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July 2016, vol 12 no 2

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Margaret Chula

Shinju-an: The Pearl Hermitage


Ikkyu, the free-spirited Zen priest and poet, lived in this subtemple of Daitoku-ji. In the main room, there’s a wooden image of him, complete with his beard and hair cuttings attached. This is interesting as all paintings show him with a shaved head. According to our guide, the framed kanji above the image says: “This image resembles me greatly, don’t you think?”

in a dark recess
Ikkyu in shadow
bright chrysanthemums

The East Garden was designed by Murata Juko, founder of the tea ceremony. Jukō practiced Zen meditation under the guidance of Ikkyū. His garden is an abstraction of nature, with rocks grouped to represent islands or mountains.

azalea cluster
the size of my hand
for a hundred years

As in any dry stone garden, the meaning is in the mind of the beholder. Looking at the stones arranged in 7-5-3 groupings with a background of green moss, I feel obliged to write a 7-5-3- haiku

view hidden by maples now
where is Mt. Hiei
three stones high

As an afterthought, our guide shows us the Well of Pure Water where Murasaki Shikibu was washed as a newborn.

my face reflected
in a thousand-year-old well
scabs of lichen

From the veranda, we look out over the graves of head priests over the centuries. I wonder where “one pause” Ikkyu is buried. For his death poem, he boldly wrote the calligraphy in five vertical lines, but forgot one character, which he added later in the margins.

writing his final poem
the uselessness
of perfection


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