Entangling Vines, Case 143 Xutang’s Three Questions. No. 1 “How can an unenlightened person put on clothes made of emptiness?”
Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, Kindle Edition, 2013.
17th March, 2021
When Xutang Zhiju was at ‘flying peak’ he presented three questions. Here is the first gate—“How can an unenlightened person put on clothes made of emptiness?” There is a myth that this peak is actually ‘Vulture Peak’ and that it flew to Lingyin overnight through darkness, suddenly appearing amongst the surrounding mountains. Within the central cave, there is an opening that reaches upwards where one can see the ‘one thread of heaven,’ a sliver of light. Here in this painting, she stands atop a ridge in simple clothes with a staff in hand.
After reading David Hinton’s Existence A Story, I began combing through collections of Shitao's paintings and found this painting along with a translation of the poem. It is astonishingly similar to Hinton’s exquisite story of Shih Tao’s Broad-Distance Pavillion. Here someone stands gazing out into what feels like eternity. Here too she appears to be standing on a peak far above the clouds. Could these be the clothes of emptiness-‘white clouds sash-like wrap mountain waists, as the volcanic bedrock flies in space?’ The words are so delicious, I read them again and again and recall my time in northern Idaho this past fall.
Standing on a not so high peak with Boundary Creek below, I could see in the distance, the craggy ridges of the Sawtooth Range and in the foreground Red Fish Lakes, big and small. I wonder, how does one put on clothes made of boundlessness. The journey downward seemed more difficult than I realized. Good to have my staff in hand and sturdy boots. Hearing Boundary Creek, whistling a poem, I pulled up the collar of my sweater and donned my weathered gloves for the descent.
bows from Idaho,