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Ryokan : Zen Monk-poet of Japan

Watson, Burton
Format: Paperback
Publisher: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS
Published: April 14, 1992
ISBN: 9780231044158
126 pages, Ill.

£19.50

Ryokan (1758-1831), a Buddhist monk in the Zen sect, was a major figure in Tokugawa poetry. Although a Zen master, he never headed a temple but chose to live alone in simple huts and to support himself by begging. His poems are mainly a record of his daily activities – of chores and outings to gather firewood and edible plants, lonely snow-bound winters, begging expeditions to town, meetings with friends, romps with the village children.

At the same time they show us how contented, even joyous, a man could be with a minimum of material possessions, and how rich a spiritual and intellectual life he could enjoy in the midst of poverty. Ryokan’s unusual personality and outlook are evident in this volume. His Japanese poems (waka) were influenced by the poets of the 8th century Man’yoshu anthology.

83 representative works are presented here. He also wrote Chinese poems (kanshi), some doctrinal in nature and many inspired by Han-shan, a Buddhist recluse and master of Cold Mountain. 43 of these are included in the collection.

To enrich the text, the original Japanese poems are provided in Romanized form. Also included is an explanation of the Buddhist practice of begging for food.

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