Basho's thoughts on...
• Women in Basho
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story:
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Poetry and Music
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time
• Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• BAMHAY (Basho Amazes Me! How About You?)
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention with praise
to ordinary women, children, and teenagers
in hundreds of poems

Hundreds upon hundreds of Basho works
(mostly renku)about women, children,
teenagers, friendship, compassion, love.

These are resources we can use to better
understand ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial power
of the feminine emanating
from Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover Basho's
gentleness and humanity.

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material,
to edit and improve the material, to receive 100%
of royalties, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide
and preserve for future generations.

Quotations from Basho Prose


The days and months are
guests passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass through it
yourself. Some poets have made
no effort to pass through, merely
counting things and trying
to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one as an expression
of the same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com

 



Home  >  Topics  >  Poetry and Music  >  E-16


Basho’s Zen Poetry

13 Basho haiku and 6 renku about Zen, or suggesting Zen

Legend:
Words of Basho in bold
Words of other poets not bold

Here are poems written while Basho was studying with a Zen priest, or about Zen monks, or about the practice of Zen meditation. (For prose and letters, see Article E-5 FRIENDS IN ZEN).  

 

Apparently he did study with the Zen Priest Butcho for about a year and a half, from winter of 1680 through 1681 and into 1682), and at this time he shaved his head (we cannot know if he kept it shaved, since he is always portrayed wearing a hat); he wrote this stanza:

 

My own black hair
replaced by monk’s cowl

 

Basho wrote numerous Zen-oriented haiku in the winters of 1680 and 1681; this even before he moved into his hut near Butcho: 

 

Where did it rain?
hand holding umbrella
the monk returns

 

The monk holds up his umbrella although there is no rain; this is Basho’s Zen koan: the incongruity challenges us to forego rational thought and look deeper into the nature of reality. As he does so often throughout this trilogy, Basho seeks to transcend spatial and temporal barriers – to look at the monk and his raised umbrella in the sunshine, and ‘see’ rain falling on them a short time ago in a different place.

 

In the winter of 1680, the first cold season he endured in his hut, Basho wrote many poems of this sadness inherited from ancient Chinese poetry.


Sound of oars striking
the waves, bowel-freezing
night of tears

 

Ueda says, “The hyperbolic style poeticizing loneliness is also from Tang verse…The elements of Chinese verse are made to serve his prime purpose: to present his own feelings.” Yes, to present his own feelings – to be self-absorbed in his own loneliness and misery. Much of the sabi, or desolate loneliness,   in Basho comes from this year and a half when he was into Zen and the sadness and self-absorption of ancient Chinese poetry.


Stones wither
water wilts away
no winter

 

Basho uses verbs suitable for flowers with “stones” and “water” – a blatantly obvious attempt to say something Zen, and express his existential loneliness, however the verse has no heart, Zen or otherwise. These sad, lonely verses said to be “characteristic of Basho” actually only characterize this 18-month period when a Zen priest was his neighbor; and yet in spring of 1681, in the midst of his heavy Chinese Zen period, Basho did write this light happy verse:


In full bloom, yeah!
the priests floating along
while wives slither

 

The interjection ja is kind of jazzy -- so I translate “yeah!” The usually grim serious priests float along, and the usually staid housewives “slither” their hips in an erotic manner, all because of the joyful exuberance of cherry blossom season. The verse is very fashionable; it expresses the liberated mores of yuppies in Edo these days. Not exactly a Zen way of looking at things.

 

Fool in the dark
grasping at brambles
Oh you firefly!

 

In the summer of 1681, Basho makes another attempt at the Zen rejection of ordinary thinking.

When the winter of 1681 came, Basho was even more absorbed in Chinese Zen desolation’ – for instance this about the basho or banana plant growing in his garden, the plant which gave him his pen-name:


Wind blasting the basho
rain leaking into a tub
night of listening

 

Basho obviously means himself. The poem drips with desolate loneliness. The desolation seems to have tapered off from 1683 when Butcho was no longer his neighbor.

 

In the summer of 1684, Basho was presented a wooden statue of Buddha rising into Nirvana to display in his “hut of weeds.”  He wrote:


Hail! Buddha
on this pedestal of weeds
you can cool off

 

Ha ha. Zen for fun. In the autumn of 1684 Basho went on his first poetic journey,

and wrote this at a famous Buddhist temple.

 

Monks or morning glories,
how many die and return?
pine of the Dharma

 

Monks live a half-century, flowers a single season, either a mere fraction of the existence of this pine. The vast age of the tree leads to a realization of the Dharma, the Law of Buddhism that all beings must die and reincarnate.

 

Come out, bat,
in floating world of blossoms
you be a bird

 

Basho gave this verse to a monk leaving on a journey, telling him to “lighten up” -- all Buddhism and no play makes a dull monk. Come out of that cave and fly about. Get high, man. Basho was not much for the self-discipline part of Zen.


 

With one poppy petal

Zen name fell to him

Moon a crescent,

toll of temple bell

darkens the east

 

The observation of a single poppy petal falling from the flower brought his enlightenment, and he took his name as a Zen monk from that incident. The slender crescent on the 3rd night of the lunar month rises during the day from the east, but cannot be seen until evening when it is in the west. Basho integrates the progression of the moon, the vast sky in darkness, and the solemn tolling of the temple bell.

 

 

 

 

The next two Basho’s stanzas  may come from his own practice of Zen; although he is not necessarily speaking about himself, we take his words that way. In the stanza below, he specifies zazen, sitting meditation, a discipline practiced, usually in a meditation hall, seeking to concentrate enough insight into the nature of existence to gain enlightenment. The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.

 

Papa gone, she cries
in bedroom till daybreak --
Never moving
yet covered by clouds
the North Star –

Today too for zazen
climbing onto the rock

 

Sora offers an image of passionate humanity: a girl missing her father totally loses it to emotion. Seifu counters with an image of eternity without humanity or passion -- an obvious, even blatant Zen message: the Way never changes but sometimes cannot be seen. As the North Star remains constant throughout the night, throughout human life, and throughout time, so must be your discipline in Zen if you are serious about practicing, which Basho was not. Basho follows Seifu with a personal experience of Zen meditation – however he is not merely sitting in zazen; he is climbing onto a large rock to do so; the focus is on activity leading to stillness. Basho does his Zen not inside a temple, but rather outside, concentrating on the heavens.

 

The next verse tells of the practice in Zen of the Master striking the meditator on the band of muscle between the shoulder and the neck with a thin somewhat flexible wooden cane that stings but does not injure. The purpose is to wake up the student and through sudden sharp sensation induce realization of the Way.

 

Only in substance
bullfrog has no croak

With one whack
of the cane awakened
to moon’s crescent

 

The subject is meditating on the Zen koan, ‘In the form of a frog there is no voice.’ No matter how we dissect a frog, nowhere can we find the croak that fills the night above the pond. The voice exists somewhere outside of flesh and blood. How is this possible? Whack! Don’t go there, dude; you just end up debating within yourself the endless variations in philosophy between “form” and “substance” and “spirit.” You’ll never gain enlightenment that way. Return to the physical world: the slender white crescent of moon

along with that sharp pain between your neck and shoulders.

 

We have two two verses, one including the word “zazen,” the other specifying a Zen custom, which do support the claim that Basho practiced Zen – although the people who claim Basho practiced Zen have no knowledge of these verses. Also we notice the unconventionality of his Zen: he meditates outdoors, not in a meditation hall; focusing on celestrial bodies, the North Star and the Moon.

 

In 1689 on his journey to the Deep North, Basho stayed for one night at a Zen temple, Zenshoji, near Kanazawa. In his journal, he says nothing about meeting the priests of this temple, and he did not get up to attend early morning services which is what any serious student of Zen would have done. He does tell of his encounter with a a group of young monks who pursued him to the stairway and requested a poem.

Since at that moment, the willows in the garden are shedding their leaves:

 

As temple guest
sweeps the garden and leaves
of the willow fall

 

The guest who has stayed the night may sweep the temple garden to show gratitude – and sweeping with a broom is a task frequent given to students of Zen; focusing on the repetitive motions of sweeping is one path to Oneness.

 

For the hell of it
stealing single orchid

Dew heavy
the monk in silence
opens the door

 

Someone immature has stolen a single orchid, thinking it would not be missed. From this human pettiness, Basho chooses a metaphor for Zen Buddhism: the world heavy with dew suggesting impermanence, the monk in utter silence opens the door to go out into the garden, as he opens the door to the Truth. The two stanzas portray two poles in the continuum of humanity, from the self-ignorance of a juvenile delinquent to the total self-awareness of the enlightened monk.

 

In a letter to Kyokusui, Basho writes

 

A monk of wisdom and discernment once said,
“Raw Zen, Raw Buddism – such is Hell”

 

By lightning
unenlightened, that
one’s nobility

 

 

Sudden enlightenment which comes like a flash of silent lightning, is “raw Zen.” To be enlightened for a moment is useless. True enlightenment can only come from experience through time.

 

Monk quietly
sips morning tea,
chrysanthemums

After early morning meditation, the Zen monk rests, sipping tea from a fine ceramic cup. His calmness matches that of the flowers.

 

Whitebait: herring-like fish, finger-length, slender, semi-transparent; early spring as they swim up river from the bay , caught in nets; eaten fried or in soup, but also alive and still “dancing.”

White bait –
black eyes open to
Dharma‘s net

The Dharma is the Law of Buddhism that all must die and pass away. The startlingly black eyes of the silvery fish open to the Truth as the net takes them.

Chrysanthemum
fragrance, in Nara
ancient Buddhas

Nara was the capital of Japan when Buddhism entered the land, and the city retains the oldest Buddhist statues. Makoto Ueda says
The ancient world those Buddhas watched with their merciful eyes is somehow present in the elegant, noble fragrance that pervades the air of Nara. Inhaling that fragrance, one feels that the ancient images were alive and breathing.

 

 

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com

 






<< Tanka Equivilants (E-15) (E-17) Poetry in Basho Letters: >>


The Three Thirds of Basho

 

 

I plead for your help in finding a person or group to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material, to edit and improve the presentation, to receive all royalties from sales, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide and preserve for future generations.

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com
Basho's thoughts on...
• Women in Basho
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story:
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Poetry and Music
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time
• Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• BAMHAY (Basho Amazes Me! How About You?)
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention with praise
to ordinary women, children, and teenagers
in hundreds of poems

Hundreds upon hundreds of Basho works
(mostly renku)about women, children,
teenagers, friendship, compassion, love.

These are resources we can use to better
understand ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial power
of the feminine emanating
from Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover Basho's
gentleness and humanity.

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material,
to edit and improve the material, to receive 100%
of royalties, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide
and preserve for future generations.

Quotations from Basho Prose


The days and months are
guests passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass through it
yourself. Some poets have made
no effort to pass through, merely
counting things and trying
to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one as an expression
of the same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com