Aug 12 2011

Ikkyu – only one koan matters

Published by at 8:37 am under Poetry

only one koan matters
by Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

English version by Stephen Berg

only one koan matters

— from Crow With No Mouth: Fifteenth Century Zen Master Ikkyu, Translated by Stephen Berg

/ Photo by James Bowe /

I haven’t felt verbal this week, so a poem in five words for today.

Have you figured this koan out?


All this week my thoughts have been very much with the cities in Britain that are in tumult. Difficult social issues playing out, with similar dynamics in many countries. I hope everyone is staying safe. And a reminder to us all that when the riots stop, that’s when the real work must begin.

Much love to everyone this week…

Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun), Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun) poetry, Buddhist poetry Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Japan (1394 – 1481) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Ikkyu Sojun’s poetry is irreverent and iconoclastic, bitingly critical of false piety, hypocrisy, and formalistic religion. His poetry is often frankly erotic, sometimes humorously so. Yet his poetry manages to reach an immediacy and insight that is the essence of Zen practice.

Ikkyu Sojun was appointed to be the head priest of the great temple at Kyoto, but he renounced the position after just nine days, denouncing the hypocrisy he saw among the monks around him. In a famous line from one of his poems, he told his fellow monks they could find him in the local brothel instead.

Though clearly not of an ascetic temperament, Ikkyu was a poet, calligrapher, and musician who viewed the world with a deep insight that permitted no pretense, favoring direct truth over religious and social facades.

He founded what became known as the Red Thread (or erotic) school of Zen.

More poetry by Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

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11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Ikkyu – only one koan matters”

  1. Glendaon 12 Aug 2011 at 11:08 am

    Your thoughts for the day are words of truth. Truth needs no I.D. signature.

  2. Jacquion 12 Aug 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts regarding Britain. Things are a little quieter now. Many social issues. The mind is confused.
    Meditation is required to shut out other peoples ‘opinions’ and seek some truth.

    Lovely koan


  3. isabel Tippleon 12 Aug 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Thanks for the thought for the day – it is so welcome, always inspiring. It clarifies muddy waters. Energy certainly being shaken up here in the UK. Not always a bad thing. Like Jaqui says, many questions, not necesarily easy answers but many wise words have been spoken in our media and serious issues about the way we should live are ‘on the table’. Will ‘right action ‘ follow? I guess it’s up to all of us.

  4. Gerryon 12 Aug 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I have always found your thought for the day especially inspiring and I’m very glad to know they are your creation.
    The koan is an interesting change from the usual spiritual poem and the poet is as interesting as the koan.
    I agree that the turmoil in the UK is tragic and I hope to learn more about the issues. I’m an American who tends to be an Anglophile … idealizing the country and its people.
    I’m grateful for all you give us, Ivan. You help this old woman ponder and learn!

  5. yohannanon 12 Aug 2011 at 5:05 pm

    What a koan!
    Absolutely genious I think.About thoughts of the day ,they are so goood ,I was always thinking that there was from”anonymus”writers…until today.And yes about UK,Israel now, and beyond,they all may join Ikkyou’s real “you” .Amen.

  6. Larry Coonradton 12 Aug 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Maybe we are the KOAN Thank you for your work, it is like a short brief interlude from the insanities of this insane world, the first sip of coffee or tea in the morning,

    May GOD continue to BLESS YOU and your FAMILY

  7. Dola Dasguptaon 12 Aug 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Ivan, each poem you send has a message for me for that day, is what I have been experiencing. And thank you so much for your thoughts of the day. I particularly resonated with one a few weeks ago “It was the boundless in you.”

    I broke into tears of gratitude and self love when I read those lines! Simply because the boundless in me was wounded for too long and I am releasing it now!

    Today’s poem is leading me closer to the key that is opening my heart. Each one of us has the same essence within, but a different key to get it! That is the Oneness and also the uniqueness of each soul….

    Thank you for everything.

  8. Subhan Alion 12 Aug 2011 at 10:17 pm

    R/Ivan, You are good at heart and arouse good sensivities in others too. Roits are not the solution of any problem. The problems may be resolved amicably sitting face to face. Roits rather create chaotic situation and increase the problems of those too who cause the roits. We should all inculacate the feelings of brotherhood in the world. No caste, creed, race, complexion. All in one, world-family.
    ………… Subhan Ali

  9. Janeton 13 Aug 2011 at 12:58 am

    I love the thought of the day! Your thoughts are so beautifully crafted and always open the poems up for me. Thanks Ian.

  10. sanaon 13 Aug 2011 at 6:24 am

    amazing poem and love your thoughts of the day. simply perfect!

  11. nasihaon 13 Aug 2011 at 7:15 am

    beautiful..many many thanks. it is always a pleasure being here, every visit to chaikhana “happies-up” my day..

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