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Fall Sesshin 2021: Recipes for Happiness – Santoka’s Life


Tess recounts the twists and turns of the life of Taneda Santoka—a perpetually drenched, wandering poet-priest touched deeply by life and the kindness of others. Every breadcrumb in life, every thread is important in the weave. For Santoka to be Santoka, who he actually was was enough. This was the Way, his Way. Dharma talk as recorded Saturday morning on October 23, 2021, at Fall Sesshin.



This is the stone, drenched with rain, that points the way.

—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 19 (from a poem by Taneda Santoka)

We’re always looking for a recipe, or data points, to get a handle on happiness. The most profoundly simple but difficult challenge is to let ourselves transform into ourselves. We imagine a different, better self “after awakening.”

Every stroke, even the most difficult or painful, is part of the piece.

Things are always transforming. Minerals and water left to sit become painterly, forming beautiful stones.

Santoka’s Stone Drenched with Rain: Who was he?

The story of Santoka is one of strange and interesting karma. He carried the image of his mother, who had drowned in a well, everywhere in his life. There was something deeply sincere about Santoka, and he was loved and helped by friends and strangers throughout his life. Ultimately, he learned to trust his wandering feet—his own way.

Santoka engaged in many pursuits with the aim of finding a stable life: running a shop featuring “many elegant amusements,” getting married, serving as head of a temple, nurturing a home and garden. But he invariably left each situation for a life of wandering with his begging bowl—”the panhandling priest.”

He loved being drenched in sake or soaking in his beloved hot springs. Yet his life of drunkenness and misadventure was also marked by kindness from strangers and friends. He loved the Kannon Sutra which had the power to help anyone, no matter what.

He wrote non-traditional haiku in a time of searing nationalism, not accepting the status quo. People felt free when they were with him. He said, “To be alive is to write poetry, to write poetry is to be alive.”

For Santoka to be Santoka, this—who he actually was—was enough. This was the Way, his Way.

To taste the thing itself, an unskillful person penetrates that unskillfulness to the bone.

Santoka trusted his two feet when he couldn’t trust anything else. Always, there was a sense of beauty and of deeply inhabiting his life.

Life comes through us—it’s our poetry, it’s our Way.

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