Friday, 5 March 2010


Listening to the silent sound
Of the moss-covered stream
I feel myself grow calm and transparent
As the soundless sound of the covered current!

"One evening a thief visited Ryōkan's hut at the base of
the mountain only to discover there was nothing to steal.
Ryōkan 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. Ryōkan sat naked, watching the moon.
"Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could have given
him this beautiful moon." This story may be an
interpretation of an account mentioned by Ryōkan
in a haiku:"

The thief
Left it behind-
The moon at the window.

Zen poetry and stories had long enthralled me. I trained
in sitting with Alan Liebman (a student of Desimaru)
who lives and teaches Zen in Ireland. Ryōkan's poetry
which reveals his playful and deeply awakened nature
reached right into my core and a longing to visit
Japan arose in me. Donal (my brother who had lived in
Japan for some years)invited himself to be my guide.
I accepted somewhat reluctantly conscious of our very
different interests. Donal was a very deeply committed
traditional catholic priest going back to visit his
friends and former parishioners,and I was searching
for the Zen spirit.
Ryōkan's " Gogo An" on Mt.Kugami and a Zen retreat in
Eiheiji Temple were the focus of my trip.
When it came to visit Mt. Kugami Donal phoned the
Local Inn (the only one within about twenty miles)
to be told we couldn't stay there as they had never
had foreign visitors and wouldn't know how to cope
with us. Only when Donal reassured them by explaining
that he had lived in Japan for along time and
understood their customs would they relent and
welcome us.
So it was thanks to my catholic brother that I got to
visit the remote hermitage on Mt. Kugami. Thanks to him
also that we had a wonderful evening enjoying warmed Saki
(Japanese style) while reading Ryōkan's poetry.

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