1758-1831/Japanese Ryōkan was born in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in Japan to the village headman. He renounced the world at an early age to train at nearby Sōtō Zen temple Kōshōji, refusing to meet with or accept charity from his fa
Too lazy to be ambitious, I let the world take care of itself. Ten days' worth of rice in my bag; a bundle of twigs by the fireplace. Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment? Listening to the night rain on my roof, I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.
Returning to my native village after many years’ absence: I put up at a country inn and listen to the rain. One robe, one bowl is all I have. I light incense and strain to sit in meditation; All night a steady drizzle outside the dark window -- Inside, poignant memories of these long years of pilgrimage.
I watch people in the world Throw away their lives lusting after things, Never able to satisfy their desires, Falling into deeper despair And torturing themselves. Even if they get what they want How long will they be able to enjoy it? For one heavenly pleasure They suffer ten torments of hell, Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone. Such people are like monkeys Frantically grasping for the moon in the water And then falling into a whirlpool. How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer. Despite myself, I fret over them all night And cannot staunch my flow of tears.
First blooming in the Western Paradise, The lotus has delighted us for ages. Its white petals are covered with dew, its jade green leaves spread out over the pond, And its pure fragrance perfumes the wind. Cool and majestic, it raises from the murky water. The sun sets behind the mountains But I remain in the darkness, too captivated to leave.
An old grave hidden away at the foot of a deserted hill, Overrun with rank weeds growing unchecked year after year; There is no one left to tend the tomb, And only an occasional woodcutter passes by. Once I was his pupil, a youth with shaggy hair, Learning deeply from him by the Narrow River. One morning I set off on my solitary journey And the years passed between us in silence. Now I have returned to find him at rest here; How can I honor his departed spirit? I pour a dipper of pure water over his tombstone And offer a silent prayer. The sun suddenly disappears behind the hill And I’m enveloped by the roar of the wind in the pines. I try to pull myself away but cannot; A flood of tears soaks my sleeves.
My house is buried in the deepest recess of the forest Every year, ivy vines grow longer than the year before. Undisturbed by the affairs of the world I live at ease, Woodmen’s singing rarely reaching me through the trees. While the sun stays in the sky, I mend my torn clothes And facing the moon, I read holy texts aloud to myself. Let me drop a word of advice for believers of my faith. To enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.
This treasure was discovered in a bamboo thicket -- I washed the bowl in a spring and then mended it. After morning meditation, I take my gruel in it; At night, it serves me soup or rice. Cracked, worn, weather-beaten, and misshapen But still of noble stock!
Though frost come down, Night after night What does it matter? They melt in the morning sun. Though the snow falls Each passing year, What does it matter? With spring days it thaws. Yet once let them settle On a man’s head, Fall and pile up- Then the New Year May come and go, But never you’ll see them fade away.
Blending with the wind, Snow falls; Blending with the snow, The wind blows. By the hearth I stretch out my legs, Idling my time away Confined in this hut. Counting the days, I find that February, too, Has come and gone Like a dream.
Yes, I’m truly a dunce Living among trees and plants. Please don’t question me about illusion and enlightenment -- This old fellow just likes to smile to himself. I wade across streams with bony legs, And carry a bag about in fine spring weather. That’s my life, And the world owes me nothing.
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!
Midsummer -- I walk about with my staff. Old farmers spot me And call me over for a drink. We sit in the fields using leaves for plates. Pleasantly drunk and so happy I drift off peacefully Sprawled out on a paddy bank.
When I was a lad, I sauntered about town as a gay blade, Sporting a cloak of the softest down, And mounted on a splendid chestnut-coloured horse. During the day, I galloped to the city; At night, I got drunk on peach blossoms by the river. I never cared about returning home, Usually ending up, with a big smile on my face, at a pleasure pavilion!
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.
In a dilapidated three-room hut I’ve grown old and tired; This winter cold is the Worst I’ve ever suffered through. I sip thin gruel, waiting for the Freezing night to pass. Can I last until spring finally arrives? Unable to beg for rice, How will I survive the chill? Even meditation helps no longer; Nothing left to do but compose poems In memory of deceased friends.
Slopes of Mount Kugami— in the mountain's shade a hut beneath the trees— how many years it's been my home? The time comes to take leave of it— my thoughts wilt like summer grasses, I wander back and forth like the evening star— till that hut of mine is hidden from sight, till that grove of trees can no longer be seen, at each bend of the long road, at every turning, I turn to look back in the direction of that mountain.
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 my youth I put aside my studies And I aspired to be a saint. Living austerely as a mendicant monk, I wandered here and there for many springs. Finally I returned home to settle under a craggy peak. I live peacefully in a grass hut, Listening to the birds for music. Clouds are my best neighbors. Below a pure spring where I refresh body and mind; Above, towering pines and oaks that provide shade and brushwood. Free, so free, day after day -- I never want to leave!
No luck today on my mendicant rounds; From village to village I dragged myself. At sunset I find myself with miles of mountains between me and my hut. The wind tears at my frail body, And my little bowl looks so forlorn -- Yes this is my chosen path that guides me Through disappointment and pain, cold and hunger.