Zen Poetry


Coming, going, the waterfowl
Leaves not a trace,
Nor does it need a guide.

The all-meaning circle:
No in, no out;
No light, no shade.
Here all saints are born.



Thoughts arise endlessly,

There’s a span to every life.
One hundred years, thirty-six thousand days:
The spring through, the butterfly dreams.
DAICHIRefreshing, the wind against the waterfall As the moon hangs, a lantern, on the peak And the bamboo window glows. In old age mountains

Are more beautiful than ever. My resolve: That these bones be purified by rocks.



He’s part of all, yet all’s transcended;
Solely for convenience he’s known as master. Who dares say he’s found him?
In this rackety town I train disciples.

CHIKUSEN (1292–1348)

All night long I think of life’s labyrinth— Impossible to visit the tenants of Hades.
The authoritarian attempt to palm a horse off as deer
Was laughable. As was the thrust at
The charmed life of the dragon. Contemptible! It’s in the dark that eyes probe earth and

In dream that the tormented seek present, past. Enough! The mountain moon fills the window. The lonely fall through, the garden rang with cricket song.

BETSUGEN (1294–1364)

Beyond the snatch of time, my daily life.
I scorn the State, unhitch the universe.
Denying cause and effect, like the noon sky,
My up-down career: Buddhas nor Patriarchs can convey it.

JUO (1296–1380)

Magnificent! Magnificent!
No one knows the final word.
The ocean bed’s aflame,
Out of the void leap wooden lambs.

FUMON (1302–69)

For all these years, my certain Zen: Neither I nor the world exist.
The sutras neat within the box,
My cane hooked upon the wall,

I lie at peace in moonlight
Or, hearing water plashing on the rock,
Sit up: none can purchase pleasure such as this:
Spangled across the step-moss, a million coins!

SHUTAKU (1308–88)

Mind set free in the Dharma-realm,
I sit at the moon-filled window Watching the mountains with my ears,

Hearing the stream with open eyes. Each molecule preaches perfect law, Each moment chants true sutra:
The most fleeting thought is timeless, A single hair’s enough to stir the sea.


Why bother with the world?
Let others go gray, bustling east, west.
In this mountain temple, lying half-in, Half-out, I’m removed from joy and sorrow.

RYUSHU (1308–88)

After the spring song, “Vast emptiness, no holiness,”
Comes the song of snow-wind along the Yangtze River.

Late at night I too play the noteless flute of Shorin,
Piercing the mountains with its sound, the river.

SHUNOKU (1311–88)

How heal the phantom body of its phantom ill, Which started in the womb?
Unless you pluck a medicine from the Bodhi- tree,

The sense of karma will destroy you.
TESSHU (14th century)

Not a mote in the light above,
Soul itself cannot offer such a view.
Though dawn’s not come, the cock is calling: The phoenix, flower in beak, welcomes spring.

TSUGEN (1322–91)

Men without rank, excrement spatulas, Come together, perfuming earth and heaven. How well they get along in temple calm
As, minds empty, they reach for light.

Life: a cloud crossing the peak. Death: the moon sailing.
Oh just once admit the truth
Of noumenon, phenomenon, And you’re a donkey-tying pole!

Inscription over His Door

He who holds that nothingness Is formless, flowers are visions, Let him enter boldly!

GUCHU (1323–1409)

MUMON (1323–90)

GIDO (1325–88)

Riding backwards this wooden horse, I’m about to gallop through the void. Would you seek to trace me?
Ha! Try catching the tempest in a net.

KUKOKU (1328–1407)

The void has collapsed upon the earth, Stars, burning, shoot across Iron Mountain. Turning a somersault, I brush past.

ZEKKAI (1336–1405)

The myriad differences resolved by sitting, all doors opened.

In this still place I follow my nature, be what it may.
From the one hundred flowers I wander freely, The soaring cliff—my hall of meditation

(With the moon emerged, my mind is motionless).
Sitting on this frosty seat, no further dream of fame.
The forest, the mountain follow their ancient ways,
And through the long spring day, not even the shadow of a bird.

REIZAN (?–1411)

Defying the power of speech, the Law Commission on Mount

Kasyapa’s smile told the beyond-telling. What’s there to reveal in that perfect all- suchness?
Look up! the moon-mind glows unsmirched.

MYOYU (1333–93)

My eyes eavesdrop on their lashes! I’m finished with the ordinary!
What use has halter, bridle
To one who’s shaken off contrivance?

EICHU (1340–1416)

Last year in a lovely temple in Hirosawa, This year among the rocks of Nikko,
All’s the same to me:
Clapping hands, the peaks roar at the blue!

HAKUGAI (1343–1414)

Splitting the void in half,
Making smithereens of earth,
I watch inching towards
The river, the cloud-drawn moon.

NANEI (1363–1438)

Serving the Shogun in the capital,
Stained by worldly dust, I found no peace. Now, straw hat pulled down, I follow the river: How fresh the sight of gulls across the sand!

For seventy-two years
I’ve kept the ox well under. Today, the plum in bloom again, I let him wander in the snow.

KODO (1370–1433)

BOKUO (1384–1455)

After ten years in the red-light district, How solitary a spell in the mountains.
I can see clouds a thousand miles away, Hear ancient music in the pines.

Void in Form

When, just as they are, White dewdrops gather On scarlet maple leaves, Regard the scarlet beads!

Form in Void

The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,

IKKYU (1394–1481)


Yet already on the bough, Uncaring spring!

Taking hold, one’s astray in nothingness; Letting go, the Origin’s regained.
Since the music stopped, no shadow’s touched My door: again the village moon’s above the river.

KOKAI (1403–69)

Only genuine awakening results in that. Only fools seek sainthood for reward. Lifting a hand, the stone lantern announces daybreak.

Smiling, the void nods its enormous head.
NENSHO (1409–82)

Unaware of illusion or enlightenment,
From this stone I watch the mountains, hear the stream.
A three-day rain has cleansed the earth,
A roar of thunder split the sky.
Ever serene are linked phenomena,
And though the mind’s alert, it’s but an ash heap.
Chilly, bleak as the dusk I move through,
I return, a basket brimmed with peaches on my arm.

GENKO (?–1505)

On Joshu’s Nothingness

Earth, mountains, rivers—hidden in this nothingness.
In this nothingness—earth, mountains, rivers


Spring flowers, winter snows:
There’s no being nor non-being, nor denial itself.

SAISHO (?–1506)

Why, it’s but the motion of eyes and brows! And here I’ve been seeking it far and wide. Awakened at last, I find the moon
Above the pines, the river surging high.

Though night after night
The moon is stream-reflected, Try to find where it has touched, Point even to a shadow.

YUISHUN (?–1544)

TAKUAN (1573–1645)

It’s not nature that upholds utility.
Look! even the rootless tree is swelled
With bloom, not red nor white, but lovely all the same.
How many can boast so fine a springtide?

GUDO (1579–1661)

Whirled by the three passions, one’s eyes go blind;
Closed to the world of things, they see again. In this way I live; straw-hatted, staff in hand,

I move illimitably, through earth, through heaven.

UNGO (1580–1659)

Here none think of wealth or fame, All talk of right and wrong is quelled:

In autumn I rake the leaf-banked stream, In spring attend the nightingale.

DAIGU (1584–1669)

Who dares approach the lion’s Mountain cave? Cold, robust,
A Zen-man through and through,
I let the spring breeze enter at the gate.


Unfettered at last, a traveling monk,
I pass the old Zen barrier.
Mine is a traceless stream-and-cloud life.
Of those mountains, which shall be my home?

MANAN (1591–1654)