Monthly Archives: March 2013

Harada Tangen Roshi

harada_tangen_roshiHere is an excellent  documentary of my master, Harada Tangen Roshi, made by zen practitioner, artist and filmmaker, Madelon Hooykaas. She practiced under him 30 years ago and made this film in 2008 or 2009.

No sound, no water.

There is no old pond.
There is no frog that leaps in.
No sound, no water.

Santoka’s Hailstone Poem

Into
My begging bowl too
Fall hailstones

Teppatsu no
Naka e mo
Arare

teppatsu (steel begging bowl)
no naka e (falling into the)
mo (also)
arare (grain-sized hail)

A teppatsu is a steel bowl for receiving alms from begging or takuhatsu. Begging is an important part of Buddhist practice. Not only should the receiver, the monk, be thankful but also should the giver, the lay people. People often think that takuhatsu is a base practice but it is really the highest of practices in Buddhism. Takuhatsu is different from begging. The begging of the poor is seen as receiving something for nothing. But in the takuhatsu the giver is also receiving the Teaching of The Buddha from those practicing towards enlightenment. Thus the monks hard work is not only for himself but for others as well. So the receiver and giver both should have a spirit of gratitude for this reason.

The e in the second line is a grammatical particle in the Japanese language. It is possible to replace the e with a ni for the sentence to still remain grammatically correct. But there is a difference in meaning, in nuance. E denotes a movement whereas ni denotes a state of existence. With a ni the sentence would then translate to ‘In my begging bowling too are hailstones’. The cruciality of the movement thus signifies the striking of the metalic bowl by the hail, making a sound which brought probably Santoka to some kind of great realization.

For it to be hailing it must have been during the cold winter months. How hard and lonely it must have seem for Santoka. Yet his poem is full of joy and gratitude. How wonderful is the Teaching! How powerful it is! How deep his realization!

It should also be noted that Santoka is famous for his free-form haiku. While the haiku is usually 5-7-5 in syllables this haiku is 5-4-3 departing radically from the norm. Furthermore it is standard to have a season word or kigo. Here the season word is hail but Santoka may not put one in. This freedom of style is powerful and natural for him, making his poetry closer to modern verse. Indeed he lived in a time (1882-1940) of great change in Japan.

The Sure Bet (Short Version)

Death, of course
Is the sure bet
But you are either
The horse
Or the punter, and
Never both at once.

the sure bet

death
is not such a scary thing
not completely unexpected
it happens to everyone
it is the sure bet

so why do we fear it
it’s as natural as birth
to be born is
to be guaranteed a death

a wise man once said
‘what is unborn cannot die’
how wonderful it is, then
to be born and not live forever

because how boring
would life be
as beckett put it, to be
waiting for godot

Fukushima, 11 March 2011, 2:46pm

The devastation
Was shocking.
Made disaster movies look
All the more unreal.

Actuality
Is meant to be infinitely
More frightening and tragic.
But the wide angle
Helicopter view
Of the (un)natural quiet gentle onslaught
Looks like a child’s play puddle
Less CGed and more muddied
The brown mass rolls across
A miniature landscape.
People are puny ants.
Cars are tiny toys.
Unaware until the very last moment
Or aware but it is too late
Everyone, everything is swept away
Reluctantly with the front.
Bridges
Are supposed to be
Over water
Not in.
Houses float down streets like boats
And boats will sit far inland like houses.
A Nuclear power station
Is not supposed to fail
And explode like a fire cracker.

Postmodern and simulating
The world is now seen
Through the colourbox
Like characters
In a soap opera
Unaffecting.
The quake, tsunami and accident
Seem to exist
Only in the images of our memories
Like some far away fictional place
Of the past or future,
And not of the suffering or joy
Of the here-and-now.


In memory of the 18,500 who died or are missing, and thoughts to the 35,000 who survived and are displaced.