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Zen Poet Taigu Ryoken

This is an introduction to the Japanese Zen poet Taigu Ryoken known for his beautiful almost seer-like poetry. He revelled in the love of life, nature and what each new day brought to enrich his life.
First of all though meet Matsuo Basho, the Father of Haiku for to know Ryoken you first need to introduce yourself to the man who first developed the haiku.


The Haiku is a traditional Japanese verse form. Its suggestiveness and conciseness identify it, and it is split up into three lines with a five-seven-five syllable structure. In Japan, the haiku is a serious art form, and is developed from the ancient Japanese form of tanka. The tanka, is thought to be adapted from Korean and Chinese forms of the waka. The haiku is the shortest form of literature in the world. The meaning of the word haiku is of Japanese origin, and can be translated to short verse. One author pointed out that the Haiku can be considered the language of Zen moments, or experienced as bits of spiritual awakenings any person can interpret a haiku by however their mind and spirit conceives it.

The poet, Matsuo Basho, developed the haiku. (1644-1694) http://oldpoetry.com/oauthor/show/Matsuo_Basho



He was born into a samurai family that was highly prestigious. He rejected the world, and became a wanderer that studied Zen history and worked on poetry that reflected his simple meditative life. He believed that the haiku represented a pair of contrasting images, one suggestive of time and place, the other a vivid but fleeing observation. Working together, they evoke mood and emotion. Basho influenced many poets to become interested in the making of haiku and those poets used them to make different verse forms. One poet that was inspired by Basho, was Taigu Ryokan. (1753-1831)




Ryokan was a Japanese Zen monk. He was the eldest son of a village headman, and he entered the priesthood at seventeen. He later spent ten years in training under the Zen master Kokusen. Throughout his life, he lived in a series of small huts, and unlike many Buddist priests, he never headed a temple of his own. Ryokan chose to live in solitude, and was very frugal. He devoted his time to meditation, and of course he chose to write poems that reflected upon his life. Where he lived, Mount Kugami, it snowed heavily. He passed the time by reading over and over works of Japanese and Chinese poetry, particularly poems of T'ang Dynasty Buddhist recluse Han-Shan. (577-654) oldpoetry.com/oauthor/show/Han_Shan

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Ryokan's poems are generally of a happy, peaceful nature and they evoke a lot less personal sorrow than those of Han-Shan. A lot of his poems are about nature, solitude, and they are concerned with things that surround his life. His poems are mostly about year round activities, life, death, nature and the seasons. Ryokan's poetry employs three forms that were influenced by the verse form of the traditional haiku. The tanka, a thirty-one syllable poem arranged in five lines in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern; the sedoka, a poem in six lines in 5-7-7-5-7-7 pattern; and the choka, a form of unlimited length that employs alternating lines of five or seven syllables.

Ryokan was a very talented Japanese poet, reading his poems are a joy. Since Ryokan was a Japanese Buddhist monk in the Zen sect, it seems prudent to conclude with a thought about Zen relating to Ryokan. It is written that an element of Zen is to capture the immediate experience, and the poet is the conveyor of enlightenment.

Ryokan definitely captures the immediate experience in his poems. He chose ideas that were about nature, and nature is definitely one of things in the world that changes quickly. His ideas in his poems seem to reflect upon getting the most out of life, and enjoy every moment that you are lucky enough to have been blessed with. He seems to be content, surely one of life's' most treasured and sought-after feelings. If you capture the immediate experience, you have a sense of something to look forward to in the future. His poems are enlightening because they shed new light on life. We are all a part of nature because we grow and renew ourselves from new experiences that our lives have to offer us.



At dusk
I often climb
To the peak of Kugami
Deer bellow,
Their voices
Soaked up by
Piles of maple leaves
Lying undisturbed at
The foot of the mountain

Oldpoetry Team

This has been prepared by a total novice in the art of Haiku. If any of you out there who know Haiku and the poets mentioned well, please do not hesitate to inform us of any errors, hopefully giving a link to where we can find information.