Lesson
30

Ikkyu

2 of 4

Turning from the degeneracy of lineage

Who among Rinzai's descendants really transmits his Zen?
It is concealed in this Blind Donkey.
Straw sandals, a bamboo staff, an unfettered life--
You can have your fancy chairs, meditation platforms, and fame-and-fortune Zen.

Ikkyu was maddened by the complacency and corruption of Japanese Zen and its masters. According to legend, when he received a certificate of Dharma transmission from his teacher he burned it (or stamped on it). He was indignant at the lengths teachers would go to attain patronage; the pursuit of opulence and preeminence debased the legacy of Daito and Zen.

Clad in his customary shabby robe .and tattered hat, Ikkyu went to beg at the door of a wealthy family's home. He was roughly ordered around to the back of the estate and given scraps.

The following day, Ikkyu appeared at a vegetarian feast sponsored by the family, but this time he was decked out in the brocade robes of an abbot. When the large tray of food was placed before him, Ikkyu removed his stiff robe and arranged it in front of the tray.

"What are you doing?" the startled host asked.

"The food belongs to the robe, not to me," Ikkyu replied as he got up to leave.

I Hate Incense
A master's handiwork cannot be measured
But still priests wag their tongues explaining the "Way" and babbling about "Zen."
This old monk has never cared for false piety
And my nose wrinkles at the dark smell of incense before the Buddha.

He attacked the commercialization of Zen and the preoccupation of monks who forsook Zen to concentrate on producing forgettable verse in formal Chinese.

Every day, priests minutely examine the Dharma
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.

Monks these days study hard in order to turn
A fine phrase and win fame as talented poets.
At Crazy Cloud's hut there is no such talent, but he serves up the taste of truth
As he boils rice in a wobbly old cauldron.

Ikkyu's life reflects the ideal of Daito. He spent much of his life on the road, staying in simple hermitages and temples, eating simply. Invited to head a subtemple in the Daitoku-ii compound, Ikkyu left after only ten days, concluding that the monastery had become more concerned with ceremony than Zen, and he wrote a famous protest poem as a parting gesture:

For ten days in this temple my mind's been in turmoil,
My feet are entangled in endless red tape.
If some day you get around to looking for me,
Try the fish-shop, the wine parlor, or the brothel.