Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Crazy Cloud

One of my other favorite characters of Zen lore is Ikkyu, also known as, Crazy Cloud. Born in 1394, it was rumored he was the illegitimate son of the Emperor. At a young age, around 5, he was sent to a Zen monastery so as not to dishonor the Emperor's reputation.

Talk about childhood issues. He was an unruly teenager and if born today would most likely be labeled ADHD with a conduct disorder. Despite his rebelious teenage behavior, he was an ardent Zen student and took his education to heart. Upon receiving the seal of approval of his enlightenment he tore it up and left the temple.

He eventually became an extremely radical Zen monk and was known for his rabble rousing and was called, Crazy Cloud. Damn, I love that name! Ikkyu was a thorn in the side to the proper Zen community. He claimed it is just as easy to become enlightened covorting with women, getting drunk and living like a bum than shaving your head, wearing robes and burning incense.

Ikkyu was also a prolific poet. Have you ever noticed how women and men of the Way express themselves with poetry? He wrote alot of 'dirty ditties' and loved to hang out at brothels. He was totally open about sex and sexuality. In today's world the religious right would be aghast at his behavior.

Ikkyu stated, “If one is thirsty, he dreams of water; if one is cold, he will dream of a thick robe. It is my nature to dream of the pleasures of the bedchamber!” The following is one of his quickies as translated by John Stevens, plus one of my favorites, The Hovel.
If the bar-girl does not falter,
The beer will flow on and on.
This maiden is my refuge
And this place my haven.

My Hovel

The world before my eyes is wan and wasted just like me.
The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
No spring breeze even at this late date,
Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.
Crazy Cloud is a demon in Daito’s line
But he hates the hellish bickering.
What good are old koans and faded traditions?
No use complaining any more, I’ll just rely on my inner treasures.
My real dwelling
Has no pillars
And no roof either
So rain cannot soak it
And wind cannot blow it down
Every day priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.

I love the fresh rawness he brings back to Zen. Life is raw. Life is barebones and must be met squarely head-on. We learn this in the martial arts. You must deal with an attack NOW and IN reality, not notions and wishes. I encourage you to do a web search. does a good job, but just go through what Ikkyu offers. His words are as fresh now as they were in the 1300's. We need more Crazy Clouds.

Hands palm to palm,
Shinzen....a Crazy Cloud wannabee.


  1. I googled and got this page, I've been around this loop several times. I have decided you are the Messiah.

  2. Guys, you really give me fresh laugh :D you are officially Crazy Clouds :p

  3. I escaped the google loop and ended up on several sites that talked about this crazy mo-fo cloud dude.

    It is certainly a refreshing view he had and i'm surprised how Japan took to him (loved him and still do).

    I have read a fair few of his poems now and will surely read more.

  4. Only a mind so free...hey, Crazy, wild and ever changing.
    Thanks for sharing your search.