Zen Poetry

Many of the greatest Zen masters were poets. In An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki writes, "Zen naturally finds its readiest expression in poetry rather than in philosophy because it has more affinity with feeling than with intellect; its poetic predilection is inevitable."

Zen poems are expressions of enlightenment and the transformation of the human spirit. They attempt to convey the experience of awakening through images, metaphors and symbolism. The natural world and spiritual world, life and death, suffering and happiness are common themes in the poetry of the Chinese and Japanese Zen masters. The best poems impart a taste of the timeless reality which lies at the heart of the Zen experience.



The great path has no gates
Thousands of roads enter it.
One who passes through this gateless gate
Walks freely between heaven and earth.

- Ekai


If you want to do a certain thing
You first have to be a certain
Once you have become
that certain person
you will not care any more
about doing that certain thing.

- Dogen


Live in simple faith . . .
Just as this
Trusting cherry
Flowers, fades and falls.

- Issa


The winds that blow --
ask them, which leaf of the tree
will be next to go!

- Soseki


We are like those who,
immersed in water,
stretch out their hands
begging for a drink.

- Seppo


At Kugami
In front of the Otono,
There stands a solitary pine tree,
Surely of many a generation;

How divinely dignified
It stands there!

In the morning
I pass by it;
In the evening
I stand underneath it,

And standing I gaze,
Never tired
Of this solitary pine!

- Ryokwan




The infinitely small is as large as the
infinitely big. Limits are nonexistent.
The infinitely large is as small as
the infinitely minute.
No eye can see their boundaries.

- Sengstan


If you break open the cherry tree
Where are the blossoms?
But in springtime
how they bloom!

- Ikkyu


The morning glory blooms but an hour
And yet it differs not at heart
From the great pine that lives for a
   thousand years.

- Teitiku


To what shall I compare
this life of ours? Even
before I can say it is like
a lightning flash or a dewdrop
it is no more.

- Sengai


You cannot describe it, you cannot picture it,
You cannot admire it, you cannot sense it.
It is your true self, it has nowhere to hide.
When the world is destroyed, it will not be

- Ekai


I shall not die.
I shall not go anywhere.
I'll be here . . .
Just don't ask me anything.

- Ikkyu


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