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Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:32 am
by Quiet Heart
I very much like this story. I post it at least once every year on some Buddhist forum.
So now it's this forum's turn.
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From 101 Zen stories

Ryonen's Clear Realization

The Buddhist nun known as Ryonen was born in 1797. She was a grad daughter of the famous Japanese warrior Shingen. Her poetical genius and alluring beauty were such that at seventeen she was serving the empress as one of the ladies of the court. Even at such a youthful age fame awaited her.

The beloved empress died suddenly and Ryonen's hopeful dreams vanished. She became acutely aware of the impermanency of life in this world. It was then that she desired to study Zen.

Her relatives disagreed, however, and practically forced her into marriage. With a promise that she might become a nun after she had borne three children, Ryonen assented. Before she was twenty-five she had accomplished this condition. Then her husband and relatives could no longer dissuade her from her desire. She shaved her head, took the name of Ryonen, which means to realize clearly, and started on her pilgrimage.

She came to the city of Edo and asked Tetsugya to accept her as a disciple. At one glance the master rejected her because she was too beautiful.

Ryonen went to another master, Hakuo. Hakuo refused her for the same reason, saying that her beauty would only make trouble.

Now at that time it was the custom for Japanese women to use hot irons to straighten their long hair.
Ryonen obtained such a hot iron and placed it against her face. In a few moments her beauty had vanished forever.

Hakuo then accepted her as a disciple.

Commemorating this occasion, Ryonen wrote a poem on the back of a little mirror:

In the service of my Empress I burned incense to perfume my exquisite clothes,
Now as a homeless mendicant I burn my face to enter a Zen temple.

When Ryonen was about to pass from this world, she wrote another poem:

Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the changing scenes of autumn.
I have said enough about moonlight, and still waters reflections.
Ask no more.
Only listen to the (quiet) voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.
----------------------
Isn't that a great story?
:smile:

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:51 am
by lobster
Isn't that a great story?
Yes. :hug:
How wonderful those afflicted with high birth do not have to leave their families and those with extreme beauty do not have to iron their face.
Sometimes the dharma ending Kali Yuga has its advantages . . . :woohoo:

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Thu Aug 22, 2013 5:20 am
by yan kong
I remember when I first read this story I loved he final poem. I think you can really see the change the had undergone from the first poem to the last.

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 4:45 am
by tidathep
Sawaddee Ka...Quiet Heart,

Yes, it's a very nice story....sad but nice....and I truly love the poems!

tidathep :namaste:

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 10:33 am
by Simon E.
Quiet Heart wrote:I very much like this story. I post it at least once every year on some Buddhist forum.
So now it's this forum's turn.
--------------------------------------------
From 101 Zen stories

Ryonen's Clear Realization

The Buddhist nun known as Ryonen was born in 1797. She was a grad daughter of the famous Japanese warrior Shingen. Her poetical genius and alluring beauty were such that at seventeen she was serving the empress as one of the ladies of the court. Even at such a youthful age fame awaited her.

The beloved empress died suddenly and Ryonen's hopeful dreams vanished. She became acutely aware of the impermanency of life in this world. It was then that she desired to study Zen.

Her relatives disagreed, however, and practically forced her into marriage. With a promise that she might become a nun after she had borne three children, Ryonen assented. Before she was twenty-five she had accomplished this condition. Then her husband and relatives could no longer dissuade her from her desire. She shaved her head, took the name of Ryonen, which means to realize clearly, and started on her pilgrimage.

She came to the city of Edo and asked Tetsugya to accept her as a disciple. At one glance the master rejected her because she was too beautiful.

Ryonen went to another master, Hakuo. Hakuo refused her for the same reason, saying that her beauty would only make trouble.

Now at that time it was the custom for Japanese women to use hot irons to straighten their long hair.
Ryonen obtained such a hot iron and placed it against her face. In a few moments her beauty had vanished forever.

Hakuo then accepted her as a disciple.

Commemorating this occasion, Ryonen wrote a poem on the back of a little mirror:

In the service of my Empress I burned incense to perfume my exquisite clothes,
Now as a homeless mendicant I burn my face to enter a Zen temple.

When Ryonen was about to pass from this world, she wrote another poem:

Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the changing scenes of autumn.
I have said enough about moonlight, and still waters reflections.
Ask no more.
Only listen to the (quiet) voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.
----------------------
Isn't that a great story?
:smile:
No.

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 11:56 am
by oushi
:good:

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 4:11 pm
by Matt J
There are too many stories about women being "too beautiful" in Zen and Taoist literature. Plucking out their beautiful eyes, putting acid on their beautiful face, etc as though beauty is a sin. Yet, strangely, the amorous men are never called upon to mutilate their bodies. If like Hui Neng she had said "My original face has neither beauty nor ugliness. It is no different than yours.", then I would agree it would be a beautiful story.

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Fri Aug 30, 2013 1:00 am
by lobster
I have said enough about moonlight, and still waters reflections.
Ask no more.
Only listen to the (quiet) voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs.
:namaste:

Good to hear from the trees . . .

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 9:41 am
by jimmy325
If like Hui Neng she had said "My original face has neither beauty nor ugliness. It is no different than yours.", then I would agree it would be a beautiful story.

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Mon Jul 07, 2014 8:03 pm
by loggats
Hello. I read this koan and it spoke to me, and searched google for other views - that's how I discovered this place, and reading your comments, I am moved to contribute my own. I appreciate that this thread has been long-dormant, forgive me.

A few of you seem to be saying that there is something misogynistic in the story - I suppose this interpretation is valid, especially taken in the context of other such tales of female beauties scarring themselves in order to pursue Zen studies, and the general cultural tradition out of which the narrative is formed. However, taken on its own terms, I think there's a powerful message of the feminine here. I don't think our 21st century perspective is much more "enlightened" than the medieval point of view presented to us. Nor is our current Western culture's collapse of male and female a reality we should expect from anybody else - she is not "just like" the male masters, and their issues with her physical attractiveness should not immediately lead us to the conclusion they are ignorant or bigoted.

Ryonen is saying throughout not that her face is "just like yours" because it is not - but that her face is supremely her own, to the point of self-mutilation, to the point of being no face at all. We should not denigrate her act by imposing our own vision. The character we read about moves far beyond the beautiful face of the moon to the unperturbed, ineffable silence within which the moon herself is suspended. That's beautiful and so is this tale.

Re: Ryonen's Clear Realization

Posted: Sat Aug 03, 2019 11:04 am
by Sundeep Mishra
I think what she is trying to say is that like reflection of moon like beauty is passing as well. Rather focus on something that predated beauty (sound before wind could stir vines and cedars).