1390 | Japan

Walking in Circles

The dangers of thinking too much.

Life is like a cloud of mist
Emerging from a mountain cave,
And death
A floating moon
In its celestial course.
If you think too much
About the meaning they may have,
You’ll be bound forever
Like an ass to a stake.


Mumon Gensen

This is the second of two poems Gensen is said to have recited shortly before his death at the age of sixty-eight. The first was “Life is an ever-rolling wheel/And every day is the right one./He who recites poems at his death/Adds frost to snow.” Gensen had founded a Rinzai Zen monastery in 1384 in Totomi. The writing or speaking of a poem while on the verge of death served as inspiration to a Zen master’s disciples and often articulated an acceptance of one’s fate.