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.

4 thoughts on “Santoka’s Hailstone Poem

  1. janineyork

    I love this story and explanation. I love free form haiku. I write them also, because I rarely relate them to a season word. I often wonder if I should try to add one, but it is so hard to get a thought across in 17 syllables and have to include a season word as well. My haikus usually pertain to fairytale disillusions, so seasons usually do not pertain.

    Reply
    1. Warren Post author

      Thanks for your comment and follow, Janine.

      This is a good question. Whether to include a season word or not is ultimately the writer’s choice. It is vastly different for a Japanese writer and Western writer. I think you said quite nicely – Western are comfortable to write directly about feelings whereas Japanese are not. Equally Western poetry can talk about feelings in terms of the physical but not necessarily relate to the season. So don’t worry about it too much.

      This is just my opinion of course and some will argue it is crucial. Modes of expression are cultural so make that decision as needed.

      Hope that made sense.

      Reply
  2. livelysceptic

    For some reason, the image of the monk begging reminds me of a book by Liza Dalby. She describes her experiences training as a geisha and one early morning, she realises the monk begging at her doorstep under a straw hat is somebody she knows, namely another American student practising zen. It’s really a meeting, isn’t it. Of people, of nature, of hailstones, of sound.
    It’s also, if I may be so bold, a very well-written piece of text. It explains while leaving room for the imagination.

    Reply
    1. Warren Post author

      Thank you.

      If you mean the poem then, yes, I agree, it is a great poem. If you mean my text then I must say there is room for improvement.

      Reply

Thanks for the comments.

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