“I feel that chanting for thirty-five years has opened a door inside me, and that even if I never chanted again,that door would still be there. I feel at peace with myself.” Tina Turner
In 1689, Seifu begins with a fantasy, and Basho follows with the voice of a living woman:
Haruru hi wa / ishi no i naderu /ten otome
En naru mado ni / hokke yomu koe
(BRZ 6: 15) In the Noh play The Feather Mantle a celestial maiden caresses the spring water in praise for the beauty of a sunny day on Earth equal to that in Heaven. Basho has a female voice chant the Lotus Sutra, which for many East Asians contains the ultimate and complete teachings of Buddha. The sutra, declares that a woman need not reincarnate as a man to reach Nirvana; rather she can do so from being a woman.
The woman in Basho’s stanza chants the Lotus Sutra, beginning with the famous nam myoho renge kyo, not in the monotonic drone of priests, but rather elegantly, musically, as a celestial maiden caresses a spring of clear water. In both stanzas the material and spiritual blend through the female, but Basho especially focuses on her voice.
Tina Turner, who has practiced Buddhism since the 1970s, chants the Lotus Sutra on her CD Beyond.
“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is a song. In the Soka Gakkai tradition we are taught how to sing it. It is a sound and a rhythm and it touches a place inside you. That place we try to reach is the subconscious mind. I believe that it is the highest place and, if you communicate with it, that is when you receive information on what to do. Singing a song can make you cry. Singing a song can make you happy. That’s spirit—the spirit inside of you.
Basho portrays the woman’s path to Enlightenment not inside a temple, but rather beside the window watching the world in sunshine while she sings the words of Buddha. Tina Turner says when she was a child, “I looked to nature and found love because love is in nature. If you go there, hurt and angry, it can transform you. I went with nature, with animals, and I found love and harmony. “ Both Basho and Tina Turner blend the Lotus Sutra, the heart of Buddhism, with sunshine and nature’s glory to encourage women to enlighten themselves.
Kambutsu no / hi ni umareau / kanoko kana
(BRZ 397) On the Buddha’s Birthday (May 7 in 1688), his followers worship a statue of the Compassionate One as an infant. Also in this season fawns conceived in autumn are born, 18 inches from head to tail, weight 13 pounds. If Basho can connect the birth of a baby deer with the birth of Buddha, maybe women today can find this connection in their own birth-giving. See Topic 5: Pregnancy to Birth.
Rō ni hanashi no / tsuide arikeri
Ai amaru / sutego hirohi ni / tsuawashite
Tosato niｉ shiko no / suso hikite iru
(BRZ 2: 261) Kyorai provides an open space with boundaries – her old age, femininity, devotion to the Buddha, and enthusiasm in telling the story – yet no story content. Basho fills this empty space within the boundaries set. He has the old nun recall a night long ago when she commanded a temple servant to go out and rescue that baby crying outside the temple gate. Some in Buddhism tell us to let go of attachments and accept the passage of life and death – but Basho’s nun chose instead to rescue a life. She generates a feminine Buddhism, based on compassion, “the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others.” She feels the glory of her deed, and we share her consciousness of that.
Kikaku transfers the compassion in Basho’s stanza to a deer who found the abandoned child in the mountains, and was “filled with pity” for this baby of another species. Realizing the absolute inability of her hooves to help, she walked, carrying compassion with her, to a village where she chose a human being with a warm heart, and pulled on her sleeve, to get her to come up to where the child was. The poet separates from the temple and nun, transferring the “pity” and “message to rescue” from Basho’s stanza into an entirely different species and reality, so compassion transcends the barriers between humanity and another life form. This is renku at its zenith.
Kikaku’s stanza separates from Kyorai’s, yet also continues in harmony with it, for deer are associated with Buddhism:
Doushin no / toute kanashiki / nobe no haka
Owarete shika no / ko o sutete yuku
(BRZ 5:63) The first poet writes a masculine, literary verse – philosophical, religious, inanimate – then Basho jumps away from abstractions to the intense activity and raw life experience of females and their young. Rather than abandoning her child to save her own hide, she is drawing the attacker away from the baby hidden in the bush.
Kami orosu / jijuu no musume / otoroete
Nonomiya no arashi / Gio tera no kane
(BRZ 4: 11) The Grand Chamberlain’s high rank does not prevent his daughter from experiencing the travails of life. Weary, she cuts her hair and escapes to Saga, at the foot of Mount Arashi (Storm Mountain). Close to the Ninomiya Shrine is the temple Gioji. In the 12th century, Gio, a white-rhythm dancer escaping from the arrogant patriarch Kiyomori, came here to live as a nun, and her mother, sister, and another woman, all white rhythm dancers, joined her. They lived together, prayed together, and all reached enlightenment.
Notice the opposition of storm and bell. The storm wild, violent, uncaring; the bell deep, steady, and unifying. The storm represents the arrogance and intimidating behavior of men such as Kiyomori; they change their minds at an instant, betray women who have trusted them, and go on tantrums whenever they feel like it. The bell tolls with the steady focused energy of women, of these four women who developed and concentrated their energy in the discipline of white-rhythm dancing, then further developed and focused themselves with Buddhist nun practice.
Nehan-e ya / shiwa te awasuru / juuzu no oto
(Kon 845) On the 15th day of the 2nd Moon (in 1694, March 10th), is the anniversary of Gautama’s Death and Entrance into Nirvana. The temple is crowded, mostly with old people sitting on their heels, heads bowed to an image of Buddha, chanting a mantra over and over again while they meditate. Each worshipper uses a string of 108 sacred beads to keep count of the repetitions without thinking about numbers, so they can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra.
Women live longer than men, so usually are more numerous in an aged population. Also, in old age women turn more to religion, while men turn to alcohol. The verse does not indicate gender, but I think Basho will allow us to see these hands as female. With devotion accumulated through years of worship, she turns her thumb clockwise around another bead each time she repeats the mantra. The verse takes the mind on a journey from the vastness and antiquity of Buddhism, to the smaller yet vivid tactile image of two aged female hands moving beads between them, then ends in the simple sound sensation of their clicking. Now, in Basho’s final spring, even a verse about Buddhism focuses on body parts – again the hands – and physical touchy-feely sensations along with clear distinct sound. Basho provides a physical sensory experience of Buddhism.
Kami hayasu ma o / shinobu mi no hodo
Itsuwari no / tsurashi chi o / shibori-sute
Kienu sotoba ni / sugo sugo to naku
Kagebōshi no / akatsuki samuku / hi o taite
(BRZ 3: 185) He seduced her with promises of love and devotion, but when she gave birth to a son, he took the boy to be his heir and abandoned her. With no place else to go, she entered a Buddhist temple which takes in such women. She had to cut her hair and stay in a cell. Only if she lets her hair grow back, can she re-enter society. Her breasts still have milk which she has to squeeze out and throw away – while she recalls the baby that milk is produced for – such is the bitterness which fills her heart.
Kikaku separates from the imagery of woman abandoned and baby taken away from her, to instead have the
woman squeezing out milk to throw away because her baby died. A stupa is a pagoda-shaped wooden tablet set up by a tomb with phrases written for the repose of the dead's soul..This, unlike her baby, will remain.
Mourners spend the night in a hut beside the grave. Basho backs away from the overt heaviness of Kikaku’s
stanza. I believe we can see in his stanza the spirit of the child who has returned for a moment to console mother, building a fire to warm her – so later in life when she builds a fire she will feel her child’s presence.
Fuji mōde o / hine tawara o / kusa makura
Haha no hotoke o / kari ni asukeru
(BRZ 5: 192) On a spiritual pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Fuji, he travels light, at night resting his head on the straw bag he carried on his back. In the bag was his mother’s hotoke, something that represents her Buddha nature after death; the KBZ says this is a rei-i, a “mortuary tablet.” He entrusts her soul to the avatar of Mount Fuji for as long as he is up here on the mountain.
In Basho’s stanza WHAT THE MIKO THINKS on page 59, a Shinto female shaman in a trance speaks for the
deceased and divine. Etsujin continues and Basho follows:
Hito sarite / imada omashi no / nioikeru
Hase ni komoru / dou no kata sumi
(BRZ ) Etsujin’s stanza has no gender, but omashi suggests a person of prominence, so male scholars, ever
eager to see an image of themselves, add a man to the scene, a man who came to the miko to communicate with his deceased lover and has now left, leaving behind an elegant fragrance – not an odor, but rather an aura which lingers from his presence. In Basho poetry, however, women are the ones who have and leave auras, so I suggest that the miko is the prominent one who has left. Basho transfers the scene at the Buddhist Temple in Hase (famous as a place of pilgrimage for women; see NIGHT IN SPRING), he changes to a woman who came here to pray to the magnificent 30-foot tall statue of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Again we wonder who she is, and what she is prayed for. Having left, her aura remains in the place where she sat, hidden in time, remaining forever with Kannon-sama.
Kusa mura ni / kawazu ni kowagaru / yuumagure
Fuki no to tori ni / andon yuri kesu
Doushin no / okori wa hana no / tsubomu toki
(BRZ 7: 97) A servant goes to gather flower buds of coltsfoot, like small artichokes, an early spring delicacy
which emerges where snow has melted. Fried or boiled they are eaten with salt or miso. The frog startles her so she jumps back in surprise, knocking out her lantern flame. There she is, hidden in the twilight, her heart
trembling within her. The woman’s experience, her actions and her feelings, are central, yet hidden, in
The lantern leads Kyorai to Buddhism; instead of a light going out, he has a light turn on, the “light” of devotion guiding a woman to become a nun. This happened either in spring as the dark buds on cherry branches turned pink and white, or when she herself was beginning to blossom sexually; Kyorai, the son of a medical doctor, recognizes the conflict between Buddhism and adolescent female hormones.
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