Anuttara,
the peerless lord; (8) Purusadamya-sarathi, the tamer
of passions; (9) Sasta deva-manusyanam, teacher of gods
and men; (10) Bhagavat or Lokanatha, the World-Honoured
14. The illusory human body.
15. The spiritual body appearing in full.
16. Xu-Yun complained that he had wasted his
time until his 19th year before succeeding in escaping from
17. The over-spreading, fructifying cloud of
compassion, the heart of the Buddha.
18. The Himalayas. According to the Chinese
Buddhist tradition, this symbolizes the Buddha's renunciation
ascent on the Bodhi-path.
19. A bodhisattva, son of 'the Buddha's family'.
20. The golden age of Chinese history when
the country was ruled by the wise Emperors Yao and Shun.
21. Yao knew that Zhao and Yu were two sages
and offered to abdicate in their favour but both declined,
22. When Zhao heard of Yao's offer the throne
to him, he went to the river bank to wash his ears from the
'impurity' of the offer.
23. The present period of the Dharma-ending
24. The nine stages of progression as described
in the Sutra of Amitabha.