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Thread: Curious Ryokan Poetry

  1. #1
    Senior Member Genshin's Avatar
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    Curious Ryokan Poetry

    Reading Ryokan again last night and found this verse. To my foolish mind it's like a riddle.

    My hand holds a cane made of rabbit horn.
    My body is wrapped with a robe of flowers in the sky.
    My feet are clad in shoes made of tortoise hair.
    My lips chant a poem of no sound.
    I have no idea what this means. Maybe it has no meaning?

    Thoughts?

    Gassho
    Matt

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Emptiness. Vacuum.

    Nothingness.

    Yet, it's all in me.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by MattW View Post
    Reading Ryokan again last night and found this verse. To my foolish mind it's like a riddle.

    My hand holds a cane made of rabbit horn.
    My body is wrapped with a robe of flowers in the sky.
    My feet are clad in shoes made of tortoise hair.
    My lips chant a poem of no sound.


    I have no idea what this means. Maybe it has no meaning?

    Thoughts?
    Actually, a very excellent example about how folks think that old Zen guys speak "nonsense" or are "beyond expression and words", when it is just that modern folks are not familiar with the poetic references, ancient slang, puns and jokes and the like that many of the old Koans etc. contain.

    In this case, the reference is all to things which are illusory, imaginary ... empty of true self existence.

    You see, rabbits do not have horns, flowers in the sky are mirages, reptile tortoises do not have hair. The very tangible cane in one's hand, robe and shoes on one's feet are just so too ... when seen with the eyes of Buddha. Just so, the poem one chants is ultimately silent.

    So, yes, actually, going beyond that ... it is "beyond expression and words".

    Dogen, just to mention, used to like to turn these references upside down ... so for him, the illusory like flowers in the sky, or a painted cake, spun around back again to be as real as real can be. Rev. Kyogen Carlson of Dharma Rain offers this explanation ...

    Another metaphor that turns up in the sutras refers to “a fault of vision.” It can be found at the end of the Diamond Sutra: “Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world, a fault of vision, a bubble in a stream, a phantasm, a dream.” “Fault of vision” translated literally from the Sanskrit is “flowers in the sky.” This refers to the effect that someone with cataracts sees when looking toward a light source. The cataracts create refractions rather like circular rainbows of color. Looking into the sky there can be a number of these, like “flowers in the sky.” As a metaphor in the sutras it is a way of talking about illusion, or a false perception of things. Stepping on a rope and thinking it’s a snake would be “a fault of vision” or “flowers in the sky.”

    When the Chinese translate the phrase “flowers in the sky,” an interesting thing happens. The Chinese words for “sky” and “emptiness” are the same. The Japanese pronunciation for the Chinese version of the phrase “flowers in the sky” is kuge. Ku is “sky” and ge is “flower”, and ku also means “emptiness”. Dogen loves this parallel and really works with it.

    In the fascicle called Kuge (Flowers of Emptiness) in the Shobogenzo, he says that the optical illusion of flowers in the sky can be understood in a number of ways. It is a “fault of vision” that clears up when we understand it as such, but it is also a phenomenon that arises because of conditions, a dharma like anything else. The Diamond Sutra points this out in reverse by saying all things are like a fault of vision. But Dogen takes it further. Just as suffering causes us to seek the Dharma, illusion, a form of suffering, causes us to seek enlightenment. It should be appreciated for what it is, the cause of enlightenment itself. Of those who wish to cut off this illusion, he says:

    "They think kuge should be abandoned; they fail to realize its deep meaning. Just as Buddhas sow the seed of the Buddhist Way among the people and enlightenment together with practice brings it to fruition i.e., liberation, so does kuge sow the seed of universal emptiness... Unfortunately, most students cannot look behind the phenomenal world".
    http://www.dharma-rain.org/?p=stillpoint06_0506-kyogen

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I would say the one exception to "rabbits with horns" are these Jack-a-lope fellows who can be seen on postcards at roadside tourist traps alone highways across America.

    Last edited by Jundo; 04-13-2013 at 02:41 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Senior Member Genshin's Avatar
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    Thank you Jundo. Great explanation!

    Gassho
    Matt

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