Lost Coin has been discussing and presenting the role of arts in practice. These practices in Zen are often referred to as “Ways”. They include painting, tea ceremony, martial arts, and many other forms – in this case poetry. As Zen establishes itself in the west our contemporary art and sciences will merge with and become vehicles for the practice of the way. This fine entry by John Greer is about the famous wandering poet and Zen practitioner Ryoken and about the contemporary experiences of Anthropology Professor and Lost Coin practitioner John Greer. – Doen
Going out to beg this spring day
I stopped to pick violets—
Oh! The day is over!
This poem was written by the 18th century Japanese Zen hermit monk and poet Ryokan. Ryokan wrote a lot of poetry on the subject of his day to day experiences as a Zen hermit who, however, lived a life, not of complete solitude, but of interpersonal interaction withthe people of a village not far from his hermitage. In particular, he loved to play with children and he developed regular relationships with individuals from whom he received his livelyhood. He made his living by begging. He was a Zen master, though he was never the head of a monastery or temple and never even taught students formally. But it looks to me that he taught through his interaction with the people he met in the market place of the village.
I am very much attracted to his poetry, in particular because he often sings in it about something that I love: getting lost and finding the unexpected wonder. Getting lost, forgetting time, forgetting where you are and even for a moment who you are. You may forget, as Ryokan did in the above poem, what you intended to do when you started out – even something as important as making your living. You might have an experience that makes it worth the loss of a day’s wages. Don’t we all have this kind of experience once in a while – the discovery, maybe only momentarily, that we already have everything that we need?
I’m no poet, but Ryokan has inspired me to try. So here goes. After going out for my daily morning “shikan-walking” (Just walking) 5 mile hike the other day I wrote the following:
Walking the same hiking route
I don’t know when I will return.
Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling,
I don’t know where I am.
Wait! I’m home.
You don’t have to travel far to get lost. Getting lost, not knowing, it’s always been right here, but it’s seen as if for the first time. We are always home.
Another poem by Ryokan:
LONELINESS: spring has already passed.
Silence: I close the gate.
From heaven, darkness; the wisteria arbor is no longer
The stairway is overgrown with herbs
And the rice bag hangs from the fence.
Deep stillness, long isolated from the world.
All night the hototogisu cries.
If anybody is interested in Ryokan’s poetry, there’s a small collection plus biography titled One Robe, One Bowl, translated by John Stevens.