DOKYO ETAN
Died on the sixth day of the tenth month, 1721, at the age of eighty

Here in the shadow of
death it is hard
To utter the final word.
I’ll only say, then,
“Without saying.”
Nothing more,
Nothing more.

Dokyo, also known as Shoju Ronin, lived most of his life in a hut and refused to join the large monasteries. He saw in zazen, Zen meditation, the essence of the Zen way and used to deal harshly with believers who sought him out to hear so-called Zen doctrine. He would occasionally even draw his sword on them and drive them away, in keeping perhaps with his samurai origin.

KOZAN ICHIKYO
Died on the twelfth day of the second month, 1360, at the age of seventy-seven

Empty-handed I entered
the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going—
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

A few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. He wrote this poem on the morning of his death, laid down his brush, and died sitting upright.

NAMPO JOMYO
Died on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month, 1308, at the age of seventy-four

In 1307, exactly a year before his death, Nampo wrote:

This year, the twenty-ninth
of the twelfth
No longer has a place
to come to.
The twenty-ninth of the
twelfth next year
Already has no place to go.

These words were taken, after his death, as proof that Nampo knew he would die in a year. And so it was: on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month, 1308, Nampo took up his brush, wrote the following poem, and died.

To hell with the wind!
Confound the rain!
I recognize no Buddha,
A blow like the stroke
of lightning—
A world turns on its hinge.

RANKEI DORYU
Died in 1278, at the age of sixty-six

Thirty years and more
I worked to nullify myself.
Now I leap the leap of death.
The ground churns up
The skies spin round.

SHUMPO SOKI
Died on the fourteenth day of the first month, 1496, at the age of eighty-eight

My sword leans against
the sky.
With its polished
blade I’ll behead
The Buddha and all of
his saints.
Let the lightning strike
where it will.

It is said that after reciting this poem, Shumpo gave a single “laugh of derision” and died. According to Buddhist belief, a man who sins against religion and morality is liable to die by a stroke of lightning.

Image: Skull, Reigen Eto (1721-1785), ink on paper. The inscription reads, "All is dust, all is dust, all is dust." Courtesy L. Wright Collection
Image: Skull, Reigen Eto (1721-1785), ink on paper. The inscription reads, “All is dust, all is dust, all is dust.” Courtesy L. Wright Collection


Died on the fifth day of the sixth month, 1276, at the age of eighty-four

I pondered Buddha’s teaching
A full four and eighty years.
The gates are all now
locked about me.
No one was ever here—
Who then is he about to die,
And why lament for nothing?
Farewell!
The night is clear,
The moon shines calmly,
The wind in the pines
Is like a lyre’s song.
With no l and no other
Who hears the sound?

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