Becoming One with the Moment

The other day I was going for a run and could not tell if snow or rain was falling from the sky.

Snow or rain?

Both become water

On foreheads

 There was no drawing posted for this week.

We are talking about variations on evanescence and form for fourteen weeks, and this week was no different. With Bashō’s haikai poetry, we discover the form we try to emulate with our weekly poems. One of my favorites from the Keene translation says, “the burning sun/ it has washed into the sea/ Mogami river” (Bashō, 116). After reading this, I wish he had not named the river. Since now I am forced to go see the Mogami River to try to feel what Bashō felt when he wrote that poem, but had he not named it, I could go look at the Mystic River tonight and save the trip. Inouye explains these short poems well when he asks, “what could be more constricting than the various rules and conventions of haikai? Yet what could be more generalizing and vast than the imagery of these tiny poems?” (Inouye, 79). I can’t help but agree with this sentiment. We could talk about the intricacies of the poems for hours on end, and while we might expect the three-line form to constrict creativity, it instead allows for a polysemic reaction by the readers. The class discovered this when asking different students to imagine Bashō’s poem of a frog jumping into a pond. Some of us thought of a small pond and a single frog, and others thought of a large pond and many frogs. During this exercise, we discovered the importance of butsuga ichinyo (物我一如) or complete oneness with your surroundings. When we try to place intention and personal desire into explaining a lyrical moment, we ultimately fail. In this sense, you cannot attach a true explanation on a poem, and you don’t create a poem; you find one (Lecture, 2/25/13). Professor Inouye equated poetry with love when he posed the question of whether or not someone with an understanding of butsuga ichinyo would necessarily make a better lover. I would have to answer yes. If you have the capacity to love the spring wind and the autumn trees in a non-symbolic way, then you probably have a firm grasp of nothingness, and therefore the capacity for everything. If someone can fall in love with a fleeting moment, can they not fall in love with a person for a lifetime? Or is that a different kind of love altogether? While these concepts remain difficult, I think I found that my problem comes from thinking about the concepts too much, instead of just experiencing them. Even though I am still a bit confused about why we exactly we would want to come back to samsara after attaining enlightenment, for example, that confusion does not bring me sorrow as it has in the past. Like everything else, that failure to understand an idea will only stay around for a short time.

~Ezra Dunkle-Polier

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I’ve mastered “Kōgō”… but what’s all this about “kizoku”? Seeking Bodhisattva status.

I was taking a walk late Sunday afternoon when, turning a corner, I was surprised as the new spring sun hit my face and I could feel its warmth on my cheeks.


I emerge

The sun strikes my face. Heat-

I feel it with closed eyes.


Matsuo Bashō, often lauded as the most famous poet the entire Japanese literary tradition writes: “How still!/Piercing into the boulders,/The cry of the cicada.” (Inouye, 74) Eleven words that in my opinion, spell out exactly what we were taught this week: the significance of balancing the equal and opposing forces of ephemerality and stasis or evanescence and form while at the same time, infusing this achieved balance with our own human emotions. We activate the words of our poetry by connecting with them, experiencing them on a personal plain. In the words of Inouye, “they express both change as truth and truth as change.” I was fascinated by the concept that this ultimate truth can only be tapped into when one considers the self as “a countering form of permanence” (Inouye, 76) or fueki to one’s ever changing, eternally renewed surroundings (ryūkō). (Lecture 2/25) Stated more concretely, the blending of the fixed nature of the self and the fleeting nature of one’s environment through the poetic expression of lyrical moments of connection is a very normal human “impulse to identify with [our] surroundings.” (Inouye, 76) I found the latter to be one of the most relatable concepts introduced to us this week since I can personally empathize with this part of human nature. Everyone wants to feel integrated into her environment, to connect to it, to feel as if one’s own essence is harmonious with that of the whole. Once I was able to wrap my head around these notions, I could re-read Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no hosomichi) and indeed, understand the extent of his literary genius.  “Under the same roof/ We all slept together,/ Concubines and I-/ Bush-lovers and the moon.” (Bashō, 132) This poem really spoke to me of everything we were taught this week. It displays is a definite conception of the importance of the self relative to it’s surroundings as a more concrete, stable entity. But it also offers an attempt at comparison and eventual harmony with these same environs. In my opinion, its tone exemplifies kōgō kizoku (awakening to the high and returning to the low) as it is both deeply sad and simultaneously beautiful. According to the Bodhisattva cycle, enlightenment (as one hopes to achieve in the transcription of lyrical moments in nature to words) can only occur if one rises above the world of the here-and-now, awakens to ultimate truth and then feels sorrow at the subsequent realization that the world is more a less a total mess- one in which the achievement of enlightenment is nearly impossible. If one is a true Bodhisattva, this sorrow brings about compassion for everything in the world and a concerted effort to return to it, to accept that it is full of disagreement and pain. Everything is at odds with everything else. We are diverse in this sameness. Returning to Bashō’s poem about sleeping under the same roof as concubines. He presents an initial understanding of the similarity of all things and then continues to embrace the diversity within sameness. He turns difference into something that is useful (lecture 2/25) and in doing so compassionately, he experiences peace. I feel like I get stuck following Plan A all too often. I find it very difficult to look at differences positively. Perhaps, like many others, I have some innate desire to make everything reconcilable. But it’s becoming apparent that this is precisely the error of my thinking. Differences are to be celebrated and used to move forwards. In a paradoxical way, the only way I can get anywhere close to total reconciliation in the universe is by accepting and rejoicing in this diversity.

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We go up to come back down

This past weekend I exited a friends apartment and saw how beautiful the city looked at night during a light snow.

A light snow

silently falls

in the city


One of the concepts we covered this week, the Bodhisattva cycle, was hard for me to understand until I spoke with both teaching assistants after class today.  I was having trouble with the aspect of sorrow which is at the top of the cycle.  It was not until Basho’s journey was pointed out in relation to this cycle that I began to understand that top aspect.  Basho goes on his journey in order to see the various beautiful sites around Japan.  In doing this he was attempting to get away and find enlightenment; this is where the concept of sorrow came into play.  Basho, while on his journey, mentions loneliness a number of time.  One example of this is when he says, “The loneliness at dusk was overpowering,” (Basho/Keene, 171) which is then followed by a poem expressing this loneliness.  I believe that this loneliness that he felt was the sorrow of his Bodhisattva cycle.  The loneliness Basho feels during his journey forces him to return home, hence coming back down.  As we see in Inouye’s Evanescence and Form, “We wish to be something higher.  Yet this is precisely why we must eventually return to the low.” (Inouye, 79)  Basho achieved his transcendental experience while out of the road, connecting with all the beautiful sites.  However, for his experiences and poetry to be legitimized, he has to return back to his normal life.  Only when we return back down to our normal life can we truly know what we have gained.  At the end of The Narrow Road to Oku we see the Basho is going back out for another journey, “…I left on the sixth of the ninth month to witness the renewal of the Great Shrine at Ise.” (Basho/Keene, 175)  By ending the story in the manner Basho leaves us with a concept of the Bodhisattva cycle to ponder.  When one has climbed the mountain and returned to the valley does he stay in the valley, or find another mountain to climb?

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Week 6:The Order of Here and Now

Week 6: The order of here-and-now

By Songwha Choi

I was walking in front of the student center in the evening when I noticed that the streetlight was reflecting bright light.

Winter night—

A standing streetlight

Reflecting light


In this week, we discussed the order of here and now. It was hard to understand the concept of this week’s subject because it is abstract to me. However, The Bodhisattva Cycle is strongly impressive to me. When I fail a plan A, I get so frustrated by my failure. After that, I think about a Plan B which I can try to figure out my problems in a different way, and I realize that the plan B is actually better than the plan A. My view toward the world is so limited, so I cannot know that which option is better for me before I do it. If my life always goes direct way, it will be not meaningful. Accepting diversities is very important in our lives because we can learn from them (lecture 02/25/13). Sometimes, because of diverse failures and frustrations, I can grow up and get good lessons.

Bosho in his book, The Narrow Road to The Deep North also tries to accept the diversities of nature. When I read the book, I felt Basho knows the real meaning of a wonder of nature. It makes Basho’s life beautiful because he can appreciate his life. “I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind-filled with a strong desire to wander” (Basho 97). While he wanders Japan’s remote northeastern region of Tohoku, he enjoys being lost in thought. When he stops overnight at the Zenshoji Temple, he writes about autumn wind. “All night long, I listened to the autumn wind…” (Basho 136). The autumn reminds of image of death, so I realized that Basho feels lonely and sentimental about the nature. However, Basho looks as if he enjoys the loneliness. “I was very lucky to find in such a lonely place” (Basho 120). Because of his lonely life, he could be friend with nature, and write a wonderful poem. His loneliness makes him contemplate on his life, nature, and God. He has tried to trust the divine providence in the nature. “The gods seemed to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out” (Basho 97). God gives us the here and now, so we should know the precious value of the moment. Life is too short to be wasted.

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Here and Now

no poem this week.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North  was particularly impressive because of Basho’s simple yet incredibly expressive way of describing his simple feelings and interactions with the nature.  Still having Saikaku’s A Women Who Loved Love and  the conception of hedonist woman as the bad woman on my mind, the part where Basho described spending a night under the same roof with two prostitutes caught my attention. Mostly because of what they tell to Basho before they leave.  Women ask Basho and Sora if they could follow:

  ” We feel so uneasy and depressed at the thought of the difficulties that may await us on the way to an unfamiliar place that we would like to follow behind you” (Basho 119). 

What is simply and overtly phrased here is the feeling that makes us dread the present for the fear of future. I believe it is this very feeling that keeps us in the burning house. Although it burns at least we know it burns. The feeling of control and familiarity becomes preferable to a looming, unknown alternative. Yet in the face of constant changing world, these woman’s depression seems to stand the completely against from the logic of Here and Now.

Yet as opposed to the discussion of hedonism, making present pleasurable In this week’s lecture The Bodhisattava Cycle wants us to leave the house, wonder, traverse through the path of sorrow so that we can learn to value what your initial position. (Lecture 3/25) . It is so that to go through two part and achieve the zen on the order of here and now, we must practice a sort of abstinence by saying no to the enlightenment, turn away from the truth we have been seeking, to settle down. But why say no to an higher order if we are focused on experiencing the present. It might be because in the world of Mono No Aware, enlightenment and truth are not the things that makes one necessarily happy. Truth is dangerous. That is why sometimes we ignore the truth.

Also on a random note, it is incredibly intriguing to know that there is a town (page 131) called:

“Parents Forget Their Children, Children forget their Parents, Dogs Turn Back, Horses Return”


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The Bodhisattva Cycle

By Michael Chu

On Sunday morning, I was lying on bed and didn’t want to wake up until I heard the bird chirp.

Bird’s call—
From rest


According to Basho, the only way to perceive the unchanging and the ever-changing is through the sincerity of a refined heart (Inouye 74). Having written several haikus now, I understand the importance of the sincere heart because without truly feeling the moment, it is hard to write good poetry. It is with sincerity that Basho “felt as if [he] were in the presence of the ancients themselves…rejoiced in the utter happiness of this joyful moment, not without tears in [his] eyes” (Basho 113).  In my opinion, Basho’s overflow of emotions in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is the result of him achieving compassion in the Bodhisattva cycle. Yet, his concreteness displayed in his poems such as in the line “Bush-clovers and the moon” (Basho 132) showed that he returned to the low, or “commonplace,” in Chōmei’s term (Inouye 79). The line demonstrates the idea of “awakening to the high and returning to the low” with the moon and the bush clovers representing the high and low respectively (Inouye 80). The more you pursue the truth, the more sorrow you get (Lecture 2/25). Then why pursue truth when it is hard to give others their own knowledge in truth after you have returned to the low? Why go through the unnecessary trouble of getting more sorrow when we can just enjoy ourselves every day? In reference to the mountain climbing analogy mentioned in class, perhaps the accomplishment of reaching the high and overcoming sorrow is even more gratifying than everyday happiness. Time to motivate myself even more and go through all the sorrow of homework.

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The Moment of the Here and Now

Driving down the highway in New Jersey in the evening, with flakes of snow furiously blown into the windshield.

Illuminated by headlights

Streaks of snow



[No image posted this week]


One of the things that struck me the most about Japan when I first visited was the overwhelming emphasis on appearance – the intricate hand-wrapped packaging, the flawlessly round melons that cost 5000 yen, carefully applied makeup that almost every woman seemed to be wearing, and ubiquitous uniforms. Why is it that in Japan, so much emphasis is placed on imposing formality on evanescence? Or in the phrasing of our discussion this week, why is there such an emphasis placed on ordering the “here-and-now,” which by definition will be gone the next instant? To help answer this question, we turn to the haikai poetry of Matsuo Basho. Haikai poetry, while bound by strict rules and conventions (the 5-7-5 syllable count), represents a “lyrical blending of the poet’s emotions with all elements of [the] context” (Inouye 74). Basho calls this fueki ryuko (不易流行), with the first half of the term referring to the unchanging form of the poetry and the latter half referring to the sincere emotion experienced by the poet when faced with the lyrical moment. As human beings, we have an intense desire to identify with our surroundings and achieve what Basho theorizes as butsuga ichinyo (物我一如) – becoming one with our surroundings (Inouye 76). A few weeks ago we discussed michi in the form of various “michi” or “dō” – jūdō, kendō, kōdō. Perhaps these disciplines are the functionally the same as Basho’s road (michi) in pursuing the state of butsuga ichinyo. So why is it that all of these, from Basho’s poetry to traditional martial arts, emphasize form? This question reminds me of a movie I watched many years ago named The Legend of 1900, about a pianist born on a cruise ship and never leaves. In one of the pivotal scenes of the movie, he eloquently describes the concepts that we have been discussing: “Take a piano. The keys begin, the keys end. You know there are 88 of them and no-one can tell you differently. They are not infinite, you are infinite. And on those 88 keys the music that you can make is infinite…But if that keyboard is infinite there’s no music you can play.”

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The Order of Here and Now

Nothing this week.


I enjoyed reading Bashō’s poems this week, though I wish we had read them earlier because I think they would have really helped me construct my own weekly poems. That said, it’s good that we have them now as an example and I think I have a much better idea of what is expected. Most of Bashō’s poems “centered on evanescence and form” (Inouye 74). A great example and a poem I really liked that was never discussed in class is “The changeable sky/Of the northern districts/Prevented me from seeing/The full moon of autumn” (Bashō 141). In my mind this captures the image of the night sky perfectly and also is a great example of how the evanesce of nature (the changing clouds in the sky) interacts with its form. Even though Basho could not see the moon, he knows that it’s full because of the time of the year. He termed this relationship as “fueki ryukō, the unchanging and the ever-changing” (Inouye 74). Fueki ryukō also describes his journey; as he travels and sees new sights his journey is constantly changing. “As firmly cemented clam-shells/Fall apart in autumn/So I must take to the road again/Farewell, my friends” (Bashō 142).  Each location he stays at becomes a new clam-shell, only to be destroyed by the incoming autumn of his departure. In the end though his journey closely resembles “kōgō kizoku” or “awakening to the high and returning to the low” as we watch him search for enlightenment while still intended to one day return to the home he left (Inouye 80). This concept reminds me a lot of my own journey through college and how I temporarily left my home in California to study in Boston. Whether or not I’ll returned as enlightened as Bashō is still unclear…

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The Mirror Self, Emptiness, and Compassion


Saturday I went to the Fells and climbed to the top of this hill of huge boulders; I sat still and watched the tall evergreen trees slowly swaying.



Breaking through the winter sky,



I was intrigued, once more, by the paradoxes surrounding our discussion last week about permanence, evanescence, self, and selflessness. Basho writes, “How still!/Piercing into the boulders,/ The cry of the cicada” [Inouye p.74]. Professor points out that “[i]n this poem, the ephemerality of the cicada’s song [] is contrasted with the solidity of rocks” [p.74]. This kind of juxtaposition is again seen in his poem “A thicket of summer grass/ Is all that remains/ Of the dreams and ambitions/ Of ancient warriors” [ Basho p.118]. The grass lingers, as the warriors’ selves and their self-induced trifles disappear. This poem speaks even more loudly as it makes the point the nature outlasts all human activity and meaning. Perhaps this is what Basho understands; He seeks selflessness as a way to escape from the evanescence of human existence and connect to the natural world. What is selflessness and how does it do this? Selflessness is the “unity of thing [or object] and self” [Inouye p.77]. To me, this means that the quick-to-label mind is silenced, and so perceptive awareness opens; this awareness is a mirror. I would also say that the perceived, the trees, the rock, the other, is also a mirror. And so when the opened awareness meets the perceived and become one, eternality, infinity emerges-like the Mise en abyme between two facing mirrors. Eternality amidst evanescence. But Basho still “was a self-concerned poet” as his writing has self awareness and makes reference to a self[Inouye p.77]. But I do not see this as a flaw in his advocation of selflessness; instead, I see it as a fundamental reality of this realm of existence. The fact that awareness is infused within individual bodies with individual minds cannot be escaped while alive; Basho only attempts to live rooted in this this larger awareness, rather than the transient individual self. In his poem “ Under the same roof/ We all slept together,/Concubines and I-/ Bush-clovers and the moon”, I think this can be revealed. The roof they sleep under is Awareness, or I would even say emptiness. When we live in the perception of the individuated and limiting self that stems from the mind, the concubine and Basho, and the moon and clovers are worlds apart, sharing nothing. But under this Awareness, the concubine and Basho are of the same, just as a the moon and the clovers exist in this realm equally. I think this understanding is the root of all compassion.

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Basho impersonated a member of the cloth because Sora was into that sort of thing.

Yesterday, around evening, it suddenly went from a warm sunny day with flurries to a cold damp rain, and I became morose.


I remember the soft snow

drifting down through the sunlight

before the sky went dark


I want to talk about my difficulty with the weekly assigned poems. I know they’re certainly not the same caliber as the ones written by Basho, but this is more of a question concerning process. You say in your book that “much artifice went into the writing” and that their creation did not “necessarily happen as noted.” (Inouye, 74) But in class you express that they are spontaneous works of emotion. My problem, though, is that I have always expressed my emotional elation in traditional prose, and the poems themselves don’t really *happen* organically. Instead, I take a sort of mental image, and spend a long time afterward trying to remember it as well as possible. Is there a better way? Moving on, I like that he dressed like a priest, but “was neither a priest nor an ordinary man,” because that’s what the protagonist of Preacher does to indicate he is a man who lives to aid his fellow men, rather than a man of god. (Inouye, 79)  Sora, on the other hand, strikes me as a an oddly religious fellow. He names himself “religiously enlightened” (Basho, 101) , and drifts into concepts of gods, holiness, and the divine in his later poems. Specifically, “What divine instict/ has taught these birds/ no waves swell so high/ as to swamp their home?” (Basho, 130) Which is kind of funny, because of course birds’ nests get swallowed by waves! You just can’t TELL there have been any nests there. I also wanted to point out something another student mentioned in class. The poem on 132 concerning “concubines and I-/ bush-clovers and the moon” seems to me to mean that he identifies so closely with the concubines and their earthly profession, that all of them are simply beautiful bushes undearneath the midnight moon.

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