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Jerry Katz
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The wind carves shapes into the beach sand

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#2110 - Monday, April 11, 2005 - Editor: Gloria    

No situation can become favorable until one is able to adapt to it and does
not wear himself out with mistaken resistance.
-- I Ching

  Practice an art for love and the happiness of your life -- you will find it
outlasts almost everything but breath.
-- Katherine Anne Porter
from Morning Zen  

       Your spiritual journey can only begin when you
       give up your attachment to the melodramatic
       story that you've been calling your life.

       Detachment doesn't mean, however, that you're
       uninvolved with the illusory world.

       Detachment only means that your involvement
       with the world is at such a high level that you
       have no demands about what or how it's

       Consequently, whatever happens in your life is
       always 100% OK with you.

       The last step, then, is to become detached from
       your detachment.

                                         - Chuck Hillig   from Along the Way

Lee Love ~ E-Zendo  

These are some guidelines the Monk Ryokan wrote down for himself.  
Ryokan's Precepts of Right Speech  

Take care not to:  

talk too much
talk too fast
talk without being asked to
talk gratuitously
talk with your hands
talk about worldly affairs
talk back rudely
smile condescendingly at others' words
use elegant expressions
avoid speaking directly
speak with a knowing air
jump from topic to topic
use fancy words
speak of past events that cannot be changed
speak like a pedant
avoid direct questions
speak ill of others
speak grandly of enlightenment
carry on while drunk
speak in an obnoxious manner
yell at children
make up fantastic stories
speak while angry
ignore the people to whom you are speaking
speak sanctimoniously of gods and buddhas
use sugary speech
use flattering speech
speak of things of which you have no knowledge
monopolize conversations
talk about others behind their backs
speak with conceit
bad-mouth others
chant prayers ostentatiously
complain about the amount of alms
give long-winded sermons
speak affectedly like a tea master       

—Ryokan (1758-1831)  

"Ry˘kan declared there were three things he disliked:
poet's poetry,
calligrapher's calligraphy,
chef's cooking."    

Taigu Ryokan (1758-1831) (nicknamed Great Fool) lives on as one of Japan's best loved poets, the wise fool who wrote of his humble life with such directness. He is in a tradition of radical Zen poets or "great fools" including China's P'ang Yun (Layman P'ang, 740-811) and Han-shan (Cold Mountain, T'ang Dynasty), and Japan's poets of the Rinzai School: Ikkyu Sojun (Crazy Cloud, 1394-1481) and Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769). Ryokan had no disciples, ran no temple, and in the eyes of the world was a penniless monk who spent his life in the snow country of Mt. Kugami. He admired most the Soto Zen teachings of Dogen Zenji and the unconventional life and poetry of Zen mountain poet Han-shan. He repeatedly refused to be honored or confined as a "professional" either as a Buddhist priest or a poet.

Who says my poems are poems?
These poems are not poems.
When you can understand this,
then we can begin to speak of poetry.

Ryokan never published a collection of verse while alive. His practice consisted of sitting in zazen meditation, walking in the woods, playing with children, making his daily begging rounds, reading and writing poetry, doing calligraphy, and on occasion drinking wine with friends. These are some of his Kanshi or journal poems translated by poets Larry Smith and Mei Hui Huang. Their book Chinese Zen Poems: What Hold Has This Mountain? may be ordered by sending $10 to Bottom Dog Press, c/o Firelands College, Huron, Ohio 44839. They are completing a book of Ryokan's KANSHI: JOURNAL POEMS. Bottom Dog Press   


Two miles from town, I meet an old woodcutter
and we travel the road lined with huge pines.
The smell of wild plum blossoms
drifts across the valley.
My walking stick has brought us home.
In the ancient pond – huge, contented fish.
Long sunbeams penetrate the deep woods.
And in the house – a long bed
all covered with poetry books.
I loosen my belt and robes,
copy phrase after phrase for my poems.
At twilight, I walk to the east wing –
spring quail startle into the air.

Tramping for miles I come upon a farm house
as the great ball of sun sets in the forest.
Sparrows gather near a bamboo thicket,
flutter about in the closing dark.
From across a field comes a farmer
who calls a greeting from afar.
He tells his wife to strain their cloudy wine
and treats me to his garden's feast.
Sitting across table we drink each other's health
our talk rising to the heavens.
Both of us are so tipsy and happy
we forget the rules of this world.

Too confused to ever earn a living
I've learned to let things have their way.
With only three handfuls of rice in my bag
and a few branches by my fireside
I pursue neither right or wrong
and forget worldly fortune and fame.
This damp night under a grassy roof
I stretch out my legs without regrets.


In stubborn stupidity, I live on alone
befriended by trees and herbs.
Too lazy to learn right from wrong,
I laugh at myself, ignoring others.
Lifting my bony shanks, I cross the stream,
a sack in my hand, blessed by spring weather.
Living thus, I want for nothing,
at peace with all the world.

Your finger points to the moon,
but the finger is blind until the moon appears.
What connection has  moon and finger?
Are they separate objects or bound?
This is a question for beginners
wrapped in seas of ignorance.
Yet one who looks beyond metaphor
knows there is no finger; there is no moon.  


Ryokan san was born in Izumozaki, a little south of Niigata city. He became a priest at 18 and met his teacher Kokusen Roshi while Roshi was traveling to various temples to teach. Ryokan san was so impressed that he immediately left with Kokusen Roshi and returned with him to Entsuji. There, he devoted himself to training and became Kokusen Roshi's closest student. When Kokusen Roshi died, Ryokan san inherited the temple. But, temple master's life did not suit him and he left, wandering around Shikoku and Kyoto area for many years.

He returned to his home town and settled in a little hut, Gogoan, on Mt. Kugami. There, he practiced takuhatsu (begging), and writing poetry in his unique calligraphic style. Ryokan san loved children and often forgot about this begging rounds while he engaged in games with them. He was extremely gentle and was never known to raise his voice in anger or annoyance. His kindness was legendary.

Once while he was away from his hut, a thief came and stole his few possessions. When Ryokan san returned, the thief was just leaving and he saw that one possession had been left behind. Ryokan san picked up the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him. Later he wrote this poem:

The thief left it there
There in the window frame -
The shining moon.

When Ryokan san was 70, he met a nun named Teishin, and they fell in love. She was 28 and also a poet. They met rarely, but exchanged some of the most beautiful love poems in world literature during the three years they knew one another. When Ryokan san was dying, Teishin was sent for and she held him as he died. Because of her devotion to him, his poems have been given to the world. Teishin collected and published his work until her own death at about age 75.

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