Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ryōkan's Poems that are not Poems

I just finished listening to Shohaku Okumura Roshi give two short talks at the Sanshin Zen community on the 'poems that are not poems' from Zen Master Taigu Ryōkan. - Ryōkan is the Han-Shan of Japan. He has an extremely inspiring story - though he came from a very wealthy family Ryokan spent the majority of his life begging as a practice (called takuhatsu).

Shohaku Okumura Roshi shared a few wonderful poems and I looked around for a few more. - Ryōkan was so clear-minded and open-hearted that peace and calm come through clearly in his simple words.

Down in the village
the din of
flute and drum,
here deep in the mountain
everywhere the sound of the pines.

One day he came back to his simple shack from a day of begging and a thief was there taking what little he had. The thief ran when he saw Ryōkan and left behind one cushion. Ryōkan grabbed the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him. He then wrote this poem:

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

Most of all Ryōkan was a powerful teacher.

First days of Spring-the sky
is bright blue, the sun huge and warm.
Everything's turning green.
Carrying my monk's bowl, I walk to the village
to beg for my daily meal.
The children spot me at the temple gate
and happily crowd around,
dragging to my arms till I stop.
I put my bowl on a white rock,
hang my bag on a branch.
First we braid grasses and play tug-of-war,
then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air:
I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.
Time is forgotten, the hours fly.
People passing by point at me and laugh:
'Why are you acting like such a fool?'
I nod my head and don't answer.
I could say something, but why?
Do you want to know what's in my heart?
From the beginning of time: just this! just this!
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