green koans 31

CASE #31: Daito’s Raincoat

Daito Kokushi wrote a short verse about the rain:

No umbrella, getting soaked,
I’ll just use the rain as my raincoat.

BACKGROUND

Daito Kokushi    
A Japanese Zen master of the Rinzai sect, Daito (1282-1337) was the founder of Daitoku-ji Monastery, one of Japan’s most influential temples. Established as “National Teacher” by the Emperor, he was nevertheless an eccentric who lived for some time as a beggar under a bridge.

NOTE: 
Daito’s poem is translated by Kenneth Kraft.

COMMENTARY

Centuries later, the poet Basho wrote a haiku that the Emperor’s beggar would have loved.

First rains of winter:
even the monkey wants
a little straw raincoat

Daito was miserable in the rain. The monkeys were miserable. Basho was miserable. But something strange happens when we learn to wear the weather like a coat.

We have so many problems in need of solving that it’s easy to forget that becoming one with a monkey solves them all. Most of the time we’d rather find our own solution. They never last for long. And they don’t work half so well as a monkey’s raincoat. Nevertheless, we persist.

VERSE

“Monkey’s Raincoat”
Was the title of Basho’s
Great anthology—
It’s a kind of inside joke
Between the monkeys and him.

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