Our local sangha had our four-hour block meditation yesterday--people coming and going, with a number of us staying and sitting the whole time. Plus our 30-minute snack time afterward, which is gradually creeping into the realm of an actual meal, so much food!
Since we had no discussion group to tell you about, I thought for today I’d offer a few more poems you may not know. Here are two from Ryokan (1758-1831), a Japanese Buddhist hermit who spent much of his time writing poetry and doing calligraphy. His poetry is simple and inspired by nature. He loved children, and supposedly sometimes forgot to beg for food because he was playing with the children of the nearby village. Ryōkan refused to accept any position as a priest or even as a "poet."
What I notice in what I’ll call “Buddhist poetry” is the way it takes the authority of the moment for granted. It doesn’t ask anything of me, the reader, other than to be a companion to the poem. It lacks decoration and it lacks self-consciousness, almost as if the speaker has to work up the energy to write it down, the poem that has just occurred to him/her.
We don’t fly away in these poems, as the nineteenth century poet John Keats put it, on the “wings of Poesy.” We don’t fly away anywhere. We are where we are, right here, and that’s just fine. Or, more to the point, it is what it is.
Here’s another poem by Ghalib (1797-1869), a Persian poet from India. It’s translated by Jane Hirshfield, a contemporary Buddhist poet:
This one seems a bit like a “teaching poem,” doesn’t it? It doesn’t seem to be just opening the immediate moment to a companion—it’s “telling me” something. But look again: it’s telling the speaker himself something. He’s speaking this to himself. So really, it looks as if it’s the same simple seeing as in the poems by Ryokan.
Next week we'll be picking up on our discussion of One Dharma, by Joseph Goldstein.