Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ryokan's final days

for the nun Getsu Ko
Spring 1829. They walk through villages, fields and forests, spending time together, wasting time for there is nothing else to do than wasting and throwing time away to find eternity. Ryokan writes:

Chanting old poems,
Making our own verses,
Playing temari,
Together in the fields
Two people, one heart.

People often see these two wanderers walking side by side, wrapped in mists, burned by rain, soaked in sun. Teishin says:
When a mountain crow
Flies to his home
Shouldn’t he take along
His soft wing
Sweet love?

And Ryokan replies:

I’d love to take
You anywhere
I go,
But won’t people suspect us
Of being lovebirds?

Of course, he doesn’t mind people’s thoughts and judgements, he is used to be teased, swore at, and his eccentric behaviour is well known all over the area. When he plays with children throwing the ball and rolling in the mud, he has no care for appearance. “A great fool” was the name given by his master Kokusen. What he means in this poem is so simple: in his gentle way, he tells Teishin his love, this love in which Dharma and human heart are woven together.

He teaches her that every move comes from and returns to emptiness, she teaches him when she picks up a flower blown away by the wind and sustains its life in a little cup, when she caresses his old skull and just smiles.

Hand in hand, wing-to-wing, birds go so.

The breeze is fresh
The moon so bright,
Let’s dance till dawn
As a farewell to my old age.

One night, as they are just sitting side by side in the dark, Teishin takes a bowl filled with water to her lips. Ryokan stops her and without saying a single word he slowly takes the bowl from her warm hands, he rests it in the palms of his own hands and invites Teishin with a movement of his head to look at the surface of the water. As the ripples gradually fade away, shivering lights start to appear in the bowl, shimmering flames of light. There, the whole night sky lives and breathes within a circle of pure transparency. The full moon and even the grey figures of passing clouds are laid out there.

Then, beaming like a child beholding something wonderful, he carefully places the living bowl into Teishin’s palms and invites her to drink again. She brings it to her lips. Slowly, very slowly, she drinks the water filled with moon, stars and clouds, a pure gift of the boundless presence, a pure gift of the foolish monk’s caring love. Teishin feels the whole night sky permeating her entire being.

Ryokan doesn’t say a word, he looks at her, he looks into her eyes for a long moment and then he says:

“Circle in circle, night in night, Teishin, where are we now but in a simple bowl?”Ryokan strokes Teishin’s hair and skin with his long dark fingers, he softly blows on her face. She rests her head on his shoulder and lets go of her body. The old monk takes the bowl and with a gentle smile throws it to the ground. The bowl breaks into pieces.

Up above, in the vast reaches, clouds, moon and stars are now filled with Ryokan and Teishin’s eyes.

kesa made of eveything and nothing


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