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T'ang Studies 13 (1995) Li Po'sInscription for the Great Bell of the Hua-ch~eng Monastery PAUL W. KROLL UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO No student of T'ang poetry can have escaped the sound of the Buddhist temple bell, so often tolling as part of the imagery of verses written about visits to reposeful monasteries. Two examples that come immediately to mind are those in Wang Wei's poem on the Hsiang-chi ~lJf monastery in the Chung-nan hills, south of Ch' angan ("Deep in the woods-where is that bell?")/ and in Chang Chi's ~a (c.s. 753) famous quatrain on mooring overnight by Maple Bridge, outside Soochow ("Midway in the night, the sound of the bell [of the Han-shan Monastery ~tll~] reaches this stranger's boat").2 Readers can supply other examples at their leisure. The image remained potent when transferred with the Dharma to lands beyond China. One thinks of the evocative opening line of the medieval Japanese prose masterpiece, The Tale of the Heike: liThesound of the bells of Jeta sanctuary is an echo of the impermanence of all that acts.113 1 "Kuo Hsiang-chi szu," Ch'uan T'ang shih ~F.!f~ (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1960; hereafter CTS), 126.1274-75. 2 "Feng-ch'iao yeh-po," CTS 242.2721. The dispute set in motion by a glancing comment from au-yang Hsiu IX~~ (1007-72) in his Liu-i chu-shih shih-hua t\-P.!f±1Wit!i (Ou-yang Hsiu ch'ilan-chi [Taipei: Hua-ching shu-chii, 1975], 5.109), about whether Chang Chi's mentioning of the temple bell sounding in the deep of night can have been true to fact or is rather an example of poetic fancy (because temple bells were not normally sounded after sunset), does not concern us here. 3 Heike monogatari, Nihon koten bungaku zenshii, 29 (1943; rpt. Kyoto: Shogakukan , 1993), 35. Tradition says that the Jetavana park was one of the Buddha's favorite retreats and the first "Buddhist monastery." In its northwest comer was an infirmary, called the "Cloister of Impermanence" 1fttm~.The clapper-bells hanging from its eaves were said to ring when a monk was on the point of death, sounding the following gifthif: "All that acts is without permanence: / This is the law of life and extinction. / When life and extinction are at last extinguished, / Stillness and extinction (i.e., nirvana) becomes a joy. h 33 Kroll: Li Po's Bell Inscription The latter image, placed at the beginning of the epic account of the Taira's decline and fall, goes to the crux of the matter. For, although a monastery's bell would be sounded at times during the day as a signal to call the monks together for specific activities, it was its symbolic message that was most meaningful. This was specially evident at dawn and dusk, when the bell was struck one hundred eight times to mark the beginning and end of day and, more importantly, to betoken the hundred and eight afflictions (klesas) that tie us to the round of life and death and that must be left behind to attain release from san;zstira. The bell sounds a tocsin of impermanence , the succeeding waves of its reverberations that subside into silence reminding us of the gradual, almost imperceptible but ineluctable , fading away of all beings born into the flux of existence. And it serves too as an alarm, to waken us to the true nature of this existence , to rouse us from the dull torpor of earthly attachments. Perhaps these are actually two sides of the same idea. Among the many writings of the poet Li Po ~s (701-62?),we are fortunate to have a commissioned inscription, with lengthy preface , for such a bell. This was composed for the ceremonies dedicating a newly cast, bronze bell at the Hua-ch'eng 1t;~ monastery in Tang-t'u .~~, a T'ang district seat some forty miles southwest of Nanking. Part of the Chiang-nan i[i$j circuit, within the administrative ambit of Hstian-ch' eng EL~ prefecture, Tang-t'u was a llhigh_ rank" township4 where Li Po...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1759-7633
Print ISSN
0737-5034
Pages
pp. 33-50
Launched on MUSE
2021-04-08
Open Access
No
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