Kankucho Song


         Up in the Snowy Mountain peaks
         dwells a legendary bird.
         Its tale of woe to people speaks
         in the parable I’ve heard.

         The story goes that there were two
         living in a homeless state,
         female and male companions who
         jointly shared a hapless fate.

         So high was the elevation
         that the snow throughout the year
         caused a biting cold sensation,
         piercing like an icy spear.

         Nary a chirp nor twitter sweet
         did they trill in warbled sound.
         No blithe song would those aves tweet
         as they shivered on the ground.

         At sundown when the darkness fell
         thus increased the bitter chill,
         feeling just like a frozen hell.
         Then the female’s cries were shrill:

         “Our existence is nightmarish
         from the fierce freezing weather!
         We are numb and both will perish
         miserably together!”

         And her avian spouse would say,
         “Though we’ll not have any rest,
         after the dawning of the day,
         let us build ourselves a nest.

         “If we start the task tomorrow,
         and work on it steadily,
         we could finish with this sorrow.
         I will do it readily!”

         It was certainly their intent
         to begin, so the birds said.
         But when daytime the sunshine sent,
         they dozed off to sleep instead.

         In this way they continued on,
         vowing once again each night;
         yet with the coming of the dawn,
         pledges waned in morning light.

         It’s claimed they never underwent
         any change to ease their pain
         that their whole lives the creatures spent
         making promises in vain.

         Still, suppose a title and theme
         in a phrase they recited
         woke those slumberers from the ‘dream’
         and their awareness righted.

         Having found true wisdom’s portal,
         their enlightenment possessed,
         as can every common mortal,
         they directly built a nest.

         In our fable, that feathered friend,
         cold suffering kankucho,
         finds its song plus a warming end
         with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo!

         ~ Harley White

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Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō means to devote our lives to and found them on (Nam[u]) the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō) [entirety of existence, enlightenment and unenlightenment] permeated by the underlying white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) in its whereabouts of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [which is every possible psychological wavelength] (Kyō).

Kankuchō ~ by Martin Bradley ~ 1999 ~ 180 x 180 cm Acrylic
The Art of Martin Bradley

* * * * * * * * * *

Deep in the Snow Mountains lives a bird called the cold-suffering bird [kankuchō] that, tortured by the numbing cold, cries that it will build a nest in the morning. Yet when day breaks, it sleeps away the hours in the warm light of the morning sun without building its nest. So it continues to cry vainly throughout its life. The same is true of human beings… the winds of fame and profit blow violently, and the lamp of Buddhist practice is easily extinguished. Without a qualm they squander their wealth on meaningless trifles… This is very serious…

Excerpt from “Letter to Niike”, by Nichiren Daishōnin (1280)

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Kankuchō – extreme cold-suffering bird

Kankuchō is the Japanese word for a legendary bird said to live in the Snow Mountains. Though the term is Chinese, Japanese (like English) is a hybrid language. This bird, tortured during the night by the cold, determines to build a nest in the morning. When day breaks, however, it instead sleeps away the hours in the warm sunlight and forgets about building its nest. When night falls, the bird suffers again. Thus it continues to be tortured by the cold throughout its life. The cold-suffering bird often appears in Buddhist works in reference to the tendency of ordinary beings to easily forget their resolve to seek Buddhism and to live vainly and shortsightedly without making efforts toward their enlightenment.

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The Birds of the Snow Mountains

There is a commentary on the Dharma Flower Sutra (Lotus Sutra) called Hokekyo jurin shuyosho, which includes the legendary story of Kankuchō (literally, birds tormented by cold). This commentary is a well-known Chinese work on the Dharma Flower Sutra (Lotus Sutra), the highest Buddhist scripture expounded by Shākyamuni Buddha in India. The story is as follows:

In ancient times, there were mountains in India [or perhaps in Tibet] called the Snow Mountains. These mountains were so high that the cold there penetrated to the marrow, and, as their name indicates, snow lay deep on the ground throughout the year. In these mountains lived two homeless birds called Kankuchō. When evening fell and darkness gathered, the female bird, unable to bear the cold, would cry, “I’m perishing from the cold!” To which the male bird would reply, “Let’s build a nest when the day dawns.” But as soon as the sun rose and the birds were bathed in the warm sunshine, they forgot all about the cold which tormented them during the night. They reasoned: “We might be destined to die today or tomorrow; nothing is changeless in this world and we are strangers to eternal peace and tranquility.” Thus they spent their entire lives in vain without ever building a nest.

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