A must-read book of Zen poetry

Some of the finest poetry I have read is spiritual–be it Bharathi, Andal, or Tagore; and, most recently, Gowri Ramnaryan called that fine Marathi poet, Arun Kolatkar the bhakti poet of our times.

Thanks to Pradeep Sebastian, whose literary taste I respect a lot, and whose recommendations had never disappointed me, I have found another Bhakti poet–Ryokan. Following Sebastian’s recommendation last Sunday, I managed to get a first edition copy of One Robe, One Bowl from the Evanston library; as an added bonus, the library copy is inscribed by John Stevens himself — apparently, he grew up in Evanston.

Ryokan’s poetry is about rain, mist, flowers, and his playing with children. He is also very perceptive–he notices the broken heart of the beautiful girl, when no one else notices:

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.

He cries; and he cries alone; he cries not only for his youth, but also for the loneliness in life and death, and wasted lives:

Walking along a narrow path at the foot of a mountain
I come to an ancient cemetery filled with countless tombstones
And thousand-year-old oaks and pines
The day is ending with a lonely, plaintive wind
The names on the tombs are completely faded,
And even the relatives have forgotten who they were.
Choked with tears, unable to speak,
I take my staff and return home.

And, he teaches without teaching, for, for the observant, it is clear that, when

Passers-by point and laugh at me, asking,
“What is the reason for such foolishness?”

All he does is

No answer I give, only a deep bow;


Even if I replied, they would not understand

But, if they stopped and contemplated on the apparent foolishness of his actions, they will realise that

There is nothing besides this.

So, here is 55 pages of bliss waiting to be picked up! Have fun!

2 Responses to “A must-read book of Zen poetry”

  1. A painting, an essay and some music « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] some music That is Uma’s tribute to Tagore on his birthday; by a strange coincidence, I listed him along with other Bhakti poets in a post of mine today. Let me pay my tribute by quoting my favourite lines from Gitanjali: Thou […]

  2. Dorothy Says:

    Poetry, Books, how can we get our children to encounter the beauty of poetry?
    The language so pure, one must breathe and listen in order to understand. I wonder… thank you for the momentary step away from life, as I read some of the poems.

    Regards, Dorothy

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