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一休宗純 Ikkyū Sōjun (1394-1481)

Death Poem

Ikkyū's death poem survives in his own hand
at 眞珠庵 Shinjū-an, 大徳寺 Daitoku-ji


In all the world
Who understands my Zen?
Even if Hsü-t'ang* were to come,
He wouldn't be worth half a copper.

Translated by James H. Sanford


by James H. Sanford
In: Zen-man Ikkyū, (Harvard Studies in World Religions; no. 2), Scholars Press, Chico, CA. 1981, pp. 190-192.

It was the custom for a declining Zen master to author
a final poem as a legacy to his followers. Such a death
poem might be written a good deal in advance of the man's
demise, or it might be written from his deathbed. In either
case, the poem was taken to be an especially meaningful expression
of the monk's entire lifetime.
There are at least three poems that are commonly
presented as Ikkyū's death poem. The first of these is:

Dimly, dimly, thirty years,
Weakly, weakly, thirty years;
Dimly, weakly, sixty years.
In the end I take a crap as offering to Brahma.

This is resonably good Zen "theology" and would certainly
not be an unlikely self-statement from Ikkyū, but it
really seems a bit shallow as a summation of his entire
life. Furthermore, it appears to date from his sixtieth
year and is written in Japanese, whereas the normal
Ōtōkan death poems were always in Chinese.
A second poem is also a bit too shallow and found
only in a Japanese version:

The loan was taken a month ago, yesterday.
Repayment is this month, today.
I return four of the five I borrowed,
I still hang on to Original Emptiness.

The third poem survives in Ikkyū's own hand:

In all the world
Who understands my Zen?
Even if Hsü-t'ang* were to come,
He wouldn't be worth half a copper

There can be little doubt that this was Ikkyū's actual
death poem and that it dates from his final days and
quite possibly his final hours. First of all, the poem is
written in Chinese in the four lines of four characters
style that was the standard format for death poems of the
Hsü-t'ang/Daiō lineage. Beyond this, the text echoes quite
closely the content of the death poems of the earlier
masters of Ikkyū's line--poems in which three themes
emerge repeatedly--an explicit recognition of impending
death, a resigned but somehow despairing sense of
aloneness before this final event, and the expressed fear
that whatever the religious insights the writer has
attained, they are almost certain to be lost to later
generations. Ikkyū's poem stresses the last of these
themes, but the other two are also there just below the
surface. The closing two lines make up a quite defensible
Zen statement, but their surprising harshness is, of
course, typically Ikkyū.
Aside from this internal literary evidence, and the
fact that it is clearly written in his hand, the scroll
itself virtually bespeaks Ikkyū in that he has initially
omitted the third character of the first line and then
later scrawled it into the margin between the second
character and the misplaced fourth character. Few
things could be more characteristic of Ikkyū than
this iconoclastic refusal to "pretty things up".
On the reverse side of the scroll is the signature
Sōan, the date 1641, and the explanation of the scroll's
transmission. According to this inscription, the scroll
was originally placed in the hands of Ikkyū's disciple,
Bokushitsu, who passed it on to a monk called Shūgaku who
gave it to one Gyokuhō Sōrin. Sōrin in his turn put it
in the hands of the Shinjū-an hermitage for further

* 虚堂智愚 Xutang Zhiyu (1185-1269) [Jap. Kidō Chigu]

**Other English versions:

South of Mt. Sumeru,
Who meets my Zen?
Even if Hsü-t'ang* comes
He's not worth half a penny.

Translated by Sonja Arntzen

In this vast universe,
Who understood my Zen?
Even if Hsü-t'ang* himself came back
He would not be worth half a penny!

[2] Death Verse

In this vast realm
Who understands my Zen?
Even if Master Kidō* shows up,
He is not worth a cent!

Translated by John Stevens

South of Mount Sumeru
Who understands my Zen?
Call Master Kido* over--
He's not worth a cent.

Translated by Lucien Stryk & Takashi Ikemoto

In all the kingdom southward
From the center of the earth
Where is he who understands my Zen?
Should the master Kido* himself appear
He wouldn't be worth a worn-out cent.

Translated by Yoel Hoffmann

The kingdom described in Ikkyu's poem is the continent southward from Mount Shumi (Skt., Sumeru), a mythical peak which, according to ancient Indian tradition, stands at the center of the world. The four kingdoms extending from the mountain's four sides are supposed to contain all of humanity. The Southern continent includes India, China, and Japan, the countries where Buddha's doctrine had been spread. The question "Where is he who understands my Zen?" is not to be taken as a boast. Where Zen ceases to be a doctrine and becomes reality, each individual stands alone, and no one can take his place. This being so, even the Chinese Zen master Kido Chigu (Hsü-tang Chih-yü, 1185-1269), whom Ikkyu considered his spiritual father, could neither add to nor detract from what Ikkyu was at that moment-- an old man of eighty- eight years about to die.

Many of Ikkyu's writings deal with death. One of them ends with the following words: "And now, at the hour of my death, my bowels move-- an offering raised to the Lord of Worlds." The frankness of the statement is characteristic of his style, but it ought not to be taken as profane. The image of a dying man who can no longer control his body and who defecates in his bed is no less "sacred" than that of a believer who brings flowers as an offering to his god; all is accepted with equanimity by the Lord of Worlds, the god Bonten (Skt., Brahmadeva).




Ikkyū's "Final Portrait" by 曽我蛇足 Soga Jasoku III (紹仙 Shōsen), c. 1481;
at 眞珠庵 Shinjū-an, 大徳寺 Daitoku-ji, Kyoto



Ikkjú, névváltozat: Ikkjú Szódzsun (japánul: 一休宗純, Hepburn-átírással: Ikkyū Sōjun) (1394–1481), a rinzai szektához tartozó zen buddhista szerzetes, költő, a japán teaszertartás egyik megteremtője.
Huszonhat évesen a Biva-tavon meditálva világosodott meg egy varjú károgására. Cselekedetei megosztották kortársait: igen szerette az alkoholt, megvilágosodását követően rendszeresen látogatta a bordélyházakat, a nemi életet mintegy vallási gyakorlatként értelmezve, az újévi ünnepek alkalmával pedig pálcára szúrt koponyát hordott körbe azt kántálva: „Öregszünk, közeleg a halál.” Mindennek ellenére élete végén kinevezték az 1467-től 1477-ig tartó Ónin-háború alatt lerombolt Daitokudzsi templom főapátjává, bár a posztot csak kelletlenül fogadta el. A rinzai szekta történetében egyszerre számít szentnek és eretneknek.

Gy. Horváth László. Japán kulturális lexikon. Corvina. 1999


John Stevens: Ikkjú Szódzsun
Fordította: Szigeti György

Kiliti Joruto: Ikkjú [Legendák Ikkjú életéből]

Bakonyi Berta: Másotok sincs...

Faludy György: Öt vers

Oravecz Imre: Szerzetes a bordélyban

Soós Sándor: Ikkjú élete és művei
[Előszó Oravecz Imre fordításaihoz]

Terebess Gábor: Ikkjú dókáiból, búcsúverse

PDF: Csontváz–dalocskák
Bánfalvi András fordítása


Terebess Gábor címfordításai:

狂雲集 Kyōunshū = Kerge Felhő összegyűjtött versei

骸骨 Gaikotsu = Csontváz-nép

阿弥陀裸物語 Amida hadaka monogatari = Pőre Amida

仏鬼軍 Bukkigun = Buddhák pokoli háborúja

摩訶般若波羅蜜多心経解 Maka hannya haramitta shingyō kai =
A Szív szútra kommentárja

道歌 Dōka = Tanköltemények


道歌 Dōka

Ikkyū's Dōka
Translated by R. H. Blyth

骸骨 Gaikotsu / Skeletons

Ikkyū gaikotsu 一休骸骨
Edition of 1692. Illustrated pages only.
Drawings attributed to Ikkyū himself.

Abe Masao: Ikkyū's Skeletons
Translated by R. H. Blyth & N. A. Waddell

Skeletons by Zen Master Ikkyu
Translated by Thomas F. Cleary

Translated by James H. Sanford

Translated by John Stevens

狂雲集 Kyōunshū / Crazy Cloud Anthology

Versions by Stephen Berg

Versions by Lucien Stryk

Versions by John Stevens

Versions by Sonja Arntzen

Versions by Sarah Messer and Kidder Smith

Ikkyū's death poem

仏鬼軍 Bukkigun

Buddhas' Great War on Hell
Translated by James H. Sanford

阿弥陀裸物語 Amida hadaka monogatari

Amida Stripped Bare
Translated by James H. Sanford

自戒集 Jikaishū

摩訶般若波羅蜜多心経解 Maka hannya haramitta shingyō kai

Ikkyu: Zen Eccentric
by Thomas Hoover

PDF: Zen Radicals, Rebels and Reformers
by Perle Besserman and Manfred Steger
Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1991;
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2010.


Calligraphy in Ikkyū's hand

Paired calligraphic scrolls in Ikkyū's hand

諸悪莫作 衆善奉行 (七仏通戒偈 Admonition of the Seven Buddhas; first two lines)
Shoaku makusa, shūzen bugyō "Abjure all evil [right], practice all good [left]"
at 眞珠庵 Shinjū-an, 大徳寺 Daitoku-ji, Kyoto

There is a famous epigram that supposedly expresses a quintessential doctrine shared by Sakyamuni and the six Buddhas who are said to have preceded him. This "Admonition of the Seven Buddhas" is rendered in four lines of verse:

Sabba pāpassa akaranam
Kusalassa upasampadā
Sacitta pariyodapanam
Etam Buddhāna sāsanam.

The calligrapher, the famous Rinzai priest Ikkyû, brings the couplet into a visual performance by beginning at the top of each line with a (relatively) straightforward shin style rendering. As the line is written down the scroll, though, the script style changes to gyô and finally sô style. Changes in script style exhibited like this, in a single line of calligraphy, perform for us, each time we see them, the writing itself, by making visually apparent the movement of the writer. In the kanji at the bottom of each scroll you see areas of white left untouched as the brush, now partly emptied of its ink, speeds through the requisite stroke. These areas within the stroke are called "flying white." To produce them on mulberry paper or silk like this requires speed and resolution in creating the stroke in question. It manifests a preconscious bodily understanding of how the kanji is to be written, and in peformance itself, offers not time for reflection, much less hesitation. The spontaneity captured here is something much prized in Japanese art.



ū's Calligraphy

This monk has passed through the narrowest mountain paths to reach the northernmost seas,
and also has the experience of crawling through the lowest valleys.
If you want to find a safe place to pass your life,
Sit on the top shelf like a puppet!



一休宗純墨跡_七言絶句_峯 松
Chinese Style Quatrain in Seven Word Phrases “Pine Tree on a Peak”
Tokyo National Museum



"Orchids," a pair, painting and calligraphy by Ikkyū

Umezawa Collection, Tokyo