Beautiful poem by Zen teacher Ryokan, from the early 1800’s Japan:
What was right yesterday
Is wrong today
In what is right today,
How do you know it was not wrong yesterday
There is no right or wrong,
No predicting gain or loss.
Unable to change their tune,
Those who are foolish glue down bridges of a lute.
Those who are wise get to the source
But keep wandering about for long.
Only when you are neither wise nor foolish
Can you be called one who has attained the way.
(translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi – from Sky Above, Great Wind)
Being told that it’s impossible,
One believes, in despair, “Is that so?”
Being told that it is possible,
One believe, in excitement, “That’s right.”
But whichever is chosen,
It doesn’t not fit one’s heart neatly.
Being asked, What is unfitting?”
I don’t know what it is.
But my heart knows somehow.
I feel an irresistible desire to know.
What a mystery “human” is!
As to this mystery:
Knowing how to live
Knowing how to walk with people….
Katagiri Roshi was the teacher of the Minnesota Zen Center for many years, until he died in 1990.
This is a poem about saying “Yes!” to our lives, to the mystery, the messiness, the love, the impossibility of being a human being.
It is a poem about stopping, and appreciating, ourselves, each other, our work; and going beyond ourselves. Stopping, being changed, and getting back to work.
The poem goes on to present and encourage living with a vow, or more strongly, living a life of vow, stronger than intention; stronger than a promise. A vow to live a peaceful life, to help others live peaceful lives:
To be resolute
Today, I let these words wash over me, through me.