A White Turtle Under a Waterfall by Wang Wei: Reading and Meditation

August 13, 2020  • Todd Breyfogle

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A White Turtle Under a Waterfall, Wang Wei


There is a common image of the duck on the surface of the pond—its body calmly drifting while its webbed feet paddle furiously beneath. Wang Wei gives us a different image. Here, the terrifying thunder of the waterfall creates pandemonium above the water, obliterating sound, even silencing the birds. The calm is beneath the water as the white turtle plays on the pool’s sand floor. We are told that the turtle slides about with the torrents—it is not unaffected by the collapsing water above. But it uses the torrents to glide and slide in a playful spirit of rest. Significantly, too, the people of the land do not interfere—there is no angling or net fishing. Conversation is drowned by the waterfall but so is action. In their benevolence, those who have come to see the waterfall are content to leave things in their natural state. I am a turtle. How do I insulate myself from the riotous spray? I am a visitor to a wild place. How do I rest in the benevolence not to impose myself? Let us all live out our lives, naturally. 

Todd Breyfogle, Denver, Colorado

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