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Singing and Building Our Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage


This Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage  is a sutra, which means thread, a thread of the Dharma. It was written by Shitou, a devoted ancestor of the Chinese Caodong lineage in the sixth century. He is also the author of another thread, The Merging of Difference and Unity. Both threads are exemplary works.

Although his works are old, the light shines from them in the 21st century. If we commit to a spiritual practice of everydayness, Shitou’s works sustain us along our daily path. Yes, the teachings are as true for us as they were for Shitou. All we need to do is to interpret them for our time and place.

We begin with a song of praise for whatever comes into our life as our life. Whether we live in a mansion or a hut, there is nothing left out. Everything right here, right now is in the place we live. We may, however, not know this reality to be true. Our conditioned tendencies and habits keep us caught and blind.

Instead of knowing this truth we yearn, long for, daydream, wish for something else, someone else, somewhere else. When this infatuation occurs, we have been blinded by the shadow of the world. We believe whatever we seek is somewhere else, something else, someone else. The Truth, however, is everything-all-at-once right wherever we are, whatever thing we focus on and with whomever we are with in the present.

We are very much like the bear that went over the mountain. A silly, curious bear who decided to see what was on the other side of the mountain. His desire led him away from where he was.

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see
To see what he could see
To see what he could see.

The other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see
Was all that he could see
Was all that he could see.

His curious impulse carried him over to see the other side of where he was – and nothing more.

At some point, we realize we have been doing the same old thing in the same old place with the same old people. This awareness, if we attend to it, helps us STOP the desire for being somewhere else, with someone else and attaining something else. We concentrate and attend to what is right at hand with nothing in for our gain. This last point is a key to realization. It requires us to forget ourselves. Forget all the myriad mental forms that are pulling, tempting, pressuring us to do, to get, to have, to keep.



So…let us look at the text and let the text show us the place where we realize the undying person in our grass hut right where we are. We may build and sing our song along with Shitou.

Have a look at what you have built. Is it full of yourself or empty of any value at all? Where there is nothing in it for your ego-self. The first line of the Song cannot be skipped. Here it is.

I’ve built a grass hut where there is nothing of value.

This line is challenging in a world that measures success, achievement, triumph according to amount and price of things. But THAT is the point of Shitou’s brilliance. It is clear and simple.

What have you put together?

The thread refers to whether we measure success – achievement and triumph from the point of view of “I – me – my – mine.” In other words, the focus on the ego-self is the problem. Or we do not measure at all. We do not get invested in “me, my, mine.”

Sounds impossible?

It isn’t impossible for those of us who do not get stirred up by thoughts, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and a consciousness of memories. Those who do not get stirred up know that all the mental pop-ups are merely fragments of conditions tempting us to go after something in the material realm. They are the ghosts in the mind that lead us to be worried, anxious, angry, hurt, fearful, foolish, and ignorant. In simple language, suffering comes when we follow something for me-my-mine.

 Find out for yourself.

Yes, this is the Way. Study what you have built. Are you counting on whatever it is to give you success – fame, name, accolades, attainments, achievements. What else? Or the other side giving you failure – shame, calumny, penury, losses. In either success or failure, we have placed values that will never provide freedom from suffering. This is not to be believed – it is to find out for yourself.

Ask yourself – do you measure yourself according to the measurements of success and failure, whatever that might be. Each one, whether success or failure, suffering follows. See for yourself if that is true in your life.

And…consider the first teaching of this song by Shitou…

I’ve built a grass hut where there is nothing of value.

And consider what Shitou says after constructing a grass hut…

After eating I relax and enjoy a nap.

Yep. That’s it. The mind is not out of control. He does not run after anything.


Photo by Bill Arsenault






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