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"The Song of the Skin Bag" by Master Xu Yun

Written by Venerable Master Xu Yun in his 19th year. Translated by Charles Luk and revised by Richard Hunn. Since I first read it, it has resonated with me. Hopefully it'll prove as a source of inspiration for others as well. It's long, but well worth a read.

The Song of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sung.
Before the empty eon it had neither name nor form, After the Buddha with awe-inspiring voice it became a hindrance. Three hundred and sixty tendons are linked within the body Enclosed by four and eighty thousand pores.
Divided it splits into heaven, earth and man, United it combines the four elements. It supports heaven, props up earth, But what of its mettle? Understand cause and effect, discern the times Survey the stupidity of past and present. Because of wrong clinging to illusory forms, Parents are involved and wife and children loved. By vain indulgence in delusion karma is left behind, The Song of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sun. Drinking wine and eating meat upset the mind-nature, Indulgence in pleasure and desire leads to utter ruin. When officialdom is strong to oppress the innocent
And readers artful against their consciences, how long Will their wealth and power last, their pride and their extravagance? The poor and lowly will not so last while there is cruelty and violence. Discrimination between self and others leads to inequality, Destroying living beings as worthless things. Thinking and discerning cause desire, stupidity and hatred, While becoming lost in heresies invites self-destruction. Killing, stealing, adultery and lying have no end, And rude behavior to others increases attachment and aversion. To scold the wind and curse the rain is disrespectful to the gods, While depression comes from ignorance of birth and death. When leaving a cow’s womb to enter a mare’s belly Who will sing of or lament your change of form? Many evil acts without a good deed will make Aimless and toilsome your transmigration. Entering the three evil realms, falling into hell
Causes suffering to animals and hungry ghosts. The ancient sages would oft repeat their warning, Likewise the morning bell and drum at eve are to change your heart. Good and evil karma bring certain retribution, Escape then, worldly men, from the five periods of impurity.
The Song of the Skin Bag, the skin bag is sun; If the owner of form is not entangled by it, For illusory matter to interdependence owes its name - He can readily turn his mind within To contemplate in sovereign ease. With no desire for fame and for wealth no craving, Cut off all liking and from the world retire. With no love for wife and no affection for children Enter a monastery to keep the discipline. Look for learned teachers, seek out their teaching. On Chan practice and meditation to o’er-lap the three worlds.
Store what you see and hear, forsake all causal clinging To escape for ever from the worldly way. By taming the six senses and stopping all your thoughts, With neither self nor other, no trouble will remain, Unlike worldly men who sigh when mist and dew disperse.
With one robe to cover you and food enough To satisfy your hunger, keep yourself in shape. Give wealth away, sacrifice your body and life Without a second thought, as when you spit or sneeze. Keep pure the discipline, be without fault And correct in your deportment.
Be not angry When insulted, bear no hatred when you are beaten, Forget all derision by enduring the unendurable. Without deviation, without interruption Hold forever the one thought of Amitabha. Let there be no dullness, no confusion, But like the fir and cypress defy the bitter cold. Doubt no more the Buddha, doubt no more the Dharma; With innate wisdom look clearly into what you see and hear, Bore the paper, cut the hide and go back To the source, for self-liberation means Returning to the spring and source of reality. There is neither ‘non-existence’ nor emptiness Exposed is the potentiality divine, wondrous and inconceivable. When you reach here all grievance ends. Hurrah, for now you realize the goal. With the ten titles of Buddha you will teach a myriad worlds. Aha, that same leaking shell is now The omnipresent Buddha-body.
Clearly good and evil karmas are infallible, so why Rely on falsehood instead of practicing the truth? When the absolute is split the two extremes appear, The spirit mind turns into heaven and earth. Kings and ministers are noble owing to their past karmas, None are rich or noble, poor or humble without previous cause. Where there is birth - there will be death,
Why grumble since this is known to everyone? For wife, children (and self), for happiness and wealth All prospects are spoiled by anger and desire. For what fame or gain did I trifle Away my last nineteen springs?
Frustrations of a thousand, nay ten thousand kinds Harass and make your life yet more unbearable. When you grow old with failing sight and snow-white hair You will have vainly passed a lifetime ignorant of virtue. From day to month, from month to year in vain will you Regret that months and years turn like a wheel. Who is an immortal in this world of ours? ’Tis better to revere once more the cloud of compassion
And on a famous mountain or in some renowned place To live at ease in transcendental bliss. Do not you know how fast the temporary flies? Respectfully ponder a few expedient sentences, Recite Amitabha’s name, see clearly into birth and death, Then enjoy happiness beyond the reach of others. Practice Chan, seek out its aim; the pure And the spiritual are only this. With clear tea and vegetarian food the mind Errs not, enjoying Dharma night and day. Forsake both self and other, relinquish ‘you’ and ‘I’, Treat friend and foe alike forgetting praise and censure. When the mind is free from hindrance and disgrace Do Buddhas and Patriarchs regard its Oneness as being without use? The World-Honored One renounced his love to climb the snowy mountains,
While Avalokitesvara left home to become a son of the Buddha.
In the days of Yao and Shun lived Zhao and Yu,
When the throne was offered to Zhao he washed his ears.
Remember Zhang Zi-fang and Liu Cheng-Yi Who cast away their glory, retiring from the world. In this period of termination when troubles lie ahead,
Why do you not awaken to vie with the ancestors? To indulge in ignorance, committing the ten evils Exhausts your ingenuity and wins the world’s contempt. Wars, epidemics, droughts and floods are frequent, Death, famine and strife succeed each other and When weird tales prevail misfortune follows. ’Midst earthquakes, landslides and tidal waves What will you do in order to escape? Evil acts in past transmigrations Cause present falsehood and frustration. When poor and in trouble virtue should first be cultivated, Then in a monastery worship with virtuous heart the King of the Law, Repentance and reform from past wrong deeds improve your lot. Call on learned teachers, seek your experience to seal, First learn, then leave both birth and death to realize the Mindnature, Impermanence exposed reveals eternity. Path lies in path within your practice. The saints and sages left clear sayings to reform the world, Slight not then the teaching of the Tripitaka. With earnestness and deep sincerity I urge all human beings to be righteous Take not my words as idle nor forget them, For self-cultivation leads to perception of self-nature. Hasten your practice, be ever zealous, For the sowing of Bodhi is the direct cause of awakening. The nine stages after rebirth in the Lotus are testified by the Buddha, An Amitabha will take you to the Western Paradise. Lay down your bag of skin, leap on the Vehicle Supreme. This is the Song of the Skin Bag, hearken to it friends!

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"The Song of the Skin Bag" by Master Xu Yun


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