Lesson
30

Ikkyu

3 of 4

Wine shops and brothels

Ikkyu seemed to wander into brothels and wine shops almost as often as into Zen temples. He consorted with high and low, merchant and commoner, male and female. Ikkyu's penchant for drinking and womanizing—more reminiscent of the Taoists than the Buddhists—reflects his rejection of the pretence and sanctimoniousness of Zen. Zen’s posturing about sex and homosexuality was but another example of its hypocrisy.

Follow the rule of celibacy blindly and you are no more than an ass;
Break it and you are only human.
The spirit of Zen is manifest in ways countless as the sands of the Ganges.
Every newborn is a fruit of the conjugal bond.
For how many eons have secret blossoms been budding and fading?


With a young beauty, sporting in deep love play;
We sit in the pavilion, a pleasure girl and this Zen monk.
Enraptured by hugs and kisses,
I certainly don't feel as if I am burning in hell.

Our record of these explorations, both geographic and social, is in his writings, particularly his poetry. Ikkyu used his poetry (later collected as the "Crazy Cloud Poems" or Kyoun-shu) as a means of expressing his criticism of the establishment, as well as his enlightenment. It also, as often as not, celebrated sensual over spiritual pleasures. Whereas the Tang masters created illogic and struggled with intuitive transmission, Ikkyu cheerfully gave in to the existential life of the senses.