The Japanese poetical genius flowers in very short poems, often incorporating allusions to some particular season of the year.
Each season has its own peculiar associations autumn for instance with evening, the Milky Way, the harvest moon (which often represents spiritual Enlightenment), the brilliance of scarlet maple leaves, and so on.
The full moon!
At the sentry’s feet
An insect chirps.
To a Japanese reader this poem suggests autumn, the whole world an ocean of silver from the moon’s light. The sentry’s heart is entering Samadhi-the state where the meditator and the object of meditation become one. Suddenly the cry of an insect startles him and makes him clutch for his weapon.
A good poem suggests endless meanings, and the experience of poetry-lovers has been that they can bring out inner resources to meet the problems and crises of life. The great poet Issa accepted a challenge to complete the second line of a poem; the first line was to be:
“I want to kill him, I do not want to kill him”.
He composed the celebrated second line
“I caught the thief and found-it was my own son.”
This line has frequently been quoted by spiritual teachers as containing the essence of Buddhist training.
It is said that a good poem will throw a spiritually advanced hearer into a state of Samadhi. The essence of the poem grips his mind and he is lost in it.
As with a quilt on The sleeping form Of Mount Higashi.
Mount Higashi can look like a fat little child, fast asleep under his flowered quilt, and surrounded with little hills like toys which have fallen from his hands.
Many poetry masters were priests, and the verses are full of Buddhist echoes. One of the most pathetic is a poem which Issa wrote on the death of his little son; the first line is a quotation from a standard Buddhist simile:
“All life is fleeting as dew.”
‘Tis true, and yet, and yet …
The Buddhist sought to teach detachment from life by preaching its evanescence. What seems to be an enduring life, an individuality, is only a momentary coming together of separate elements; it gives an illusion of an abiding self which is really not there at all. The poet knows it, fully acknowledges it. And yet, there is something in his heart which is not quite satisfied. When he thinks of the dead boy, something says, “and yet, and yet. . .“
Dr. Shastri, who had lived in Japan and spoke Japanese fluently, often quoted Japanese poems to his pupils. Among them were these (given with his comments following)
I swept the garden clean;
Then some camellia flowers
When the heart is cleared of passions and violent likes and dislikes, it is found strewn with lovely red and white blossoms of spiritual tranquillity.
And be my companion
Study the instructions on Samadhi carefully.
A baby gazing at the falling flowers
With its mouth open
Is a Buddha.
Innocent soul, devoted to love,
in complete self-forgetfulness,