Monk Begging in Shopping District

Drowned out
By summer heat,
Rushing crowd.

Falling Leaves

My begging bowl
Accepts falling leaves

A rendering of Santoka’s poem teppatsu chirikuru ha o uketa.

Santoka’s Hailstone Poem

My begging bowl too
Fall hailstones

Teppatsu no
Naka e mo

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.