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“The symbol of Goddess gives us permission. She teaches us to embrace the holiness of every natural, ordinary, sensual dying moment"-- Sue Monk Kidd -- and Basho would agree.
The Buddhist temple, Hase-dera in Sakurai (between Yoshino and Nara) founded in the year 686, has long been a place of pilgrimage for women. Many noble women and ladies-in-waiting at the imperial court in Kyoto came here to pray to the famous Eleven-Faced Kannon, a 30-foot tall statue in relief of the Goddess of Mercy, carved from a single log of camphor, the largest wooden image in Japan.
Kannon, originally when Buddhism existed in India, was the saint Avalokitesuara, a male disciple of the Buddha who, as the religion spread through China to Japan, became a female ‘Bodhisattva’ (one who could leave this world and enter Nirvana, but chooses to stay here to help others). Buddhist officials and scholars maintain that Kannon is male, yet stronger is the desire of the people for a goddess to heal their sorrows. Kannon, in other lands, is called Mary, or in other times the Egyptian goddess Isis.
The English-language tourist brochure for Hase-dera says of Kannon:
His name is consisted of two parts. KAN means ‘to observe’ and ON means ‘sounds’ or ‘voice.
We can hear sounds or voices, but cannot look at them. But Kannon can. It is just like that a mother
understands what her baby wants by hearing his cry.
So the name itself suggests a maternal ability to listen so well that listening becomes seeing – although the priests who wrote this brochure still call Kannon “he.” Michael Ashkenazi says of Kannon, “for most people she (yes, “she”) carries the possibility of restoring and continuing life.’’
Women in Japan commonly pray to the Goddess of Mercy for love, to bear a child, for a child to succeed in school or life, or for relief from hardship. I believe that to appreciate this haiku, we must draw the spiritual energy suggested in Basho’s headnote into his haiku, so we feel the female energy of Kannon-sama and Hase Temple in the haiku.
Finally, by the end of April in central Japan, enough warmth has accumulated so even the nights are warm and tranquil. It is a time for the heart to find solace and renew hope. Taking off our shoes at the entrance, we step quietly onto the finely polished hardwood floor. Before us rises Kannon-sama, five times our height, the compassion in her face and figure radiating to every corner of the temple. Over there, in a corner, someone barely seen in the faint lantern light sits in communion with the Goddess.
Who is she? Why has she come here alone at night? What is she praying for?
Basho scholar Kon Eizo says
“in the one now hidden before my eyes, the images (of all the women who came to Hase-dera
in the past) pile up one on top of another to attract my heart.”
By making a poem about the hidden woman, Basho eulogizes her; as conduit between spring and Kannon, she herself becomes eternal. This woman and her prayers to Kannon-sama convey a tender mystery known in temples and churches throughout the world – this world where men make decisions, but men are inconstant, and all women can do about this is pray to a goddess for compassion. NIGHT IN SPRING creates a link between women suffering in the 17th Century and women trapped in the same patriarchal system today.
(BRZ 6: 109) Etsujin begins with genderless tree spirits repeating human words. Basho complements this vision with a yama hime, literally “mountain princess” who in conventional interpretation would be a female ghost or phantom of the mountains; in many legends she is a monstrous crone, "her unkempt hair long and golden white, her kimono filthy and tattered, with cannabilistic tendencies.” Basho, however, is not conventional; he rejects the old-fashioned misogynistic distortions; he says “Old is the worst disease a poet can have.” The BRZ calls Basho’s stanza “very charming” so obviously does not see ugliness or monstrosity.
Throughout this article, throughout his poetry, Basho praises women, both divine and ordinary. Let us join with him to imagine/create a beautiful, positive goddess in harmony with the tree spirits echoing in the breeze. Etsujin and Basho portray the history of spirituality on these islands; first a consciousness of divine forces in the trees and wind, then a goddess who disperses in the flow of time, dispersing not to nothing, but rather joining the flow, always the same but ever-changing, outward to the world.
One of the primal deities in Japanese mythology is the Goddess of the Well, Mizuho-nome-no-mikoto, who is paired with the male God of Water, Suijin. The following tanka is anonymous, however Basho said it was:
Basho calls this a "crazy verse" because, he, by himself, is seeing "adoration" - great love, devotion, respect - in the verse without any religious authorities telling him what to see. He is forming his own "crazy" way to worship the female through the ancient mythology.
Water is drawn, or born, from the Well (Goddess), or Earth's vagina. Water comes and goes, while the Well remains forever. The ancient records says that the first water of a well must be drawn by a man, for the presumably jealous Well Goddess would be angered by a woman doing so.
We are born, as water is lifted from a well, without self-confidence, then grow up listening to the Gods Roar beside the well. When we die, we return to the dark water deep within the well from which we are born again.
Amaterasu is a Goddess of Purity, so She hates anything dirty. In the central myth of Shinto, the Goddess’ brother, the Storm God Susano, spread shit on her seat and did other horrible deeds. His behavior so deeply shamed the Sun that She hid herself in a Rock Cave, leaving the world dark. To lure Her out from the cave,
the kamisama (divine spirits) forged a Mirror out of stars. The eight million kamisama gathered before the Rock Cave in the darkness.
So now, of course, the Sun had to open the door a crack to see what was going on. Two kamisama lifted the Mirror to show Amaterasu the “other Goddess.” She opened the door wider to get a better look and the Strongman of the Gods was able to yank the Sun outside and put an end to this nonsense.
Uzume, possessed to dance so the eight million kamisama would laugh, was Japan’s first miko or female shaman, as well as first dancer, comedian, and porno actress. She is still considered the ‘Goddess of Comedy.’
Basho wrote this single renku stanza about a 'woman with goddess,' a young female shaman and successor to Heavenly Uzume
What the miko thinks
Mono omoi iru / miko no mono ii
To become a miko a girl must be a virgin, so, according to Shinto belief, has the purity to communicate with the Sun Goddess and other kamisama. Her thoughts come from the divine, and in her innocence she does not filter or edit them, so actually the deity is speaking with her human mouth.
Basho’s stanza by itself resembles the spoken words of two of the most magnificent women in Shakespeare:
Rosalind in As You Like It:
And in Othello, the dying words of Emilia:
Basho, Rosalind, and Emilia, each say that a woman should speak her mind, honoring the Truth, "embracing the holiness" of her spoken words.
A sheet of paper, traditionally of hemp fibers, is cut and folded in a zigzag pattern and attached to a wooden stick. The Ise Shrine produces these taima -- same Chinese characters and pronunciation as the psychoactive cannabis -- in great numbers, and priests take them in a box to distribute among houses who have supported the shrine; people wave the offering before the household shrine to ask a favor. Basho sees the Sun Goddess as sunlight shining on cherry blossoms.
The bird steal the hemp paper from the offerings; hemp fiber is strong, so makes a good nest for the bird who brings good fortune. Notice the links: from blossoms to bird; from hemp offered to the gods to hemp stolen by birds, from Goddess to female nesting bird, from miracles to good fortune.
For the New Year of 1693 (on February 5th by the Wetern calender) Basho’s childhood and lifelong friend Ensui sent Basho a New Year’s letter telling the birth of his first granddaughter, including a haiku which compared the newborn girl to the first bit of green appearng on the tip of the buds to in a few days become plum blossoms.
Basho replies on April 9 of 1693:
The baby’s immaturity just shows that the best is yet to come. Basho bonded to his friend experiences Ensui’s joy in his own chest. We cannot read this letter without feeling the warmth in Basho’s heart.
He expresses so clearly.
For the New Year of the next year, 1694, Basho sent another letter to his old friend:
Basho wishes that this year the whole tree will become fragrant and colorful, as Ensui’s granddaughter who can now stand by herself goes out into the world with the same qualities. Basho transcends the distance between them, feeling Ensui’s love for his granddaughter in his own heart. He clearly, more clearly than any other male writer, affirms the worth of the infant female.
The following haiku is not in the letter to Ensui, though was written this spring, probably after Basho mailed the letter, but was still thinking about his childhood friend having a granddaughter.
(Kon 841) Only the cynical will deny that “plum blossom scent” may refers to Ensui’s granddaughter. The morning sun rises from the mountainside to welcome the traveler, as the Sun Goddess emerges from the Rock Cave to light up the world, as the one-year-old girl emerges from the cradle to manifest her goddess nature. Basho clearly, more clearly than any other male writer, affirms the divinity of the infant female.
Basho wrote both of these stanzas, but not together. I have put them in succession to form a most magnificent tanka; this the single place in Basho4Humanity where I join stanzas not originally together.
I climb onto a boulder to get a good view of the sun emerging from the horizon. There I sit quietly, watching, absorbing the clear silent power of the Sun (Goddess). If you wish to give the word 'stone' another meaning, go ahead: the verse belongs to us.
The Sun has a female face, and as she rises behind the ultimate mountain of Japan, She bumps her forehead on the jagged peak. Ouch! Our worship of the Sun Goddess contains a bit of humor.
Whether you are Japanese or Asian, American, European, African, Australian, or Pacific Islander, can you worship the Divine Sun in Basho's image?
In 1911, a 25-year old woman, Hiratsuka Haru (1886 – 1971), by her pen name Raicho, wrote words that inspired Japanese feminism:
Teruko Craig, in her translation of Raicho’s autobiography, says “Though it is widely assumed that in comparing woman to the sun, Raicho was thinking of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the mythic progenitor of the Japanese imperial line, she herself never mentions the goddess by name until the late 1930s.” (footnote to page 160). This statement by a translator both expresses and conceals the truth in Raicho’s thought. Certainly she was not thinking of the Sun Goddess as “mythical progenitor of the Japanese imperial line,” but in her autobiography (page 161-162) Raicho says:
“The sun, that enormous body of light, has ever been a source of life...The greatness of human beings, the greatness that distinguishes them from animals, lies in their power of concentration. This tremendous power of spiritual concentration enables human beings to plumb the source of life, become one with the universe, and draw limitless strength from an immense source of fulfillment.
For Raicho the sun was not a goddess who spawned a line of emperors or justifies military imperialism, but a goddess who gives life and fulfillment. But I wonder why Raicho felt it appropriate to condemn the moon. Basho worships both sun and moon: one as the source of life, and the other as the source of clarity in the darkness.
Basho relates the Moon to Kichijouten, the Japanese form of Lakshmi, the Hindu deity of happiness, fertility, and beauty. The name Lakshmi comes from the Sanskrit word Laksya, meaning ‘aim’ or ‘goal.’ From this root Lakshmi became the goddess of prosperity, both material and spiritual. She expresses the quality of 'auspiciousness,' a promose of good fortune. She is the household goddess of most Hindu families and a favorite of women. Basho suggests a merging of Indian and Japanese goddess worship. In the relationship between Lakshmi and the Moon, Basho sees four qualities converge:
Shinshou extends these qualities to the clouds surrounding the mountain peak, clouds shining with light from the Sun still below the horizon, adorning them as Lakshmi’s jeweled headdress. They are a promise of good fortune in the new day to come.
The “her” in this verse is not Amaterasu, but rather another Sun-Goddess. Long ago various parts of Japan were run by clans. Anthropologist Michael Ashkenazi explains: the Yamato clan based around Nara defeated the Izumo clan from the Japan Sea coast. When the Izumo clan joined the Yamatos, they brought along their Sun Goddess – however the Yamatos already had a Sun-Goddess – so the Yamato one became the Heavenly kami Amaterasu, and the Izumo one the Earthly kami “Under-Shining-Pricess. Basho’s verse is a play on her name, but also a serious and multi-faceted goddess worship poem.
Basho at age 22 seeks to see the ‘image’ of the Sun-goddess in the Moon—although in Japanese mythology the Moon is male. The majority of cultures see the Moon as female because of her 29 day cycle of waxing and waning which determines women’s menstrual cycle. Basho’s vision of the divine female Moon as a reflection of the Sun-goddess is profound from a spiritual point of view as well as being scientifically accurate—the light that seems to be coming from the Moon is actually from the Sun. So this 22 year old guy still living in his home town is proposing a revision of Shinto mythology to see the female in both Sun and Moon.
“Ragged and tattered” are her family’s clothes that need mending before winter comes, and the scene of deciduous trees as leaves disappear in autumn. “Night work” are the jobs she does at night while the rest of the family sleeps. The next poet gives her a lantern to light up her work; like a genie she appears in smoke.
Hokushi writes one stanza, and Basho follows with two stanzas:
As the month of summer rains ends, the sky clears yet soon fills up with thick clouds bringing more rain. Also in this season biwa, or loquats, ripen: similar to plums, growing in clusters, oval, 1–2 inchs long, skin smooth or downy yellow or orange; flesh succulent tangy, flavor sweet to slightly acid.
“Clouds and rain” in traditional Chinese and Japanese poetry suggests sexual intimacy, and “loquats have ripened” also is pretty suggestive. From these suggestions of sensuality in the sky and in fruit, Basho offers a sennyo, who Hiroaki Sato says is “a woman who has acquired magical powers, suggesting the legendary world of ancient China,” Long and slender, she lies on a couch of clouds.
Richard Bernstein in The East, the West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters describes the Asian female body (without implants) as “more plum-like than melon-like of breast, spare rather than full of buttocks and hips." To 'get' the link, consider this one sentence of commentary in the BRZ: “Basho makes the ripening of biwa a symbol for the gracefulness of the goddess’ body.” In other words, to appreciate the human female sensuality of Basho's stanza, we have to experience the sensuality of biwa fruits. Basho tells us to feel, with our hands or our imagination, the rounded contours of the fruit, the skin and vital flesh beneath that skin, and compare to the contours of a slender curvaceous woman.
Basho then takes that goddess down from the sky, and places her beside a fast stream; her two hands squeeze fabric soaked in the red dye akane, madder, in opposite directions so the red liquid drops into the swift current. The red flowing away may suggest menstrual bleeding and the part of a woman that bleeds. Sato says Basho “painted with words a picture of a Chinese goddess that Utamaro – ukiyoe artist famous for sexual imagery – might have drawn with a brush.” This is a Basho not found in any other book or site: a Basho who appreciates both the physical sensuality of women as well as their spiritual divinity,
One fascinating aspect of the world’s goddesses is their variety; while Judeo-Christianity insists on a single patriarchal Jehovah, goddesses are diverse, widespread, eclectic, and dynamic. In this topic, Basho explores the Goddess of Mercy, goddesses of mountains and wells, the Sun Goddess, goddesses of the moon and night, of the infant female, work, prosperity and comedy; in this verse, the goddess of woman’s body, her sensuality and the power of her arms and hands. Throughout this collection, dozens of Basho verses focus on the activity of a woman’s hands: the hands of a goddess.
Basho’s several hundred poems about women children, friendship, love, and compassion may be the most pro-female, child-centered, and life-affirming works in world literature.
I pray 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
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The Three Thirds of Basho