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Tag Archives: Japanese Zen

sunday poem

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Feeling deeply appreciated and nourished by the comments to my previous post, I dip into The poetry of Zen* —

Whatever it is,
I cannot understand it,
although gratitude
stubbornly overcomes me
until I’m reduced to tears.

* by Saigyō Hōshi (西行 法師, 1118–1190) in Hamill, S., & Seaton, J. P. (2007). (trans.). Boston: Shambhala, p. 112. image: “Old Man Weeping” after Van Gogh by Gordon Christie when he was still a teenager.


an old man’s view

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Further to yesterday’s post, Steve sent these lines by Taigu Ryokan, nicknamed Great Fool (1758-1831), a Zen poet who lived simply. 

An old and useless body,
I have seen many generations of flowers in this
    lonely, borrowed hermitage.
When spring comes, and if I am still alive,
Surely I will come to see you again–
Listen for the sound of my staff.

Stevens, J. (1988). (trans). One robe, one bowl: the Zen poetry of Ryokan. New York/Tokyo: Weatherhill, p. 27.

neither happy nor sad

Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481) was a controversial Japanese Zen monk.

time to set down that baggage?

Tanzan and Ekido, two Zen monks of old, were travelling together down a muddy road. A heave rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross a flooded intersection. “Come on, young lady,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go for females,” he told Tanzan, “especially young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left her at the puddle,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?

text source: Reps, P. (1961). Zen flesh, zen bones: a collection of zen and pre-zen writings. New York: Doubleday Anchor, p. 18. image credit:

taking half a day off

How wonderful! Walked for a little more than 3 hours, mostly uphill over steep hills bordering the Mosel River. This was one of the rare times where the pilgrim’s path didn’t follow the curves of the river (as shown on yesterday’s map), but up one side of the Hunsrück Mountains and down the other. Hard work and what a way to feel strength and endurance, seeing the effects of 4 months of thrice-weekly training: grâce à Mylene.

After only five days of walking, I seem to have left everything behind (except the occasional Internet contact). While schlepping up a muddy section of a steep hill it occurred to me that each time my foot touches the ground it is for the first and for the last time — coming and going, leaving only temporary traces. Just as in everyday life except that we tend to be deluded into thinking that things have permanence. A haiku death poem by Zen master Togyo:

When autumn winds blow               
not one leaf remains                         
the way it was.

Today a half-day break — kind of. After finding a cheap and impeccably clean room in a private home (with the tiniest bed and an even tinier 3-piece bathroom), I set out for what turned out to be a 2-hour meander through the vineyards. Mostly Riesling grapes here, hanging in plump bunches on endless rows of vines up steep hillsides, soaking up the ever-shortening hours of autumn sunshine. Afterwards into the touristy “old town” to savour cherry cheesecake and coffee and watching the world go by. A wedge (a gaggle, a whiteness) of swans overhead, honking as they go. All’s well.

to err is human

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In the past, when I began to study Zen,
it was all a mistake.
Wandering through numberless
mountains and rivers,
I wanted to find
something to know.
(It’s all clear in hindsight.)
It is hard to understand it
because talk about “no-mind”
just brings more confusion.
The teacher has pointed out
the ancient mirror
and I see in it
the time before I was born of my parents.
Having learned this,
what do I have?
Release a crow into the night
and it flies
flecked with snow.
Note: “ancient mirror” refers to wisdom, to what is true, unspoiled; “before I was born of my parents” refers to our Buddha or true nature, before we were shaped and conditioned. By Dayang Jingxuan (n. d.) found at image: “Cawing crow on snow covered branch” by Koson; woodblock, ca. 1912, 

simple as that!

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Pointing directly to the human heart:
See your own nature and become Buddha.

Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768?), influential Zen master;