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One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan

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The hermit-monk Ryokan, long beloved in Japan both for his poetry and for his character, belongs in the tradition of the great Zen eccentrics of China and Japan. His reclusive life and celebration of nature and the natural life also bring to mind his younger American contemporary, Thoreau. Ryokan's poetry is that of the mature Zen master, its deceptive simplicity revealing The hermit-monk Ryokan, long beloved in Japan both for his poetry and for his character, belongs in the tradition of the great Zen eccentrics of China and Japan. His reclusive life and celebration of nature and the natural life also bring to mind his younger American contemporary, Thoreau. Ryokan's poetry is that of the mature Zen master, its deceptive simplicity revealing an art that surpasses artifice. Although Ryokan was born in eighteenth-century Japan, his extraordinary poems, capturing in a few luminous phrases both the beauty and the pathos of human life, reach far beyond time and place to touch the springs of humanity.


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The hermit-monk Ryokan, long beloved in Japan both for his poetry and for his character, belongs in the tradition of the great Zen eccentrics of China and Japan. His reclusive life and celebration of nature and the natural life also bring to mind his younger American contemporary, Thoreau. Ryokan's poetry is that of the mature Zen master, its deceptive simplicity revealing The hermit-monk Ryokan, long beloved in Japan both for his poetry and for his character, belongs in the tradition of the great Zen eccentrics of China and Japan. His reclusive life and celebration of nature and the natural life also bring to mind his younger American contemporary, Thoreau. Ryokan's poetry is that of the mature Zen master, its deceptive simplicity revealing an art that surpasses artifice. Although Ryokan was born in eighteenth-century Japan, his extraordinary poems, capturing in a few luminous phrases both the beauty and the pathos of human life, reach far beyond time and place to touch the springs of humanity.

30 review for One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Annet

    Beautiful poetry... Since last year I’ve read poems from Asia and have grown fond of these beautiful writings. This is a collection poems of Ryokan, a famous 18th century hermit-monk and Zen-buddhist, living in poverty and simplity in a hut in the Japanese mountains. His poety is charming and simple, wonderfully beautiful I find... He wrote many styles –classical Chinese, haiku, waka, folk songs and Man’yo style poems. Most of the poems are concerned with Ryokan’s daily life – begging for his fo Beautiful poetry... Since last year I’ve read poems from Asia and have grown fond of these beautiful writings. This is a collection poems of Ryokan, a famous 18th century hermit-monk and Zen-buddhist, living in poverty and simplity in a hut in the Japanese mountains. His poety is charming and simple, wonderfully beautiful I find... He wrote many styles –classical Chinese, haiku, waka, folk songs and Man’yo style poems. Most of the poems are concerned with Ryokan’s daily life – begging for his food, playing with the children, visiting local farmers, walking through the fields and hills, drinking sake ;-) and describing the seasons and his moods, often melancholy. I especially liked the Waka and Haiku poems. ‘Twilight – the only conversation on this hill Is the wind blowing through the pines’… ‘As I watch the children happily playing, Without realizing it, My eyes fill with tears.' He must have been a special person and his poems beautiful. This booklet gave me some wonderful peace of mind in busy turbulent life…Truly recommended, close to five stars.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peycho Kanev

    IF THERE is beauty, there must be ugliness; If there is right, there must be wrong. Wisdom and ignorance are complementary, And illusion and enlightenment cannot be separated. This is an old truth, don’t think it was discovered recently. “I want this, I want that” Is nothing but foolishness. I’ll tell you a secret— “All things are impermanent!” ALONE, wandering through the mountains, I come across an abandoned hermitage. The walls have crumbled, and there is only a path for foxes and rabbits. The well, next IF THERE is beauty, there must be ugliness; If there is right, there must be wrong. Wisdom and ignorance are complementary, And illusion and enlightenment cannot be separated. This is an old truth, don’t think it was discovered recently. “I want this, I want that” Is nothing but foolishness. I’ll tell you a secret— “All things are impermanent!” ALONE, wandering through the mountains, I come across an abandoned hermitage. The walls have crumbled, and there is only a path for foxes and rabbits. The well, next to an ancient bamboo grove, is dry. Spider webs cover a forgotten book of poems that lies beneath a window. Dust is piled on the floor, The stairway is completely hidden by the wild fall grasses. Crickets, disturbed by my unexpected visit, shriek. Looking up, I see the setting sun—unbearable loneliness. WHO SAYS my poems are poems? My poems are not poems. After you know my poems are not poems, Then we can begin to discuss poetry! MY HUT lies in the middle of a dense forest; Every year the green ivy grows longer. No news of the affairs of men, Only the occasional song of a woodcutter. The sun shines and I mend my robe; When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems. I have nothing to report, my friends. If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things. EARLY summer—floating down a clear running river in a wooden boat, A lovely girl gently plays with a crimson lotus flower held in her white hands. The day becomes more and more brilliant. Young men play along the shore And a horse runs by the willows. Watching quietly, speaking to no one, The beautiful girl does not show that her heart is broken. THE THIEF left it behind— the moon At the window.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Raven

    Some that I especially loved: "How can we ever lose interest in life? Spring has come again And cherry trees bloom in the mountains. I came to this village to see the peach blossoms but spent the day instead Looking at the flowers along the river bank. Summer evening - the voice of a hototogisu rises from the mountains As I dream of the ancient poets. The willows are in full bloom! I want to pile up the blossoms Like mountain snow. When it is evening, please come to my hut to listen to the insects sing; I Some that I especially loved: "How can we ever lose interest in life? Spring has come again And cherry trees bloom in the mountains. I came to this village to see the peach blossoms but spent the day instead Looking at the flowers along the river bank. Summer evening - the voice of a hototogisu rises from the mountains As I dream of the ancient poets. The willows are in full bloom! I want to pile up the blossoms Like mountain snow. When it is evening, please come to my hut to listen to the insects sing; I will also introduce you to the autumn fields. From today the nights turn colder - I sew my tattered robe, The autumn insects cry. Midautumn - the mountains are crimson and the sake and ink are ready, But still no visitors. The village has disappeared in the evening mist and the path is hard to follow. I return to my lonely hut, walking through the pines. Thinking about the people in this floating world far into the night - My sleeve is wet with tears. The thief left it behind - the moon At the window. O, that my priest's robe were wide enough to gather all the suffering people In this floating world. Months pass, days pile up, like one intoxicated dream - An old man sighs."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Thaisa Frank

    The thief left it behind-- the mon At the window. This is Ryokan's most famous haiku. Perhaps because he is the true thief,the secret thief. He has literally stolen the moon, given it to us outside the window so we see it as direct experience. However, Rokan's ability to create direct experience and to use language transparently to give us *the thing itself* is apparent in all these poems. They are precise descriptions of moments and emotions that always give the reader room to experience the even The thief left it behind-- the mon At the window. This is Ryokan's most famous haiku. Perhaps because he is the true thief,the secret thief. He has literally stolen the moon, given it to us outside the window so we see it as direct experience. However, Rokan's ability to create direct experience and to use language transparently to give us *the thing itself* is apparent in all these poems. They are precise descriptions of moments and emotions that always give the reader room to experience the event as though they are right in the midst of 18th century Japan. And becuse Ryokan is always personal and direct--without ever being confessional--they give us a clear sense of a particular man, as well as a door into universal experience. We experience his life in his hermitage, his being drnk on sake, his loss of a friend, and his bouts of inebriation (supposedly reserved for his trips to the villages--although it's hard to imagine Ryokan alone in his winter hermitage without sake.) Postmdoernist thought never eluded Ryokan. "Who says my poems are poems? My poems are not poems. After you now my poems are not poems, Then we can begin to discuss poetry!: For people who love poetry, haiku, language as a door to direct experience, as well as people who are interested in Japan and in Zen. Few people I can think of will not find something of value in this collection of poems by John Stevens.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jessaka

    What a beautiful poet by a man who lived a very humble life. Ryokan was an 18th century hermit-monk who came from the village of Izumozaki in Echigo province of Japan. While his youth was serene, when he was 18, he succeeded his father as the village headman. This job was filled with many conflicts, something that Ryokan disliked immensely for he hated contention. At some point during this time he reached a spiritual crisis and withdrew into silence. It was then that he decided to become a Buddh What a beautiful poet by a man who lived a very humble life. Ryokan was an 18th century hermit-monk who came from the village of Izumozaki in Echigo province of Japan. While his youth was serene, when he was 18, he succeeded his father as the village headman. This job was filled with many conflicts, something that Ryokan disliked immensely for he hated contention. At some point during this time he reached a spiritual crisis and withdrew into silence. It was then that he decided to become a Buddhist monk and entered Kosho-ji monastery. Four years later a Zen priest known as Kokusen visited the monastery, and Ryokan decided become his student and so left the monastery with him. A few years later Kokusen died, and so Ryokan left the monastery and went on pilgrimages. After a time he decided to go back to his former monastery but on the way there he found an empty hermitage where he took up residence. Ryokan often went to a neighboring village where he played with the children, picked flowers, drank sake and visited with friends. He preached though his own actions and not through words. When his health began to fail he went to live with his disciple Kimur Motoemon, and it was there that he met a nun name Teishin, whom he fell in love with and who he wrote about in some of his poems. To her he wrote: Have you forgotten the way to my hut? Every evening I wait for the sound of your footsteps, But you do not appear." Here are some various poems that I loved: "I came to the village to see the peach blossoms but spent the day instead Looking at the flowers along the river bank." "In my bowl violets and dandelions are mixed Together with the Buddhas of the three worlds." "Light rain--the mountain forest is wrapped in mist. Slowly the fog changes to clouds and haze. Along the boundless river bank, many crows. I walk to a hill overlooking the valley to sit in zazen." Statue of Ryokan at the Ryūsen-ji temple in Nagaoka, Niigata Japan

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jan van Leent

    This translation and introduction by John Stevens is highly recommended for its beauty. It is also a marvellous introduction to the way of living of the Japanese hermit-monk Ryokan One example: after returning to his small hut - metaphor for clinging to his earthly ego? - Ryokan noticed that all was gone, he composed the haiku: The thief left behind the moon At the window. Another translation of this haiku: The thief leaves behind, the ever changeful Moon at the firmament Moon is often used to refer to T This translation and introduction by John Stevens is highly recommended for its beauty. It is also a marvellous introduction to the way of living of the Japanese hermit-monk Ryokan One example: after returning to his small hut - metaphor for clinging to his earthly ego? - Ryokan noticed that all was gone, he composed the haiku: The thief left behind the moon At the window. Another translation of this haiku: The thief leaves behind, the ever changeful Moon at the firmament Moon is often used to refer to Tao; it also indicates the firm belief of Ryokan.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    “Not much to offer you Just a lotus flower, floating In a small jar of water.” p. 65 This is the last book that I have to read for my Book Riot challenge. I haven’t done a challenge in years and when I discovered this one in May, I thought I could manage it. There were twenty-four categories and I read many of them regularly. It was no hardship for me to read a romance, a guilty pleasure, an audiobook, short stories or a YA novel. It turned out that reading poetry was a no brainer also. I used thr “Not much to offer you Just a lotus flower, floating In a small jar of water.” p. 65 This is the last book that I have to read for my Book Riot challenge. I haven’t done a challenge in years and when I discovered this one in May, I thought I could manage it. There were twenty-four categories and I read many of them regularly. It was no hardship for me to read a romance, a guilty pleasure, an audiobook, short stories or a YA novel. It turned out that reading poetry was a no brainer also. I used three books of poetry for the challenge. One Robe, One Bowl has been sitting on my TBA shelf for a long time. I don’t remember how I encountered it, but I am very glad that I took the time to read it. Most of the poems are short, many are haiku. Almost all of them are thought-provoking and worth several rereads. I will be revisiting this small volume on a regular basis. I know that lots of people think they don’t like poetry. I know that school almost completely drummed any interest out of me. However, as an adult, I have found many poems that speak to me. This collection includes some of those. Even if you don’t read Ryokan, try to find a poem or two that says something to you about life, love or nature. “My heart beats faster and faster and I cannot sleep. Tomorrow will be the first day of spring!” p. 73

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark Robison

    If you want a simple Ryokan book that puts the emphasis on the poetry with simple language (as in the original) and minimal annotation, this is probably your best bet. I like the translation a tad better in "Great Fool: Zen Master Ryōkan; Poems, Letters, and Other Writings" but it's excellent here, too, and this book is easier to read. I prefer Zen poetry over most other styles because each poem captures a moment in time like a photograph. It makes me slow down and notice things in my own life. R If you want a simple Ryokan book that puts the emphasis on the poetry with simple language (as in the original) and minimal annotation, this is probably your best bet. I like the translation a tad better in "Great Fool: Zen Master Ryōkan; Poems, Letters, and Other Writings" but it's excellent here, too, and this book is easier to read. I prefer Zen poetry over most other styles because each poem captures a moment in time like a photograph. It makes me slow down and notice things in my own life. Ryokan is a joy. Sure, he is often lonely and sometimes drinks to excess, but he loves playing ball with the village children, his heart aches at the world's suffering, and he has no patience for organized religion. And nature, he loves being in nature. Here are two of his poems that give a good feel for the book and translation: Fresh morning snow in front of the shrine. The trees! Are they white with peach blossoms Or white with snow? The children and I joyfully throw snowballs. And: The thief left it behind -- the moon at the window

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eduard Barbu

    The Zen monk Ryokan (the good and the generous one) wrote one of the most beautiful poems I've ever read. Deceptively simple, yet profound, Ryokan's poems are the fruit of contemplative experience. Here is one: "What will remain as my legacy? Flowers in the spring. The hototogisu in summer, and the crimson leaves of autumn. ". And here is another one: "No answer I give, only a deep bow; Even if I replied, they would not understand. Look around! There is nothing besides this. " Most of the poems a The Zen monk Ryokan (the good and the generous one) wrote one of the most beautiful poems I've ever read. Deceptively simple, yet profound, Ryokan's poems are the fruit of contemplative experience. Here is one: "What will remain as my legacy? Flowers in the spring. The hototogisu in summer, and the crimson leaves of autumn. ". And here is another one: "No answer I give, only a deep bow; Even if I replied, they would not understand. Look around! There is nothing besides this. " Most of the poems are about nature, which reflects the monk's state of mind. Elements of the Buddhist doctrine (Soto Zen flavor), in particular, the impermanence also features prominently. There are often, even in the wisest souls, pockets of human desolation, loneliness, and despair: "Traveling to a distant country accompanied by a hototogisu, and thoughts of sadness of this world." Great book!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Duncan

    For me, Ryokan's work is the pinnacle of Japanese poetry. The simplicity of his writing is masterful, completely free from artifice or pretension. Here Ryokan pieces together fragments of his life and daily experience into a set of deeply moving poems. Ryokan describes the deprivation and loneliness he endures as a buddhist hermit-monk living in a hut on a mountain side. He goes hungry and watches his store of firewood run out as he longs for visitors in the freezing winter months. Does Ryokan w For me, Ryokan's work is the pinnacle of Japanese poetry. The simplicity of his writing is masterful, completely free from artifice or pretension. Here Ryokan pieces together fragments of his life and daily experience into a set of deeply moving poems. Ryokan describes the deprivation and loneliness he endures as a buddhist hermit-monk living in a hut on a mountain side. He goes hungry and watches his store of firewood run out as he longs for visitors in the freezing winter months. Does Ryokan wish for an easier life, perhaps running a temple like Basho and other famous Zen monks? Not at all. This book serves as a beautiful affirmation of Ryokan's deep conviction that no other path in life would be for him.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mmars

    Ryokan honestly expresses the feelings of hermitage. The satisfaction of solace in nature but also the loneliness. The harshness of winter and the joys of summer. The sadness of a friend not visiting and unexpected moments of enlightenment. This is a contemplative collection that extols both wisdom and humility and explores a broad spectrum of emotion and wonder.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Lawrie

    In my "in progress" comments I wrote "inspiring," because he turned my head around on a particular topic with one verse. I still hold to that assessment. I found his poetry like a breath of fresh air, both timely and timeless.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I'm always reading this wonderful one!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    This is one of the most soothing things I've ever read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Knecht

    W HO SAYS my poems are poems? My poems are not poems. After you know my poems are not poems, Then we can begin to discuss poetry! IF THERE is beauty, there must be ugliness; If there is right, there must be wrong. Wisdom and ignorance are complementary, And illusion and enlightenment cannot be separated. This is an old truth, don’t think it was discovered recently. “I want this, I want that” Is nothing but foolishness. I’ll tell you a secret— “All things are impermanent!” I N THE entire ten quarte W HO SAYS my poems are poems? My poems are not poems. After you know my poems are not poems, Then we can begin to discuss poetry! IF THERE is beauty, there must be ugliness; If there is right, there must be wrong. Wisdom and ignorance are complementary, And illusion and enlightenment cannot be separated. This is an old truth, don’t think it was discovered recently. “I want this, I want that” Is nothing but foolishness. I’ll tell you a secret— “All things are impermanent!” I N THE entire ten quarters of the Buddha land There is only one vehicle. When we see clearly, there is no difference in all the teachings. What is there to lose? What is there to gain? If we gain something, it was there from the beginning. If we lose anything, it is hidden nearby. I F YOU speak delusions, everything becomes a delusion; If you speak the truth, everything becomes the truth. Outside the truth there is no delusion, But outside delusion there is no special truth.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rosa Frei

    The book ‘One Robe, One Bowl’ contains a beautiful collection of poems by Ryokan, one of the most famous Japanese poets and Soto Zen buddhist monk. The poems give insight into the simple life of this hermit monk. The simplicity of his poems of nature in conjunction of human nature touches the reader in the very heart of his being. A jewel in the world of poetry.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Fran Spellman

    Ryokan was a zen hermit monk in Japan who lived in the mid 1700-1800's and was/is a beloved monk known for his lovely poetry/haikus. Few words w/deep meaning in each of his poems this is a book that will remain at bedside to read each evening. Each word restores the soul: O, that my priest's robe were wide enough to gather up all the suffering people In this floating world. Ryokan.

  18. 5 out of 5

    J BadAss D

    If there is beauty, there must be ugliness; If there is right, there must be wrong. Wisdom and ignorance are complementary, And illusion and enlightenment cannot be separated. This is an old truth, don't think it was discovered recently. I want this, I want that Is nothing but foolishness. I'll tell you a secret - All things are impermanent!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lee Millard

    I can read this book again and again and the enjoyment never fades I love the humanity and emotions of this collection. It is so well translated and interpreted. I feel as the ugh I am there with Ryokan. As if we are friends.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gonpo Dorje

    One one To give no stars is the impossible ultimate rate. To read this from cover to cover in one sitting, the story of a life unfolds. One aging hermit sitting in his hut reading one old hermits rantings brings all to be one

  21. 4 out of 5

    Walter Parsons

    My sleeve is wet with tears Transcendent all inclusive emptiness in a small hermitage in a remote location. One two three four five six seven eight.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    The thief left it behind- the moon at the window.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Gentle and wonderful. I suspect I will come back to this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Raphael d’Urbino

    Good

  25. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey

    “Standing alone beneath a solitary pine; Quickly the time passes. Overhead the endless sky- Who can I call to join me on this path?”

  26. 5 out of 5

    Noah Murphy

    Beautiful Zen poetry by the hermit poet Ryokan. I read these poems to calm down before bed. I can't wait to read more by him.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hemanth

    I rarely read any book twice but Ryokon's poetry was so simple that I had to read each line twice. Profound, simple, and beautiful poetry describing the indescribable solitude of a monk's life.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alison S

    Absolutely loved this. Beautiful and profound. So evocative and poignant.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Meyps

    This is a good buy, a good read. I wanted to learn Japanese/ Chinese, while I was reading this thin volume. I'm sure the original versions of Ryokan's poetry are more lyrical, more touching, in their original form. John Steven's translations though, would suffice.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chitra Divakaruni

    This is one of my favorite books of all time. The beautiful, seemingly simple poems are meditations in themselves. Deep, yet filled with a childlike joy and sometimes a yearning. If you sit in silence with them, they have the potential to change your life.

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