Feb 14 2014

Ikkyu – Every day, priests minutely examine the Law

Published by at 9:16 am under Poetry

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
by Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

English version by Sonya Arutzen

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.

— from Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan, by Ikkyu / Translated by Sonya Arutzen

/ Photo by Inebriantia /

So short and sweet, we almost don’t notice its deep cut into our pretenses.

If we want to be learned, then we can read the scriptures, memorize them, chant them. But if we want true knowledge, then we must do something much harder — step outside and fall silent. When we can do that, and recognize the hidden touch behind it all, only then have we really understood what we’ve been studying all that time.

A reminder to step outside and receive the world’s love letter…

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)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Ikkyu – Every day, priests minutely examine the Law”

  1. steveon 14 Feb 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Been a fan of IKKYU since Koyoto in 1998, when i visited Lake Biwa
    and surrounding temples and villages.
    Named my meditation cottage (zendo) Blind donkey
    after him.

  2. jeanon 14 Feb 2014 at 5:47 pm

    wow,was it a poetry l just come to read or.was it a
    sudden wind blowing,playing with my unawareness?or
    was it a pale reflect of the moon in my cup of tee,again ? l felt
    things was mooving ,never be the same again,l felt alone
    ,in the black forest anchanted,and walk on a beach ,where
    no one ever walked before.l felt happy and content,l felt l was
    right,right all this time,for years and years,since always l was
    right.There is an army of wrong ,stupid , arrogant ones,who live ,who
    think they live and
    underestimate all their existence the power of Love.
    Even they all know,they love love but chose hate.fight.suffering!
    Peace? noo.not for them they think,beeee they think
    They read books ,they b e a l i v e.they bealive !

    what was that? a clear ,untached waters running from mountains

    lets soak our feets then,let s plonge our hands
    those are not ordinary worlds,those are Ikkyu”s

  3. Jack Lauon 14 Feb 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks Ivan for this poem.
    I am a Catholic Priest and I will be beginning Sundays sermons with Ikkya poem. (it goes with the sentiments of Jesus speaking that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God.” I know this text is more about the now than the Pharisees. I lived in an ashram in Southern India that my community founded in the early 1990s and so the desire and need to share sacred wisdom is all important. http://www.aanmodayaashram.org/
    Thank you so very much,
    Om Shanti,

  4. mason mooreon 15 Feb 2014 at 11:38 am

    Will you let me place this on twitter?

  5. Ivan M. Grangeron 15 Feb 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Absolutely, mason. Feel free to share on Twitter.

  6. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 16 Feb 2014 at 8:08 am

    Thank you, Ivan, for your choice today and thank you, Jack, for connecting this poem to the words of Jesus: “Unless your righteousness surpasses. . .”
    I love the last lines of Ikkyu’s poem:” . . . love
    letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.”
    We certainly are getting plenty of love letters
    here in the North East these winter days. Now to take them in and breathe love out.

  7. Madhuon 16 Feb 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Love Ikkyu’s poem, reminds me of Mirza Ghalib’s poetry. Thank you.

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