Japanese Buddhist poetry of the fourteenth century: Jakushitsu Genkō (1290-1367)

Japanese Buddhist poetry of the fourteenth century: Jakushitsu Genkō (1290-1367)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Jakushitsu Genkō (1290-1367) is a famous Japanese Rinzai Buddhist preacher who became the first abbot of the Eigen-ji temple that was built in his honor. He reportedly said about poetry, “Why pursue words, when one truly seeks silence?” This statement is especially appropriate for Jakushitsu because until nearing the end of his life, he had lived like a Buddhist hermit for a sizeable period. However, he was encouraged to teach Zen Buddhism in the late stages of his life and this equally coincided with changing internal thoughts.

The cultural power of China flowed naturally for Jakushitsu just like this angle influenced many Japanese preachers, scholars, and artists. He moved to China during part of his life and studied Ch’an at the Linji School between 1320 and 1326.

On returning to Japan a hermit life awaited Jakushitsu. Fittingly, in regards to this reality, he said:

Neither seeking fame
nor grieving my poverty
I hide deep in the mountain
far from worldly dust.

Year ending
cold sky
who will befriend me?

Plum blossom on a new branch
wrapped in moonlight

It could be that in these words Jakushitsu was envisioning a new horizon based on teaching Zen Buddhism to new generations before passing away from this world. Hence, he became the first abbot of the Eigen-ji temple that was finally completed in 1361. Therefore, in the final years of his life, he taught the wisdom he knew and expressed his deep passion for Rinzai Buddhism.

Jakushitsu pointedly wrote:

Rock slab seat
legs folded sitting alone

Not loathing noise
not savoring silence

The carefree clouds concur

The years pass, just like the decades and centuries, yet, certain static realities exist despite all the chaos and confusion of this world. Like Jakushitsu said, “Come here; free yourselves of karmic dust.”


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