In his book
Danger on Peaks, the poet, Gary Snyder, who has been steeped in Asian culture
and thought shares an email he received immediately after the Taliban destroyed
the giant Buddhas at the edge of the
He goes on to
quote a haiku by Issa:
no yo wa
no ya nagara
but a dewdrop world
English we use to navigate in the world seems to work fairly well. We can give
and get directions, order products, follow recipes, describe architecture, and
debate about sports and politics. It is limited when we attempt to hold two
seemingly contradictory ideas simultaneously, and to realize that various
concepts – education, marriage, peace – are ongoing processes rather than
concrete ideas. We get into the same old arguments that something must be either
good or bad, black or white. We are disappointed again and again when we get to
a peaceful resolution of a conflict, and then the amity does not last. There are
times when our language is a trap.
This is the
Chinese character for poetry. It is a composite made of the characters words and
temple. Poetry is a temple for words. A temple is the place to open oneself to a
connection to a wider world, universe, or way of thinking and being. One’s
actions and speech in a temple are to be undertaken with care and intention. If
we truly desire connection with something greater, we must make such behavior
part of ourselves, whether in the temple or outside of it.
It has been
suggested that the Japanese language is a mirror of the natural world, built on
the sound of vowels, connected to the breath of the cosmos. Languages like
English, deriving from German, are thick with consonants, which stop the breath
by shaping the mouth to craft particular sounds. It is possible that at such a
basic level, our thought process is constantly stopping and starting, the breath
being forced through the doors of the mouth as language travels into the world.
haiku from Issa:
no yo wa
no ya nagara
but a dewdrop world
even if we don’t understand it, flows easily. The English version has a much
harder feel even when we understand the ethereal concept if the dewdrop world.
This poetic rendition is superior to an explanation, being compressed to an
essence of a profound idea, no extra words, a pull out of the conventional
thought patterns. If we are to live in the word temple we must ever strive to be
poetic, which literally derives from the root meaning to create.
We must embrace
the realization that it is possible to see continuums rather than diametrical
opposites when we think. As the yin yang symbol demonstrates, white and black
define each other, a small dot of each within the other. There is no North
without South, or day without night. The word temple holds all varying degrees
of everything. As related by Ikkyu, an ancient rascally Zen priest:
I'd love to give you something
but, what would help?
Self other right wrong
wasting your life arguing
you're happy, really
you are happy.
It is equally important to realize that the world and everything in it is
an ongoing process. We get trapped in the uncertainty principle of modern
physics of either focusing on the speed or location of a particle. Once you
specify one, the other is lost. But we can look at one while realizing that we
are just seeing an aspect of it rather than its truth. And not forget that we
are a process too, ever changing in all ways.
Institutions like peace, relationships or marriage are not stable
entities. They are more like someone standing on a bongo board, a short plank
resting on a cylinder. Standing on the plank is difficult, until one masters the
art of balance, which derives from realizing that there is never a set point,
but only a constant series of adjustments and corrections about a center. It
takes effort to maintain balance, but with practice, it becomes second nature.
As Theodore Roethke says, “This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.”
The temple is always open. It is our responsibility to find our path to
it if we wish to live fully in this dewdrop world.