Ryōkan

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When you know that my poems are not poems,
Then we can speak of poetry.

Ryōkan (17581831) was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk who lived in Niigata, Japan, as a hermit and a poet.

Sourced[edit]

In the scenery of spring,
nothing is better, nothing worse;
The flowering branches are
of themselves, some short, some long.
In this dream world
We doze
And talk of dreams —
Dream, dream on,
As much as you wish
Was it only a dream? Was I really young once?
  • In the scenery of spring,
    nothing is better, nothing worse
    ;
    The flowering branches are
    of themselves, some short, some long.
    • As translated in Haiku : Spring (1950) by Reginald Horace Blyth
  • In this dream world
    We doze
    And talk of dreams —

    Dream, dream on,
    As much as you wish
    • As translated in Lust for Enlightenment : Buddhism and Sex (1990) by John Stevens, p. 28
  • You must rise above
    The gloomy clouds

    Covering the mountaintop
    Otherwise, how will you
    Ever see the brightness?
    • As translated in Lust for Enlightenment : Buddhism and Sex (1990) by John Stevens, p. 117
  • The thief left it behind:
    the moon
    at my window.
    • Written after a thief robbed his hut, as translated in The Enlightened Heart : An Anthology of Sacred Poetry‎ (1993) by Stephen Mitchell, p. 162
  • Late at night, listening to the winter rain
    Recalling my youth —
    Was it only a dream? Was I really young once?
    • As quoted in One Robe, One Bowl : The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan (2006) edited by John Stevens, p. 71
  • Cling to truth and it turns into falsehood. Understand falsehood and it turns into truth. Truth and falsehood are two sides of the same coin. Neither accept one nor reject the other.
    • As translated in 1,001 Pearls of Wisdom (2006) by David Ross, p. 36

Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf : Zen Poems of Ryokan (1993)[edit]

As translated by John Stevens
The water of the valley stream
Never shouts at the tainted world: “Purify yourself!”
But naturally, as it is,
Shows how it is done.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning,
Stop chasing after so many things.
  • It's a pity, a gentleman in refined retirement composing poetry:
    He models his work on the classic verse of China.
    And his poems are elegant, full of fine phrases.
    But if you don't write of things deep in your own heart,
    What's the use of churning out so many words?
    • Variant translation:
      With gaudy words their lines are formed
      And further adorned by novel and curious phrases.
      Yet if they fail to express what is in their own minds
      What is the use, no matter
      How many poems they compose!
      • "Zen Poetics of Ryokan" in Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry (Summer 2006)
  • The winds gives me
    Enough fallen leaves
    To make a fire
  • This world
    A fading
    Mountain echo
    Void and
    Unreal

Zen Poetics of Ryokan (2006)[edit]

"Zen Poetics of Ryokan" in Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry (Summer 2006)


  • When you encounter those who are wicked, unrighteous, foolish, dim-witted, deformed, vicious, chronically ill, lonely, unfortunate, or disabled, you should think: “How can I save them?” And even if there is nothing you can do, at least you must not indulge in feelings of arrogance, superiority, derision, scorn, or abhorrence, but should immediately manifest sympathy and compassion. If you fail to do so, you should feel ashamed and deeply reproach yourself: “How far I have strayed from the Way! How can I betray the old sages? I take these words as an admonition to myself.
  • The water of the valley stream
    Never shouts at the tainted world: “Purify yourself!”
    But naturally, as it is,
    Shows how it is done.
  • I have nothing to report, my friends.
    If you want to find the meaning,
    Stop chasing after so many things.
  • Why do you so earnestly seek the truth in distant places?
    Look for delusion and truth in the bottom of your own hearts.
  • The village has disappeared in the evening mist
    And the path is hard to follow.
    Walking through the pines,
    I return to my lonely hut.
  • The rain has stopped, the clouds have drifted away, and the weather is clear again.
    If your heart is pure, then all things in your world are pure.
    Abandon this fleeting world, abandon yourself,
    Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way.

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