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Spiritual Almanac – Ryokan Taigu: Thursday, January 21, 2021

Jan 21, 2021

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Today is National Hugging Day. Started by Rev. Kevin Zaborney in 1986 in Caro, Michigan, it’s purpose is to encourage more people to show emotion in public. If you decide to give someone a hug today, do yourself — and the rest of us — a favor and ask first.

Our inspiration for today comes from the great Zen Buddhist monk, Ryokan Taigu. Nicknamed the “Great Fool,” Ryokan lived most of his life as a hermit. His practice consisted of meditation, walks in nature, writing poetry and the very un-hermit-like habit of making daily rounds in the local village.

But he was famous for his kindness, generosity and sense of humor. Once, a visiting monk saw him eating fish and since monks were forbidden from eating meat, he asked why. Ryokan answered, ““I eat fish when it’s offered, but I also let the fleas and flies feast on me when I’m sleeping. Neither bothers me at all.”

Ryokan’s poetry reflects the playful nature of the Zen tradition. Although he refused the title of poet and never published his work in his lifetime, he continues to be one of Japan’s most beloved poets. In today’s reading, Ryokan gives us a peek into his humble philosophy of life and offers some pretty good spiritual advice, especially for those of us living in the Consumer Age. It’s a short poem titled, “You Do Not Need Many Things.”



By Ryokan Taigu


My house is buried in the deepest recess of the forest
Every year, ivy vines grow longer than the year before.
Undisturbed by the affairs of the world I live at ease,
Woodmen’s singing rarely reaching me through the trees.
While the sun stays in the sky, I mend my torn clothes
And facing the moon, I read holy texts aloud to myself.
Let me drop a word of advice for believers of my faith.
To enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.

Some more inspirational nuggets for today:

  • On this day in 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned Americans who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. It happened on Carter’s second day in office and it was a controversial move. Critics complained the pardon allowed unpatriotic lawbreakers to avoid prosecution, but Carter argued it was necessary to put the divisions of the war behind us. During the draft, Mennonites, Amish, Quakers and other “Peace Church” members were granted conscientious objector status and allowed to serve in a civilian capacity. Other draftees simply fled north to Canada, and about half of them stayed there permanently, even after the pardon went into effect.
  • On this day in 1525, the Swiss Anabaptist movement was founded in Zurich. It started when a group of radical evangelical reformers broke ranks with Ulrich Zwingli, the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. Reforms weren’t moving fast enough for the radicals, but their key sticking point was the baptism of infants. They objected to the practice of infant baptism on the grounds that it isn’t mentioned in the Bible, and their refusal to baptize infants carried forward into many of today’s fundamentalist and evangelical Christian churches.  
  •  Today is also the birthday of the Russian mystic, Grigori Rasputin, in 1869. Born in Siberia, Rasputin became an advisor and healer to the Romanovs. Although he never held any formal positions in the Russian Orthodox Church, he became Russia’s leading holy man by healing Tsar Nicholas’ son, Alexei, from hemophilia. But Rasputin had a darker side and he was eventually killed by a group of nobles for scandalous behavior that included bribery, sexual promiscuity and rumors of an affair with Nicholas’ wife. “When I go to confession,” Rasputin said, “I don’t offer God small sins like petty squabbles or jealousies … I offer him sins worth forgiving.”

Well, that’s one way to do it. And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.

Be kind, take care of each other and we’ll see you soon.


“You Do Not Need Many Things” by Ryokan Taigu. Public domain.

For the audio podcast, visit https://spiritualalmanac.buzzsprout.com.

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