Biography of Taigu Ryokan
Ryōkan was born in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in Japan to the village headman. He renounced the world at an early age to train at nearby Sōtō Zen temple Kōshōji, refusing to meet with or accept charity from his family. Once the Zen master Kokusen visited the temple, and Ryōkan was deeply impressed with his demeanor. He solicited permission to become Kokusen's disciple. Kokusen accepted, and the two returned to Entsūji monastery in Tamashima (now Okayama Prefecture).
It was at Entsūji that Ryōkan attained satori and was presented with an Inka by Kosusen. Kokusen died the following year, and Ryōkan left Entsūji to embark on a long pilgrimage. He lived much of the rest of his life as a hermit, and did not return to monastic life.
He was originally ordained as Ryōkan Taigu. Ryō means "good", kan means "broad", and Taigu means "great fool"; Ryōkan would thus translate as "broad-hearted generous fool", referring to qualities that Ryōkan's work and life embodies.
Ryōkan spent much of his time writing poetry, calligraphy, and communing with nature. His poetry is often very simple and inspired by nature. He loved children, and sometimes forgot to beg for food because he was playing with the children of the nearby village. Ryōkan refused to accept any position as a priest or even as a "poet", which shows his great humility. In the tradition of Zen his quotes and poems show he had a good sense of humour and didn't take himself too seriously. However his poetry also gives illumining insights into the practise of Zen.
Taigu Ryokan's Works:
Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan
Taigu Ryokan Poems
Too Lazy To Be Ambitious
Too lazy to be ambitious, I let the world take care of itself. Ten days' worth of rice in my bag; a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Have You Forgotten Me
have you forgotten me or lost the path here? i wait for you all day, every day
I Watch People In The World
I watch people in the world Throw away their lives lusting after things, Never able to satisfy their desires, Falling into deeper despair
The Thief Left It Behind
The thief left it behind: the moon at my window.
First Days Of Spring - The Sky
First days of Spring-the sky is bright blue, the sun huge and warm. Everything's turning green.
Blending With The Wind
Blending with the wind, Snow falls; Blending with the snow, The wind blows.
in this dream world we doze and talk of dreams -- dream, dream on,
you must rise above the gloomy clouds covering the mountaintop
My legacy -- What will it be? Flowers in spring, The cuckoo in summer,
at dusk i often climb to the peak of kugami. deer bellow,
today's begging is finished; at the crossroads i wander by the side of hachiman shrine talking with some children. last year, a foolish monk;
Midsummer -- I walk about with my staff. Old farmers spot me And call me over for a drink.
“When, when?” I sighed. The one I longed for Has finally come; With her now,
My Cracked Wooden Bowl
This treasure was discovered in a bamboo thicket -- I washed the bowl in a spring and then mended it.
i often climb
to the peak of kugami.
soaked up by
piles of maple leaves
lying undisturbed at
the foot of the mountain.