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Celebrating life at death's door, part 2

Kozan Ichikyo died at 77 on Feb.12, 1360.

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

A few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. On the morning of his last day, he wrote this poem, laid his brush down and died sitting upright.

With this in mind, the poem offers more than a simple, cyclical interpretation. Don’t let my death be a reason for self-indulgence, the poet advises. Going deeper, why should the natural way of the world — the world that we are part of — make us cry? How egotistical is it to think that we are different, that we stand apart?

Why would we even want to be different than the very process that gave us life? Forgetting this, we worry as we watch the circle of life spinning around us, we try to cling to the things we love. But we didn’t enter the world holding on to anything and we won’t need our shoes when we go.

Even with this knowledge, however, I know I’ll continue to cling to the things I love. I may have come into the world without the things I’ve found along the way, but wouldn’t I be a fool to travel barefoot in the meantime?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. The peace and quiet of this poem and the article are so important to hear in the mad, greedy world that tries to hold on to everything – ruining the planet in the process. . How easy to forget and join the crowd. Thanks for this reminder of how simple our lives really are.

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