Four Huts

FINDING PEACE AND HAPPINESS IN A SIMPLE LIFE

“Record of the Thatched Hall on Mount Lu” by Po Chu-I (Po Lo-t’ien), in 817 AD, a very popular T’ang poet—

“K’uang Lu, so strange, so superb it tops all the mountains in the empire!…In autumn of the eleventh year of the Yuan-ho era [816 A.D.] I, Po Lo T’ien of T’ai-yuan, saw it and fell in love with it. Like a traveler on a distant journey who passes by his old home, I felt so drawn to it I couldn’t tear myself away. So on a site facing the peak and flanking the temple I set about building a grass-thatched hall.”

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“By spring of the following year the thatched hall was finished. Three spans, a pair of pillars, two rooms, four windows – the dimensions and expenditures were all designed to fit my taste and means. I put a door on the north side to let in cool breezes so as to fend off oppressive heat, made the southern rafters high to admit sunlight in case there should be times of severe cold. The beams were trimmed but left unpainted, the walls plastered but not given a final coat of white. I’ve used slabs of stone for paving and stairs, sheets of paper to cover the windows….Inside the hall are four wooden couches, two plain screens, one lacquered ch’in [a stringed instrument resembling a zither], and some Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist books, two or three of each kind.”

“And now that I have come to be master of the house, I gaze up the mountains, bend down to listen to the spring, look around at the trees and bamboo, the clouds and rocks, busy with them every minute from sunup to evening…happy with my surroundings, at peace within. One night here and my body is at rest, two nights and my mind is content, and after three nights I’m in a state of utter calm and forgetfulness. I don’t know why it’s like this, but it is.”

“East of the hall is a waterfall, the water tumbling down from a height of three feet, splashing by the corner of the stairs, then running off in a stone channel. In twilight and at dawn it’s the color of white silk, and at night it makes a sound like jade pendants or a lute or harp.”

“Long ago Hui-yung, Hui-yuan, Tsung Ping, Lei Tz’u-tsung, eighteen men in all, came to this mountain, grew old and died here without ever going home. Though they lived a thousand years ago, I can understand what was in their hearts, because I’m here too.”

(Excerpt from “Record of the Thatched Hall on Mount Lu” by Po Chu-I, as in “Four Huts – Asian Writings on the Simple Life,” translated by Burton Watson, Shambhala Centaur Editions, 1994.)

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