Three Zen masters. The Virtuous, the Dreamer, the Wanderer by Pierre Turlur

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

Nothing speaks to us as much as the story of a life, everything tells us about our own adventure, its difficulties and its happy days. The three existences that I wanted to evoke in this modest book are those of illustrious masters of yesterday's Japan, wise or eccentric, three lives whose romantic and poetic unfolding constitutes in itself a singular lesson.

There is first of all the delicacy, the refinement and the great philosophical sensitivity of the monk Dogen at the dawn of the thirteenth century. Coming from the highest nobility of the time, he was seized very early on by the evanescent nature of things and still espoused monastic life as a young teenager. It was after a trip to China that he returned to Japan with empty hands and an awakened heart, and singing to bring the practice of simple sitting, naked and bare. A talented writer with inexhaustible audacity and fantasy, a rebellious spirit and builder of temples, he is the author of a considerable body of work in terms of its variety and depth, his existence is a veritable novel as it concentrates in some fifty years a richness all quite unusual.

Ryokan appears some five hundred years later, poet and begging monk, the young man renounces everything and, after a long period of training in one of the most severe cloisters of Japan at the time, takes the path of wandering and begging, dividing his days between the practice of seated meditation in a modest hermitage, the graceful tracing of the calligraphy to which he likes to indulge and of which he is considered an unsurpassable master, and above all the rounds of ritual begging often interrupted through games with the children of the villages he passes through, he always carries around a ball and marbles in his large sleeves. He still remains today a beloved figure of the Japanese people who see in him a manifestation of universal love, of the Bodhisattva Kannon.

Finally there is the good for nothing Santoka, a disarming, impetuous and touching character. Born at the end of the XNUMXth century into a modest family in a remote village in the southeast of Honshu, he quickly aspired to study literature and moved to Tokyo. Witness of the great earthquake which annihilated the capital, he failed in everything he undertook and after a suicide attempt, which was also aborted, he became a monk. Choosing wandering and vagrancy, Santôka travels tirelessly through Japan for twenty years during which he witnesses the debacle of a world. As he travels, he drinks, begs and writes tirelessly. Author of audacious haikus, he spent his life losing it and witnessed, appalled and powerless, the militarist stagnation of Imperial Japan on the eve of the Second World War.

Santoka with post-modern accents, the ramshackle vagabond, the one who no longer believes in anything, drags his old alcoholic skin and composes heartbreaking and lame poems, like him.

Three faces and three very distinct sensibilities: with Dôgen, a man with a frail constitution and high moral nobility who abandons himself without restraint to the practice of Zen and sings of the mountains and nature as a living expression of the truth. Ryokan, meanwhile, touches us with his disarming and enlightening naivety, entirely in the heart and his most naked expression in the poems and haikus he composes as he wanders more or less happily. Finally there is Santoka with post-modern accents, the ramshackle vagabond, the one who no longer believes in anything, drags his old alcoholic skin and composes heartbreaking and lame poems, like him. Three lives for three distinct times. Three floating existences which nevertheless communicate in the same burn of a love of truth and nature. Mountains and rivers are their favorite companions here.

Three writers especially. What is writing the Dharma, the Buddha's teaching? When we read these three poets and scholars, we remain amazed to note the lack of attachment to constructing a work or testifying to the singularity of a voice. It is still and always the way, the path that inspires them. They are poles apart from literary vanities and postures. Clumsily placing my footsteps in theirs, of this last book, and it's hardly a joke, I haven't really decided. Forty years ago, in the youth and arrogance of a stammering and boastful writing, I wrote with difficulty, tirelessly working each sentence, wishing to impose a name and a style. Now it's all the same to me. In fact, it would seem that all this life of roaming, walking, sitting down, studying, meeting, falling, getting up and above all loving has infused the greatest secrecy and that, from now on, it is enough for me to lend an ear to hear a text welling up from itself. This book is a transcription of this inner song whose source I do not know. I would be hard pressed to tell you where all this can come from. It's a bit like on this meditation cushion when everything is abandoned and especially the daydreams of my old carcass, so I'm not really there.

By lending my pen to the story of these three lives, I of course hope to pay them the homage they deserve, but also and above all that you can also find a little of what you are authentically. Each book is a mirror held up to our deepest being. We only ever read and live what we are. The poet Ryokan evoked in these simple words this contemplation of nature and the beauty of things in which he liked to absorb himself, lose himself and recognize himself:

The rain gone, the clouds dissipated, the air is refreshed
My mind swept away, everything is purified
Abandoning both this world and myself
Becoming a good for nothing
Here I am
Spending the rest of my days
To fully enjoy the moon and the flowers

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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