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  • Writer's pictureJohn McQuade

War & Haiku

By: John McQuade

Brutal War World -

still each day the sun rises

season to season

Is that enough? In the face worldwide situations of suffering – wars and plagues and famines – and the deep structure sentient being suffering that Buddhism acknowledges, is that enough? Is it enough that the sun rises each day? This is an inquiry concerning the value and way of the contemplative arts. Certainly the contemplative arts bring a sense of appreciation to being alive. Is that aesthetic experience and insight enough? Do the contemplative arts have any relevance to the social and political issues of the day and of humanity?

Here I share some comments from Robert Aitken in his book A Zen Wave: Basho’s Haiku and Zen.

When I look carefully-

Shepherds purse is blooming

Beneath the hedge


A shepherds purse is what many would call a weed. It is a small plant with tiny white flowers.

Robert Aitken cites D.T. Suzuki Roshi’s comment on this Basho haiku. He reflects on the social implications of our deep habitual pattern of not noticing, not looking carefully, not appreciating.

“We are always ready to destroy anything including ourselves. We never hesitate to slaughter one another and give this reason: there is one ideology that is absolutely true and anything or anybody, any group or individual who opposes this particular ideology deserves total annihilation. We are blatantly given up to the demonstration of self-conceit, self-delusion and unashamed arrogance. We do not seem to notice the flowering shepherd purse…we trample such flowers underfoot and feel no compunction whatever. Is religion no longer needed by modern man”

Robert Aitken raises the decisive question: “Can we balance the peace movement on such a delicate base?”

Then he suggests that we can: “I think it is possible to show how Basho is teaching us with his shepherd purse, and how the denial of the shepherd purse is “self-conceit, self-delusion, and unashamed arrogance”. The first step in Basho’s teaching is to remove us from the human standard which is only valid on the plane of relativity. These standards place peonies, roses, and chrysanthemums on the level of beautiful flowers, and the shepherd purse on the level of weeds. When you’re truly removed from that point of view then unsalted food is unsalted and salted food is salty – that’s all…if we permit such a relative base of judgement to remain intact for the shepherds purse, then that same base will provide affection for the Korean’s and hatred for the Japanese, or the reverse. We will be unable to see things, animals and people as they are.”

How do we transcend this dualistic, confining and potentially destructive relative way of seeing and being in the world?

Robert Aitken continues to cite T.D Suzuki who comments: “When beauty is expressed in terms of Buddhism, it is a form of self-enjoyment of the suchness of things. Flowers are flowers, mountains are mountains, I sit here you stand there, and the world goes from eternity to eternity: this is the suchness of things. A state of self-awareness here constitutes enlightenment and a state of self-enjoyment here constitutes beauty”

So the transcending that includes the relative is “suchness”.

Robert Aitken comments: “Upon seeing the flower, Basho realized this, this. On seeing the flower, he enjoyed it. And seeing the flower, he wrote the haiku…this is the trinity of seeing, appreciating and sharing; true appreciating is motivating…these are the Three Bodies of the Buddha: the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya – the Body of Enlightenment, the Body of Bliss and the Body of Manifestation

Is this enough? Perhaps not at the relative level since the relative level is engagement and right engagement depends on the relative. So there is a paradox. For the contemplatives one must find non-dualism within dualism. This starts with noticing or being served notice. Either way and both ways. Here is another pointer from Basho:

Chestnuts under the eaves-

Not many people

Notice the blossoms

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