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Thread: ARTS: Zen poets, an introduction

  1. #1

    ARTS: Zen poets, an introduction

    Hello all

    Onka asked me to recommend some Zen poets and books of their work so I replied with this and thought it might also be of interest to others.

    --------------------

    I would say that your go-to man is Ryōkan (1758–1831) who was a Sōtō Zen hermit, poet and calligrapher. His book One Robe, One Bowl is one of my absolute favourites and there are other books about him and translations of his poems of which the most authoritative is The Zen Poems of Ryōkan by Nobuyuki Yuasa.

    My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
    Every year the green ivy frows longer.
    No news of the affairs of men,
    Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
    The sun shines and I mend me robe;
    When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
    I have nothing to report my friends.
    If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.



    Next I love Han Shan (Cold Mountain; 9th century China) who was a Buddhist/Taoist hermit. His poetry is wonderful and there are great translations of his work either by Red Pine or Peter Levitt/Kaz Tanahashi. Upaya Zen Center recently had a retreat on his work led by Peter Levitt and Kaz: http://https://www.upaya.org/2020/06...nshan-7-parts/

    Ikkyū Sōjun (1394–1481) is a great poet but also one of our Zen rebels, who eschewed being a Zen abbot to spend time in brothels and bars, falling in love with a blind girl in his old age. Jundo spent one podcast berating him for being a womanising drunk and while this is doubtless true, he wrote some great poetry (as well as really explicit poetry even by modern standards) which can be found in the book Crow with No Mouth.

    Compare:

    flowers are silent silence is silent the mind is a silent flower the silent flower of the world opens


    all koans just lead you on
    but not the delicious pu**y of the young girls I go down on


    He was also funny:

    born born everything is always born
    thinking about it try not to


    The man we studied during Rohatsu is Shitou Xiqian (Sekito Kisen in her Japanese spelling). He is not so much of a poet but many Zen teachers wrote teaching verses. He wrote both The Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage, and The Identity of Relative and Absolute that we chant at monthly Zazenkais.

    Dōgen is also a poet of some reknown himself, and recent visitor Steven Heine translated a bunch of his poems: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/...oetry_of_Dogen

    Wearing dragon scales, rabbit horns, and turtle hair,
    With falling rain and rising clouds, we see the path is slippery.
    Gouging out the empty sky, seeking has not ceased.
    Tonight, finally, I grasp the moon in the water.



    Although not a Zen priest, the haiku master Matsuo Bashō was a student of Zen and his poems definitely convey that essence. His travelog interwoven with haiku, Narrow Road to the Interior, is a classic of Japanese literature. Robert Aitken Roshi, author of our precepts text The Mind of Clover, wrote a volume looking at Basho's work from a Zen perspective called A Zen Wave: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15849297-a-zen-wave I have also written a little about the relationship between Zen and haiku: https://yearinhaiku.wordpress.com/zen-and-haiku/

    Taneda Santōka (1882-1940) came to Sōtō Zen after attempting suicide and was later ordained. Ann knows a great deal of his work and had an exhibition based on paper rakusus she made with each one inspired by a Santōka poem: The Rakusu Project There are a number of books of his work. I have Mountain Tasting which I love.

    Going deeper
    And still deeper —
    The Green Mountains


    As far as more modern Zen poets go, two of my favourites are the Rinzai Zen student and environmentalist Gary Snyder (1930- ) and Jane Hirshfield (1953- ;https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/jane-hirshfield) who took Jukai at San Francisco Zen Center in 1979.

    For Nothing (Gary Snyder)

    Earth a flower
    A phlox on the steep
    slopes of light
    hanging over the vast
    solid spaces
    small rotten crystals;
    salts.

    Earth a flower
    by a gulf where a raven
    flaps by once
    a glimmer, a color
    forgotten as all
    falls away.

    A flower
    for nothing;
    an offer;
    no taker;

    Snow-trickle, feldspar, dirt.



    Shunryu Suzuki's wife Mitsu (1914-2016) was also a fine poet with two collections of haiku poetry with many Zen themes, White Tea Bowl and Temple Dusk.

    Autumn cloud
    as if it knew
    my life alone.


    ---------------------------

    I have probably missed some people out but this can be seen as a start to some of the more important poets in the Zen tradition.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-24-2021 at 02:34 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
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    Kokuu,

    Thank you for sharing. Gary Snyder is a long-time personal favorite of mine as well and I recently have been reading more of Jane Hirschfield's work as well.

    Another contemporary western poet that was heavily influenced by the Chinese poets such as Han Shan, Li Po, etc. was the late David Budbill. I highly recommend any of his books.

    https://davidbudbill.com/

    Gassho,
    Rob

    -st-



    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
    聖簡 Seikan (Sacred Simplicity)

  3. #3
    Thank you for that recommendation, Rob. I will definitely check him out!

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  4. #4
    Thank you Kokuu!



    Gassho, Shinshi

    SaT-LaH
    空道 心志 Kudo Shinshi
    I am just a priest-in-training, any resemblance between what I post and actual teachings is purely coincidental.

  5. #5
    I have not followed poetry, not that I have not read a little once it awhile but never ventured deep into its appreciation This thread, others and the commonality of poetry within Zen practice have encouraged me to try and understand better and explore some. What does poetry mean for you, do the words have a specific meaning or it’s the interpretation of the audience, keeping within the 3 sentences can not explain more so hope my request is understandable.

    Doshin
    St

  6. #6
    Thank you, Kokuu

    I like Jane Hirshfield and Gary Snyder. Are you familiar with the work of Philip Whalen, Snyder's longtime friend and a Priest at SFZC?

    Gassho,
    Juki

    Sat today and lah
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  7. #7
    Hi Juki

    I am of course aware of Philip Whalen in a Zen context as the successor of Richard Baker Roshi at SFZC but did not know he was a poet! Thank you!

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  8. #8
    This thread, others and the commonality of poetry within Zen practice have encouraged me to try and understand better and explore some. What does poetry mean for you, do the words have a specific meaning or it’s the interpretation of the audience, keeping within the 3 sentences can not explain more so hope my request is understandable.
    Hi Doshin

    Maybe others can answer that too but for me, poetry is like other forms of art in that it can create an image that speaks to the heart (or subconscious if you prefer) rather than the intellect. Dōgen uses imagery like this often in Shōbōgenzō.

    For example, take the famous poem Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain by Li Po (China; 701–762):

    The birds have vanished down the sky.
    Now the last cloud drains away.

    We sit together, the mountain and me,
    until only the mountain remains.


    (translated by Sam Hamill)

    How powerful is that as a description of Zazen?!

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Maybe others can answer that too but for me, poetry is like other forms of art in that it can create an image that speaks to the heart (or subconscious if you prefer) rather than the intellect. Dōgen uses imagery like this often in Shōbōgenzō.

    For example, take the famous poem Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain by Li Po (China; 701–762):

    The birds have vanished down the sky.
    Now the last cloud drains away.

    We sit together, the mountain and me,
    until only the mountain remains.


    (translated by Sam Hamill)

    How powerful is that as a description of Zazen?!
    That is still my favorite translation of that poem, and frankly, it was one of my earliest introductions to Zen poetry. Ironically, I first read it in the opening pages of Joseph Goldstein's book "Insight Mediation: The Practice of Freedom", not a Zen book!

    Speaking of Snyder, Whalen, etc., I also heartily recommend "Poets on the Peaks" By John Suiter, where he writes about the years when Snyder, Whalen, and Kerouac each spent their summers working as fire lookouts in the western U.S. mountains and were starting to develop their individual interests in Zen (all ultimately taking very different paths later in life). If you're interested in the developmental years of the beat poets, it is a fantastic read.

    Gassho,
    Rob

    -st-


    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
    聖簡 Seikan (Sacred Simplicity)

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Doshin View Post
    I have not followed poetry, not that I have not read a little once it awhile but never ventured deep into its appreciation This thread, others and the commonality of poetry within Zen practice have encouraged me to try and understand better and explore some. What does poetry mean for you, do the words have a specific meaning or it’s the interpretation of the audience, keeping within the 3 sentences can not explain more so hope my request is understandable.

    Doshin
    St
    In my opinion...

    Poetry is the meaning
    Between the words
    And what is left
    Unsaid.


    Gassho!
    C.

    #st/lah

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Hi Doshin

    Maybe others can answer that too but for me, poetry is like other forms of art in that it can create an image that speaks to the heart (or subconscious if you prefer) rather than the intellect. Dōgen uses imagery like this often in Shōbōgenzō.

    For example, take the famous poem Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain by Li Po (China; 701–762):

    The birds have vanished down the sky.
    Now the last cloud drains away.

    We sit together, the mountain and me,
    until only the mountain remains.


    (translated by Sam Hamill)

    How powerful is that as a description of Zazen?!

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-

    That truly helps Yes that is a wonderful way to describe Zazen

    Doshin
    St

    PS Kokuu you will appreciate this since we have similars educations...I am trying to broaden my mind beyond the intellect/analysis trained into us
    Last edited by Doshin; 08-18-2020 at 06:03 PM.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by RobD View Post
    That is still my favorite translation of that poem, and frankly, it was one of my earliest introductions to Zen poetry. Ironically, I first read it in the opening pages of Joseph Goldstein's book "Insight Mediation: The Practice of Freedom", not a Zen book!

    Speaking of Snyder, Whalen, etc., I also heartily recommend "Poets on the Peaks" By John Suiter, where he writes about the years when Snyder, Whalen, and Kerouac each spent their summers working as fire lookouts in the western U.S. mountains and were starting to develop their individual interests in Zen (all ultimately taking very different paths later in life). If you're interested in the developmental years of the beat poets, it is a fantastic read.

    Gassho,
    Rob

    -st-


    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

    Thanks for the suggestion. My wife used to live near Snyder in the 1970s and went to his readings not far from his summer home in the fire tower. I lived a few miles further down the mountain (hadn’t met my wife yet) but knew of Snyder but at that time was more consumed by the sciences so didn’t venture up to hear him even though I was meditating some then

    Doshin
    St

  13. #13
    Thank you, Kokuu. In another thread I asked about writers and books on haiku, but I found some answers here. I appreciate the links offered here.

    Gassho,
    Onkai
    Sat/lah
    On (Warm)
    Kai (Sea)

  14. #14
    PS Kokuu you will appreciate this since we have similars educations...I am trying to broaden my mind beyond the intellect/analysis trained into us
    Hi Doshin

    Yes, I am doing the same! The good thing I find about reading and writing poetry is that I never put any pressure on myself to understand or be good at any of it as I am just a humble natural scientist!

    Many people I know who did Arts degrees seem to go the other way and get really interested in science in later life.

    Btw, did you book onto David Loy's Ecodharma course? I would really like to do it but don't have the space to take on anything else right now.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  15. #15
    Thank you, Kokuu. In another thread I asked about writers and books on haiku
    Hi Onkai

    Here are some I like (although this list is desperately in need of an update), and Rob can doubtless name many more besides:

    https://yearinhaiku.wordpress.com/books-and-weblinks/

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doshin View Post
    Thanks for the suggestion. My wife used to live near Snyder in the 1970s and went to his readings not far from his summer home in the fire tower. I lived a few miles further down the mountain (hadn’t met my wife yet) but knew of Snyder but at that time was more consumed by the sciences so didn’t venture up to hear him even though I was meditating some then

    Doshin
    St
    Doshin,

    That's so cool. I'm jealous of the fact that you even lived in such proximity to Snyder (I'm a bit too much of a fanboy ).

    Another Zen-inspired poet I forgot to mention is Jim Harrison—also a contemporary and good friend of Snyder's. They were both featured in the documentary "The Practice of the Wild" where they discuss ecology and poetry. Definitely worthy of a view (or two).

    Gassho,
    Rob

    -st-

    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
    聖簡 Seikan (Sacred Simplicity)

  17. #17
    Speaking of Snyder, Whalen, etc., I also heartily recommend "Poets on the Peaks" By John Suiter, where he writes about the years when Snyder, Whalen, and Kerouac each spent their summers working as fire lookouts in the western U.S. mountains and were starting to develop their individual interests in Zen (all ultimately taking very different paths later in life). If you're interested in the developmental years of the beat poets, it is a fantastic read.
    Thank you, Rob. That does sound really interesting! I know about Gary Snyder's time as a lookout but did not know about the others. I love the Beats and spent some time a couple of years ago exploring Kerouac's relationship with Buddhism. I have Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation still on the shelf to read waiting for a gap between Dōgen and Larry Niven...

    Poets on the Peaks seems to go for £30+ for copies at the moment, sadly.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    Last edited by Kokuu; 08-18-2020 at 07:58 PM.
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by RobD View Post
    Doshin,

    That's so cool. I'm jealous of the fact that you even lived in such proximity to Snyder (I'm a bit too much of a fanboy ).

    Another Zen-inspired poet I forgot to mention is Jim Harrison—also a contemporary and good friend of Snyder's. They were both featured in the documentary "The Practice of the Wild" where they discuss ecology and poetry. Definitely worthy of a view (or two).

    Gassho,
    Rob

    -st-

    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
    I have met Jim Harrison a couple of times when he came to his winter place in Patagonia, AZ. Had a beer with him a year or two before he died. First time I met him he told me he had written Legends of the Fall and I said “I know” He was an interesting man. Saw Practice of the Wild.

    Doshin
    St

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Onkai View Post
    Thank you, Kokuu. In another thread I asked about writers and books on haiku, but I found some answers here. I appreciate the links offered here.

    Gassho,
    Onkai
    Sat/lah
    Hi Onkai,

    I was reluctant to mention Issa as he was a Pure Land Buddhist but I find Kobayashi Issa's poems to be wonderful. David G. Lanoue has a number of books of translations of Issa's poetry and the kindle versions are only a few dollars.

    Gassho
    Hoseki
    Sattoday

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Hi Doshin

    Btw, did you book onto David Loy's Ecodharma course? I would really like to do it but don't have the space to take on anything else right now.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    I applied. Limited number to be accepted so I am waiting. I told David if they maxed out give my spot to a younger person. If I get in I was going to ask Jundo if he wanted me to start a thread where I summarized the teaching (what I understood at least) each week. Thought it be motivation for me to focus more!

    Doshin
    St

  21. #21
    That's so cool. I'm jealous of the fact that you even lived in such proximity to Snyder (I'm a bit too much of a fanboy ).
    Snyder is well worth fanboying over! I actually came to him through my career in ecology and involvement in Green politics and environmentalism well before Zen and I suspect that Doshin might be the same.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  22. #22
    I applied. Limited number to be accepted so I am waiting. I told David if they maxed out give my spot to a younger person. If I get in I was going to ask Jundo if he wanted me to start a thread where I summarized the teaching (what I understood at least) each week. Thought it be motivation for me to focus more!
    That would be great if you do get on!

    I have often mooted the idea of having an Environmental/Green Dharma sub-forum in which to place the threads we already have and to study something like Ecodharma or even something of Gary Snyder's, with the idea that you and I might co-moderate, if you would be open to it.

    But as yet, it is something whose time seems not yet to have come. Your thread, if it happens, could well precipitate more.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    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.

  23. #23
    Member Seikan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doshin View Post
    I have met Jim Harrison a couple of times when he came to his winter place in Patagonia, AZ. Had a beer with him a year or two before he died. First time I met him he told me he had written Legends of the Fall and I said “I know” He was an interesting man. Saw Practice of the Wild.

    Doshin
    St
    Oh man... Now I'm extremely jealous.

    Considering how many of us seem to have similar tastes in poetry, we may want to consider an occasional online meetup/reading or something here, but maybe AFTER Ango/Jukai.

    Gassho,
    Rob

    -st-


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  24. #24
    Thank you, Kokuu and Hoseki, for your reading suggestions.

    Gassho,
    Onkai
    Sat/lah
    On (Warm)
    Kai (Sea)

  25. #25
    Member Onka's Avatar
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    rural queensland australia.
    Again, thank you Kokuu
    Gassho
    Onka
    ST
    穏 On (Calm)
    火 Ka (Fires)
    aka Anna Kissed.
    Pronouns She/Her They/Them.
    Life's too serious to be taken seriously.
    No Gods No Masters.

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    That would be great if you do get on!

    I have often mooted the idea of having an Environmental/Green Dharma sub-forum in which to place the threads we already have and to study something like Ecodharma or even something of Gary Snyder's, with the idea that you and I might co-moderate, if you would be open to it.

    But as yet, it is something whose time seems not yet to have come. Your thread, if it happens, could well precipitate more.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    I like that idea.

    Doshin
    St

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