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THE HAIKU by H. F. Noyes PART I: NATURALNESS The Japanese world of art and poetry is rife with subtle terms of elusive meaning to a Westerner. These are not definable with anything like the precision we take for granted in English. The word haiku combines hai, meaning natural, with ku, the syllable for sky or emptiness.* In Part I, let us try to understand some of the implications of the first syllable. The depth and meaningfulness of the haiku tradition hasstemmed in large measure from Zen, a precept of which is, "do not on any account interfere with the natural course of life." The discursive mind, with its ego-centered orientation, is of course the prime interferer with the natural. It has been said that civilization's art is doing natural things in unnatural ways. The haiku master Basho said that we need to learn afresh directly from nature not merely through close observation, but from "immersing ourselves in things" so that there is no artificial separation between observer and observed. Then things can speak for themselves in their own voices. He wrote: Such stillness! The voice of the cicada sinks into the rocks When we return to a natural childlike wonder, we hear again what Tagore called the conch shell of the Unknown. The natural subject of the haiku is the interplay of all nature, from which are derived those arresting juxtapositions of the moment that make our haiku live: On the riverbank a small boy casts his line the scattering clouds JoanCouzens Sauer [1] We do not pick and choose according to our judgment of what is significant. Our sketch of each experience simply reflects what is. An example is this haiku by Issa, the most artless of the masters: As if nothing happened the crow there the willow here[2] What is enlightenment but the natural state of "seeing into the life of things" allowing the thing to "perceive itself in us"? A haiku should have the freshness of "inception," a word Walt Whitman used to convey "as it was in the beginning, is now " It's proper subject is being a world apart from mere existence, in which we stray into non-awareness and isolation. Thoreau wrote: "Sometimes as I drift on Walden Pond I cease to exist and begin to be." In natural being, we have freedom from conditioning, from the pursuit of happiness, beauty, and significance. Our thoughts are untethered, unbelled as the stars, free as a child at play. Out of the freshness of a detached awareness, haiku arise when we learn to "Awaken the mind without fixing it anywhere."[3] PART II: EMPTINESS The second element in the word haiku ku symbolizes sky or emptiness. There is an Indian Buddhist saying that reconciles these two meanings: "Unite! Like the union of sky with sky."[4] When we're as clear as the sky, we can know the oneness of all of life. The concept of emptiness is at the heart of Taoism. Chuang-Tzu said, "The tao (the Way) is emptiness," and Lao-Tzu, "to be empty is to be full." The interpenetration the interbeing we sense in the haiku moment derives from this emptiness- fullness. The most powerful poetic image I know for describing this state of purgation is that of Wallace Stevens in these lines from "Snow Man": For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is. Perception of "nothing that is not there" that is the great secret; for whatever we inject into a haiku that is not really there will obviate or defile the oneness we seek to invoke. It is true that the haiku moment we write about takes place in the here and now. And yet, paradoxically, when our freedom from self-preoccupation allows us to tune into the universe, the moment is transmuted beyond time and space: Beyond all tallied time to find this virgin space and here encounter now![5] When we let go of all our preconditioning, discarding our habitual mental sets, biases and stagnant emotive states, our brush against the small and ordinary connects us with the universal and eternal. The absence of the period at the end of the modern haiku is meant to leave the haiku open-ended for an echoing extension into what Blake termed "eternity's sunrise." When we open a forest seed, in the empty covering may reside unseen the essence of some great tree. The essence of mind is similarly concealed. To quote from a Zen anthology: There is no place to seek the mind; It is like the footprints of birds in the sky[6] These Li Po lines translate selfless ku into poetry: The birds have vanished into the sky and now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.[7] Let us on our haiku journeys, in the words of the great Persian poet, Rumi, wash ourselves of ourselves.[7] And through this ego-cleansing we can then hope to experience Nature's wholeness through the wholeness of our own nature. * This ku is Chinese; the Japanese ku means something close to "playful" in English [1] WIND CHIMES, edited by H.F. Noyes, The Blossoming Rudder [2] Translated by Nanao Sakaki, Inch by Inch [3] The Diamond Sutra [4] S. B. Dasgupta, An Introduction to Tantric Buddhism [5] H.F. Noyes, My Rain, My Moon [6] From ZENRINKUSHU cited in R. H. Blyth, Eastern Culture [7] From The Enlightened Heart, edited by Stephen Mitchell This article first appeared many years ago in ORPHIC LUTE. RHYTHM IN HAIKU?: An article by Elizabeth St Jacques LOOKING AT HAIKU: An article by Elizabeth St Jacques HAIKU LIGHT: Haiku by some of the best poets in the world today. 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