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The Great Fool: Zen Master Ryokan - Poems, Letters and Other Writings Paperback – 31 Dec 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press (31 Dec 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082481777X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824817770
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 347,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M Jenkins on 15 Feb 2010
Format: Paperback
"Taigu Ryokan (1759-1831) remains one of the most popular figures in Japanese Buddhist history. Despite his religious and artistic sophistication, Ryokan referred to himself as "Great Fool" and refused to place himself within the cultural elite of his age. In contrast to the typical Zen master of his time, who presided over a large monastery, trained students, and produced recondite religious treatises, Ryokan followed a life of mendicancy in the countryside. Instead of delivering sermons, he expressed himself through kanshi (poems composed in classical Chinese) and waka and could typically be found playing with the village children in the course of his daily rounds of begging. Great Fool is the first study in a Western language to offer a comprehensive picture of the legendary poet-monk and his oeuvre. It includes not only an extensive collection of the master's kanshi, topically arranged to facilitate an appreciation of Ryokan's colourful world, but selections of his waka, essays, and letters. The volume also presents for the first time in English the Ryokan zenji kiwa (Curious Accounts of the Zen Master Ryokan), a firsthand source composed by a former student less than sixteen years after Ryokan's death." -Product description from Amazon.com

An excellent volume. Highly recommended.
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By marion carroll on 11 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
yes lovely book from my favourite poet. I am very happy with my item because it took me a while to find it. Great purchase. Great book.
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By B.Graham on 28 May 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the great masters of japanese poetry.

The book is a comprehensive selection of the zen masters writings.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
The Best.... 3 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I discovered Ryokan around 20 years ago when I took out "One robe, one bowl" from the library. Since then I've bought that and most of the other English translations that have appeared. I finally gave in and spent the extra bucks to buy this one and have been thoroughly impressed and glad with my purchase. Not only does it contain more of his poetry than the other collections, but it also contains some superb biographical and critical essays. If you want to know more about this wonderful poet and person, this is THE book to get. I would hope every library in America would purchase it as well. Although I'm sure Ryokan would find this rather amusing, I can't help but call this the "Cadillac of Ryokan anthologies." A fantastic book!!
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The Great Life of a Great Fool 1 Nov 2005
By Ryan Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Great Fool" is the best English source I've found for Ryokan's poems and life history. When I feel a bit overwhelmed, I always turn to Ryokan and his simple and direct approaches to life.

"Great Fool" starts off with three essays that deal with (among other things) Ryokan's modern popularity and the debate whether Ryokan was an enlightened Zen man. This last topic I found greatly interesting, especially his being coopted by Marxist thinkers who saw in him a failed zennist and bitter poet.

Next is a collection of stories of Ryokan's life and the poems, Kanshi poems written in Chinese and shorter Waka poems written in Japanese. Ryokan shares alot of spirit with Han-shan, or Cold Mountain, except that Ryokan's poetry seems livelier and more personable than Cold Mountain's, though this could be a result of the translations. It also could be the result of Ryokan's constant association with people - indeed, like a Bodhisattva, Ryokan never really left the world. Instead of running from inquirers with shreiks and giggles, Ryokan delightfully pulls a rubber playing ball from his sleeve.

The book ends with a collection of letters and essays written by Ryokan, which give a great insight into his daily life. I especially like how he ends some of his letters:

That's all.


Enjoy! That's all.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Exquisite hardcover binding with well rendered translations. 13 Oct 1998
By Robbie Bobagov - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This beautiful cloth covered book brings Ryokan to life. An extensive biography helps place him firmly in the lineage of zen fools. His poetry is well rendered, cutting to the heart of his enlightenment, his lonely village. Some of the preface seems a bit misplaced and foolish, attempting to address the question of whether he was 'enlightened,' with deep and silly consideration of his views relative the deconstructionist movement. But his skill as calligrapher and poet are well treated: the beauty of his poetry is not random! If you can afford it, the hardcover's worth the extra bucks because of the sweet binding, really a nice book to hold in your hands.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The Method to Ryokan's Great Foolishness 13 Feb 2007
By Crazy Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Something about Ryokan just captures the imagination. An eccentric Zen monk living in a hut in the mountains, dashing off fine poetry and refined calligraphy after making the rounds in the towns below with his begging bowl, playing ball with the kids and sipping sake with the farmers along the way. Living a life free of the many conventions and responsibilities that hem us in, Ryokan seems to speak directly to us with a straightforward, friendly, unpretentious eloquence. Apparently this is a voice we find greatly appealing, and there are a great number of fine books about him and his poetry in English.

Still, of these, "Great Fool: Zen Master Ryokan" really stands out as an excellent scholarly treatment of Ryokan and his art. Special attention is given to the nature of his religious orientation and his place in late Tokugawa literary society. His relationships with sponsors and fellow literati (of both Confucian, Kokugaku, and Buddhist persuasions) are fleshed out through translations of his letters, his role and image in local society exemplified by Kera Yoshishige's firsthand biography (one of the earliest), and his strict Soto Zen religiosity are revealed in several sermonistic essays on Buddhism--these latter especially reveal a very different Ryokan, strident and very critical of the state of institutional Buddhism in his day, erudite in the difficult writings of Dogen and the canonical Mahayana sutras, whose practice of seclusion and begging turn out to be highly unusual in his own context and thus a very intentional manifesto of his firmly-held religious principles. And of course there are the poems, lots and lots of them, both kanshi and waka, all of which have been specially selected with a view to shedding light on many of these same questions--for what they tell us about Ryokan the literatus, Ryokan the local weirdo, Ryokan the Soto Zen monk, and hence Ryokan the man living during late Tokugawa Japan.

The three scholarly essays at the beginning of the book by Haskel and Abe outline these same themes as well as discussing perceptions of Ryokan in modern and contemporary Japan, his role as a kind of household name and folkloric culture hero and the very divergent academic takes on him by his different Japanese interpreters. Much consideration is given too to the evolution of Ryokan studies over time and of the nature and reliability of the sources we use to understand him. All of this makes this book extremely useful, almost indispensable really, for anyone who wants to study Ryokan in-depth, and this more than makes up for the fact that the translations of the poems themselves seem just a tad prosaic sometimes. Highly recommended to anyone interested in late Tokugawa Buddhism and its relation to literature as well as to all diehard Ryokan fans, of course.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The essential Zen poet 11 Jun 2001
By A. Hogan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ryokan,a great zen monk who dubbed himself"the great fool" is one of the most revered figures in all Japan. As a wandering begging monk{one robe, a bowl and walking stick} Ryokan celebrates the quotidian,whether a stong pot of tea, sake,playing ball with village children,or the warming embers of a dying fire in the midst of Winter,he makes these images come alive,with vibrancy and suppleness. This volume conatins remembrances of Ryokan from contemporaries,disciples,students and those he met along the way. Along with his Reflections on Buddhism,this volume also contains a very helpfulessay, a poetics of mendicancy by ryuichi abe`,and another essay by ab`,commemorating ryokan. the introductory essay by peter haskel, ryokan of mount kugami puts ryokan in his historical perpective. However, above all, it is the pure airy poetry of the master himself.Cleansing and wonderful...
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