Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryokan

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Between Two Souls presents a lovely, spiritually uplifting conversation in poetry between a gifted modern-day Roman Catholic nun and a nineteenth-century Zen monk. Offering an utterly unique entree into spiritual contemplation, this book pairs inspirational writing from two distinct but mutually enriching faith traditions, revealing the religious joy, wisdom, and all-embracing compassion that transcend temporal, cultural, and theological differences.

Ryokan (1758-1831) is one of...

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Overview

Between Two Souls presents a lovely, spiritually uplifting conversation in poetry between a gifted modern-day Roman Catholic nun and a nineteenth-century Zen monk. Offering an utterly unique entree into spiritual contemplation, this book pairs inspirational writing from two distinct but mutually enriching faith traditions, revealing the religious joy, wisdom, and all-embracing compassion that transcend temporal, cultural, and theological differences.

Ryokan (1758-1831) is one of Japan's most-loved and most-renowned poets. After formal training at the Zen monastery of Entsu-ji, he refused offers to head his own temple and instead lived as a wandering monk in the snowy country around Mt. Kugami. Ryokan wrote thousands of poems during his travels but never published a collection himself. For two years Mary Lou Kownacki, a Benedictine nun, used Ryokan's poetry for devotions. Each morning she would read one of his poems, meditate on it, and then respond with one of her own. Between Two Souls is the result of this poetic interplay.

Over the course of these pages, Kownacki and Ryokan's separate voices blend and become one, ultimately drawing the reader into their soulful dialogue on the eternal. Like echoes across time, these beautiful poems bring new depth and insight to truths that mark the meaning of the ages. Along the way they consider the smallest things in life, using them to gently warn us not to miss the bigger truths found in each moment, not to squander our souls.

Complemented with an inspiring introduction by Joan D. Chittister and elegant calligraphy by Eri Takase, this volume provides a lifetime of devotional insights. Listening quietly to these two great souls is sure to enrich your own.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802828095
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Pages: 215
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction to a Dialogue on Life ix
Prelude xxi
Poems 1
Index of First Lines 184
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First Chapter

BETWEEN TWO SOULS

Conversations with Ryokan
By Mary Lou Kownacki

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-2809-4


Chapter One

POEMS

* * *

Who says my poems are poems? My poems are not poems. When you know that my poems are not poems, Then we can speak of poetry! Ryokan

* * *

Why do I imitate Ryokan? I am not Ryokan. When you read My poems, please Bow to the master Then we can speak Of not one, not two But a poet And a lyre. MLK

* * *

It's a pity, a gentleman in refined retirement composing poetry: He models his work on the classic verse of China, And his poems are elegant, full of fine phrases. But if you don't write of things deep inside your own heart, What's the use of churning out so many words? Ryokan

* * *

Here I sit, a monk in denim robe Writing verses, modeling my work On the great Ryokan. My poems are simple, Sparse of simile and other ingredients. But like stone soup The broth is clear And there is a center. MLK

* * *

Thinking back, I recall my days at Entsu-ji And the solitary struggle to find the Way. Carrying firewood reminded me of Layman Ho; When I polished rice, the Sixth Patriarch came to mind. I was always first in line to receive the Master's teaching, And never missed an hour of meditation. Thirty years have flown by since I left the green hills and blue sea of that lovely place. What has become of all my fellow disciples? And how can I forget the kindness of my beloved teacher? The tears flow on and on, blending with the swirling mountain stream. Ryokan

Layman Ho (Chinese, P'ang) was a Zen master of the T'ang era. One of his famous sayings was "Miraculous power, marvelous activity: drawing water, chopping wood." "The Sixth Patriarch" refers to Eno (Hui-neng, 638-717), who once worked as a rice polisher in a monastery.

* * *

Thinking back I recall my novice year:

Dusting long hallways of venetian blinds I repeated holy phrases Desiring to become a bow of praise.

Praying with outstretched arms each day That my arms, like the Spirit's wings, Might grow wide enough to embrace The suffering of the world

Keeping the holy silence, Three-hundred-sixty-five days of silence (Oh, blessed pool of clear water where I finally found my true face)

And looking out the monastery Window on Saturday afternoons Filled this seventeen-year-old With a loneliness and longing That pitched a tent And never left. MLK

Rain

* * *

Returning to my native village after many years' absence: Ill, I put up at a country inn and listen to the rain. One robe, one bowl is all I have. I light incense and strain to sit in meditation; All night a steady drizzle outside the dark window - Inside, poignant memories of these long years of pilgrimage. Ryokan

* * *

Returning to my monastery After a year's leave of absence.

Still confused, I start Summer classes at the university. Someone has translated my prayer Book into a foreign language. During meditation period I reach for a pen.

Outside an unseasonable cold Front has gripped the garden. Inside, tempting memories Of stolen kisses and the taste Of your tongue Swimming in my ear. MLK

* * *

TO MY TEACHER

An old grave hidden away at the foot of a deserted hill, Overrun with rank weeds growing unchecked year after year; There is no one left to tend the tomb, And only an occasional woodcutter passes by. Once I was his pupil, a youth with shaggy hair, Learning deeply from him by the Narrow River. One morning I set off on my solitary journey And the years passed between us in silence. Now I have returned to find him at rest here; How can I honor his departed spirit? I pour a dipper of pure water over his tombstone And offer a silent prayer. The sun suddenly disappears behind the hill And I'm enveloped by the roar of the wind in the pines. I try to pull myself away but cannot; A flood of tears soaks my sleeves. Ryokan

* * *

TO MY TEACHER

I remember walking past your office In the middle of night And seeing you under lamplight. Your hands are what I remember. I never saw them idle. Either sewing a sacred vestment Or measuring medicine Or arranging flowers Or holding a book.

I remember classes where you read To us - short stories, memoirs, poetry, A range of ideas beyond commentaries On the Holy Rule.

I remember you called me into your office To show me boxes of handwritten cards, A record and three sentence review Of every book you read.

I remember you took delight in my poetry.

Dear teacher, how can I honor your departed spirit? I light a stick of incense in your memory, Filling each calendar box With good works, treasured books, penned poems. Month by month I stack the pages Of time made holy. MLK

Saint

* * *

In my youth I put aside my studies And I aspired to be a saint. Living austerely as a mendicant monk, I wandered here and there for many springs. Finally I returned home to settle under a craggy peak. I live peacefully in a grass hut, Listening to birds for music. Clouds are my best neighbors. Below, a pure spring where I refresh body and mind; Above, towering pines and oaks that provide shade and brushwood. Free, so free, day after day - I never want to leave! Ryokan

* * *

In my youth I put aside my talents And aspired to be a saint. I fasted on bread and water, Prayed long hours into night, Gave loaves of bread to the poor, Was dragged to jail trying to stop war. Finally, I found a single room in the inner city. Outside my window Police sirens, screams ... footsteps in the night. Three in the morning, children roaming the street. I fold my hands and bow. I pick up a pen and write. All is well. All is well. MLK

* * *

If someone asks My abode I reply: "The east edge of The Milky Way."

Like a drifting cloud, Bound by nothing: I just let go Giving myself up To the whim of the wind. Ryokan

* * *

If someone asks Me where I live I answer "Does a monk Own a key?"

If I hear A child cry There is My home. MLK

* * *

Torn and tattered, torn and tattered, Torn and tattered is this life. Food? I collect it from the roadside. The shrubs and bushes have long overrun my hut. Often the moon and I sit together all night, And more than once I lost myself among wildflowers, forgetting to return home. No wonder I finally left the community life: How could such a crazy monk live in a temple? Ryokan

* * *

Centered or not, centered or not, Centered or not in this life? My food? The poem I write each morning. Monastery business papers stack my desk, Dust gathering as in a grave.

On a perfect day I take my fishing pole To the Lake Erie lagoon and sit till dusk Listening. Or I dive into the deep pool of silence And disappear in black water with the sunfish. My robe is a great winged weeping willow.

My body still answers the temple bell But my heart lives with the heron. MLK

* * *

TWO POEMS FOR MY FRIEND BOSAI

Yes, I'm truly a dunce Living among trees and plants. Please don't question me about illusion and enlightenment - This old fellow just likes to smile to himself. I wade across streams with bony legs, And carry a bag about in fine spring weather. That's my life, And the world owes me nothing.

The gaudy beauty of this world has no attraction for me - My closest friends are mountains and rivers, Clouds swallow up my shadow as I walk along, When I sit on cliffs, birds soar overhead. Wearing snowy straw sandals, I visit cold villages. Go as deep as you can into life, And you will be able to let go of even blossoms. Ryokan

Kameda Bosai (1752-1826), a famous scholar, artist, and poet of the Edo Period, visited Ryokan in Echigo.

* * *

TWO POEMS FOR MY FRIEND

What I see in the mirror is not who I am.

Another face walks the city streets Copying Ryokan on street lamps and cement walls, Writing poems with children on balloons and flower petals. Like a fool of the temple I talk to myself And laugh aloud at the conversation.

I wear a blue denim robe and carry only a silk bag. If you need comfort or a lost memory or a new name I reach into my bag and give you what you need. The beauty of the world, the passing shadows Are my constant companions.

Come quickly, I may die unable To let go of the apple blossoms.

Come quickly, Before the cornhusks harden I want to say, This is my life. I have no regrets. MLK

* * *

A single path among ten thousand trees, A misty valley hidden among a thousand peaks. Not yet autumn but already leaves are falling; Not much rain but still the rocks grow dark. With my basket I hunt for mushrooms; With my bucket I draw pure spring water. Unless you got lost on purpose You would never get this far. Ryokan

* * *

SECOND POEM TO A FRIEND

Cracked sidewalks among abandoned buildings, A forgotten neighborhood in the inner city. Not yet spring but boom boxes exploding. Not much sun but streetwalkers smile. With my camera I hunt for light breaking through boarded windows. With my pen I draw sweetness from crabgrass. Don't be afraid to come. With all these lost souls no one will notice ours. MLK

* * *

In my hermitage a volume of Cold Mountain Poems - It is better than any sutra. I copy his verses and post them all around, Savoring each one, over and over. Ryokan

* * *

In my room a volume of "Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf" - It is more nourishing than any scripture. I copy your verses on parchment, Ryokan, Chanting them over and over Until I become like the dewdrop, Transparent and pure of heart. MLK

* * *

When all thoughts Are exhausted I slip into the woods And gather A pile of shepherd's purse.

Like the little stream Making its way Through the mossy crevices I, too, quietly Turn clear and transparent. Ryokan

* * *

When all thoughts Are exhausted I walk to the Neighborhood Art House To teach children Who are poor To write poetry.

Like the purple johnny-jump-ups Now playing hopscotch through the neighborhood The children's words humble me. I, too, turn simple, Open to surprise. MLK

* * *

ORCHID

Deep in the valley, a beauty hides: Serene, peerless, incomparably sweet. In the still shade of the bamboo thicket It seems to sigh softly for a lover. Ryokan

* * *

ORANGE TIGER LILY

Deep in the alley corner a wild hermit lives - Solitaire, vibrant, extravagant beauty. In the shadow of the half-eaten shed It flames like the last ember of a burning bush: I take off my shoes. MLK

* * *

THE LOTUS

First blooming in the Western Paradise, The lotus has delighted us for ages. Its white petals are covered with dew, Its jade green leaves spread out over the pond, And its pure fragrance perfumes the wind. Cool and majestic, it rises from the murky water. The sun sets behind the mountains But I remain in the darkness, too captivated to leave. Ryokan

* * *

First blooming in the month of May, The lilac pours perfume over my inner-city street Like God's mercy. It seeps through barred storefront windows, Enters empty kitchen cupboards, Tumbles down tired faces.

All day long children play in lilac bliss. When the streetlights come on Neighbors take a chance and unlock front doors. They sit on porches for hours, bathing in lilac. Even I go to sleep new, full of promise. MLK

* * *

BAMBOO

The thick bamboo grove near my hut Keeps me nice and cool. Shoots proliferate, blocking the path, While old branches reach for the sky. Years of frost give bamboo spirit; They are most mysterious when wrapped in mist. Bamboo is as hardy as pine or oak, And more subtle than peach or plum blossoms. It grows straight and tall, Empty inside but with a sturdy root. I love the purity and honesty of my bamboo, And want them to thrive here always! Ryokan

* * *

CHESTNUT TREES

Two chestnut trees shade the home Where I grew up. Like pillars of a temple They supported my first steps. For hours I stood in the front window Until the trees became my mantra. We spoke in silence Sharing secrets too deep to hear. At seventeen with the chestnut trees in full bloom I left for the monastery.

Forty years later I return each week To visit my father. Gone are the swept sidewalks Freshly painted porches Weeded flower beds. You can buy any drug In broad daylight.

Continues...


Excerpted from BETWEEN TWO SOULS by Mary Lou Kownacki Copyright © 2004 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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