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Anthony de Mello

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The Buddhist nun called Ryonen was born in the year 1779. The famous Japanese warrior, Shingen, was her grandfather. She was considered one of the loveliest women in the whole of Japan and a poetess of no mean talent, so already at the age of seventeen she was chosen to serve at the royal court where she developed a great fondness for Her Imperial Majesty the Empress. Now the Empress died a sudden death and Ryonen underwent a profound spiritual experience: she became acutely aware of the passing nature of all things. That was when she made up her mind to study Zen. But her family wouldn’t hear of it. They practically forced her into marriage but not before she had extracted from them and from her future husband the promise that after she had borne him three children she would be free to become a nun. This condition was fulfilled when she was twenty-five. Then neither the pleas of her husband nor anything else in the world could dissuade her from the task she had set her heart on. She shaved her head, took the name of Ryonen (which means, to understand clearly! and set out on her quest. She came to the city of Edo and asked the Master Tet-sugyu to accept her as his disciple. He took one look at her and rejected her because she was too beautiful. So she went to another Master, Hakuo. He rejected her for the same reason; her beauty, he said, would only be a source of trouble. So Ryonen branded her face with a red hot iron thereby destroying her physical beauty forever. When she came back into Hakuo’s presence, he accepted her as a disciple. Ryonen wrote a poem on the reverse side of a little mirror to commemorate the occasion: As a handmaid of my Empress I burnt incense to give fragrance to my lovely clothes. Now as a homeless-beggar I burn my face to enter the world of Zen. When she knew her time had come to depart this world she wrote another poem: Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the loveliness of Autumn... Ask no more. Only listen to the sound of the pines when no wind stirs. 🙂