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Ikkyu, Wild Zen Poet

Ikkyu (1394-1491) wasn’t your average Buddhist monk. Rumored to be the illegitimate son of Japan’s emperor, he was raised in a Zen monastery. Notorious for his mischievous behavior, Ikkyu never shied away from exploring his own wild ways. He rejected the hypocrisy he found in the monasteries and took to the road as a wandering monk, calling himself “Crazy Cloud.” Passionate about love and open about sexuality, Ikkyu infused these sentiments into his writing. He left behind more than a thousand poems covering a variety of styles and topics: he wrote everything from Japanese koans to explicitly sexual verses. Here is one of my favorites:

I have been ten days in this temple
and my heart is restless.
The scarlet thread of lust at my feet
has reached up long.
If someday you come looking for me,
I will be in a shop that sells fine seafood,
a good drinking place,
or a brothel.


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