101 Zen Stories: The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

Full moon on a windy night

A monk-turned-pilgrim-turned-hermit, a poet and a calligrapher, but above all… a fool.

Eizō Yamamoto (1758-1831) was a zen master who lived during the Edo period in Japan. He was ordained “Ryōkan Taigu”- a name that represents his three major characteristics: broad-heartedness, generosity and childlikeness (rendered as foolishness by others)- which means “great fool”. He lived much of his life as a hermit and used to practise poetry and calligraphy in his hermitage. Despite never publishing any of his poems, he is still considered to be one of the greatest poets in Japanese history.

Ryōkan lived a simple life in a little hut at the foot of Mt. Kugami and sustained on alms. One evening, a thief intruded into Gogö-an (his hut’s name) only to find out that there was nothing in it to steal. The thief was on his way back when Ryōkan returned. Addressing the prowler he said, ‘You may have come a long way to visit me, and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.’

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryōkan sat naked, watching the moon. ‘Poor fellow,’ he mused, ‘I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.’

10 thoughts on “101 Zen Stories: The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

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    1. I read this story in Zen flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps and just presented it in my way. Writing this story, in particular, was a great experience because there are so many fascinating things about Ryokan but we decided to keep the zen stories short and only include facts which helps the reader gain a clearer insight. There are many more to come, this is just the start.

      Liked by 1 person

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