The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu








The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu

The given name of Master Lu is Yü and his courtesy name is Hongjian.  It is not known where he is from.  Some say that his courtesy name is Yü and that his given name is Hongjian, not knowing which is right.1  He is as ugly as Zhongxüan and Mengyang and stutters like Xiangru and Ziyün,2 but he is talented and persuasive and sincere in character.  In temperament, he is biased and irascible and often subjective.  When his friends admonish him, however, he is at once liberal and respectful.  Whenever he is at a gathering and happens to think of something, he leaves without speaking, causing people to wonder if he is scornful.  But when he makes a promise to someone, he keeps his word, even though the path is a thousand li3 in length, filled with ice and snow, and infested with tigers and wolves.

At the beginning of the Shangyüan reign period,4 Lu Yü built a hut on the banks of Tiaoxi Stream.5  Closing his door, he now reads books for pleasure.  He does not mix with riffraff, but spends long days talking and gathering with eminent monks and lofty scholars.  It is his habit to roam about in his skiff to mountain temples, wearing only a gauze kerchief, plaited sandals, a short shirt and briefs, and loincloth.  He often walks alone in the wilds chanting Buddhist scripture and reciting ancient poetry.  Knocking about the trees with his staff and dabbling his hand in flowing water, he aimlessly wanders from dawn to dusk until the day is utterly dark, wailing and weeping, then finally returning home.  Thus, people of Chu6 say among themselves, “Master Lu is now today’s Jieyü.7

Beginning at the age of two,8 desolate and exposed,9Lu Yü was raised at the Zen Buddhist Monastery10 of the great teacher Priest Jigong11 in Jingling.  From the age of eight, he learned composition, and Jigong revealed to him through the scriptures the Buddhist calling of renouncing the world.  In response, the boy said, “Without brothers, to have no descendants, to don monks’ robes and be tonsured, to call oneself a Buddhist – if the Confucians were to hear this, would they praise it as filial piety?  May Yü be taught the writings of the sage Confucius?”12

Jigong replied, “Virtuous, indeed!  You are filial, but you really do not yet know the Way of the tonsure and the robes of the West.13  Its name is truly great!”  Jigong insisted on teaching the Buddhist scriptures without submitting to the will of the boy.  The boy insisted on learning the Confucian canon without submitting to the will of the teacher.  Then, Jigong feigned disaffection for the boy and assigned him a sequence of demeaning tasks to test him: sweep the temple grounds, clean the monks’ privy, mix mud with his feet and plaster the walls, carry tiles on his back and build rooms, and tend thirty head of cattle.

In Jingling and Xihu,14 there was no paper for the boy on which to write and learn calligraphy.  So, using a bamboo stick, Lu Yü traced characters on the backs of the cattle.  One day, he questioned a scholar about calligraphic characters and was given a scroll of the poem “Ode on the Southern Capital” by Zhang Heng.15  Not knowing the characters in the poem, he sat alone in the pasture, imitating the dark robed student boys, sitting up straight, the scroll unrolled, just silently moving his mouth.

When Jigong learned of this, he feared the boy was being imbued with heretical teachings, departing from the Way, ever distant with every day.  So, the boy was again confined to the temple grounds and ordered to cut brambles and weeds under the direction of the senior disciple.  Occasionally, written characters would come to mind and he would fall into a stupor as if lost and disheartened, standing like a wooden post, passing the day unmoving.  The disciple thought he was lazy and whipped him.  And so, the boy cried without restraint, lamenting, “Alas, the months and years are passing by and I fear I will never know writing and books!”  The disciple thought the boy harbored resentment and again whipped his back, breaking the cane before releasing him.

Weary of these chores, the boy escaped from the senior disciple and ran away.  With just a roll of clothes, he joined an itinerant troupe of actors for which he wrote the play Mocking Banter in three acts and played the leading roles of the blockhead, the phony civil servant, and the character who conceals the pearl.  Priest Jigong pursued the boy and caught up with him, saying, “When I think of you lost to the Way!  Alas, what a pity!  Our founding master16 said that of the twelve hours of a disciple’s time, period was allowed for the study of non Buddhist teachings in order to subdue heretical thoughts. Because our monastery has so many people, you may now follow your desire.  You can throw away all those song and dance books!”

During the Tianbao reign period,17 people of the ancient capital of Ying18 held a banquet at Canglang19 to which the district official invited Lu Yü to be master of ceremonies.20  At the time, Master Li Qiwu,21 of Honan, who was demoted and serving as governor of Jingling, perceived Lu Yü’s extraordinary talent. Taking Lu Yü’s hand and patting his back, Li then personally presented a collection of poetry to him.  Thereafter, the Han and Mian region was transformed.22. Later, Lu Yü carried his books to Mount Huomen to study with Master Zou23 in the countryside.  When Cui Guofu,[24] a director of the ministry of rites, assumed the office of prefect of Jingling, Lu Yü accompanied him here and there for all of three years.  He gave Lu Yü a white donkey, a black humped ox,25 and a bookcase of pagoda wood with a beautiful grain.  The white donkey and the humped ox were presents to Cui Guofu from Li Cheng,26 prefect of Xiangyang; the fine-grained case of pagoda wood27 was from the late vice-president Lu28 of the chancellery.  Since Lu Yü had already admired these things, it was fitting that a rustic such as he ride and keep them.  So, Cui Guofu especially gave them to him.

At the beginning of the Zhide reign period,29 the people of Qin30 crossed south over the Yangzi River, and Lu Yü also crossed31 and met the Buddhist monk Jiaoran32 of Wuxing:33 the commoner and the priest ignored their difference in age.34

Ever since he was young, Lu Yü had enjoyed writing, mostly satirical protests.  Seeing people do good, he felt good.  Seeing people doing evil, he felt shame.  Bitter words grate on the ear.  There was nothing and no one that he would not confront; things that an ordinary person would perforce shun.  In response to the An Lushan35 rebellion, he wrote the poem “Four Lamentations.”  In response to the revolt of Liu Zhan36 in the Jianghuai,37 he wrote the ode “The Obscuring of Heaven.”  Both these events moved him to cry and weep.  Other writings include The Bonds between Ruler and Subject in three volumes, Unraveling Origins in thirty volumes, Genealogy of Four Surnames South of the Yangzi River in eight volumes, A Record of Famous People from North and South in ten volumes, A Record of Successive Officials in Wuxing in three volumes, A Critical History of Huzhou Prefecture in one volume, The Book of Tea in three volumes, The Interpretation of Dreams, first, second, and third parts, in three volumes, all of which is kept in a coarse cloth sack.

Written in the autumn of 761, the xinchou year of the Shangyüan reign period at the age of twenty-eight.38


陸子名羽,字鴻漸,不知何許人也。或雲字羽名鴻漸,未知孰是?有仲宣孟陽之貌陋,相如子雲之口吃,而為人才辯篤信,褊躁多自用意,朋友規諫,豁然不惑。凡與人宴處,意有所適,不言而去,人或疑之,謂生多瞋。及與人為信,雖水雪千裏,虎狼當道,而不愆也。上元初,結廬於苕溪之濱,閉關對書,不雜非類,名僧高士,談宴永日。常扁舟往來山寺,隨身惟紗巾藤鞋短褐犢鼻,往往獨行野中。誦佛經,吟古詩,杖擊林木,手弄流水,夷猶徘徊,自曙達暮,至日黑興盡,號泣而歸。故楚人相謂,陸子蓋今之接輿也。始三歲惸露,育乎竟陵大師積公之禪院。自幼學屬文,積公示以佛書出世之業。子答曰:「終鮮兄弟,無複後嗣,染衣削發,號為釋氏,使儒者聞之,得稱為孝乎,羽將授孔聖之文可乎?」公曰:「善哉子為孝,殊不知西方染削之道,其名大矣。」公執釋典不屈,子執儒典不屈,公因矯憐無愛,曆試賤務。掃寺地,潔僧廁,踐泥汙牆,負瓦施屋,牧牛一百二十蹄。竟陵西湖無紙,學書以竹畫牛背為字,他日問字於學者,得張衡《南都賦》,不識其字,但於牧所仿青衿小兒,危坐展卷,口動而已。公知之,恐漸漬外典,去道日曠,又束於寺中,令其翦榛莽,以門人之伯主焉。或時心記文字,懵然若有所遺,灰心木立,過日不作,主者以為慵惰鞭之。因歎歲月往矣,恐不知其書,嗚咽不自勝。主者以為蓄怒,又鞭其背,折其楚乃釋。因倦所役,舍主者而去,卷衣詣伶黨,著《謔談》三篇。以身為伶正,弄木人假吏藏珠之戲。公追之曰:「念爾道喪,惜哉!吾本師有言,我弟子十二時中,許一時外學,令降伏外道也。以我門人眾多,今從爾所欲,可緝學工書。」天寶中,郢人酺於滄浪道,邑吏召子為伶正之師。時河南尹李公齊物出守見異,捉手拊背,親授詩集,於是漢沔之俗亦異焉。後負書於火門山鄒夫子別墅,屬禮部郎中崔公國輔出守竟陵郡,與之遊處凡三年,贈白驢烏、幫牛一頭,文槐書函一枚。白驢、幫牛襄陽太守李憕見遺,文槐函故盧黃門侍郎所與,此物皆已之所惜也。宜野人乘蓄,故特以相贈。洎至德初,秦人過江,子亦過江,與吳興釋皎然為緇素忘年之交。少好屬文,多所諷諭。見人為善,若已有之;見人不善,若已羞之。苦言逆耳,無所回避,由是俗人多忌之。自祿山亂中原,為《四悲詩》,劉展窺江淮,作《天之未明賦》,皆見感激當時,行哭涕泗。著 《君臣契》三卷,《源解》三十卷,《江表四姓譜》八卷,《南北人物誌》,十卷,《吳興曆官記》三卷,《湖州刺史記》一卷,《茶經》三卷,《占》夢上中下三卷,並貯於褐布囊。上元辛醜歲,子陽秋二十有九。



Lu Wenxüe zijuan 陸文學自傳 (The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu, 761), Wenyüan yinghua 文苑英華 (Beautiful Blossoms from the Literary Garden, ca. 1009), Li Fang 李昉 (925-996) et al., comps., ch. 793.


Small Portrait of the Tang Eremite Lu Hongjian, Tang chushi Lu Hongjian xiaoxiang 唐處士陸鴻漸小像, ink rubbing of an engraved image on a stone stele originally installed in the Lugong ci 陸公祠 or Shrine of Master Lu.  The shrine was once built in 1783 on the moat outside the north gate of the Jingling city walls.  In 1988, the shrine was rebuilt on the site of the former West Pagoda Temple, Xita si 西塔寺.



1 This sentence is sometimes rendered as parenthetical and considered a later interpolation by scholars such as Zhang Hongyong 張宏庸, Lu Yü qüanji  陸羽全集 (Taibei: Chaxüe wenxüe chuban she, 1985), p. 88, n. 2.

2 Lu Yü compared his verbal and physical afflictions to those of four famous poets of the Han and Wei dynasties: Wang Can 王粲 (177-217), Zhang Zai 張載 (ca. 289), Sima Xiangru 司馬相如 (c. 179-117 B.C.E.), and Yang Xiung 揚雄 (53 B.C.E.-C.E. 18), respectively.

3 Li 里, a little over a third of a mile.

4 The Shangyüan 上元 reign period (760-761 C.E.) lasted a nominal two years; therefore, the year that Lu Yü established his residence was 760.

5 The Tiaoxi 苕溪 or Reed Stream is a major geographical and seasonal feature of Huzhou 湖州, the town in northern Zhejiang where Lu Yü eventually settled, lived, and died.  The name Reed Stream comes from the marsh plant that grows abundantly along the river bank; it blossoms in white, feathery plumes in summer and in autumn goes to seed, showering the air and water with a snowy fluff.  Broad and shallow, the river flows in two main branches, east and west, out of Mount Tianmu 天目山, converges in the town of Huzhou, and then empties north into Lake Tai 太湖.

6 Chu 楚 was a name for the ancient state and region of Hupei and Hunan where Lu Yü was born.

7 Jieyü 接輿 was an eccentric of the Spring and Autumn Period (772-481 B.C.E.) known as the Mad Man of Chu.

8 The text reads, “Beginning at sansui 三歲 (three years of age),” however, by Chinese custom, age begins at conception and a person is one year old at birth; therefore, Lu Yü was abandoned at the age of two, by Western count.

9 Lu Yü was a foundling discovered on the banks of a stream.

10 The Zen Buddhist Monastery was formally known as the Jingling Longgai si 竟陵龍盖寺, the Temple of the Hidden Dragon at Jingling. The monastery was originally built on Fufu Island 覆釜洲 in the middle of West Lake 西湖.  Established as early as the late Han, the temple expanded greatly in the fourth century during the Eastern Jin.  In the eighth century, the renown of the temple drew famous clerics and important convocations.  Lu Yü was raised at the temple as a servant and novice.  Presently known as the Xita si 西塔寺 or West Pagoda Temple, the monastery was rebuilt in 2003 just north of West Lake.

11 Abbot Zhiji 智積 (a.k.a. Jigong 積公; active 735-768).

12 At one time, a Buddhist novitiate severed relations with his family, took a vow of celibacy, and was divorced from mundane, secular concerns.  In Confucian terms, becoming a monk was considered unfilial to his parents, an unnatural cessation of the family line, an unproductive member of society, and disloyal to the state.

13 The West refers to India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and also to the Indian monk Bodhidharma (ca. 460-532/534), the patriarch of Zen Buddhism, who traveled west from India to China in circa 520 to spread his teachings.

14 Jingling 竟陵 was the ancient name of present Tianmen 天門, a town just sixty-seven miles west of the city of Wuhan 武漢, Hubei province 湖北省.  Jingling 竟陵 literally means “end of hills,” that is to say, a flat plain with no hills at all.  The town is famously known as Lu Yü guli  陸羽故里or the birthplace of Lu Yü.  Xihu 西湖 or West Lake is a great pond just outside the western gate of old Jingling and was so called because it mirrored East Lake, Donghu 東湖 across town.  West Lake is presently a large water park with buildings commemorating the life and work of Lu Yü.

15 Zhang Heng 張衡 (78-139), a distinguished poet, astronomer, and mathematician of the Eastern Han period (25-220), whose Nandu fu 南都賦 (Ode on the Southern Capital) depicted the region, products, scenic and historic places, and social customs of the provincial capital of Nanyang, present day Honan.

16 Priest Jigong did not identify the founder of the Longgai Temple 龍蓋寺, but its most famous abbots were the Buddhist philosopher Zhidun 支遁 (314-366) and the Buddhist scholar Yanzong 彦琮 (557-610) both of whom presided over the monastery when it was one of the most important monastic establishments in China.  Circa 353, Zhidun was recorded as having enclosed a freshwater spring on the temple grounds, a place that later became known as Spring of the Imperial Instructor, Wenxüe qüan 文學泉, because of its association with Lu Yü (Zhou Shiping 周世平 and Tong Zhengxiang 童正祥, “Lu Yü guzhu ‘Xita si yüanliu’ kao 陸羽故居 ‘西塔寺源流’ 考 (A Study of the Residency of Lu Yü and the ‘Origins of West Pagoda Temple’), Chayüan 茶苑 (Tea Garden Journal, 2003), no. 2, pp. 31-33).

17 Tianbao reign period, 742-755.

18 Ying 郢 was the capital of the ancient state of Chu 楚, now known as Jiangling 江陵 or Jingzhou 荆州, Hupei.

19 Canglang 滄浪 is a branch of the Han River 漢水 at its lower reaches near Jingzhou 荆州, Hupei.

20 Lu Yü was but thirteen years of age when he received the invitation to direct the entertainments for the festivities.

21 Li Qiwu 李齊物 (active ca. 742-755), a former governor of Loyang, a distinguished scholar, courtier, and respected high official in the Tang government who in his later years was Grand Mentor of the Heir Apparent, one of three preceptors to the crown prince.  Li spent a number of years in exile as prefect of Jingling.

22 Han 漢 and Mian 沔 rivers, i.e., the people of the region. The Mian is a branch of the Han River.

23 Zou Kun 鄒坤 (active ca. 747), headmaster of the Confucian academy on Mount Huomen 火門山, northwest of Jingling 竟陵, Hupei. See Kou Dan 寇丹, Lu Yü yü Chajing yanjiu 陸羽與茶經研究 (Hong Kong: Tianma tushu, Ltd., 2002), p. 102, no. 18.

24 Cui Guofu 崔國輔 (js 726), a Tang poet, courtier, and official, who in 752 was appointed prefect of Jingling.

25 A zebu (Bos indicus), an Asian domestic ox with a large hump over its shoulders, short curved horns, a large dewlap, and pendulous ears.

26 Li Cheng 李憕 ( ? – 755), a high official promoted to the post of minister in the Ministry of Rites after the An Lushan rebellion of 755.

27 Pagoda wood (Sophora japonicus), also known as the scholar’s tree and traditionally cultivated as a garden plant by aspiring students.

28 The official Lu 盧 of the chancellery, unidentified.

29 Zhide reign period, 756-757.

30 Qinren 秦人: Refugees from the province of Shaanxi fleeing the conflict and rebellion in the north to the relative safety of the south below the Yangtze River.

31 In 756, Lu Yü traveled northeast to Wuxing 吳興, Zhejiang, a place south of the Yangzi River and therefore still considered “south.”

32 Jiaoran 皎然 (720-799), a Buddhist priest, literary critic, and noted poet whose radical “use of poetry as an intellectual instrument,” “juxtaposition of Zen Buddhism and the arts,” and theory made him the dominant literary figure of the lower Yangzi (William H. Nienhauser, Jr., ed. and comp., The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1986), pp. 270-273).

33 Jiaoran was from the town of Huzhou 湖州 in Wuxing 吳興, Zhejiang, where Lu Yü eventually settled and spent the rest of his life.

34 Lu Yü (733-804) and Jiaoran (720-799) differed in age by about thirteen years.  The year 720 is given as the date of Jiaoran’s birth; 799 as his date of death (Xü Hairong 徐海榮, ed., Zhongguo chashi dadian 中國茶事大典 (Beijing: Huaxia chuban she, 2000), p. 561 and William H. Nienhauser, Jr., ed. and comp., The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1986), p. 270, respectively).

35 An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757) rebelled on the ninth day of the eleventh month of 755.  Within months, refugees were fleeing the conflict from Shaanxi to the relative safety of the south.

36 Liu Zhan 劉展 ( ? – 761), a rebel in the lower Yangzi River valley, especially around Suzhou and the wealthy trading towns of Yangzhou and Chuzhou.  Liu rebelled during the winter of 760-761 and was killed by government troops.

37 Jianghuai 江淮: Jiangsu, Honan, and northern Anhui provinces.

38 Lu Yü was twenty-nine sui 歲, Chinese years, making him age twenty-eight by Western reckoning.




16. October 2013 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: Literature, Translation | Comments Off on The Autobiography of Imperial Instructor Lu