Notes to Poem:
Mountain of Bliss

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Steve Gould and I went to Cornell University for our doctorates (he in organic and I in physical chemistry). We did our postdoctoral research at Brandeis University where we shared an apartment (1970-1971). Some years back (circa 2004), I received an email from him "Are you the Peter Chou I had the pleasure rooming with at Porter Square in Cambridge, Mass.?" I replied "Yes" and renewed our friendship. Steve works for the Environmental Protection Agency in New York City, and volunteers teaching in schools inspiring kids on science and chemistry. He sends many interesting emails on his lesson plans and experiences of his travels and museum visits. Some images he sent from the New York Public Library sidewalk plaques inspired my poem "The Universe Is Made of Stories". I've shared with him lectures attended at Stanford, hike photos, and my poetry. My poems "Giacometti's Walking Man", "Every Step You Make", "Spring Geese Are Flying North", "Platonic Lambda Sonnet", and "Vanishing Point" all revolved around the Platonic Lambda, Λ (Plato's Timaeus, 35b)— Soul of the Universe. Steve's April 18, 2012 email with Giacometti's Walking Man in the Swiss 100 francs banknote led me to where I found a 1914 China $1 banknote. The reverse side with the Chinese landscape pulled me inward inspiring me to write the poem "Mountain of Bliss" a few hours later. I imagined the mountain to be Omei Shan in Szechwan where I was born, and dreamed of trekking up the sacred mountain with poets Wang Wei & Su Tung-po. Wang Wei's love of mountains are shown in his poems and paintings. Su Tung-po was born in Szechwan and studied Taoism and Buddhism. Three monks dreamed that he was the Fifth Zen Patriarch in a previous life (Search: Tung-Po Su in Rebirth, Su Dongpo in Opening the Mind's Eye). The notes below were compiled to learn more on the serendipity encountered in the writing process.

Commentary on Poem "Mountain of Bliss":

Steve's email included a Swiss banknote
showing Giacometti's Walking Man
since he knew about my Lambda poems.

Swiss 100 Francs
banknote— Reverse:
Walking Man I
issued Oct. 1, 1998
The Platonic Lambda, Soul of the Universe,
is the sum of the two series (Timaeus 35b):
Sum of the double interval series (powers of 2) =
20 + 21 + 22 + 23 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 = 15
Sum of the triple interval series (powers of 3) =
30 + 31 + 32 + 33 = 1 + 3 + 9 + 27 = 40
Sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus) =
15 + 40 = 55
The Platonic Lambda Λ described as "soul of the universe" seemed quite abstract. When I noticed the man's legs walking by Giacometti's Walking Man at Sotheby's Auction, it suddenly struck me that the soul's shape (upside "V" or Greek letter Λ) is right before our eyes manifesting itself whenever we are walking or alive! This inspired my "Lambda" poem "Giacometti's Walking Man". Likewise, if God created man by breathing into his nostrils a living soul (Genesis 2.7), the nose is the prime conduit of air in keeping us alive. "Platonic Lambda Sonnet" concludes that the Soul "is placed as the nose in the center of our face." Steve recalled my Lambda poems and sent this Swiss 100 Francs banknote. Photo Sources: Swiss 100 Francs (; Walking Man (China Daily)

Alberto Giacometti
Walking Man I (1961)
sold at Sotheby's auction
for $104.3 million (2-3-2010)

If 100 symbolizes perfection,
the Swiss got it right on their banknote,
as the Platonic Lambda or Soul is perfect.

1942 France 100 Francs Banknote
100 or 100% symbolizes wholeness, purity, and perfection. The Pythagoreans considered 100 as divine because it is the square (10 x 10) of the divine decad (10). Dante purifies his soul in his heavenly ascent and sees "100 little suns" (Paradiso 22.22-24): "As pleased my guide, I turned my eyes and saw / a hundred little suns; as these together / cast light, each made the other lovelier." Dante's Commedia is composed of 100 cantos, and in his Canto 100, Line 100, Dante is embraced by Light in the 10th Heaven (Empyrean): "Whoever sees that Light is soon made such / that it would be impossible for him / to set that Light aside for other sight" (Paradiso 33.100-102). Switzerland got it right on their 100 Francs banknote as the Platonic Lambda (Soul) is perfect. France's 100 Francs banknote shows René Descartes in the front and an angel inscribing "Pax" in the back. In his last book Passions of the Soul (1649) dedicated to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, Descartes postulated that the pineal gland is the seat of the rational soul. We may surmise that the Soul is perfect since "God formed man... and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2.7) and "As for God, his way is perfect" (Psalms 18.30). Also "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5.48). "God of heaven, perfect peace" may be found in Ezra 7.12 since peace is most desirable and treasured. For sage Ramana Maharshi "Peace is always present. Get rid of the disturbances to Peace. This Peace is the Self." (Talks, p. 611). In Vedantic philosophy, the Self is Pure Consciousness (Brahman). Photo Source: France 100 Francs Banknote issued May 15, 1942 (

Searching through Google for a larger
image of this banknote, I find none at
Swiss National Bank or
Swiss National Bank has an archive from First banknote series (1907) to the Eighth banknote series (1995). Giacometti's Walking Man appears on the reverse side of Swiss 100 francs honoring Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), sculptor & painter. Jörg Zintzmeyer is the graphic artist for this banknote issued on October 1, 1998. There is an image (148x315 pixels) of this 100 Francs banknote in wikipedia, but it's smaller than the image (215x460 pixels) Steve sent me. has larger images of Swiss banknotes from 1915 onward (example: 1000 Francs "Danse Macabre" 1972), but Giacometti 100 Francs currency was not among them.

but browsing through China's currency,
I find a 1914 One Dollar banknote
showing an eagle on top of a globe.

Obverse of 1914 China One Dollar Banknote
While at, I noticed their Asia Index to China's Currency. Do they have any of those inflationary Chinese banknotes with million yuan denominations? Richard Ebeling's essay on "The Great Chinese Inflation" noted "In June 1937, 3.41 yuan traded for one U.S. dollar. At the end of 1945, the yuan had fallen to 1,222 to the dollar. And by May 1949, one dollar traded for 23,280,000 yuan." In early 1949, I recalled Mom going to Shanghai University to get Dad's paycheck. She rushed to the market exchanging a million yuans for one Sun Yat-sen silver dollar. There's a 1947 Sun Yat-sen $10,000 Yuan banknote but no million yuan notes at Scanning three pages of Chinese Currency listings, I found at the end "1 Dollar (1914) (Eagle; Earth; sailboat; hills) Clicking on Picture & Info, I found a $1 one yuan banknote issued by the GWA Swarmwun Yiack Bank showing an eagle standing on top of Earth globe with a long ribbon in its beak. Photo Sources: 1914 Chinese $1 Banknote (

On the reverse amidst floral borders
is a window to another world—
and in a moment my mind is whisked

Reverse of 1914 China One Dollar Banknote
While the eagle on the globe on the obverse side symbolizes financial power, the reverse side of this 1914 Chinese $1 banknote conveys a sense of serenity. The Baroque floral border is too ornate for my taste, but the center scene reminds me of Chinese landscape paintings communing with the beauty of nature. The sampan fishing boat is depicted in 1923 China's postage stamps (Scott #248-258), on the reverse side of 1938 One Yuan banknote, as well as the Sun Yat-sen silver dollar (1934). Photo Sources: 1914 Chinese $1 Banknote (; China 5 cents postage stamp issued 1923 with Sampan Boat (
China #254 (1923)

away in reverie— gone, gone, gone
on that sampan boat in calm waters
sailing for the shoreline where I meet

Chinese Sampan Fishing Boat
"Gone, gone, gone" is from the Heart Sutra, the best known and most popular of all Buddhist scriptures. In Sanskrit Prajnaparamita Hrdaya, it literally translates to "Heart of the Perfection of Transcentdent Wisdom". Composed around the 1st century A.D., its 260 Chinese characters make it one of the shortest of the Perfection of Wisdom texts. The mantra at the end "gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha" was translated by Edward Conze (1960) as "gone gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all hail!". The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso translates it as "go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment." As paragate translates as "gone all the way to the other shore", some have interpreted it as dying. But others note that gate means "gone from suffering to liberation, gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness, gone from duality to non-duality". This is moksha or liberation from the ego self to the Cosmic Self or awakening to Buddha Consciousness while alive. Photo Source: Sampan Boat (

the poets Wang Wei and Su Tung-po
in their huts. We walk to the pagoda
for some pine nuts and ginseng tea

Wang Wei (699-769)

Su Tung Po (1037-1101)
Wang Wei (699-759) was a Tang Dynasty Chinese poet, musician, painter, & statesman. Su Tung-po (1037-1101) was a writer, poet, artist, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and statesman of the Sung Dynasty. I enjoyed reading Lin Yutang's The Gay Genius: Life and Times of Su Tungpo (1947). I was surprised meeting them both in their shoreline huts. The fact that they were three centuries apart bothered me initially, until they told me that we've been time travelling or having a lucid dream. While walking to the pagoda, Wang Wei recited his poem "A Meal for the Monks of Mt. Fufu"
Late did I know the clean and pure doctrine,
Daily more removed from the crowd of men.
Now awaiting the distant mountain's monks,
Ahead of time I sweep my poor thatched hut.
And truly from within cloudy peaks
They come to my humble home of weeds.
On grass mats we dine on pine nuts,
Burn incense, and read books of the Tao.
Light the lamp: daylight's almost gone.
Ring stone chimes: night has just begun.
I have already realized solitude is a joy;
This life is more than serene.
Why think seriously of return?
A lifetime is like the empty void.
The Poetry of Wang Wei, Poem 60 (translated by Pauline Yu)
Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1980, p. 141
Photo Sources: Wang Wei (; Su Tung-po (

before climbing the hillside path up
the trails that Li Po and Tu Fu
embarked many blue moons ago.

Li Po (701-762)
Li Po (701-762) and Tu Fu (712-770) were two Tang Dynastry poets, and contemporaries of Wang Wei (699-769). Li Po became a Taoist, making a home in Shandong. He wandered for ten years writing poems. He met Tu Fu in the autumn of 744 and 745. Tu Fu memorized much of Confucian classics. But when he failed the civil service exams, he travelled and met Li Po, and the two became friends. Li Po and Tu Fu climbed Omei Shan in Szechwan and visited Buddhist temples and shrines, drinking wine and writing poetry in their journeys. In Li Po's poem "Difficulties of the Road to Szechwan", he writes: "How precipitous and lofty is the road to Szechwan, / Harder to scale than the road to Heaven... / Towards the west the T'ai-po has paths only birds can climb / Leading across the peak of Omei Shan." My Dad & I went to Harvard Yenching Library (1971) to meet William Hung who wrote Tu Fu: China's Greatest Poet (1952). Photos: Li Po (wikipedia); Tu Fu (
Tu Fu (712-770)

A fresh breeze blows softly across
the river, music from a bamboo flute
drifts from far distant hills while

Buddhist Temple on top of Omei Shan
Su Tung-po was born near Omei Shan in Szechwan. He studied under a Taoist priest. Su writes in "Prose Poems on the Red Cliff" (1082): "A fresh breeze blew softly across the water, leaving the waves unruffled. As I picked up the wine jar and poured a drink for my friend, I hummed a poem to the moon and sang to its strange beauty." Music from a bamboo flute echoes Wang Wei's poem
"In a Retreat Among Bamboos"
Leaning alone in the close bamboos,
I am playing my lute and humming a song
Too softly for anyone to hear—
Except my comrade, the bright moon.

Photo Source: Omei Shan (wikipedia)

clouds glowing with edges of gold
uplift us to a hilltop shrine where
a Taoist sage treats us with a peach.

Ivory Figure of
Sage Sau with Peach
Towering to 10,167 feet, Omei Shan is a sacred mountain and holy place to Buddhist and Taoist pilgrims. It is traditionally regarded as the Bodhimanda, a place of enlightenment. The 15 miles long tortuous footpath leads up to the monastery near the peak. The summit of Omei Shan has an alpine subarctic climate with mean temperature of 37.5oF. Sunrise at the summit of Omei Shan begins with the ground and sky being in the same dark purple. Soon the rosy clouds are followed by a bright purple arc and then a semicircle where the sun comes up. On windy days, air currents swirl up to 100 miles an hour. The Taoist sage treating us with the peach of immortality could have been Dongfang Shuo (160-93 BC), a court jester in the Han Dynasty. Legend has it that he ate the peach of immortality that Hsi Wang-mu (Queen Mother of the West) presented to Emperor Wu. Or he could have been Sage Shou God of Longevity, or perhaps Zhang Kuo Lao (circa 650-750 AD), one of the eight Immortals. He rides a white mule, carrying a fish-drum (tube-shaped bamboo with two iron rods), a phoenix feather and a peach of immortality. Photo Sources: Ivory Figure of Immortal Sau (; Immortal Holding a Peach (
Dongfang Shuo (160-93 BC)

Am I now with the Immortals
riding on dragons of wind
in the Mountain of Bliss?

Su Tung-po (Su Shi), Summer Palace of Beijing

Dragon, Clouds and Waves (circa 1501-1700)
The Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology can bestow life and destroy evil. They live on Mount Penglai, an island in the Bohai Sea. Magical fruits in Penglai can heal any disease and grant eternal youth. Tao Yuan-ming (365-427) wrote a fable The Peach Blossom Spring (421) about a serendipitous discovery of an ethereal place where people lived in harmony with nature (Grotto-heavens, Shangri-La). Su Tung-po's Summer Palace of Beijing has been used to illustrate Tao Yuan-ming's idyllic dreamscape. In Alasdair Clayre's The Heart of the Dragon (1984), there is a 16th century Chinese painting "The Scholar Immortal". On the right side of the scroll, a scholar is sleeping in his hut on the mountainside. On the left side of the scroll, he is floating in the air as if riding on dragon clouds. Su Tung-po's poem "On a Painting" inspired me to flight. Wang Wei has spent ten years studying with Zen master Daoguang. He recited his Poem 55 (#351 in On the Number 55):
    Monks sit cross-legged in the sun beyond the eaves,
    While burning incense wafts smoke below the bamboo.
    The cold void: land of the Dharma cloud;
    The autumn scene: the five heavens of purity.
    Their bodies obey dependent origination,
    But their minds transcend all levels of meditation.
    They need not lament the descent of the sun:
    Within themselves a lamp is always alight.
( Poetry of Wang Wei, Poem 55, translated by Pauline Yu,
Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1980, p. 136)
It was cold after sunset on the mountaintop, but I felt much warmth with these poets, knowing that deep within me a lamp is always lit.
Photo Sources: Su Tung-po, Summer Palace of Beijing (wikipedia); Dragon, Clouds and Waves (Brooklyn Museum); Immortal Scholar (

Chinese painting: The Scholar Immortal (16th century)

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 5-1-2012

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