do not the petals flutter down,
just like that?
This haiku is by Kobayashi Issa and was presented by Kristjaan Panneman at Carpe Diem #416, Jodo-ji (temple 49). It inspired me to write the following:
the earth beneath my foot
the toddler turns to check
the puppy belly up
to the sun
Today Kristjaan has us looking at ‘freedom’ in regards haiku, He appears to be taking us through concepts of haiku as presented by R. H. Blyth.
“These are some of the characteristics of the state of mind which the creation and appreciation of haiku demand: Selflessness, Loneliness, Grateful Acceptance, Wordlessness, Non-intellectuality, Contradictoriness, Humor, Freedom, Non-morality, Simplicity, Materiality, Love, and Courage.”― R.H. Blyth
Freedom, in this context, is freedom from convention, tradition, expectations, and the Buddhist concept of freedom from attachment, from desire.
his medical tests
he turns his face
to the breeze
in the kitchen again
the scurry of mice
Zen Buddhism’s effect on haiku is a contentious issue for a number of poets. Some state that haiku is, first and foremost, poetry, that Zen is what some poets also practice, and that the emphasis on Zen in haiku in the west is because RH Blyth and others, who brought haiku to the west early in the 20st century, had a particular leaning towards Zen.
Others would swear on their mother’s graves that haiku starts and finishes with Zen, that Basho was a practitioner of Buddhism and, because he presented the first stand-alone hokku (i.e. not as the first poem of renga), haiku is definitely Zen.
I’m simplifying greatly, and haven’t done recent research on this so there may be inaccuracy of details here, however I thought I’d put my two bob’s worth in. Haiku can be practiced as a Zen art but can also be practiced by people who have no interest in Zen. But there are indispensable characteristics of haiku that are similar to, or informed by, Zen. The delicious spare nature of haiku as I know it, is also evident in Zen. Haiku at its best has a way of making you contemplate. Through the use of the kireji, or cutting word, or the English equivalent of juxtaposition, it opens up to more than what is simply stated, something like the koan. Haiku’s famous objectivity (showing rather than telling) opens one’s sense of acceptance, grateful acceptance, a Buddhist concept.
The horse pissing
Near my pillow
Basho [trans. R.H. Blyth]
It is very ‘zen’ — to not engage with likes and dislikes. but…
the world of dew
is a world of dew
even so, even so
Kobayashi Issa again (a remembered translation, possibly a mix of more than one). He had lost his daughter to smallpox. He was contemplating transience in this haiku, saying the world is like a dew drop, will change. That he knows one of Buddhism’s main tenets is non-attachment but ‘even so…’ Grief is grief and attachment is inherent in relationships.
I think Zen has informed haiku but so has Taoism and Shintoism. Also the Japanese way or ethos, history, courts, you name it. No poetry lives in exclusion; it is coloured by the culture in which it arises. Haiku does exist outside Zen and, being a vital and growing form of poetry, will change with the practitioners worldwide. This is how it should be, but at what point does it depart so markedly that it needs a different name?
I have some trouble calling my poems ‘haiku’ as the more I know about haiku (and I have been studying it and its theory for years), the more I realise that I know next to nothing. It feels like cultural appropriation for a start, and to use the name means buying into ‘haiku wars’, arguments and theories, that I’d rather have no part in. On the other hand I love the form with a vehemence, including recent Japanese haiku and haiku in the English-speaking world. What else would we call it?
the sound of music
around my roses
the stink of piss
and a simple single open rose
the child’s upturned face