My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ikkyū Sōjun was the Howard Stern of Zen masters. Born in 1394, he lived through most of the 15th century. Ikkyū served as a temple’s abbot for less than two weeks before he quit in disgust, vowing to move into a red-light district—apparently he wanted to live among people he found more honest and less hypocritical. The Zen master despised the corruption and snobbery of monastic politics.
Crow with no Mouth is a collection of Ikkyū’s verse, which is largely in the Zen tradition–featuring natural subjects and simple wisdom in a sparse style. Of course, as per my comments in the preceding paragraph, there are a few poems on topics such as cunnilingus and debauchery—so it’s not what one would call a child-friendly collection (unless one enjoys explaining the sexual exploits of a lecherous monk to one’s child.) The more explicit poems may seem like a diversion from the Zen path, but perhaps not. Maybe Ikkyū offered them as a way to train the mind, to observe one’s reaction to shocking commentary as a means of changing one’s way of thinking.
A few of my favorite lines of a more traditional nature include:
-“you can’t make cherry blossoms by tearing off petals to plant; only spring does that”
-“sometimes all I am is dark emptiness; I can’t hide in the sleeves of my own robes”
-“it’s logical: if you’re not going anywhere any road is the right one”
-“the edges of the sword are life and death; no one knows which is which”
-“even in its scabbard my sword sees you”
-“a flower held up twirled between human fingers; a smile barely visible”
-“in war there’s no time to teach or learn Zen; carry a strong stick; bash your attackers”
Here are a few of those jarring lines that I mentioned above:
-“that stone Buddha deserves all the bird shit it gets”
-“all koans just lead you on but not the delicious pussy of the young girls I go down on”
-“ten fussy days running this temple all red tape; look me up if you want o in the bar whorehouse fish market”
-“my dying teacher could not wipe himself; unlike you disciples who use bamboo; I cleaned his lovely ass with my bare hands”
-“don’t hesitate get laid that’s wisdom; sitting around chanting, what crap”
-“who teaches truth? good/bad the wrong way; Crazy Cloud knows the taste of his own shit” [Crazy Cloud was Ikkyū’s name for himself.]
When he left the monastery, Ikkyū shredded the certificate that served as his monastic credential. Some of his students found it, and pieced it back together. That led to the following verse:
-“one of you saved my satori paper I know it piece by piece; you pasted it back together; now watch me burn it once and for all”
Ikkyū’s verse asks us to reevaluate what it means to be sacred or profane. The orthodox view would be that Ikkyū fell from the sacred life of a monk. However, Ikkyū tells us that one can degrade what is important by raising the wrong things to sacred status. Conversely, some of what we believe to be profane is just rooted in habitual and ill-reasoned ways of thinking.
I’d recommend this work for those who love the spare form of Japanese poetry, and who don’t mind a hard jolt to their psyche occasionally.
I’m back from Sri Lanka, with lots of photos and experiences. Above is a picture taken at the Temple of the Tooth, a.k.a. Sri Dalada Maligawa. This temple is an important site for many Buddhists as it houses a relic in the form of one of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha’s teeth.
I.) New teachers and coaches often over-rely on their personal experience. In other words, one may think that the skills that came easily for one will be a piece of cake for one’s students as well. Conversely, such a teacher tends to be more sympathetic and lax when it comes to skills that kicked his or her own ass. This may work for some students, but it’ll be way off the mark for others. There’s a risk of pushing students too hard on skills that may be dangerous for them, and / or not helping them achieve a breakthrough that they are capable of because of one’s own baggage.
II.) The next level of coach recognizes that there are different body types. Such teachers put this knowledge to use in determining what skills present greater or lesser risk for a student given the strength, power, speed, flexibility, etc. associated with such a body. This coach will recommend modifications and capacity building exercises based on the student’s body type.
III.) Then there is the coach or teacher who can see the individual idiosyncrasies of a given student’s body and make recommendations based the unique conditions, strengths, and weaknesses of a particular person.
From the Pest-side looking toward the Palace (Királyi Palota) on the Buda-side. The Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd) over the Danube is in the foreground.
Once upon a time, an old man was married to a shrew. The couple lived in the countryside on the edge of a mountain forest. They had no children, but the man befriended one of the sparrows that resided in the adjacent forest. The old man fed the sparrow, offering whatever he had to the small bird.
Over time, the man and the sparrow grew almost inseparable. However, one day the man had to go into town to buy provisions. It may have been that the man chose that particular day for his errand because his horrid wife was most ill-tempered on laundry days, and that was a laundry day.
While the husband was away, the sparrow came around. Seeing a pile of starch, the sparrow pecked at it. Infuriated, the old woman snatched up the bird in one hand and a scissors in the other, and she snipped part of the bird’s tongue out. Then as she tossed the sparrow free, she said, “Away with you. That’ll teach you to get into my starch.”
The bird flew deep into the mountains.
When the husband returned, he inquired as to whether his wife had seen the bird. The sparrow was usually around the homestead at that time of day.
The hag proudly told the husband of her actions and how she’d punished the insolent bird.
The old man lost no time in trudging out into the forest to try to make sure his friend was alright. He called out to the sparrow, but there was no response. He feared his wife had wounded the bird even more than she’d boasted. Eventually, exhaustion forced the old man to give up his search. He prayed that the little bird would be alright, but he couldn’t keep looking for it.
A couple of years later, the man was foraging for mushrooms in the forest when he ran into the sparrow. The sparrow invited the man back to his home.
The sparrow offered the man food, refreshments, and even accommodations as they took several days to catch up on the events of each other’s lives. The sparrow now had a family and was doing well.
After a few days of catching up, the old man decided that he must get back, but he promised to come back around to visit occasionally. (The sparrow was reasonably reluctant to visit the man at his home with the vile woman around.) The sparrow family offered the old man a choice of parting gift, they presented two woven baskets. The baskets appeared identical, but one was light and the other was heavy. The old man didn’t feel deserving of a gift, but he took the lighter basket. He had to take one to avoid offending his host, but he didn’t wish to be greedy.
When the man got home, he was berated by the shrew for being away so long. She then interrogated him about the new basket. The man told his wife the entire story, including about how the sparrows offered him two baskets, and how he’d taken the lighter one.
His wife snatched the lid off of the basket and investigated its contents. She found that the reason the basket was so light was that it contained just a few precious jewels and several gold coins. By weight it wasn’t much, but its value was considerable.
The wife thought, Hm. I’ll go visit the sparrows. I’ll make a little apology for snipping at the bird’s tongue, and when they offer me my parting gift, I’ll be smart enough to take the heavy basket. Just imagine the riches it must contain.
The wife tricked her husband into giving her directions, saying she wanted to make a heartfelt apology. She then went to visit the sparrow family. She made a half-hearted apology for injuring the sparrow, claiming she’d only meant to scare him but the scissors had gotten away from her. The meeting was awkward and the sparrows were relieved to have the woman going on her way.
They offered the woman a choice of parting gifts as well. The woman lifted both baskets. Just as her husband had said, one basket was light and the other was heavy. She lugged the heavy basket up on her back, and without even saying her good-byes she sped toward her home as quickly as her legs would carry her. She had fantasies about what she would do with her new-found wealth.
It wasn’t long before she needed a break because the basket was heavy and her legs weren’t used to such a burden. Standing on the forest trail, the couldn’t resist peaking at her riches. The woman tugged the lid off and dove her head into the mouth of the basket to see what precious jewels, gold, and silver would greet her. However, what lurched out was an evil ogre, enveloped in a mist of demon spirits.
Clutching her chest, the old woman had a heart attack in the face of the horrific contents of her basket, dying where she had stood.