Buddhist poetry in Japan and the fallen autumn leaf: Henjō (816-890) and Sōgi (1421-1502)
Buddhist poetry in Japan and the fallen autumn leaf: HenjÅ (816-890) and SÅgi (1421-1502)
Lee jay walker
Modern times of Tokyo
In two short poems by HenjÅ (816-890) and SÅgi (1421-1502), you can feel the last pangs of life and the memories that become a dream world. Therefore, these two holy Japanese Buddhist monks – with HenjÅ being “past”, during SÅgi’s life, which was “now”, would eventually meet and become “past” regarding the natural passages of life.
If SÅgi paid homage to HenjÅ by visiting HenjÅ’s final abode, then only the dreamlike world of ideas could awaken a connection. Of course, for HenjÅ’s family and friends after his death, the abandoned house and the feeling of emptiness would have been the dominant emotions.
In a lovely poem by SÅgi below, the aftermath of a loved one can be felt vividly.
We can realize
that people are just dreams:
the abandoned house,
his wild garden becomes home
to a swarm of butterflies.
Throughout his life, HenjÅ mingled with the upper echelons of society. Over time, HenjÅ became a Tendai Buddhist monk. However, although SÅgi was born to more humble parents, he also rose up due to his knowledge and poetry.
HenjÅ and SÅgi were both influenced by Chinese culture and philosophy regarding the powerful heritage of the Middle Kingdom (China). Yet naturally, different Buddhist traditions in Japan emerged regarding cultural traits, Shintoism, and new Buddhist concepts that would fit well into the worldview of Tendai Buddhism.
In HenjÅ’s poem below, you can feel a sense of gloom and acceptance. He wrote:
On his way to leave the world, a man
come to rest
But he can’t find a shade
For every autumn leaf has fallen.
In a previous article I wrote, âThese words are extremely poignant because everything that seemed possible is now just a second from nothing. Of course, people will read the words differently. Regardless of that, the power remains forever. Plus, you can feel the steadfastness of Buddhism that shaped the world of HenjÅ.
These two poems by HenjÅ and SÅgi are timeless. Immediately as I read I think of my late mother (Judy Doggett Walker 1934-2019) and the last throes of her life which were a never-ending struggle. So, as SÅgi wrote, “the abandoned house” and the feeling that “people are only dreams” becomes intrusive.
However, just like the Buddha and Jesus – and holy people of different faiths – despite their deaths thousands of years ago, their words and actions continue to inspire and reconnect.
Now, while ordinary people have long been forgotten by time – for the short period of memories that connect people (family, friends or pets), loved ones who are part of our shorter dream world will inspire and will always bring smiles of joy on a good day!
http://www.wakapoetry.net/kks-v-292/ – Waka poetry site
http://davidbowles.us/poetry/translations/dream-people-by-monk-sogi/ – translated by David Bowles
Illustration by Sawako Utsumi
http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/sawako-utsumi.html – Sawako Utsumi and where you can buy his artwork, postcards, bags and other products. Also, individuals can contact her for individual requests.
In memory of my mother Judy Doggett Walker who passed away from this land on April 10, 2019
Judy Doggett Walker (November 29, 1934 to April 10, 2019)
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