Written on Wall of West Forest Temple

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西林寺壁 Exterior wall of West Forest Monastery

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Written on Wall of West Forest Temple
---Su Shi

Sideways a mountain range, vertically a peak. 
Far-near, soaring-crouching, never the same. 
No way to know Lushan's true face 
When you're in the middle of this mountain!
Tí Xīlínbì

Héng Kàn chéng lǐng cè chéng fēng,
Yuǎn jìn gāo dī gè bù tóng.
Bù zhī Lúshān zhēn miàn mù,
Zhǐ yuán shēn zài cǐ shān zhōng.
Translator: Dongbo 東波

Lushan is indeed a difficult mountain so see and understand. Su Shi's famous poem puts it best, '不知廬山真面目', 'No way to know Lushan's true face!' With experience I think I understand the genesis of his poem, and his experiences that brought it about. On Lushan the mist shuffles back and forth over the mountain obscuring any bird's eye view of the mountain. Mist and rain blanket the mountain 200 days a year. But what caused Su to discribe Lushan using horizontal and vertical images?

In September 2002, I clambered up Xianglufeng, Incense Burner Peak, above Hui Yuan's Donglinsi, in a steady rain and a complete whiteout. No path led the way and it was only by luck of dead reakoning that I stumbled on the peak. I hunkered down on summit and waited for the mist to clear. Three hours later I was rewarded as the peak suddenly shot up in the air! I had the feeling I was on an ascending elevator! Of course the mist had receeded, but the feeling was one of the peak rising vertically in the air. Often in the misty Lushan landscape, floating without a firm foundation, in a misty vertigo, one has the feeling that the peaks are rising, not the mist receeding! A second mist phenomenon that often occurs is that the mist moves sideways and peaks appear as if from behind a sliding curtain pulled horizontally across a stage.

So in one case the peaks move, not the mist. The mist is stable and the mountain shoots out of it. In the other case the mountain is stable and the mist acts like a horizontal curtain, revealing the peaks as it slides across.

This, I think, may be what Su may have been thinking when he wrote his poem on the wall of the Xilinsi, West Forest Monastery.

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Lúshān; Hut Mountain 廬山
Xīlínsì 西林寺
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