Recently I've been reading John Stevens's Zen Poetry of Ryokan. Ryokan was born 251 years ago in Echigo Province, as Niigata was then known. A couple of years ago I visited his birthplace, Izumozaki, as well as the nearby hermitage Gogo-an, where he spent the latter part of his life. The late novelist Yasunari Kawabata as well as the renowned author of books on Zen Buddhism, Daisetz Suzuki, have said that one who wishes to understand the Japanese psyche can do no better than read Ryokan-sama. The following poem is one of my many favorites:
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've nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after
so many things.