Tag Archives: Poetry

Review: One Robe, One Bowl – The Zen Poetry of Ryokan, translated and introduced by John Stevens

One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of RyokanOne Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan by John Stevens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This translation and introduction by John Stevens is highly recommended for its beauty. It is also a marvellous introduction to the way of living of the Japanese hermit-monk Ryokan

One example: after returning to his small hut – metaphor for clinging to his earthly ego? – Ryokan noticed that all was gone, he composed the haiku:

The thief left behind
the moon
At the window.

Another translation of this haiku:

The thief leaves behind,
the ever changeful Moon
at the firmament

Moon is often used to refer to Tao; it also indicates the firm belief of Ryokan.

View all my reviews


Introduction: One – Solipsism

On our Odyssey you and I will encounter three obvious classics. Classics are views and ideas that do not suit anybody (completely), but are still worth studying to progress further. We make in this introduction a short detour along the three classics, “Solipsism”, “The universe is but a dream” and “Pantheism”.


Solipsism knows and recognizes only one single consciousness that completely coincides with the awereness of the observer. In the original form of solipsism, there is no existence outside the consciousness of the observer. On our Odyssey, you and I will encounter many elements and forms of Solipsism.


At the first stage – described in chapter one – the oneness includes at first sight several features of Solipsism, but the oneness can easily avoid Solipsism, because oneness at this stage will be soon divided in two or more parts, and it may not be excluded that all these parts have a separate consciousness. In addition, one is the recurring initial divider of every prime.

At the second and third stage we will not easily encounter solipsism.

At the fifth stage, each of the five basic realities may easily degenerate into Solipsism, because every reality may regard itself as the only true consciousness within which everything is fully and completely enclosed, e.g.:

  • Only natural science based on facts and logic is true: everything else is a delusion or worse. In this extreme form natural science migrates to religion, and currently religion is not included within the competence of natural science.
  • Only feeling matters. Everything else is a reality from where we should keep ourselves.
  • “Only in the void I can live, elsewhere I never found shelter[3]”. This is a pitfall for zealous practitioners of meditation. As lured by the Sirens [4] these practitioners are attracted into the void putting aside the other realities.
  • Everything changes and only change counts[5].
  • All is fully interconnected: outside this interconnectedness nothing exists. At the last stage on our Odyssey named “Zero – not one, not two” we will see how this manner of Solipsism is surpassed.

At our seventh stage we will encounter elements of Solipsism in all seven entities, e.g.:

  • In the reality of Ishvara[6] – where you and I will meet god, gods and religion – only the reality of the own god, gods or religion is recognised as the existing reality. Other gods and religions are often contested with all possible means. Only the own god/gods and religion is regarded as the sole true reality outside which nothing exists (or is allowed to exist).
  • Only the reality of “here and now” exists. Everything else is unimportant or does not exist.

At the end of our Odyssey on our homecoming at “Zero – not one, not two” we will look back if every manner of solipsism in the seven realities is surpassed.

The next post will cover the second classic “The universe is but a dream”.

[1] See also: http://www.iep.utm.edu/solipsis/

[2] Source of image: http://www.huubmous.nl/2010/02/01/het-solipsisme-van-een-kind/

[3] Free rendering of a verse written by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff  “Only in my poems I may live, elsewhere I never found shelter”.

[4] See also Homerus’ Odyssey.

[5] See also Heraklitus:  “πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει”” meaning “everything changes and nothing remains untouched”. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraclitus

[6] A philosophical concept of God in Hinduism, see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishvara. In  Sanskrit the word “Ishvara” consists of the noun “ish” meaning “god, ruler” – Wherein the German word “ich” may be recognised –, the noun “va” meaning “wind, ocean, water, stream, going” and the root “ra” meaning “give, influence”. Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta.

Introduction: One



Dust[2] ascended in the trunk[3]

To the beginning of a bud

Emerging in the spring light

The bud[4] shows a blossom fan[5]

Her beauty in full glory

In one sigh elapsed

Confident the blossom petal falls

From the bud downwards

Whirling in a cloud with the wind[6]

A blanket of fingerprints on the ground

Footed by the world

Gone to dust[7]


This poem may also be read as retrograde. In the paragraph “No time, no Change” in chapter 7 you and I will meet the mystics including amongst others the role of a flower [5].

[1] Source of image: JvL

[2] See also: Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall”. Before the separation of air and earth (see also the second stage during our Odyssey), the transgression of void to dust and dust to dust reflect the different manifestations of the complete oneness. At our homecoming (see the last stage “zero”) you and I hope to return within the complete oneness. Have we ever been away?

[3] “When dust is lifted, the land flourishes. When dust is taken, void arises”. This is a free rendering of koan 61 from the Hekiganroku. See:Yamada Kôun Roshi, Hekiganroku, Die Niederschrift vom blauen Fels. München: Kösel-Verlag, 2002.

[4] In Sankrit the name Buddha consists of the noun “bud” meaning “bud or knop” as “bud” in rosebud in the film “Citizen Kane” directed by Orson Wells – and the root “dha” meaning “place, grant, bestow”. Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[5] According to the tradition the second zen master is recognized by Buddha when only he noticed with a smile the flower raised by the hands of Buddha. Is this recognition of the complete oneness? We do not know. The following zen masters are according to the Denkōroku directly linked with each other. Have these masters ever been away from the budding of the flower? We do not know.

[6] Here you and I notice a manifestation of the word “thus” or “evam”, meaning in Sanskrit amongst others “going with the wind”. See also the last but one paragraph of the post dated 1st April 2011.

[7] See also: the Old Testament, book Ecclesia 12:7: “When the dust returns to the earth, it returns to itself”. Is this the complete oneness or a manifestation hereof? We do not know.

[8] Source of image: JvL

Introduction: One

Introduction of Chapter one

You and I begin our search for “Who are you” at the beginning of everything. In the beginning there is no distinction – and thus no separation – between you, me and everything around us. Everything is completely connected. Has there been any change? We do not know. Maybe everything is constantly flowing in itself. Or everything is constantly changing size by periodic expansion and contraction.


For a full description of oneness, words and concepts have significant limitations, because they aim to distinguish between things or events. Words and concepts are also used to denote individual things. Oneness precedes separate things and events, so words and concepts will give a poor reflection.

In describing the oneness we strive for a complete connection between content and form. We decide to use verse without significant developments to describe oneness . As a result, some poems change into a “retrograde”: these poems can also be read from the end to the beginning without substantially compromising its meaning. Below is one verse from a poem: the full poem can be read on the page “ONE” in the menu.

The wind takes you along                           With the air over the sea
Volatile and familiar                                    Volatile and familiar
With the air over the sea                            The wind takes you along

The complete oneness is described according to a human scale, familiar to people in a western civilization in a temperate maritime climate. A Bedouin in the Sahara will give a different description.


An Eskimo will also give another description. This difference of rendering is caused by the different manifestations of the perfect oneness to the separate life forms. In later chapters we come back to this phenomenon.

Obviously, a full representation may be appropriate, but this is beyond comprehension for people and we lack the possibilities to do so. You remark that in chapter One the word “thus” – or “evam” [3] in Sanskrit “- is a correct rendering of the complete oneness, but a rendering remains a vague reflection.

In the next posts we continue with the creation of the poem “Blossom”. Afterwards we look at the classics solipsism, “the universe is a dream” and pantheism

[1] Source of immage: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/pr2009032c

[2] Source of image: http://www.ondernemen.in/INFO_Woestijn

[3] In Sanskrit the word “evam” consists of the root “e” meaning “approach, reach, enter” and the noun “va” meaning “wind, ocean, water, stream, going”. Source: electronic version of the dictionairy Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta