Thursday, July 09, 2009

Zen Master Ryokan- The "Great Fool"

Taigu Ryokan (1758-1831) is one of Japan's best-loved mendicant Zen monks and poet-calligraphers. The topmost photo shows a memorial erected at his birthplace in Izumozaki, Niigata.
Most of his life was spent far from the madding crowd in Echigo Province, as Niigata Prefecture was known in his day, an area of fertile rice fields and rich fisheries some 350km from the capital, Edo, as Tokyo was then called.
According to Minakami Tsutomu, writing in 1984, "Wordly people call him different things: fool, wise man, idiot, man of the Way. He never flatters the rich and important, nor disdains the poor and humble. He isn't happy when he gets things or sad when he loses them. He just goes along, natural, relaxed, a man who has transcended the dust of the world." Maxims to live by, I think.
The daily Niigata Nippo newspaper publishes on its front page a poem by Ryokan every day. There are "In the Footsteps of Ryokan" tours offered by towns and villages through which he was wont to pass, begging for alms. The hut in which he spent the latter part of his life is preserved and annually receives thousands of visitors from all over Japan.
That the Japanese lavish so much attention on poets and writers is one of the things I love about the country.

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