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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
spring 2006| 34 |buddhadharma My Sad LittLe BowL The beloved Zen poet Ryokan (1758 –1831) on the freedom, joy, and poignant loneliness of the hermit mendicant’s life. early on the first of august I take my bowl and head for town. Silver clouds accompany my steps, a golden breeze caresses the bell of my staff. Ten thousand doors, a thousand gates open for me. I feast my eyes on cool groves of bamboo and banana trees. I beg here and there, east and west, Stopping at sake shops and fishmongers, too. an honest gaze can disarm a mountain of swords; a steady stride can glide over the fires of hell. This was the message the Prince of beggars Taught to his top disciples over twenty-seven hundred years ago, and I still act as one of buddha’s descendants. a wise old fellow once said, “regarding food, all is equal in the buddha’s Law.” Keep those words in mind no matter how many eons may pass. • In my little begging bowl Violets and dandelions, Mixed together as an offering to the buddhas of the Three Worlds. Picking violets by the roadside I absent-mindedly Left my little bowl behind – o poor little bowl! I’ve forgotten my Little begging bowl again – no one will take you, Surely no one will take you: My sad little bowl! • along the hedge a few branches of golden mums; Winter crows soar above the thick woods. a thousand peaks glow brilliantly in the sunset, and this monk returns home with a full bowl. • no luck today on my mendicant rounds; from village to village I dragged myself. at sunset I find myself with miles of mountains between me and my hut. The wind tears at my frail body, and my little bowl looks so forlorn – Yet this is my chosen path that guides me Through disappointment and pain, cold and hunger. • Someday I’ll be a weather-beaten skull resting on a grass pillow, Serenaded by a stray bird or two. Kings and commoners end up the same, no more enduring than last night’s dream. from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, translated by John Stevens. © 1993. Published by Shambhala Publications. detail from Bukan, Kanzan, and Jittoku Reisai, 15th century ProPerTYofMarYgrIggSbUrKe,PhoTo:brUceSchWarTZ