Showing posts with label RealPoetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RealPoetics. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Poetics of Ikkyu (Crazy Cloud) in Eleven Poems

Hearing a crow with no mouth
Cry in the deep
Darkness of the night,
I feel a longing for
My father before he was born.

Monks these days study hard in order to turn
A fine phrase and win fame as talented poets.
At Crazy Cloud's hut there is no such talent, but he serves up the taste of truth
As he boils rice in a wobbly old cauldron.

Rinzai's disciples never got the Zen message,
But I, the Blind Donkey, know the truth:
Love play can make you immortal.
The autumn breeze of a single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sterile sitting meditation…

Stilted koans and convoluted answers are all monks have,
Pandering endlessly to officials and rich patrons.
Good friends of the Dharma, so proud, let me tell you,
A brothel girl in gold brocade is worth more than any of you.

Every day, priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.

Bliss and sorrow, love and hate, light and shadow, hot and cold, joy and anger, self and other.
The enjoyment of poetic beauty may well lead to hell.
But look what we find strewn all along our Path:
Plum blossoms and peach flowers!

Even if I were a god or a Buddha you'd be on my mind.
I sit beneath the lamp, a skinny monk chanting love songs.
The fierce autumn wind nearly bowls me over
And my heart is choked with thick clouds.

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.

Sexual love can be so painful when it is deep,
Making you forget even the best prose and poetry.
Yet now I experience a heretofore unknown natural joy,
The delightful sound of the wind soothing my thoughts.

Memories and deep thoughts of love pain my breast;
Poetry and prose all forgotten, not a word left.
There is a path to enlightenment but I've lost heart for it.
Today, I'm still drowning in samsara.

Long ago, there was an old woman who had supported a hermit monk for twenty years. She had a sixteen-year-old girl bring him meals. One day she instructed the girl to embrace the monk and ask, "How do you feel right now? " The young girl did as told, and the monk's response was, "I'm an old withered tree against a frigid cliff on the coldest day of winter. " When the girl returned and repeated the monk's words to the old woman, she exclaimed. "For twenty years I've been supporting that base worldling!" The old woman chased the monk out and put the hermitage to the torch.

The old woman was big-hearted enough
To elevate the pure monk with a girl to wed.
Tonight if a beauty were to embrace me
My withered old willow branch would sprout a new shoot!

(tr. Sōiku Shigematsu: 1)
(tr. John Stevens: 2-11)

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Poetics of Saigyō in Eight Poems Plus One

When I was about to flee the world, I sent this message to the house of an acquaintance:

I have completely
Turned my back upon the world.
I'll leave this word,
Even if there be none
To understand it.

If I can find
no place fit to live,
let me live "no place" —
in this hut of sticks
flimsy as the world itself.

If I no longer think
of reality
as reality,
what reason would I have
to think of dreams as dreams?

At the time that the priest Jakunen invited others to contribute to a hundred-poem collection, I declined to take part. But then on the road where I was making a pilgrimage to Kumano, I had a dream. In it appeared Tankai, the administrator of Kumano, and [the poet] Shunzei. Tankai said to Shunzei: “Although all things in this world undergo change, the Way of Poetry extends unaltered even to the last age.” I opened my eyes and understood. Then I quickly wrote a verse and sent it off to Jakunen. This is what I composed there in the heart of the mountains:

`Even in an age
gone bad the lyric's Way
stays straight' -
Not seeing this in a dream,
I'd have been deaf to truth.

Hearing that the Lord Steward of the City Left, Shunzei, was collecting poems and sending my uta with the accompaning poem:

Although my poems be
Mere leaves of words
Still may you find in them
A charm and coloration of
their own.

Deep in the mountains
now the moon of the mind
shines clearly,
I can see enlightenment everywhere
in the mirror of my mind.

I cannot be moved to pity
reflecting on my detestable life
that I have spent
by composing verses
on the moon.

I have spent my life
more than sixty years,
seeking consolation
in cherry blossoms
spring after spring.

This is my prayer:
To die beneath the blossoms
In the spring
In the month of kisaragi
When the moon is full.

(tr. Burton Watson: 1,2)
(tr. William R. LaFleur: 3)
(tr. Manabu Watanabe: 5,6,7)
(tr. Takagi Kiyoko: 0,8,4)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Poetics of Ryōkan in Eight Poems

Shaving my head, becoming a monk
I spent years on the road
            pushing aside wild grasses
            peering hard into the wind
Now, everywhere I go
            people just hand me paper and brush:
“Do some calligraphy!” “Write me a poem!”

Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
When you know that my poems are not poems,
Then we can speak of poetry!

How pitiful, those virtuous fellows!
Moving into the recesses, they immerse
             themselves in composing poetry
For Ancient Style, their models
            are the poems of Han and Wei
For Recent Form,
            the T'ang poets are their guide
With gaudy words their lines are formed
And further adorned by
            novel and curious phrases
Yet if they fail to express
            what's in their own minds
What's the use, no matter
            how many poems they compose! 

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.
If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!

I sat facing you for hours but you didn't speak;
Then I finally understood the unspoken meaning.
Removed from their covers, books lay scattered about;
Outside the bamboo screen, rain beats against the plum tree.

Weaving the countless
Varying tinges of texture
Are the forty-eight phonetic letters
Weaving them with their voices
And echoes the warp and woof

Who was it said, "names are the guests of reality"?
These words have come down to us from ancient times
But even if people know that names aren't real
They don't see that reality itself has no root
Name, reality—both are beside the point
Just naturally find joy in the ever-changing flow!

My legacy --
What will it be?
Flowers in spring,
The cuckoo in summer,
And the crimson maples
Of autumn...

~Ryōkan (tr. Ryuichi Abe & Peter Haskel: 1,6,7); (tr. John Stevens: 2,3,4,5,8)

The Realizational Poetics of Mujū Dōkyō

When we consider waka as a means to religious realization, we see that it has the virtue of serenity and peace, of putting a stop to the distractions and undisciplined movements of the mind. With a few words, it encompasses its sentiment. This is the very nature of mystic verses, or dharani.

The gods of Japan are Manifest Traces, the unexcelled Transformation Bodis of buddhas and bodhisattvas. The god Susa-no-o initiated composition in thirty-one syllables with the "many-layered fence at Izumo." Japanese poems do not differ from the words of the Buddha. The dharani of India are simply the words used by the people of that country which the Buddha took and interpreted as mystic formula.


Now we refer to the poetry of "wild words and specious phrases" as "defiled poetry," because it lures us to attachment, imbues us with vain sensuality, and decks us out with empty words. But poetry may express the principles of the Holy Teaching, accompany a sense of impermanence, weaken our worldly ties and profane thoughts, and cause us to forget fame and profit. If, on seeing the leaves scattered by the wind, we come to know the vanity of the world; and if, on composing a verse on the moon hidden in the clouds, we become aware of the unsullied Principle within our hearts, then poetry mediates our entry upon the path of Buddha and becomes a reliable tool for understanding the Law. Accordingly, men of old practiced the Law of Buddha without rejecting the Way of Poetry. . . . Although anything can be a cause for religious awakening, waka is ideal.

~ Mujū Dōkyō (tr. Robert Morrell)

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Poetics of Kukai (Kōbō Daishi)

The basis of the teachings of the Great Hermit (i.e., the Buddha) is to benefit sentient beings by the teaching of names. For the benefit of the world, writing and composition have their origin in the times of virtuous people. Consequently, in the midst of emptiness and in the midst of rubbish there was the appearance of written characters. On the turtle shell and the dragon back, natural writing is disclosed. The transformation from the age of the sages of ancient times over many revolutions of celestial bodies is reflected in the educational training of the people of all the countries on earth. Like the sound of all sorts of musical instruments, laypersons were governed by the brilliance of writing. Elegant! Lustrous! In the internal worlds and the external worlds (the world Buddhists and non-Buddhists), who remembers this? As an old sūtra says, the non-backsliding bodhisattvas surely were the first to understand writing and composition.

Confucius had these sayings, “My children, why do you not study the Book of Odes? The Odes serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of sociability. They show how to regulate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the immediate duty of serving one's father, and the remoter one of serving one's prince;” and, “The man who has not studied the Chau-nan and the Shao-nan is like one who stands with his face right against a wall.” Thus, the meaning of writing and composition is wide! It is far reaching!

Through writing, the five sounds are captured and the significance of five colors is grasped. Through composition, reason shines. The meaning of writing is not obscure. The cause of writing is explained by name. In intonation, the meaning is grasped. The name explains clearly, those not yet awakened become aware. The three teachings (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism) share in this. The five vehicles share the same wheel track. Why do strangeness and difficulties enter the sūtras? The Laozi has profound and solitary harmony. Confucius stated immediately and directly. Ziyu and Zixia grasped his words. Qu and Song wrote brilliant poems. Those of the two Han periods were the ancestors of our words. The writers of the three countries were our older brothers. The essence of rhyme was transmitted by mind. Meter was transmitted orally. The successors of Shen Yue and the Liushan; the predecessors of Wang, Jiao, Cui and Rui. The theses on the four tones developed. The taboos of literary production were debated. Yellowed scrolls over flowed writing boxes. Carts were filled. On the path there are the poor yet cheerful, those who have abandoned the circles of copying, the child and the one who loves the pursuit of knowledge, making decisions without cause.

The mendicant (I), under the guidance of my maternal uncle, studied literature, studying abroad in Changan China and listening to other theses. Even though my strong motivation was quiet meditation, I did not waste this opportunity. 
Selection from the Thesis on The Mysterious District of the Mirror of Writing in Kōbō daishi zenshō (Complete Works of Kōbō Daishi) translated by Ron Green (

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Shunzei on the Way of Depth in Poetry

While the Law that was taught by the Buddha himself has profound meaning, poetry, by contrast, may seem to be mere playing at "empty words and ornate speech.” Because poetry, too, reveals the deeper significance of things, however, it can also communicate the Buddha's Way. Moreover, scripture tell us that "even the very desires and attachments themselves are enlightenment," and the Lotus Sutra that "even secular works and actions intended to promote life are all in accord with the True Law of the Buddha." The …Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva of Universal Wisdom further explains that while we may say that "this is sinful" or "this is good," in fact both "sin" and "good" are unreal, for the heart itself is Void. In this sense, we may speak of the Way of "depth" in poetry, too, in the light of the …Dialectic of Void, Provisional Reality, and Mediated Reality, for it also communicates the Way of the Buddha's Law.
 … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
…if as time passes I can come to an understanding of the limitless profundity of the Buddha's Law through an understanding of the profundity of Japanese poetry, I will thereby create the effect of being reborn in paradise and will be able to realize the Bodhisattva's vow to save all living beings. Then, in fact, I will have turned my words of poetry to praise of the Buddha that can travel far and wide to those countries that have heard the Buddha's law and lead the beings of this world to enlightenment.
~Shunzei (tr. David Pollack)