Wu Shuang, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University
Fueled by the swift pace of modern life and rapidly changing daily scenarios, stress pushes us constantly, turning us like gear wheels. Thus we have no time to rest our spirits and allow a sense of truth and beauty to manifest in our lives. Lin Ching-hsuan began writing in 1973. His “Bodhi Series” essays, which fused Buddhist philosophy with East Asian aesthetics, were especially popular with readers. Lin records his experiences and insights in spare, elegant prose, revealing a calm, Zen-like vision, offering readers new perspectives on life and living.
“The Buddha Drum” is a record of Lin Ching-hsuan’s short stay in a Buddhist temple in southern Taiwan. Rising before dawn to observe the morning ceremony, the writer is transported to a serene realm of wordless understanding by the tolling of the morning bell, solemn and serene, and the stirring pulsations of the Buddha drum. Describing the temple grounds’ early morning tranquility, Lin contrasts a poinciana tree, ablaze with vibrant color, to the plain and unobtrusive bodhi (pipal) tree. Siddartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree. Before reaching Buddhahood, however, Gautama was an Indian prince, enjoying all the perquisites of royalty. The poinciana is like the passionate young prince. Sitting with legs crossed beneath the bodhi tree, Gautama endured the changing seasons, the pain of fleshly desires, the yearning and perplexity of the emotional world; and like a bodhi tree that has silently weathered the winter cold, he steadfastly cultivated inner stillness, ultimately attaining enlightenment. Thus, natural phenomena serve as metaphors for the human spirit, revealing the depth of Buddhist culture.
In Buddhist temples morning silence is broken by first ringing a bell and then by sounding a drum. The drum is stuck 108 times, the number symbolizing the Twelve Months, 24 Solar Terms, and 72 Pentads that comprise one calendar year. The purpose of ringing the bell is to awaken all sentient beings of the Three Worlds – the World of Desire, the World of Form, and the World of Formlessness – the deep, sonorous tones banishing their fears and calming their spirits. The drum is sounded to announce the time and call the monks and nuns to assembly. Lin Ching-hsuan originally thought that Ondekoza (“demon drum group”), a Japanese percussion ensemble, epitomized the drumming art. But after hearing the Buddha drum, he realized that Ondekoza’s music was manmade, created simply for entertainment; the Buddha drum, by contrast, is the pure embodiment of compassion, salvation, and intention – like the Dharma, its sound travels far, eliminating hardship and distress, bringing happiness to all living beings, transcending the material world.
The essay’s finest passage is a description of a Buddhist nun beating the drum. Focused and composed, the nun strikes the drum, “sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly; sometimes like a thunderbolt, sometimes like a whirlwind”; the sound of the drum is “at times dense as rain, impenetrable; at times like great waves, ceaselessly surging; at times as fierce as a tsunami, towering in the air; at times light as a caressing breeze” – thus, the art is naturally transcendent. Lin’s exquisite metaphors turn sound and movement into imagery, drawing readers into the scene, allowing them to experience the emotions the writer feels. At the end of the essay, when the drum is no longer being sounded, its reverberations seem to hang in the air; hence silence triumphs over sound, a phenomenon too wonderful for words.
The essay is short, but continues to resonate long after one has finished reading it. Lin Ching-hsuan’s warm and meticulous narrative records a singular life experience – witnessing the Buddhist Dharma’s quiet emptiness and limpid clarity, Lin provides readers with a leisurely and harmonious spiritual experience.
Wu Shuang, PhD student, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University
Lin Ching-hsuan was born in 1953 in Chishan in Kaohsiung. Lin has written under a variety of pen names: Chin Ching, Lin Li, Lin Ta-bei, Lin Wan-ti, Xia An, Ching Hsuan, Yuan Ting, and Tian-hsin Yong-le. Lin graduated from Shih Hsin School of Journalism (now Shi Hsin University) and worked as a journalist on the overseas edition of the China Times, economics journalist on the Commercial Times, chief editor on the China Times Weekly, editor in chief at the China Times, and editor in chief at New Aspect, an art magazine. Lin is currently a professional writer.
Lin started writing in 1973 and at the age of 20 published his first collection of essays, entitled The Lotus Blooms and Drops. His works have garnered many literary prizes, such as the National Award for Arts, the Chung-shan Art Award, the Wu Sanlian Art Award, the Golden Tripod Award, the China Times Literary Award, the Chinese Literature Award, the Central Times Literature Award, and the Wu Luqin Prose Award. Lin has been a best-selling author for ten years in a row and has published more than a hundred works, including Peaceful Body and Mind and Worry No More, two best-sellers which set a record by being reissued 150 times. At the age of forty-five, Lin recorded the audiobooks Opening the Windows of the Heart and Walk Towards the Light. In the late 1980s Lin was publishing at the very prolific rate of at least two or three new books a year. The Bodhi Series, a series of ten mediation books, is representative of his Zen essays.
Lin’s works include the ten Bodhi Series essay collections, Rose Coast, The Youth of Snow White, Snowflakes, The Mandarin Duck Incense Burner, and more than a hundred others. He also recorded the audiobooks Opening the Windows of the Heart and Walk Towards the Light. Lin’s works have a broad and enthusiastic audience. In 1988 he was voted Person of the Year by the publishing industry and in 1992 was declared the best-selling author in all Taiwan by Kingstone Bookstore. His works have often been incorporated into Chinese-language teaching materials for schools in Taiwan, China, and Singapore.
Lin Ching-hsuan’s texts are down-to-earth and accessible, mixing life experience with Buddhist insight and wisdom, or integrating the beauty of Eastern cultures. They have a sentimentality which is gentle and unassuming and are perceptive and intelligent. With his rich texts and lectures, Lin has become a spiritual teacher to a vast readership, his Zen-inspired texts shining like the North Star in the spiritual darkness.
|Work(English)：||The Buddha Drum|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen（《中華民國筆會英季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》）|
|Publisher：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.chiuko.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Chiuko Publishing Co. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.taipen.org/the_chinese_pen/the_chinese_pen_03.htm|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|