On the first day of the eighth month I go into town to beg
At dawn, the doors of a thousand homes are flung open
The smoke of myriad hearths slants through the air
Last night's rain has washed the road clean
And An autumn wind rustles the rings of my staff
I take my time begging
The universe is vast without end
There is so much teaching in this short poem.
I love how Ryokan conveys his sense of presence, of being right there expressed in the clear seeing of things as they are, the wonderful details of the simple scene. Ryokan is reminding us to be here for our lives, in their fullness, in their simplicity.... to be here in the wet and the wind and the smoke.
And not only does he see the rain washed street and the smoke and hear the wind , you can feel his appreciation of those simple details, a savouring of them. He is showing us how there is pleasure in participating fully in what is, in sensing the texture and flavour of the day. He is not saying man it's dark and cold and wet and there's smoke everywhere, it's windy. This really sucks. I wish I was on a sunny beach somewhere. He is not rejecting what is or imagining it as the source of some suffering. He is not adding on to what is. He is "taking his time" knowing that this precious moment is the only one we really have, wherever we are. There is a wistfulness too, a bittersweet quality to this savouring, a lonely heart tugging quality expressed in these few words, which can often be present in life.
And of course there is the humility of the monk with his begging bowl. How comfortable would I be holding out a bowl to strangers, asking for something, anything.... just being open to what they offer or don't choose to offer.... open to rejection, to receiving something I don't want, or to going unnoticed. Do we willingly put ourselves in this position? And how much courage does it take to do this? It's all about the "little self" as my Zen teacher calls it, the ego. Always shoring itself up, protecting and defending it's poor little vulnerable self. How much energy do we waste on that process? How subtle is the mischief of pride? How attached are we to our opinions and points of view? And there in lies a lot of our spiritual work, it seems, loosening the grip of the ego.
And finally Ryokan reminds us that there is so much that is beyond our human understanding that really it is probably good to just give our thinking minds a rest and be present. How can we understand the ultimate mystery of it all, that ...."the universe is vast and without end" ....