A Small Collection of Buddhist Gathas
Chinese originals selected by Upasaka Chou
Translated by Yutang Lin

1. 白髮苍苍似银条,老树无根怕风摇;家有黄金贮百斗,难买菩提路一条。 --古德
White hairs all over head, like silver strings;
Old tree without roots is fearful of shaking by winds.
With hundred bushels of gold stored at home,
Still could hardly purchase a path toward Bodhi.
——Ancient Sage

2. 无戒欲求生善道,如鹰无翼欲飞空;如人无足欲远行,亦如渡海无船筏。 --古德
Seeking rebirth in better realms without observation of silas,
Is like an eagle without wings wishing to fly in the sky,
Like a human without feet wishing to visit far away places,
And also like without raft nor boat to travel across oceans.
——Ancient Sage

3. 若人静坐须臾顷,胜造恆沙七宝塔;宝塔毕竟化为尘,一念静心成正觉。 --古德
It is better for one to sit in meditation for just a short while,
Than to build seven-gem pagodas as many as sands of Ganges.
Gem pagodas eventually will all turn to dusts,
And yet one-minded tranquility leads to right awakening.
——Ancient Sage

4. 罪业本空由心造,心若灭时罪亦亡;心亡罪灭两俱空,是则名为真忏悔。 --古德
Sinful karmas, originally pure, are created by mind;
As mind extinguishes, sins also perish.
Mind deceased and sins perished, both vacuous;
That is named as "genuine repentance."
——Ancient Sage

5. 佛在世时我沉沦,佛灭度后我出生;忏悔此身多业障,不见如来金色身。 --古德
While Buddha was in this world I sank in transmigration;
After Buddha attained Nirvana I was born.
I repent that this body is so full of karmic hindrances,
That I cannot see the golden-color body of Tathagata.
——Ancient Sage

6. 向前三步想一想,退后三步思一思;瞋心起时要思量,熄下怒火最吉祥。 --古德
Consider what could happen in three steps ahead, and
Ponder the situation after yielded three steps backward.
As anger arises one should check it with evaluations;
Most auspicious is to extinguish the fire of wrath.
——Ancient Sage

7. 从来共住不知名,任运相将只么行;自古上贤犹不识,造次凡流岂可明? --唐.石头希迁
Ever lived together without knowing the name,
Mutually accommodating as life goes on, it simply works like this.
Since ancient time the most capable ones still could not figure it out;
How can superfluous ordinary folks comprehend it?
——Shi Tou, Xi Qian, of Tang Dynasty

8. 已落双鵰血尚新,鸣鞭走马又翻身;凭君莫射南来雁,恐有家书寄远人。 --唐.杜牧
Blood on the pair of fallen eagles is still fresh,
Whip aloud to run the horse and again turn the body around;
Depending on you not to shoot wild geese from the south,
Just worry that they might carry messages from home for distant folks.
——Du Mu of Tang Dynasty

9. 终日寻春不见春,芒鞋踏破岭头云;归来偶把梅花嗅,春在枝头已十分。 --唐.无尽藏
Seeking spring all day but failed to see spring,
Straw shoes stepped broke clouds over the mountain top;
Upon returning home incidentally smelled the plum blossom,
Spring is already fully present at the tips of branches.
——Wu Jin Zang of Tang Dynasty

10. 光明寂照遍河沙,凡圣含灵共我家;一念不生全体现,六根才动云遮天。 --唐.张拙
Luminosity silently shines over all sentient beings as many as sands of the river Ganges,
Worldlings as well as saints, all with consciousness take part in constituting my family;
In the absence of any thought the totality reveals itself,
As soon as the six roots started to act, it is like clouds covering the whole sky.
——Zhang Zhuo of Tang Dynasty
Note: "six roots" refers to eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.

11. 特入空门问苦空,敢将禅事问禅翁,为当梦是浮生事?为复浮生是梦中? --唐.白居易
Intently entered the Gate of Blank to inquire about suffering and blank,
Taking liberty to ask a Chan master about matters of Chan,
Should dreams be regarded as matters of this transient life,
Or this transient life is but continuing events in a dream?
——Bai Ju Yi of Tang Dynasty

12. 忆着当年未悟时,一声号角一声悲;如今枕上无闲梦,大小梅花一样香。 --唐.孚上座
Remember that during those yeas before comprehension,
Each cry of military horn caused a sigh of sadness;
Now on the pillow there are no more dreams of leisure,
Plum blossoms large or small are all of the same fragrance.
——Senior Fu of Tang Dynasty

13. 来时无迹去无踪,去与来时事一同;何须更问浮生事,只此浮生是梦中。 --唐.鸟窠
Came with no signs and left without traces,
When leaving or coming it is the same matter;
Why need to inquire further about matters of this transient life?
It is simply that this evanescent life is nothing but a dream!
——Chan Master Bird-nest of Tang Dynasty

14. 生天本自生天业,未必求仙便得仙;鹤背倾危龙背滑,君王自古无百年。 --唐.知玄
Born into heavenly realms originated from congruent karmas,
Seeking to become a deity will not necessarily thus achieve;
Crane back curved and dangerous while dragon back slippery,
Since ancient time emperors and kings never lasted for hundred years.
——Zhi Xuan of Tang Dynasty

15. 四大由来造化功,有声全贵里头空;莫嫌不与凡夫说,只为宫商调不同。 --唐.赵州从谂
The four great elements are ever the creation of nature,
Sounding devices depend completely on their hollow interior;
Don't blame me for not revealing it to the worldlings,
It is only because the pitches of tones are incongruent.
——Zhao Zhou, Cong Shen, of Tang Dynasty

16. 不求名利不求荣,只么随缘度此生;一个幻躯能几时,为他闲事长无明。 --唐.洞山良价
Neither seeking fame and profits nor seeking prosperity,
Simply living this life according to circumstances;
How long can one illusive body last?
Preoccupied with its trifles one ever remains ignorant.
——Dong Shan, Liang Jie, of Tang Dynasty

17. 心如大海无边际,广植净莲养身心;自有一双无事手,为作世间慈悲人。 --唐.黄檗
Mind like a great ocean without boundaries,
Expansively plant lotuses of purity to cultivate body and mind;
Naturally there will be a pair of hands free from worldly matters,
Simply to serve as a compassionate person in the worldly realms.
——Huang Bo of Tang Dynasty

18. 若逢知己宜依分,纵遇冤家也共和;宽却肚皮须忍辱,豁开心地任从他。 --唐.布袋
If one encounters a congruent person, better to associate according to norms;
Even if the person encountered is a karmic creditor, one should get along in harmony.
To expand one's belly it is necessary to practice tolerance and patience,
And abruptly open up one's field of mind to let others do as they wish.
——Bu Dai (Cloth Bag) of Tang Dynasty

19. 趋利求名空自忙,利名二字陷人坑;急须返照娘生面,一片灵心是觉皇。 --唐.布袋
Chasing after fame and profits one busies oneself in vain;
"Profit" and "fame" are two words that ensnarl people into pits.
Hurriedly one should reflect on one's original face,
Mind that is free and sensitive is the emperor of awakening.
——Bu Dai (Cloth Bag) of Tang Dynasty

20. 只个心心心是佛,千方世界最灵物;纵横妙用万境生,一切不如心真实。 --唐.布袋
Simply this mind that functions itself is the Buddha,
Most sensitive thing in all kinds of myriad universes;
Its wondrous uses in all directions created all situations,
Everything else is not as genuine as the mind.
——Bu Dai (Cloth Bag) of Tang Dynasty

21. 一住寒山万事休,更无杂念挂心头;闲书石壁题诗句,任运还同不系舟。 --唐.寒山
Once lived on Cold Mount all matters were put to rest;
No more scattered thoughts hovering in mind.
In leisure writing poems on rock faces;
Floating in life like a boat without ties.
——Han Shan (Cold Mount) of Tang Dynasty

22. 千年石上古人踪,万丈岩前一点空;明月照时常皎洁,不劳寻讨问西东。 --唐.寒山
Traces of ancients found on rocks of thousand years;
In front of myriad-yard cliff there is a tiny clear spot.
While bright moon shines it remains brilliant,
No need to seek for it and ask around.
——Han Shan (Cold Mount) of Tang Dynasty

23. 赵州八十犹行脚,只为心头未悄然;及至归来无一事,始知空费草鞋钱。 --宋.张无尽
Zhao Zhou at eighty still walked around to seek enlightenment;
It was only due to the fact that his mind was not tranquil yet.
Until he returned to his residence and all matters ceased,
Only then he knew that money for straw shoes was wasted in vain.
——Zhang Wu Jin of Song Dynasty

24. 门前自有千江月,室内却无一点尘;贝叶若图遮得眼,须知净地亦迷人。 --宋.成枯木
In front of the door there is moon that reflects in thousand rivers;
And yet inside the room there is not even a speck of dust found.
If pages of Sutras were intended to cover successfully one's eyes,
One should realize that pure abode is also delusive.
——Cheng Ku Mu of Song Dynasty

25. 学道容易悟道难,不下功夫总是闲;能信不行空费力,空谈论说也徒然。 --明.憨山德清
Learning Dharma is easy and yet comprehending the truth difficult;
Without making efforts in practices one will always stay useless.
Capable of having faith and yet taking no steps waste all endeavors;
Expositions and talks that remain ineffectual are simply deeds in vain.
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

26. 月色松声总见闻,禅心妄想圣凡分;消归一念无生处,此意如何把似君? --明.憨山德清
Moonlight and pine roars are always seen and heard;
Mind in Chan and delusions distinguish saints and worldlings.
All evaporated to where there is not even one idea arising,
How could this notion be described for you?
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

27. 念佛容易信心难,心口不一总是闲;口念弥陀心散乱,喊破喉咙也徒然。 --明.憨山德清
Easy to repeat "Amitabha" but difficult to sustain faith;
Mind and speech not in accord is always useless.
While "Amitabha" runs in the mouth mind is scattered;
Even crying out the epithet till voice broke is in vain.
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

28. 是非不必争人我,彼此何须论短长;世事由来多缺陷,学道求真免无常。 --明.憨山德清
Right or wrong, no need to argue who's to blame;
You and I, why should we compare who is better?
Worldly matters are ever full of defects and shortcomings;
Learning Dharma to seek reality so as to avoid impermanence.
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

29. 染尘容易出尘难,不断尘劳总是闲;情性攀缘空费力,不成道果也徒然。 --明.憨山德清
Easy to become polluted but difficult to rise above pollutants;
Without cutting off worldly matters it is always useless.
Entangling in affairs as driven by emotions and propensities,
Such useless endeavors will not yield fruits of enlightenment.
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

30. 休得争强来斗胜,百千浑是戏文场;顷刻一声锣鼓歇,不知何处是家乡。 --明.憨山德清
Do not fight over victory to proof superiority;
All affairs are simply scenes of drama in theater.
All of a sudden the closing gongs and drums cease;
One would not know where one's home land is.
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

31. 少小离乡不记家,回思往事总堪嗟;故人犹想儿时面,枯木难开旧日花。 --明.憨山德清
Left homeland at early youth, no longer reminiscent of home;
Recollecting past events it is always capable of making one sigh.
Still thinking about old acquaintances in childhood countenances;
Withered wood can hardly yield blossom of olden days.
——Han Shan, De Qing, of Ming Dynasty

32. 孤峰千仞立江心,八面洪涛愁杀人;奈是根深自坚固,几回经古又逢今。 --明.莲池
A thousand-yard cliff stood alone in the middle of a river;
Raging waves rushing from all sides are so terrifying.
Nevertheless, due to its profound rooting, it is by nature solid;
Since ancient time it has encountered such scenes quite often.
——Lian Chi (Lotus Pond) of Ming Dynasty

33. 一寸光阴一寸金,劝君念佛早回心;直饶凤阁龙楼贵,难免鸡皮鹤髮侵。 --明.楚石梵琦
One instant of time is as precious as one bar of gold;
Please recite "Amitabha" soon to divert your attentions.
Even though king's palace and queen's court are noble,
Still cannot avoid invasions of white hairs and wrinkly skin.
——Chu Shi, Fan Qi, of Ming Dynasty

34. 返本还源便到家,亦无玄妙可称夸;湛然一片真如性,迷失皆因一念差。? --明.浮峰普恩
Just return to the original source and that will be home;
There is nothing mysterious to boast about in all this.
Clearly in one whole piece is the nature of Tathata;
Delusions are all due to one thought going astray.
——Fu Feng, Pu En, of Ming Dynasty

35. 万里修书只为墙,让他三尺有何妨?长城万里今犹在,不见当年秦始皇。 --明.林瀚
Sending a letter over thousand miles only about a wall;
What would it matter to yield three feet to the neighbor?
The Thousand-mile Long Wall is still in existence today;
But the Founding Emperor of Qin Dynasty is invisible.
——Lin Han of Ming Dynasty