The Four Sufferings



Shanhui (497-569)

Poems of the Four States:


Relying upon the ovum, consciousness arises,
birth arises from love and desire.
In a time now past he grew up,
today he returns as a child.
The stars follow the cycle of human life,
red lips open for milk.
Because we are deluded to our true Dharma nature,
We still suffer in the cycle of birth and death.

II.Old Age

Look into the mirror and see how your face changed,
how climbing the stairs can take your strength.
You let out a sigh: now you are old,
going forward to bow, still your body is lacking.
Your body is like a tree grown near a precipice;
your mind is like a sea turtle longing for the ocean.
Still indulging in your outflows,
yet unwilling t0 study the unconditioned Dharma.


Suddenly you contract a fatal illness,
and because of this, become bedridden.
Wife and children are silent and sad,
friends dislike being near you.
You suffer—pains in thousands of veins,
groaning so that the entire neighborhood hears.
Not knowing the dangers that lurk ahead,
you still indulge in desire and anger.


Consciousness bids farewell to life,
a wandering spirit enters the gates of death.
Countless numbers have departed—
I have not seen a single person return.
The Favored horse waits with a shrill neigh in vain,
the flowers in the courtyard will no longer be picked.
Hurry and seek the supreme Way
and avoid the four sufferings.

He came from someplace deep inside her long ago-
Disguised as a desirous seed of man but now returns again
As an infant, mewling and sucking and puking from
His mother’s bosom
The diurnal course reclaimed
Circling stars that yearn for milk
Forsaking the Light of our True Nature
Suffering Samsara’s cyclic-sting

Ādāsatala’s reflection betrays lost time
The ignoble ascent up well-worn steps saps strength
Long gone—old bones decry the awful climb!
The descent is no better as the abyss yawns wide
With tortuous outflows still yet bemoaning
A reluctant dharma-study that unconditionally cuts loose
The aged Tortoise’s yearning
For the dead things of the sea

Like a crack of thunder illness claims you
Wasting away beneath loathsome covers
As kinfolk lament the still and putrid
Night-air that keeps at bay
Lost friends of the languid hour
Suffering groans pierce through lonely avenues
Long laid waste to the approach of future dangers
Yet defiant desire and anger bitch on and on

Consciousness bids adieu to this present final peril
As spirit wails wild and shrill—once more into the Bardo, once more!
Incalculable multitudes descend into that dark and awful maul
Abandon all hope O Ye Who Enter Here!
Favorite courtesans wait in vain no longer to be plucked
Quick! Turn-about and enter the Path less travelled
Unborn and void of those ill-suited Suffering Four

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