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012 Enoughness: At the Dry Garden of Ryōan-ji


[3 mins reading time]

Ware Tadu Taru Wo Shiru [I Am Content with Enough]


Spring brings orange blossom scent, and vibrant lotus flower,

A daytime frog who cries, the early signs of cruel dry heat,

This blue of iris month has also come too soon, for in former times,

On iris-thatching day, all the roofs were threaded,

With the colour of the sky, and later would be flying,

Wild geese above the autumn grass, the moon leaking through the trees.


Now that the moon was in its tenth day, bright and nearly full,

How nice it was to sit, there on the veranda,

In the silence, even though in days gone by,

There would have been cicadas, rasped and chirping,

Water cool from well, the daikon radish sharp,

Yet this night had been unkindly hot, there were many more expected.


Once a razor would have rusted overnight, right in the month of rains,

The pink hollyhock dripping, the shrine bell booming in the mist,

But these times have brought, new terms for ferocious heat,

The days and nights, now called kokoshobi and mōshobi,

There should have been soft drizzle, a gentle breeze,

Pure snow in winter, plum blossom in the spring.


It was warm that day, in the ancient capital,

The wide river glittered, yet the temple ways were dark and cool.


The strolling-path from the ancient gate, led uphill to Ryōan-ji,

It was lined by moss on rocks, the glassy pond to the west,

Long before the first sanctuary, had been built in these foothills,

At the city’s northern edge, perhaps a thousand years before,

Yet no one knew the name, of that monk who laid out fifteen soundless rocks,

On raked white gravel, enclosed by ochre walls of clay.


When you sit on the hōjō steps, you gaze at the rocky isles,

You stand and move, and stare for longer,

All was hushed, beneath the borrowed landscape of the sacred hills,

Where cherry and maple, spread outside the walls,

And white stones rippled, waves lapping at the mossy shores,

It is said there was just one, a secret spot for seeing all the rocks.


In the abbot’s halls were dragons, painted on the sliding screens,

Each with its single mark of weakness, one scale upside-down upon its neck,

At the tea house, there were flowers in a vase,

Kanji painted on a scroll, hot water poured upon the tea,

And around the back a humid woodland, the sound of several frogs,

And a single nightingale, singing from the trees.


Water was drawn from the spring, and flowed by bamboo pipe,

To the tsubaki basin, and from the bamboo dipper,

It tasted cool and bright, young and very old at once,

The circular stone contained a square, the shape of a mouth,

Designed to complete the four kanji, there around the side,

It spelled enough, this true kit for the living.



The earth cannot take much more, for here we were,

And here was this one stone basin, the sound of water trickling.


You could obtain perhaps, with a coin shaped like this basin koan,

A mochi rice cake, from a nearby shinese baker,

Her cedar-timbered building, dark and cool inside,

Trading day on day in the same family, for a thousand years,

Or perhaps buy a Buddhist artifact, from another shop,

In their family, for seventy connected generations.


When your timescale, was this long,

You may feel, you have already had enough,

Of the fierce heat, that stunned the moths at night,

That might burn and bubble, the sliding paper doors.


We might instead just stop and sit, watch the mountain peaks,

Of the five rocky isles, amid the shining sea of sand.


“The best things in life

Are not things.”

Tao Te Ching (approx. 2400 BCE, ch 33, trans by Gary Snyder)


Jules Pretty

Ware Tadu Taru Wo Shiru [I Am Content with Enough]

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