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Poet and artist

Ikkyu's profound contributions to Zen culture are surely are based on his genius as a poet and painter.

Natural, reckless, correct skill;
Yesterday's clarity is today's stupidity
The universe has dark and light, entrust oneself to change
One time, shade the eyes and gaze afar at the road of heaven.

His poetry defies all the rules and conventions that drove "Zen poetry" in his time. He wrote in an enormous variety of styles and forms, and the poems that present Buddhist and Zen thought work with and play on deep allusions to Chinese and Chan verse.

If you break open the cherry tree,
Where are the flowers?
But in the spring time, see how they bloom!


Ikkyu also helped inspire the secular Zen ritual known today as the tea ceremony and supported one of the best-known dramatists of the No theater. He was, as well, a master calligrapher, an art closely akin to painting in the China.

It does seem true that Ikkyu represents a safety valve in Japanese society, both then and now. He brought the impulsive candor of Zen to the world of affairs, demonstrating by example that after enlightenment it is necessary to return to a world where mountains are again mountains, rivers again rivers. And by rejecting official "Zen," Ikkyu may well have been the most Zen-like of all Japanese masters.

By the 17th century, the Buddhism of the Tokugawa period was morally and spiritually bankrupt. Recognizing the need for a spiritual revival, the Soto school sought to return to the doctrines of Dogen. The Rinzai school began to systematize the use of the koan, and it was Hakuin who in the early 18th Century revived the Rinzai sect and established a remarkable koan system. But before we visit Hakuin in the next lesson, we look at Bankei, a master who, in the mold of the Bassui and Ikkyu—eccentric popularizing teachings of three hundred years earlier—represents a very special aspect of Japanese Zen.