Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ryokan. The Wonderful Japanese Recluse, Monk, Philosopher, Calligrapher, Naturalist And Poet...

The hermit-monk Ryokan,
long beloved in Japan for his poetry, his humorous character, his philosophy, his calligraphy and his fondness for communing with nature belongs in the tradition of the great Zen eccentrics of both China and Japan.

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 the torments of hell, 
Binding themselves firmly to the grindstone.
Such people are like monkeys
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water
And then falling into the whirlpool.
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer
Despite myself, I fret over them all night
And cannot staunch the flow of tears.

Born Eizo Yamamoto in 1758 in the village of Izumozaki in Japan's Niigata Prefecture,
he renounced the world at an early age and became a monk at the Soto Zen Temple.
He took the name Ryokan Taigu.
In later life he was cared for by the nun and close companion Teishen until he died in 1831.
His reclusive life and his celebration of nature brings to mind a younger American contemporary, Henry David Thoreau.
It is said that one evening a thief visited Ryokan at his hut at the base of a mountain, only to find there was nothing to steal. Ryokan said to the would be thief, You have come a long way and should not return to your home empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.
The bewildered thief did his bidding and Ryokan sat naked looking at the moon.
Poor fellow, he mused, I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon...


  1. This is a very beautiful blog Keith. I am moved to tears by his compassion. Thank you. What more can I say.

  2. Well you know we did get the moon once, but couldn't hold onto it. Funny about that.

  3. Was I born on a grindstone?
    When did I start torturing myself?
    My own escape begins with renunciation,
    though it seems so difficult in modern times,
    I recognize it was not less difficult for Ryoken,
    but in the end just as easy for everyone.

  4. Roykan is mirror of your soul.

  5. "The love of money is the root of all evil". Bible