Introduction

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Getting started

Experiencing a haiku

How can you experience a haiku? Start by reading this one by Joso:

Fields and mountains
All taken by the snow;
Nothing remains.

The composer of a haiku characteristically gives us nothing but a picture, a vignette of a tiny part of the panorama of life as he sees it. If there are non-pictorial implications, it is up to us to create them.

Fields and mountains
All taken by the snow;
Nothing remains.

Imagine a mental image based on the words of this haiku. A whiteness covers all—all the brooks and bushes and ledges and trees and houses. Individual forms have been smoothed over or obliterated. After visualizing this, open yourself to a feeling of the emptiness of this landscape. You are faced with—nothing. Instead of picturing a brook here and a stone wall there and a straw-thatched house under a mountain crag, you see only white undulations. With nothing in particular to stimulate your pictorial imagination, you just sit there.

In this quiet sitting, you are opening yourself to what Zen-trained people mean when they say that emptiness is fullness or that emptiness is the womb of forms. Under that mantle of snow exist innumerable forms-leaf buds waiting to open, hibernating animals, bacteria, lichen and mosses on rocks, seeds of grasses, streams in their rocky beds. Each exists there ready to grow and move according to the laws of its own life; each is a different expression of the primal energy. Analogously, when our conscious verbalizing, our almost incessant chatter is stilled, the wiser part of us, as an atom of the primal energy, has a chance to develop.

Joso did not say all this. But the stone he dropped into the pool of our awareness created these ripples: these, and doubtless many others in other minds.

Note: The haiku are largely from notes made by Zen Master Yasutani for his students. See Philip Kapleau's The Three Pillars of Zen (Anchor, 1989).