All Nature's Splendors Captured in This Gourd-Heaven

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Inscription on South Gate of Portland Classical Chinese Garden

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All Nature's Splendors Captured in This Gourd-Heaven
All Nature's Splendors Captured in This Gourd-Heaven
Hútiān Lǎnshèng
Hútiān Lǎnshèng
Translator: Charles Q. Wu 吳千之

This inscription alludes to an ancient Daoist legend, "The Gourd Master", recorded first in the History of the Later Han. Here's a version from The Biographies of Spirit Immortals, by the Doaist scholar-practitioner Ge Hong (283-363).

"The Gourd Master was a Daoist healer. He came from afar to sell medicine at the market. After he had sold all the herbal pills in his gourd, he would come home and hang the empty gourd over his seat. After sunset he would turn around and jump into the gourd to no one knows where.

Changfeng, the market officer, was the only one who saw this from upstairs and realized that the Master was no ordinary person. He swept the floor in front of the Master's seat on a regular basis and even brought him food. But curious as he was about the Master's strange disappearances, he never dared ask any question.

One day the Master said to him, 'Come again at dusk when no one is around.' Changfeng did as he was told. The Master said, 'When you see me jump into the gourd, just follow me and you will be there.' Changfeng followed the Master's instruction and tried. As soon as he put out one foot, he was already in there before he knew it. Once inside, what he saw was no longer the gourd, but buildings and scenic objects of all shapes and colors, gates leading to more gates, and walkways leading from on pavilion to another. With the Master were dozens of retainers.

I'm an immortal,' said the Master. 'I disgraced my celestial position because my subordinates did not serve with diligence. On that account I was banished from above and returned temporarily to the mundane world. You are teachable. That's why you were allowed to see me (as I once was).'

From this story comes the phrase "Gourd Heaven", and apt symbol for a classical Chinese garden, which may be limied in space but contains a microcosm of all nature's wonders.

Quoted from Listen To The Fragrance, Literary Inscriptions in Lan Su Yuan, The Portland Classical Chinese Garden by Charles Wu, published by the Portland Classical Chinese Garden

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