Crazy Cloud Dies

Crazy Cloud Dies November 21, 2018




“The autumn breeze of a single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sitting meditation.” Ikkyu

Ikkyu Sojun died on this day, the 21st of November in the year 1481.

He was one of the singular figures of Japanese Zen.

Ikkyu was born in the suburbs of Kyoto in 1394. He possibly was an illegitimate child of the emperor and a courtier. At the age of five he was placed in a Rinzai monastery. At thirteen he entered Kenninji shortly after which began a period of wandering from temple to temple and teacher to teacher. He eventually settled into study with master Kaso at a branch temple of Daitokuji. After deeply investigating the koan system and with that his own heart Ikkyu received dharma transmission from Kaso.

From there he began another period of wandering.

Ikkyu was an eccentric, known to drink and carouse as well as to be a wildly devoted practitioner of zazen. His poetry was widely read. And, he is often credited with brining tea ceremony and Zen together in an unambiguous way. Also, he had a long term love-affair with the blind singer Mori. Small wonder he picked up the popular nickname, Kyoun, “crazy cloud.”

Through most of his life he avoided the Zen institutions. But late in life he was elected head of Daitokuji, which had been ravaged in a civil war, and lay in ruins. With skill few expected he devoted himself to the restoration of the monastery.

After his death in 1481 he grew in legend to become a major folk figure as a sort of trickster figure tweaking authorities while at the same time offering something deep and true.

My life has been devoted to love play;
I’ve no regrets about being tangled in red thread from head to foot,
Nor am I ashamed to have spent my days as a Crazy Cloud—
But I sure don’t like this long, long bitter autumn of no good sex!
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?

(translation by John Stevens)


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