Ryokan – the passage of wind in a vast sky

sky above, great wind (Genju 2013)

Reflection on leaving the household

I came to the mountain
to avoid hearing
the sound of waves.
Lonesome now in another way –
wind in the the pine forest.

Ryokan, from Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan, Kazuaki Tanahashi

Ryokan is likely my favourite in the imposing genre of Zen Master poets. Kaz Tanahashi offers a delightful exploration of his life and, more delectably, his art. This is a companion book to carry with you and dip into as the moment arises.

There is the simple in Ryokan’s words, a feature that likely gave rise, along with his own demeanor, to the sobriquet of “The Zen Fool.” And perhaps that is fitting because to surrender all manner of contact, comfort, and conventionality would require adopting or cultivating a simple-mindedness about what matters. Like the Divine Fool Nasreddin before him, Ryokan challenges me to re-perceive my life through his subtle teachings.

Falling blossoms.
Blossoms in bloom are also 
falling blossoms.

That preferential mind, holding onto one phase of the continuous flow through life and death. I notice this in every shift from health to illness, that desire for the ease of movement, of the quickness of thought. And he too reveals his own clinging:

Dancing the bon dance,
with a hand towel
I hide my age.

Simplicity of body, speech, and mind reflects a deep self-knowing, an awareness of how we fit in this fleeting world. It’s the honoring of that fit which causes me trouble.

It is not that
I avoid mixing
with the world;
but I do better
playing alone.

And then in counterpoint, so human, Ryokan reassures me as he writes,

Were there someone
in the world
who feels as I feel,
we would talk all night
in this grass hut.

 Being in world, connecting, becoming open, vulnerable. And all the time, seeking solitude, re-connecting with what matters.

skyabove, great wind (Genju 2013)

If someone asks
about the mind of this monk,
say it is no more than
a passage of wind
in the vast sky.

{Edit: It is with great spacious humour that I admit having mixed up the script for “sky” and “great.” One continuous mistake! These calligraphies are hopefully corrected in the right-minded direction.}

these two tears

Fresh moss covers
the stone bed;
how many springtimes
was it the Master’s?

His profile in meditation
has been sketched;
but the body of the meditator
has been burned.

Snow in the pines
has closed the pagoda courtyard;
dust settles in the lock
on the sutra library.

I chide myself
for these two tears —
a man who hasn’t grasped
the empty nature of all things.

Mourning the Death of Ch’an Master Po-Yen

from When I Find You Again It Will Be In Mountains – Selected Poems of Chia Tao

translated by Mike O’Connor 

tim the sheep

Sorry I’m late on the Friday poem but I can’t find anything that actually says anything deep and meaningful about the Five Hindrances.  “Drop the Drama and get on with it” themes just don’t come penned by Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry.  And I’m packing for the rapture tomorrow anyway!  So, this is the best I can do:

I’ve probably violated some copyright thing but since Tim is on Tumblr anyway, I doubt it!

Have a great weekend and enjoy being uplifted in whatever manner it happens!


Unfettered at last, a traveling monk,
I pass the old Zen barrier.
Mine is a traceless stream-and-cloud life,
Of these mountains, which shall be my home?

                   –    Manan   (1591-1654)
                         The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry
                        Translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Rest Well Robert Aitken Roshi June 19, 1917 – August 5, 2010

the binding cord

It is a commonplace of life that the greatest pleasure issues ultimately in the greatest grief.  Yet why – why is it that this child of mine, who has not tasted half the pleasures that the world has to offer, who ought, by rights, to be as fresh and green as the vigorous young needles of the everlasting pine – why must she lie here on her deathbed, swollen with blisters, caught in the loathsome clutches of the vile god of smallpox.  Being, as I am, her father, I can scarcely bear to watch her withering away – a little more each day – like some pure, untainted blossom that is ravished by the sudden onslaught of mud and rain.

…(F)inally, on the twenty-first of June, as the morning glories were just closing their flowers, she closed her eyes forever.  Her mother embraced the cold body, and cried bitterly.  For myself, I knew well it was no use to cry, that water once flown past the bridge does not return, and blossoms that are scattered are gone beyond recall.  Yet try as I would, I could not, simply could not, cut the binding cord of human love.

The world of dew
is the world of dew.
And yet, and yet –

from A Year of My Life

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) is perhaps one of my favourite poets.  His poems are flip, fierce, and take a perspective of the other – what James Austin calls an allocentric view.  There’s a darkness in some of his poetry and prose which comes from the many losses and conflicts in his life.    Rejected by his step-mother, estranged from family, caught in estate battles over his father’s will, his life seemed a never-ending flow of struggles.  Maybe all this was the cauldron for his creativity.  At the age of 51, he married a 27-year old woman and had three children.  The first two died before their first birthday; the third, Sato, lived barely a year.  He produced his major prose A Year of My Life after her death.  Misfortune dogged him, however, until he died in 1827, leaving his third wife and unborn child.  Yata, his daughter, inherited his home and lived there until the 1950’s.

Loss and grief are such demanding co-teachers.  They assign long hours of practice and work with no promise that I will graduate with honours. And there is no guarantee that the “binding cord of human love” will be severed.

Thank you for practicing,