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Ryōkan Daigu

Ryōkan Daigu (1758–1831). Monk of the Sōtō school, and one of the greatest Zen poets. He sought simplicity, rejecting ‘poems by poets, calligraphy by calligraphers and cooking by cooks’, and preferring to play with children—the highest form of Zen was playing ball with children. Much influenced by the works of Dōgen, he eventually settled in Gogō-an, where he lived as a hermit. It was here that most of his poetry was written, with about 1,400 poems surviving. Many express his way of acceptance which obliterates anxiety or distress. Everything is of the same nature (śūnyatā), so every occurrence is an intriguing exploration into that nature. In his last years, Teishin became his pupil, and they communicated in poems written to and for each other. When he died, she collected his poems in an anthology, Dew-drops on a Lotus Leaf. Koji Nakano, Philosophy of Honest Poverty, made Ryōkan a cult hero in Japan in the early 1990s.

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