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Haiku


A haiku is a 17-syllable poem, traditionally with a suggestion of the season, arranged in 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables, and balanced on a pause. It is perhaps the simplest form of poem, but also allows for a range and depth that I can see no end to.

There are many books on haiku, but to my mind, the best is by Clark Strand Seeds from a Birch Tree which shows how the simplicity of the haiku form can both be a spiritual path and a framework for seeing what is, as it is, with an immediacy that allows no pretension.

Clark makes a case that the form of 3 lines with their 5-7-5 syllables is not limiting, but paradoxically by having a strict form allows true freedom of expression. I have found this to be the case, and so my haiku follow the traditional 5-7-5 syllables, although strictly speaking in Japanese haiku the pattern is 5-7-5 'morae', where a 'mora' is not quite equivalent to the western concept of 'syllable'. But these haiku here are English haiku, not Japanese, so I follow Clark and use 5-7-5 western syllables.

To convey one's mood
In seventeen syllables
Is very diffic

(John Cooper Clarke)

My other departure from the Japanese tradition is that they are not all about the season, but about something important and relevant to me, which is often an experience in my meditation (sometimes such haiku which are not about a season are called 'senryu').

[In chronological order, most recent at the bottom]




Intricate lattice
Of branches in summer dawn;
Sunlight seeping through.

I woke up in my basement room during a retreat in Spokane, and saw the branches framed in the window.



Cathedral of trees,
Stark against pale winter sky;
Breaths float white in air.

Walking my dog in the winter through woods of leaveless trees, snow on the ground, both he and I would leave little mists of out-breaths in the crisp air.



Fragrant flowers bloom;
Smell, that least regarded sense,
Fills my room with joy.

Wondering why my office felt so different; then I realised that the usual beautiful looking flowers had been replaced by equally beautiful looking flowers, but which also had a scent.



High clouds with wispy tails,
Sign of strong winds up above;
Down here, all is still.



Pine tree sighing softly,
Its needles carpet the ground;
Here is the crows' home.



Muddy dirt puddle,
Meaning nothing to people,
Reflects the bright moon.



Dog growls, I walk on,
Hear him pursue - fear knots me;
Only windblown leaves.

In a park at night, an aggressive little dog was growling at me, and I walked on with cool, studied disdain. A few minutes later I heard him chasing me, his pattering paws scratching on the tarmac path, and I froze, not only with fear, but with the indignity of being so fearful of this small dog. After probably less than a second creating this whole dreadful narrative in my head, I realised that the noise was only dried leaves being blown and scraping along the path.



Hard floor, aching knees,
Desperate wait for ending bell.
It pings - sweet relief.

I wrote this at Wat Metta monastery, California. Funnily enough, soon afterwards I had something of a breakthrough, and stopped worrying about aching knees and ankles etc, and for the first time in 33 years of meditating, I find myself able to sit for an hour plus without the body complaining, or perhaps I should say, being able to ignore the complaints and find that they have no substance.



Strict religious rules
Oppress my meditation;
Dive deep to escape.

Again at Wat Metta monastery - a mixture of the Vinaya in all its detail (plus Thai protocol), and excellent instruction in meditation. I need to make a distinction between the two.



Flying tomorrow,
Passport missing - frantic search;
Didn't find it - ahhhh.

Aug 19 2003 - the day I was due to leave Boston for London. Lost my passport, thought the world had ended, stomach in knots. In the end, went to the British Consulate and got a temporary one very easily - no need for the panic at all!



Focused mind must thrive
Right in the middle of things;
Not push them away.

I was meditating in a room where the door did not quite close, and in the next room were a group of builders putting in a kitchen. At first I thought I could not meditate surrounded by all their noise; but after a while I found myself accepting the noise and distraction. And in accepting it, my inner focus felt healthy. I was neither swamped by the noise, nor did I focus on the noise as the dominant perception; I just accepted it as happening, neither welcoming it nor resenting it, and my mind remained steady and at ease, riding on the breath.



Breath and the body;
Each immersed in the other -
The path's foundation.



Spiritual seeker,
Trodden endless paths for years;
But where am I now?



Read the Tao Te Ching,
The words like a fine meshed net;
What's not caught is real.



Beloved Kuan Yin -
Truth, myth or superstition?
You are all, and none.

Kuan Yin (or Kuan Shih Yin, or Kannon) is the East Asian goddess of Compassion and Love. She belongs to no one religion. Taoists worship her as an immortal, Chinese Buddhists as a Bodhisattva, Shinto as a deity, and Pure Land as a guide to the Western Paradise.

She answers prayers for help in an interesting way - she works with what is, rather than changing things arbitrarily. By this, I mean she will help you get from where you are to where to want or need to be; but she will not just create your end result for you. She helps you take the steps you need, but will not make your journey on your behalf.

If I ever became religious, and wanted to pray to a higher power, I would pray to Kuan Yin.



Love is the still seed,
And the passionate living,
And the silent end.



I pause, catch my breath,
Drink my tea in the warm sun;
Each thing has its time.



No choice but to be,
Bathed in the stream of what is;
Just how to meet it.


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