Olympia Zen Center
Order of Ryokan
The Order of Ryokan is a community of people living under a distinctive discipline and spirit inspired by the life and Zen practice of Soto Zen's hermit priest-poet Ryokan. Participation in the Order is intended to engender fruitful insights, contribute to renewal of the interpretation of Ryokan in the modern world, provide invaluable examples of sympathy and compassion in the world, and foster specific service to one's family and work community.
The great hermit priest-poet Ryokan was born in Izumozaki in 1758 as the eldest son of a local official. From an early age he showed much interest in reading and scholarly study. Rather than succeed his father as head of the town, Ryokan chose to become a monk at about age 18. Not long after, the abbot of Entsuji, Kokusen Roshi, came to Niigata Prefecture to teach. Ryokan was immediately taken with him and followed him as he returned on foot to Kurashiki, about 800 kilometers away on the Inland Sea.
Ryokan remained in training until Kokusen Roshi's death. Although he succeeded as abbot of Entsuji, Ryokan decided to make his way as a wandering and begging monk. After many years, he returned to his home town area in Niigata Prefecture and eventually was given permission to live in a small mountain hut called Gogo-an, named for a retired abbot who had lived there. Gogo-an is a play on words. It means five bowls of rice that were delivered every day to the retired abbot, and it also means a hermitage of five bowls of rice. Ryokan did not receive this meal allotment, yet it was a perfect place for Ryokan to live and to spend his life begging, writing poetry, playing with the children in the town, caring for the welfare of the people around him.
As Ryokan aged, it became impossible to continue on the mountain and so he came into the town to live in a very small tea house at the Kimura Residence. Not long after, he met the Tendai nun Teishin, also a poet. She and Ryokan exchanged deep and intimate poetry during his remaining years. At Ryokan's death on January 6, 1831, Teishin came to be with him, and hundreds of people gathered for his funeral at Ryusenji Temple in Shimazaki where he was buried.
For the next 50 years, Teishin collected Ryokan's poetry, compiling and publishing it so that world would know of Ryokan's life and teachings. Ryokan was great in the power of his vow to live completely the life of a hermit priest-poet. He was intensely kind, joyful with children, never discriminating, and is considered to be one of the greatest calligraphers in Japanese history. The teachings of his life, visible in his poetry continue to resonate to this day.
Gogo-an in Niigata Gogo-an in Olympia
Gogo-an is a symbol of Ryokan's life and a hut for solitary practice.
Garden of the Takahojo at Entsuji
Ryokan's house at Entsuji