Notes to Poem:
Bamboos for Blessings

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: After writing two tree poems this month— "Four Friends on Montebello Ave" (July 13) and "A Pepper Tree Stops Me Cold" (July 20), I didn't expect to write another so soon. But here it is— "Bamboos for Blessings" (July 30) inspired by the Bamboo Trees on Ortega Avenue in Mountain View. Many of the bamboo stalks protrude out to the sidewalk creating a patch of shade. I often pause here and wrap my palm on four bamboo stalks leaning towards me. Saying a prayer, I ask the bamboos for blessings.

Commentary on Poem "Bamboos for Blessings":

Walking up Ortega Ave in Mountain View,
I pass by a garden of bamboo grove
whose supple stalks sway to the sidewalk
creating a patch of shade where I rest.

Bamboos Provide Sidewalk Shade

Bamboo Grove on Ortega Ave

Bamboo Grove on Ortega Ave

Bamboo Trees Shades Sidewalk
Getting off Bus #34 or Bus #40 at California Street & Ortega Avene, Mountain View, I walk a block to Hastings Square West and bring newspapers to a friend. I pass by a bamboo grove in a garden on Ortega Avenue. Several of the bamboo trees protrude outward to the sidewalk, creating a shady patch. I'd pause and clasp my palm around four of the bamboo stalks leaning outward and ask them for blessings. Photo Sources: All four photos (

Leaves rustle in laughter to the wind,
sunflare pours down the upper branches,
and is the immortal Han Xiang playing
his bamboo flute bringing forth the birds?

Bamboos Rustle to the Wind

Sunflare through Bamboo Leaves

Han Xiang Plays Bamboo Flute

Yu Yen Kou's Birds & Bamboo
Wolfram Eberhard writes in A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought (1986), pp. 29-30—
“When the wind blows, the bamboo bends 'in laughter'; and the character for 'bamboo' zhu looks very much like an abbreviation of the character for 'to laugh'” xiao . When the sunflare poured down the bamboo leaves rustling in the wind, there was magic in the air.
Han Xiang (Han Hsiang Tzu) is one of the Eight Immortals (1, 2). C.A.S. Williams writes in Chinese Symbolism & Art Motifs (1941), p. 155— Han Hsiang-tzu was a nephew of the poet-scholar Han Yu (768-824). He is credited with the power of making flowers grow and blossom instantaneously. He was a favorite pupil of Lu Tung-pin, who carried him to the supernatural peach-tree, from which he fell and became immortal. Han Xiang's emblem is the flute, and he is the patron of musicians. He wandered in the country, playing his flute and attracting birds and even beasts of prey by the sweet sounds. Han Xiang showed his Taoist power by pouring out cup after cup of wine from the gourd without end. Image Sources: Photos (; Han Xiang (; Yu Yen Kou's Birds & Bamboo (

"Three Winter Friends"— bamboos, pines, plums,
stroll through Chinese poems and paintings—
Su Tung-po says "Before painting the bamboo,
it must grow first in your innermost heart."

Su Tung-po
with Bamboo Cane

Zhao Meng-jian (1199-1295)
Three Friends in Winter

Bian Jingzhao
Three Friends & 100 Birds
In Chinese culture, the bamboo, the pine, and plum blossom are admired for their perseverance under harsh conditions, as they do not wither in the winter cold like many other plants. Hence together they are known as the "Three Friends of Winter". Together they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience. They are highly regarded in Confucianism and as such represent the scholar-gentleman's ideal. The Tang Dynasty poet Zhu Qingyu was the first to write about them in a 9th century poem. The Sung Dynasty artist Zhao Mengjian (1199-1264), among others of the time, made this grouping popular in painting. Later, the Ming Dynasty artist Bian Jingzhao (active 1426-1435) painted Three Friends & 100 Birds. Sung Dynasty's Su Tung-po (1037-1101) was a Chinese writer, poet, painter, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and a statesman. A painting of Su Tung-po (above) shows him carrying a bamboo cane. His remark on growing the bamboo first in your innermost heart before painting it, is similar to the poet Basho's advice on becoming one with the pine or bamboo before writing a poem about them. Great insights from two enlightened masters.
Image Sources: Su Tung-po (; Zhao Meng-jian (; Bian Jingzhao Birds & Bamboo (

Wrapping my palm around a bamboo stalk,
I'm transported back in time listening to
those seven sages of the Bamboo Grove
reciting nature poems while sipping wine.

A Giant Bamboo Stalk
on Ortega Ave, Mountain View

Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove
(Cao Wei-Jin dynasties, 220-265 AD)

Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove
(embroidered on silk, 1860-1880)
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of Chinese scholars, writers, and musicians of the 3rd century AD. Their names are Ji Kang, Liu Ling, Ruan Ji, Ruan Xian, Xiang Xiu, Wang Rong and Shan Tao. Several of the seven were linked with the Qingtan school of Taoism during the Cao Wei state (220-265 AD). The group wished to escape the intrigues, corruption and stifling atmosphere of court life. They gathered in a bamboo grove near the house of Ji Kang in Shanyang (now in Henan province) where they enjoyed, and praised in their works, the simple, rustic life. The Seven Sages stressed the enjoyment of Chinese alcoholic beverages, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature. Image Sources: Giant Bamboo Stalk (; Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (

Bamboo shoots spice up Asian dishes and
are the main food source of giant pandas.
Used to make chopsticks and art brushes,
with tensile strength of steel for buildings.

Bamboo Shoots in Noodle Soup

Panda Eating Bamboo

Bamboo Chopsticks

Bamboo Great Wall House
Bamboo has many versatile uses in the Orient. You can buy canned bamboo shoots not only in Asian supermarkets, but in most grocery stores. Bamboo is the main food of the giant panda in China, making up 99% of its diet. Bamboo is used to make chopsticks as well as art and calligraphy brushes. Bamboo has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete, and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Bamboo is used in scaffolding, houses, and building constructions. Photo Sources: Bamboo shoots dishes (; Panda Eating Bamboo (; Bamboo Chopsticks (; Bamboo Great Wall House (

Bamboo trees can grow four feet a day
like hermit scholars in continual learning.
Four bamboo stalks are leaning outward
so I clasp my hand on each in prayer—

Bamboo #1 Blessings: Flexibility

Bamboo #2 Blessings: Endurance

Bamboo #3 Blessings: Strength

Bamboo #4 Blessings: Wisdom
Bamboos are some of the worls's fastest-growing plants, due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. Within a day, bamboo can grow four feet in favorable soil conditions. Because of its fast growth, the bamboo has been compared to hermit scholars who are in continually learning on the mysteries of life. Passing by four bamboo stalks leaning outward on the sidewalk, I pause and clasp my hand on each in prayer for flexibility, endurance, strength, and wisdom. Photo Sources:

May I be flexible yet firmly rooted,
bend and don't break under adversity.
May I be like the bamboo's hollow inside,
empty myself and let wisdom flow through.

Touch Bamboos for Blessings

Bamboo Leaves Of Leaning Tree #3

Bamboo Stalk of Leaning Tree #4

Hollow Inside of Bamboo Stalk
Walking by these bamboo trees on Ortega Ave has become a ritual. Instead of running to catch my buses, now I pause and pray beside them. Presentation Zen gives seven lessons from the bamboo. I like the image symbol of the hollow inside of bamboos teaching us humility and finding wisdom in emptiness. Photo Sources: Touch Bamboos, Bamboo Leaves, Bamboo Stalk (; Hollow Bamboo (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 7-31-2014

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