A hermit in the mountains

Wu Li was a student of the Tao. He lived in the Zhongan mountains in central China. 35 years of age, Wu Li lived alone in his hurt. He awoke with the call of the birds who began their song before the first rays of the sun reached the hills. Wu Li would go out and absorb the song of the birds. The misty landscape would gradually become visible as the rays of the majestic sun lit up the hills. The hills were green. Far away, rocky, barren hills could also be seen, where no vegetation grew, for it was too high there and the air was too thin. Like other hermits, Wu Li lived in the lower hills of the Zhongan. The higher mountains, freezing cold and unhospitable, were meant to be witnessed rather than grasped – a sign of the eternal Tao that was available in everyday life, at every moment and yet, distinct from it.

Wu Li was a painter. He would sell his paintings in the town which was a two hour walk away from the hills. On his way back he would pick up things he needed for his hut. A little food and a few clothes were all he needed.

Every painting he drew was an expression of Wu Li’s heart. When he withdrew attention from the outer world, his heart came alive, as if burning in a golden fire whose sparks gave warmth to his entire being. On the outside, Wu Li was an ordinary man who lived like anyone else, but alone. He slept, awoke, cleaned, cooked, worked, walked out in the hills, and at night, went to sleep again. On the inside, Wu Li has a fire burning inside him – a fire that gave the warmth of meaning to his life, but also a fire that burnt away all that was unnecessary.

Today, Wu Li was drawing a portrait of Master Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu had lived when Wu Li was a small child. Gentle in his demeanour, almost as if floating in the air, Chuang Tzu had been a picture of compassion and quietude. But most of all, he was a man of wonder. One day, Chuang Tzu had told Wu Li, who was only 8 years old then, that he had dreamed that he was a yellow butterfly. The butterfly flew from one flower to another, drinking in the nectar. When Chuang Tzu had awakened, he wondered if he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamed that he is a yellow butterfuly, or if he was a yellow butterfly who was now dreaming that he is Chuang Tzu.

The dream-like quality of life was never lost on the master. Through sharing his experience of the dream, the master – or the butterfly – had shared something essential about life with Wu Li, something that had always remained with him. Like a man aware that he is in a dream, Wu Li lived with a great sense of wonder about the splendours and the terrors of this world of dream, and also without taking anything in this world too seriously. A sense of lightness and wonder marked the little smile on his face which complemented the peace of his demeanour.

Today, Wu Li drew a portrait of the master. He saw the misty morning through his window, remembering the master’s ways. The master walked as if he was part of nature, slowly gliding with the air, moving effortlessly like the plants in the wind, yet with a dignity and nobility that were his marked features. Wu Li’s painting captured some of that lightness and ease.

He walked out and looked at the sun, now long risen up from the horizon. A new day had begun. Like everyday, the sun was rising as if for the first time ever and the darkness was perishing as if for the first time ever. And like everyday, Wu Li was living another day in his life, but new and fresh, as if he was witnessing life for the first time ever.



~ by tdcatss on October 27, 2016.

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