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Thread: ARTS: Zen and haiku

  1. #1

    ARTS: Zen and haiku

    This is a recent blog post of mine which I thought might be useful here in a modified form.

    Whereas the significance of Zen in haiku writing can often be overstated, it is certainly true that the two have had links in Japanese culture. The haiku master Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) was a student of Zen, as was Santōka Taneda (1882-1940) who ordained in the Sōtō school.

    Even in Kyoto
    longing for Kyoto

    Going deeper
    And still deeper
    The Green Mountains

    Ryōkan Taigu (1758-1831) was another Zen monk who practiced calligraphy and wrote poetry, including haiku, living the life of a Buddhist hermit in his Gogoan hut. In his later years he met the young nun, Teishin, and they exchanged haiku poems. She remained with him until his death.

    Left behind by the thief
    The moon
    In the window.

    Haiku often use images from nature in order to point to certain truths such as the impermanence of all things and interconnectivity of life. These truths are central to Buddhism and especially Zen. Of particular note is the use of cherry blossom imagery the intense beauty of the flowers is brought into sharp focus because we know how quickly they fade. Bashō himself comments similarly on the song of the cicada:

    Nothing in the cry
    of cicadas suggests they are
    about to die

    The endpoint of Zen practice is to achieve satori, or enlightenment, the realisation of the true nature of life and oneself. Haiku may both express such insight and play a role in precipitating it. Not all haiku express such Zen insight but it is not uncommon.

    In more recent times, the Rinzai Zen teacher Robert Aitken (1917-2010), and author of our precept study text The Mind of Clover, has analysed the poems of the great haiku masters from a Zen perspective in two books which respectively explore the work of Bashō (A Zen Wave) and Bashō, Buson, Issa and Shiki (The River of Heaven).

    Mitsu Suzuki (1915-2016), the wife of revered Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, was a noted writer of haiku as was Soen Nagakawa (1907-1984), the abbot of Ryataku Monastery and teacher of Robert Aitken.

    Valley temple bell
    with the last ring
    a new century
    Mitsu Suzuki

    One hand
    waving endlessly
    autumn ocean
    Soen Nagakawa

    Former American Zen monk, Clark Strand, writes and teaches haiku in the Hudson Valley region of NY. His book Seeds from a Birch Tree is a spiritual guide to haiku writing much loved by modern poets.

    The dogwood blossoms
    mean nothing particular
    by the color white
    Clark Strand

    As well as Zen haiku writers, there have been several notable poets with connections to Pure Land Buddhism. The most important of these is Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), one of the 'Great Four' men considered masters of haiku (the others being Bashō, Buson and Shiki), who was a lay priest in the Jōdo Shinshū sect. He wrote a very famous haiku, still much quoted today, in which he reflects on the nature of reality after the death of his daughter:

    This dewdrop world
    Is a dewdrop world,
    And yet, and yet . . .

    The most famous female haiku poet, Chiyo-ni (1703-1775), became a Pure Land nun at the age of 52, taking the name Soen. She started writing haiku at the age of seven and continued throughout her life.

    my fishing line --
    the summer moon
    -- Chiyo-ni

    In order to produce good haiku, I believe that learning to notice the small details of life, especially in relation to the natural world, is very important. This skill is very similar to that whch is developed in meditation practice. There is no striving to achieve this but it happens very naturally as thoughts drop away and even the notion of the separation of our own self and the rest of life.

    Being able to convey this in verse is a very lovely thing.

    Last edited by Jundo; 01-24-2021 at 02:39 AM.
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  2. #2
    Thanks, very interesting

    Sat today, Lend a Hand

  3. #3
    All of these verses are so evocative Kokuu, it never ceases to amaze me what can be brought forth from just three lines of words.

    Valley temple bell —
    with the last ring
    a new century
    — Mitsu Suzuki

    This says so much to me, I can see the temple and I can hear the bell ringing out clear across the valley. But so much more than that - as I read the words I felt nostalgia, tenderness, connection to the movement of time and this world, and a surge of hope. Beautiful.

    Perhaps this would be a good space in which to post our favourite Haiku?

    Thank you again for bringing us this beauty.
    satwithyoualltoday lah
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  4. #4

    Thank you for this thread, and your informative introduction to Haiku. This is the first time I have begun to understand what it is. I have never attempted it for this reason.

    Now I can begin to contemplate it.


    Sent from my SM-G930U using Tapatalk
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest
    chronic illness and Covid, is practice

  5. #5
    Thank you, Kokuu, for this thread and for all your lessons on Haiku.

    just sat
    Kaido (有道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything what I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

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