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One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan Paperback – April 11, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Weatherhill (April 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0834805707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0834805705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John Stevens is Professor of Buddhist Studies and Aikido instructor at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Japan. He is the author or translator of over twenty books on Buddhism, Zen, Aikido, and Asian culture. He has practiced and taught Aikido all over the world.

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Customer Reviews

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His love and compassion were infinite.
tepi
This book has to rate as one of the most beautiful I have ever read.
John R. Murray (whatsupdoc@sunset.net)
His poems are simple, direct and very poignant.
Muhammad Asad Khan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By tepi on June 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
ONE ROBE, ONE BOWL : The Zen Poetry of Ryokan, translated and introduced by John Stevens. 85 pp. New York and Tokyo : Weatherhill, 1977 and reprinted.

If you have already read John Stevens 'Mountain Tasting : Zen Haiku by Santoka Taneda,' you will certainly want to read 'One Robe, One Bowl.' And if you haven't yet read Stevens translations of Santoka, you'll want to after reading the present work. Both are beautiful books, and it's a pity that more people don't seem to find their way to them.

John Stevens, who was born in Chicago, has lived in Japan since 1973. He is an ordained Soto Zen priest, has served as a member of the Buddhist Studies Department and as an akido instructor at Tohoku College in Sendai, and is competent in both Japanese and Chinese.

Stevens tells us in his brief, interesting, and informative Introduction that Ryokan's "verses are fresh and direct, without ornamentation or ostentation" (page 18), and that he has tried to reproduce this in his translations. He seems to me to have succeeded brilliantly. Of the approximately 1000 Chinese and 400 Japanese-style poems that Ryokan left, Stevens has given us wonderfully readable translations, in a spare and colloquial English, of 100 of the former and 103 of the latter. Once having read them, I don't think you'll ever forget them.

Ryokan (1758?-1831) is one of Japan's best-loved poets, and Stevens has managed to pack an awful lot about him into his brief 10-page Introduction. He tells us that Ryokan was born in the "snow country" of Echigo Province on the west coast of Japan.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By John R. Murray (whatsupdoc@sunset.net) on October 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book has to rate as one of the most beautiful I have ever read. John Stevens does a masterly job of turning into English the original Japanese poetry. Ryokan's compassion and simplicity are retained, along with his penetrative insight into the human condition.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. adams on February 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
What a beautiful work this is all around. John Stevens translates this work brilliantly. This isnt a cold hard scholastic translation. This is a warm and touching work from two people, from two very different times, meeting at the heart of a timeless matter. There are a lot of reviews saying great things about this book. It lives up to all of them and more.

This book is full of poems touching on the completely ordinary matter, of everyday life. This everyday life wich contains everything we need/yearn for, yet almost always overlook. Ryokan was sort of an anti-establishment Zen student. Since establishments often usurp power and any value from things like Zen, leaving only inflated ego's ruling over cynical minds. Needless to say Ryokan wanted no part of this. Wich is why he lived mostly alone in the often freezing mountians.

He often writes of sheer loneliness. Wich makes some people question his enlightenment. I think this is a very important point. Cause it shows how cold and unbending some peoples view of Zen/enlightenment actually is. Whos to say an enlightened person cant feel lonely? Because Japans greatest master Dogen never wrote of lonliness? Many masters of the past lived in monasteries full of students. If anything they probably had very little time alone. Nowheres near enough time to develope any "lonley feelings." Hardly a fair comparison, that of Ryokan who lived in a little mountain hut, to a master of hundreds of disciples. Silly, but it doesnt seem to be too rare. I think this same thing that makes some Zen scholars cricital, is what makes Ryokan so beloved by everyone else who knows of him. He not only felt a gamut of emotions but completely accepted them as a dynamic part of life. Often writing beautifully about them as in this book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Hortensia Anderson on October 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
John Stevens not only provides masterful translations of the work of Ryokan - he distills the life of the man in the concise introduction.
The translations of these poems dealing primarily with daily life capture the depths seemingly without effort. Between that and the compassion that translates with the work, this volume has to be in the curriculum of all lovers of poetry.
Truly zen in action.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Powell on January 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Ryokan renounced the "world" and became a Buddhist monk, and then hermit. He lived in a tiny hut in a rural area and walked to nearby villages to beg for food. He did this all of his adult life and lived into his 80s.

His poetry is pure and centered on his ascetic existence. The translation reads easily and has some explanations when necessary for unfamiliar words.

The overriding impression is of a man in love with solitude but also lonely. There are some poems filled with emotion, yet by and large the writing is spare and disciplined and will satisfy you if you like haiku and related forms.

His own poetry and reports about him depict him as an enlightened practitioner of his religion, able to be completely in the moment, sensual and undistracted. Also, a bit absentminded -- leaving a friend waiting while he became distracted by the moon for an hour or more.

I will include one poem of his which I feel captures the spirit or tone of his work:

THE BAMBOO grove in front of my hut!
Every day I see it a thousand times
Yet never tire of it.

I have been eager to read this book for some time, hearing that it was perhaps the greatest example of a literary monk living out the wabi sabi ideal. I think it may well be, but I was surprised by a few things.

Animals occur in his poems, but they feel indistinct, like part of a lovely background for solitude, or to represent a mood. They are not celebrated in and of themselves, like Issa might do. People -- playing with children and drinking with farmers, seem more real and important to this self-proclaimed recluse.

The wabi existence (cold, hard, and hungry) certainly looses it's romantic blush in these poems.
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