Meditation and Poetics – Haiku – 1 (Spiritual Origins of Haiku)

Bodhidharma (Daruma) – the Indian founder of Zen Buddhism, which he brought to China and subsequently Japan – from the British Museum collection – a Japanese hanging scroll painting from the Momoyama period, late 16th Century

AG: What shall we do with this problem of wordlessness however. There are a lot of ways of dealing with the un-nameable, or what can’t be described, that we were talking about. So I’m now going to go to Haiku – Volume 1 again, and read swiftly through a whole succession of haiku dealing with different subjects, different aspects of mind, concrete-detail-noticing, vast space-, or crazy-wisdom-, jumping.
But first there are some that really do relate to the problem of not being able to say it.

The book is (the first of) R.H.Blyth’s four volumes of haiku – Volume 1, which is (an) analysis of haiku and some historical survey.

By  (Oshima) Ryota:
“They spoke no word/The visitor, the host/and the white chrysanthemums”

“How pitiful! /Among the insects/ A solitary nun.”

“There are hamlets/that do not know sea bream or flowers/but all have today’s moon.

The spiritual origins of the haiku are built on the Zenrin-kushu, which are two-line poems, very similar to (William) Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”, which are like haiku, but longer (they are generally two long lines). They’re used after Zen sitting, when you go and visit the Zen master, the roshi, for a brief face-to-face mind transmission. They’re usually involved as answers to a particular riddle or koan given (to) you, which is supposed to impeach, or break in on, or express, or manifest that area of mind which is totally silent (and) wordless – the gap that we were talking about, the emptiness, the sunyata element of Mahayana – or point to one or other of the scale of consciousness experienced in sitting.

Here’s relating to a notion of selflessness, or no-self, or pointing out our tendency toward projection of our own impressions on nature:

“The raindrops patter on the basho leaf (bamboo leaf), but / these aren’t tears of grief/ This is only the anguish of him who’s listening to them.”

Student: Will you read that again?

AG: “The raindrops patter on the basho leaf (bamboo leaf), but / these aren’t tears of grief/ This is only the anguish of him who’s listening to them.”

It’s like a sword that wounds, but can’t wound itself/ Like an eye that sees, but can’t see itself.”

“To be able to trample upon the Great Void/The iron cow must sweat.

Now (the next one) is sort of like haiku, (and) like (William Carlos) Williams.. – yes?

Student: Allen, I heard another theory as to the problem of the haiku

AG: This isn’t the theory. This is the development of the haiku..

Student: Oh, sorry.

AG: There’s an enormous treatise on the haiku in this [points to Blyth], which gives charts and lineages from Confucianism and Taoism, and from Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism and Chinese poetry, all building up to renga and waka. What these are are from the Zenrin kushu two-line tags, or couplets, which are related to haiku in relating to that space, void, time-jump, gap, or space-gap, or some element of particularity, which relate to the haiku but are not the origin of the haiku. They’re way back before haiku, though.

[to Student] – Is there some theory that’s important that you want to..?

Student: No, no, no

AG: I just wanted to dwell in this space here.

AG: There’s a historical thing we could do, too, but….

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