Introduction: In Great Master Hānshān’s (憨山大师) ‘Song On Wasting In Vain’《费闲歌》, he wrote a list of ten deeds, which are relatively easier to do externally, as compared with ten deeds which are more difficult to do internally, speaking on how superficial ‘practices’ that do not progress with the right conditions will always be done in vain. He also states how ten conditions that contradict the spiritual path will only emptily waste energy, such that even if with much of their outward expressions exerted, they will also be for nothing. Being timelessly relevant, the teachings encapsulated in his following ten verses should be deeply contemplated upon by all, so as to avoid the pitfalls warned against.
Song [On] Wasting In Vain
[(1) Meditative Cultivating (For) Realising Awakening]
Speaking [about the] path [is] easy [but] realising [the] path [is] difficult,
[with distracting] mixed thoughts not eradicated, [thus] always in vain,
[with] worldly matters’ dusty labours, constantly clinging [and] obstructing,
[in the] deep mountains quietly sitting [i.e. meditating], [this is] also for nothing.
[(2) Guarding Upholding (Of) Pure Precepts]
Leaving [the] household [life is] easy [but] guarding [the] precepts [is] difficult,
[with] faith [and] aspiration completely without, [thus] always in vain,
[with] pure precepts not upheld, emptily wasting energy,
even if dropping hair, [this is] also for nothing.
[(3) Relying On Teacher (For) Cultivating Practice]
Cultivating practice [is] easy [but] encountering [a] teacher [is] difficult,
not encountering [a] wise [and capable] teacher, [thus] always in vain;
thinking oneself [is] clever, emptily wasting energy,
blindly cultivating [and] recklessly practising, [this is] also for nothing.
[(4) (The) Mind Departing (From) Red Dust]
[Being] stained [by] dust [is] easy [but] exiting [from the] dust [is] difficult,
not severing [from] dusty labours, [thus] always in vain;
[with] attachment’s nature climbing [after] conditions, emptily wasting energy,
not accomplishing [the] path’s fruit, [this is] also for nothing.
[(5) (With The) Humble Mind Learning (And) Contemplating]
Listening [and] learning [is] easy [but having the sincerely] true mind [is] difficult,
[with] arrogant slighting [of] honourable teachers, [thus] always in vain;
[being] proud [and] arrogant, emptily wasting energy,
[with] cleverness unmatched [in the] world, [this is] also for nothing.
[(6) True Cultivation (For) True Realisation]
Learning [the] path [is] easy [but] awakening [to the] path [is] difficult,
not putting in efforts, [thus] always in vain;
able [to have] faith [yet] not practising, emptily wasting energy,
to no purpose discussing [and] commenting, [this is] also for nothing.
[(7) According (To) Principles Shutting (In) Retreat]
Shutting [in] retreat [is] easy [but] guarding [the] retreat [is] difficult,
not willing [to] cultivate practice, [thus] always in vain;
[with the] body in retreat within, [yet the] mind is outside,
[for a] thousand years not exiting, [this is] also for nothing.
[(8) (With The) Faithful Mind Mindful (Of) Buddha]
Mindfulness [of] Buddha [is] easy [but having the] faithful mind [is] difficult,
[with the] mind [and] mouth not one, [thus] always in vain;
[with the] mouth reciting [Ā]mítuó[fó, yet the] mind [is] scattered [and] confused [without Faith and Aspiration],
[with the] throat shouting [till] broken, [this is] also for nothing.*
[(9) (With The) Reverent Mind Prostrating (To) Buddha]
Prostrating [to the] Buddha [is] easy [but having the] reverent mind [is] difficult,
[with the] mind not sincere, [thus] always in vain;
[with] five [parts of the] body emptily placed, emptily wasting energy,
[with the] skull bowing [till] broken, [this is] also for nothing.
[(10) Reciting Sūtras (For) Understanding (Their) Meanings]
Reciting sūtras [is] easy [but] understanding sūtras [is] difficult,
[with the] mouth reciting without understanding, [thus] always in vain;
able [to] understand [yet] not relying [on them], emptily wasting energy,
[with] daily reciting [of] ten thousand scrolls, [this is] also for nothing.
Great Master Hānshān
[* Note: Dharma Master Dà’ān (Hundred Questions On Pure Land): ‘If not complete with Faith and Aspiration, only verbally reciting Āmítuófó’s name, also without the mind of Faith and Aspiration to seek rebirth in his Pure Land, this is then very difficult to correspond with Āmítuófó’s vows’ power. Not able to connect with the Buddha’s power, then is one not able to carry negative karma to horizontally transcend, to be reborn in his Pure Land. Therefore calling this “with the throat shouting till broken, this is also for nothing.” If complete with Faith and Aspiration when upholding his name, although the inner mind still has [some] scatteredness and confusion, one is also definitely able to be reborn in his Pure Land, with this not being “with the throat shouting till broken, this is also for nothing.”‘]
Namo Amituofo : Translation and introduction by Shen Shi’an
Great Master Hānshān’s ‘Song For Wasting In Vain’