You’re bound to become a buddha if you practice.
If water drips long enough
Even rocks wear through.
It’s not true thick skulls can’t be pierced;
People just imagine their minds are hard.

— Shih-Wu (1272-1352)

Shih-Wu or Stone House was a Chinese Chan (Zen) poet and hermit. He also served as abbot of Fuyuan Temple (near Hangzhou) for eight years.

Bill Porter, who’s lived as a Buddhist monk and translated various works, including Stone House’s poetry says this about him:

… he was one of the exceptional Zen students who became a poet. Stone House had a genius for poetry that is unique. I’ve always said that he was the greatest of all the Chinese Buddhist poets. And although he was a hermit, he was a Zen teacher, too, and he taught individuals through his poetry.

This is why I love wisdom, and the world’s wisdom traditions. Ages before we had terms like ‘brain plasticity,’ ‘neruoplasticity,’ ‘cortical remapping,’ or ‘brain malleability’ there was a Zen poet who already knew, had already experienced it, and was teaching it.

While Shih-Wu was an abbot for some time, he preferred his mountain hut, where he lead a frugal existence. The windows of his hut were made of oiled paper which ripped easily. He ate a wonderful variety of food he farmed himself on terraced banks on his mountain. He built his hut by a spring and as Bill Porter who has visited the site relates: “The spring was still flowing right behind the hut, the only spring on the mountain.” He had a few possessions, some tools and kitchenware.

Today, neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life, is seen and measured with sophisticated technology such as PET scans and MRIs. These technologies cost in the tens of thousands.

I don’t want to dwell on that so much. I want to dwell on the teaching.

I’ve always been an advocate of practice-based spirituality. Not sermon-based, not book learning, not intellectual grasp of truths. Not the surface inspiration of a quote, not the spiritual catchphrase. Not talk only. Spirituality has to be a part of us. Not a garment that comes on and off. Not an appendage. But a part of our being.

Spirituality must be embodied to be true and real, and indeed give its gifts. The best and most effective way for spirituality to be embodied is by practice.

This isn’t the practice of ‘practice makes perfect,’ it isn’t the ‘best practices’ of business, nor a drill, or social observance.

As Shih-Wu indicates, it isn’t even a practice to better yourself, improve skills, get over an emotional hump, lose weight or develop a character quality. It’s of an utterly boundless order. There isn’t even a box here.

He’s talking about being a ‘buddha.’ No, not that guy! Well, alright, he’s a good model. He’s talking about you. He’s talking about being awake, which is what ‘buddha’ means.

Buddha means “awake one.” Awake to what? That can be answered in many ways. Let’s stay with the poem. Awake to nonphysicality. If rocks are some of the most solid things we know, and they can be worn down, is there any reality and permanence to matter? Whoa, now Shih-Wu is dancing at the quantum level. Wait, when did he live?! Matter isn’t fixed to a single state.

I love the humor too. He knows we’re thick-headed. He also knows that’s an illusion. Fact is, the mind is bendable. It can be bent to wisdom and compassion. It can be bent to the heart where it becomes heartmind. The mind can be informed by sources other than the brain’s processing. And it’s also not fixed to a single state or pattern.

How? Practice. Shih-Wu also knew that the mind is nonlocal. It’s not not only limited to the brain, it’s not limited to geography, time or  habit. Bill Porter again:

By staying up on his mountain, he was able to affect the course of Zen in Korea. A prominent Korean monk came and studied with him at his hermitage and then took the robe and bowl of Stone House back to his country and established the Chogye Order, Korea’s main Zen tradition.

That’s quite something from a man who wore simple robes made of mulberry paper or lotus leaves in the summer, and a sturdy hemp most other times.

As he says:

Nothing is better than being free
but getting free is not luck.

So. Practice. I’ll see you there.


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Zen Neuroplasticity and Quantum Dancing