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#1584 - Monday, October 13, 2003 - Editor: Jerry  

Exclusive to this issue of the Highlights is an excerpt from Gabriel Rosenstock's unpublished manuscript, reprinted with permission. (Graphics were added by the editor and are not part of the manuscript.)


HAIKU ENLIGHTENMENT                                                 

Gabriel Rosenstock  

When the self withdraws, the ten thousand things advance!' Dogen  

The dynamic pause … In haiku, we pause for a few concentrated
seconds. Not to escape from the helter-skelter - or tedium -
of existence but to allow ourselves seep into the life of
things in a dynamic way. Haiku is a good way of coming to a
stop. A full stop!  

The haiku moment refreshes us, focuses and strengthens us,
encouraging us to continue on a pathless path which reveals
itself uniquely to us all:

 Who goes there?    

midstream halt -
  the horseman looks up
  at the falling stars

     --H F  Noyes  

Time has stopped for that horseman. Does he even know who he
is anymore? An Indian sage, Poonjaji, says: 'Enlightenment
does not happen in time. It happens when time stops.' We will
see many instances of haiku as a time-stopping device in the
course of this book. Keep a sharp look out! Get ready to
stop. What we view may well be minute or minuscule but will
contain a cosmos.  

Opening the casements of perception … These intimate
haiku-pauses ground us in the mystery of being as we open
ourselves, time and time again, to new vistas and to keener
insights into the living, changing universe we inhabit. They
allow us to be attuned to the rhythm, colour, sound, scent,
movement and stillness of life, from season to season,
whoever, whatever or wherever we are.  

Haiku may be used as a technique which facilitates an instant
flooding of the mind. No known side-effects. More about that
- much more - as we go on.

Though we may not take to the roads as did many of the
Old Masters, haiku reminds us that we are all wanderers, in
time and space. But are our eyes - and ears - truly open? Are
our hearts open? Haiku is there to enrich our experience of
being alive, to unfold the tapestry of living - in a flash -
to bring us down to earth, where we belong.

Touch and savour … The haiku bids us to savour phenomena:

autumn -
   now the slow bee allows
    stroking of fur
    --George Marsh
 

For the habitual reader and composer of haiku, momentous
events may often appear small; seemingly insignificant
happenings take on a new and delicate meaning. The jaded
palate finds that what it longs for is not the sweet, the
sour, the piquant or the robust but the possibility of all of
these and more, the coolness of water, the headiness of wine,
the comfort of old port. Many unexpected pleasures await
those who stroll, watchfully, on the haiku path. Many
contradictions, a host of odd juxtapositions, await one. And
haiku will resolve them, making everything whole again.  

As it should be … Autumn - slowing-down time for the bees!
Sluggish bees can emerge in summer, too, as intoxicated as a
bunch of Taoist poets. This, from Basho:

  how reluctantly
  the bee emerges from deep
   within the peony

(The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other
Poets
by Sam Hamill, Shambhala Centaur Editions)
 

In both of these haiku we are with the bee, fully with the
bee, one with the 'bee-havior' of a bee at one particular
time and also, with the nature of all bees. Where the bee
sucks there suck I. Allow yourself to be sucked into haiku
moments. It's the only way. It is we who emerge from deep
within the flower. Haiku is not some form of unfeeling,
scientific observation. It is a vividly experienced
exploration of a shared universe, whatever our mood! What
about the bee that plods on and makes it to see the winter?
Does it not excite our compassion?    

in vain a winter bee
  went on tottering
   for a place to die

    --Murakami Kijo 1865 -1930
(Classic Haiku: A Master's Selection, selected and translated
by Yuzuru Miura, Tuttle Publishing 1991)
 

On your lips … Many haikuists and editors of haiku journals
like to read haiku aloud, remembering Basho's advice: 'Repeat
your verses a thousand times on your lips …' In other words,
don't be flat, be sparingly sonorous.

You may utter this one as slowly as you like:    

5. 4. 3.
  2.1.0.
  the naked tree

(Takazawa Akiko (1951 - ), Trans. Hiroaki Sato in White Dew, Dreams & This World, North Point Press, 2003)  

 

There's quite a modern feel to those bare numbers; it's a
haiku possibly influenced by concrete poetry. We will
encounter many styles and many moods in the course of Haiku
Enlightenment, the modern and the classic. Zing! Not all of
the haiku chosen here are going to work for you: some will
only truly come alive when re-read later, when your
transmitters and receivers are more finely tuned. Haiku moves
us because we move in its movement and are moved by its
stillness:

 a crust of bread
 jumps with the sparrows
  round the courtyard

(Dina Franin, Zaklonjen mjesec/The Sheltered Moon, Croatian
Haiku Association, Samobore, 1999) We can jump with haiku,
crawl with haiku, soar with haiku, fall with haiku, be still
with haiku.  

Soul-awakening … The French say that we cannot know heaven if
we haven't known earth.  

In the autumn haiku, above, the shift of attention is to the
bee. It is as if the bee slows down, for our sake, so that we
can appreciate it - see it - in a new mood, a new light. Its
summer of antics is all over. We are invited to experience
and be part of another dynamic, one as real as that which
went before and that which is yet to come. All of nature, and
our own nature, comes alive.

The microscopic focus of the haiku reveals the inner order
and beauty of existence, over and over again. All things come
alive - including a crust of bread!  

The microbiologist cannot fail to see a pattern, an
underlying beauty - and endless variety - in the magnified
specks he examines on the slide. So, too, with the patient,
persistent haikuist - his perception of the life within and
the life without becomes refined with practice, and attuned,
whether the view is close-up or encompasses a panoramic
vista.   We cannot tire of good haiku. It is a distillation of all
that is real in life. It is, as you will undoubtedly see, an
elixir of enlightenment, always available, a grounding
experience and a soul awakening.

awakened
when the ice
bursts the waterjar

    --Basho  

This can be read, simply, as a sound that wakes us from sleep
but is it not also waking from everyday drowsy consciousness,
the somnambulist state many of us are in? Haiku is a
quickening of the inner life, in sympathetic correspondence
to ordinary phenomena.  

The naturalness of it all … Our last pause will be death. For
the haikuist, death is another perfectly natural phenomenon,
not something divorced from life or signifying its end:

    necklace of bone …
    ants have finished
    with the snake

     --Margaret Manson  

'Necklace' is a lovely choice of word. But it is not an
invention. It was what was seen at the time.  

Many haikuists have written until their very last breath.
Death-bed haiku of haijin (masters) - such as Shiki - are
justly famous.  

We can be in awe of anything, even our own demise. Everything
is of cosmic magnitude, here and now. F Scott Fitzgerald
ruminates in The Great Gatsby: 'Life is much more
successfully looked at from a single window …' The haikuist
would not argue with that, even the haikuist who takes to the
roads.  

A forensic scientist examining the bodies of certain newly
departed haijin might wonder at an odd gesture of the hand
common to many of them, the hand as a claw, almost: their
last act was to count syllables. There are all sorts of
death. The death of a language, the death of a culture:

  snowflakes fill
  the eye of the eagle -
  fallen totem pole

   --Winona Baker
  (Moss-Hung Trees, Reflections Press, 1992)  

Death has many faces. And life? Life exists in such
mind-boggling diversity that it well behoves us to take it
all in, in small doses - beagán ar bheagán mar a itheann an
cat an scadán
, as the Irish proverb has it, 'little by
little, as the cat eats the herring':

  the hills
  release the summer clouds
  one by one  by one

   --John Wills
(Reed Shadows, Black Moss Press and BLP, Canada, 1987)  

Ten thousand gifts … 'Release' is a well-chosen verb. We
receive all these words, these insights and illuminations as
gifts, mediated by individuals, from the common pool of
humanity's experience. In an average day, about how many free
gifts can we expect on the haiku path? A thousand? That may
be a conservative estimate. After all, Dogen assures us,
'When the self withdraws, the ten thousand things advance!'
On the haiku path, the constant intrusion of the self becomes
less and less persistent - moments arise that flood us with
their 'itness' before our cognitive, judgemental self is
given a chance to, as it were, interfere.  

The use of 'path', above, must be qualified. Irish-born Wei
Wu Wei says, 'There is no path to Satori. It cannot be
attained … all the Masters tell us that we cannot seize
Reality: it is Reality that seizes us.' True. But the chances
of Reality seizing us, and sweeping away our pre-judgemental
mind in the process, are increased by the dutiful practice of
haiku:  

hearing
 cockroach feet;
  the midnight snowfall

    --Michael McClintock

(Light Run, Shiloh Press, Los Angeles, 1971)  

Effortless attunement … By working at haiku and by living
haiku - through reading and composition and through acquiring
the haiku instinct, or knack - effortless attunement is the
natural and inevitable result. This ability then becomes the
unfailing groundwork for sudden enlightenment. It can repeat
itself - over days, over centuries. David Burleigh published
this haiku in 1998:      

trapped inside a pot
    at the bottom of the sea
    the octopus dreams
 

Basho wrote the following in May, 1688:
   
    octopus traps -
    fleeting dreams beneath
    a summer moon

This may be mere coincidence, or it may be evidence of the
cosmic mind at work, or it could be an example of honkadori,
allusive variation. If so, hunkey dorey!  

Mr Burleigh kindly responded to an enquiry by stating that it
did, in fact, allude to Basho's verse in the Travel-Worn
Satchel but that his own haiku was inspired by the confined
space of urban living.

Sudden breath of freedom … Confined no more! Each successful
haiku is a breath of freedom. The seventeen-syllable,
traditional form was adjudged to be a breath span. And, just
as Keats said that poetry should come as naturally as foliage
to a tree, or not at all, so we say that haiku is an
exhalation, a breath of freedom, of exultation, a sigh.  

You may polish your haiku, once it has come to you, or come
through you. Honing the shape, improving the choice of words,
or the rhythm - these are the wrapping on the gift. But there
need be nothing laborious about the strange appearance of the
first draft. 'Haiku should be written as swiftly as a
woodcutter fells a tree or a swordsman leaps at a dangerous
enemy.' So said Basho, born into an impoverished samurai
clan. This suddenness, indeed, is what allows for the
possibility of enlightenment. No time to think!  

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