Fuck Ikkyu...sort of.


Over the New Year's holiday, while simply pessimistically wallowing in the doom or the impending work week, I read a short book by John Stevens called Three Zen Masters. The book dedicated about 50 or so pages each on old Japanese Zen masters Ikkyu, Hakuin and Ryokan. Everything I've ever read and/or heard about Ikkyu has been hagiographic to a squeamish degree and this book didn't disappoint. There are a lot of good aspects and insights in the story of Ikkyu, but he was clearly an egomaniac--which is ironic for a Zen master--and I wonder why Yoso never just punched Ikkyu in the throat. In fact, I came up with a new koan based on the situation, which goes:

                        What would have happened if Yoso had simply punched Ikkyu in the throat?

The attributes people seem to most like about Ikkyu are the same insecure "adolescent wish fulfillments" that lead idiots to take Ayn Rand seriously. He was a Zen master--enlightened, obviously--who banged prostitutes, supposedly revolutionized several art forms, spoke inconvenient and uncompromising truth to oblivious power, brought a lot of attention to himself and was a "genius"--you know, just like the rest of us. But nobody seems to wonder what the plain, mediocre Yoso was thinking. Poor sap. He wasn't a genius. He had to work many, many years and invest untold amounts of effort to achieve his satori. He decided that he felt responsibility-- as opposed to simply himself-- to his temple and master and probably did his absolute best, as a non-genius,to maintain the existence of his temple, even sullying his own scruples to do so.

Yoso was not a perfect man, by any means, but probably also not deserving of all the turds Ikkyu flung in his direction, especially when you consider that, for all his criticisms, all Ikkyu did was bang hookers and dance through various towns with a skull on a stick.

It was great theatre. Probably a lot of fun. Hell, I'll even venture to say it was probably "enlightened." But those were hardly the kinds of works which justify his constant acerbic haranguing of Yoso, who, it should be noted, maintained a quiet poise and never responded to Ikkyu's incessant bullying.


Hakuin
falsely accused
of fathering an illegitimate child  
said nothing, raised the child and didn't 
seem to mind. 

Hakuin
instead of banging hookers
enlightened them.

Hakuin
was wrong about
Bankei. 

Ryokan
deserves most of the attention
Ikkyu gets. 

John Stephens
why no Four Zen Masters?
Where dafuq is Bankei?

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