YOU DO NOT NEED 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.
"TOO LAZY TO BE AMBITIOUS"
Ryokan never published a collection of verse while alive. His practice consisted of sitting in zazen meditation, walking in the woods, playing with children, making his daily begging rounds, reading and writing poetry, doing calligraphy, and on occasion drinking wine with friends. Ryokan had no disciples and ran no temple; in the eyes of the world he was a penniless monk who spent his life in the snow country of Mount Kugami.
Ryokan san was born in Izumozaki, a little south of Niigata city. He became a priest at 18 and met his teacher Kokusen Roshi while Roshi was traveling to various temples to teach. Ryokan san was so impressed that he immediately left with Kokusen Roshi and returned with him to Entsuji. There, he devoted himself to training and became Kokusen Roshi's closest student. When Kokusen Roshi died, Ryokan san inherited the temple. But, temple master's life did not suit him and he left, wandering around Shikoku and Kyoto area for many years.
He returned to his home town and settled in a little hut, Gogoan, on Mt. Kugami. There, he practiced takuhatsu (begging), and writing poetry in his unique calligraphic style. Ryokan san loved children and often forgot about this begging rounds while he engaged in games with them. He was extremely gentle and was never known to raise his voice in anger or annoyance. His kindness was legendary.
Once while he was away from his hut, a thief came and stole his few possessions. When Ryokan san returned, the thief was just leaving and he saw that one possession had been left behind. Ryokan san picked up the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him. Later he wrote this poem:
The thief left it there
There in the window frame -
The shining moon.
When Ryokan san was 70, he met a nun named Teishin, and they fell in love. She was 28 and also a poet. They met rarely, but exchanged some of the most beautiful love poems in world literature during the three years they knew one another. When Ryokan san was dying, Teishin was sent for and she held him as he died. Because of her devotion to him, his poems have been given to the world. Teishin collected and published his work until her own death at about age 75.
"Who says my poems are poems?
These poems are not poems.
When you can understand this,
then we can begin to speak of poetry."