The Great Fool of Zen – Rokyan: Zen Moments #7

Rokyan was a Zen Master but preferred to call himself a Taigu (which means a fool). He lived in a solitary hut called ‘Gogo-An’ in Mount Kugami. He was a hermit but loved to play with children in the nearby village, he himself had a child like simplicity. He never got angry or perturbed by criticism. He didn’t give any sermons but composed simple yet profound & beautiful poetry. Ryokan (1758–1831) is one of the most beloved figures of Zen, renowned for his beautiful verse, exquisite calligraphy, and eccentric character. Deceptively simple, Ryokan’s poems transcend artifice, presenting spontaneous expressions of pure Zen spirit. Like his contemporary Thoreau, Ryokan celebrates nature and the natural life, but his poems touch the whole range of human experience: joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, enlightenment and illusion, love and loneliness.The most famous incident associated with Rokyan is when one evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “He left behind this beautiful moon.”

Rokyan’s Poetry:

#1 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 
And torturing themselves. 
Even if they get what they want 
How long will they be able to enjoy it? 
For one heavenly pleasure 
They suffer ten torments of hell, 
Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone. 
Such people are like monkeys 
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water 
And then falling into a whirlpool. 
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer. 
Despite myself, I fret over them all night 
And cannot staunch my flow of tears.

#2 My Cracked Wooden Bowl

This treasure was discovered in a bamboo thicket — 
I washed the bowl in a spring and then mended it. 
After morning meditation, I take my gruel in it; 
At night, it serves me soup or rice. 
Cracked, worn, weather-beaten, and misshapen 
But still of noble stock!

#3 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.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.

#4 Truly a Dunce

Yes, I’m truly a dunce 
Living among trees and plants. 
Please don’t question me about illusion and enlightenment — 
This old fellow just likes to smile to himself. 
I wade across streams with bony legs, 
And carry a bag about in fine spring weather. 
That’s my life, 
And the world owes me nothing.

#5 Dreams

In this dream world
we doze
and talk of dreams —
dream, dream on,
as much as you wish

#6 Thus I live

In stubborn stupidity, I live on alone
befriended by trees and herbs.
Too lazy to learn right from wrong,
I laugh at myself, ignoring others.
Lifting my bony shanks, I cross the stream,
a sack in my hand, blessed by spring weather.
Living thus, I want for nothing,
at peace with all the world.

#7 You do not need too many things

My house is buried in the deepest recess of the forest
Every year, ivy vines grow longer than the year before.
Undisturbed by the affairs of the world I live at ease,
Woodmen’s singing rarely reaching me through the trees.
While the sun stays in the sky, I mend my torn clothes
And facing the moon, I read holy texts aloud to myself.
Let me drop a word of advice for believers of my faith.
To enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.


February 17, 2012. Tags: , , . Wisdom, Zen.


  1. Chico replied:

    Reblogged this on Red Rock Crossing.

  2. dead zen master criticizes the four noble truths « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality replied:

    […] The Great Fool of Zen Rokyan: Zen Moments #7 ( […]

  3. Sue replied:

    hey ritu…just got a chance to read through your wonderful blog…it was linked over at “The Childfree Life”…….it’s spooky…but we agree on almost every topic:):) it’s amazing to me that there are folks out there who actually think like me!!…most of the folks i meet in my day-to-day life seem to think that i’m some sorta weirdo…cuz i don’t want to have kids, i don’t want to work, i’m on my way to becoming an atheist, i detest materialism, i’m not on facebook and don’t ever intend to be….and so on and so forth…anyhoo, jus wanted to give a shout-out to a like-minded desi gal. cheers!!

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