Readers of the previous posting about Zen and hokku, on reading my emphasis on some kind of meditative spiritual practice, may justifiably think, “Well, hokku may have an historical connection with Zen aesthetics, but why does this fellow recommend some kind of spiritual practice for those who want to write hokku when no one else — not even Bashō — suggested that to those wanting to learn it?”

There are two reasons:

First, old hokku was written in a culture that had absorbed the aesthetics inherited from Daoism and Buddhism to such an extent that it was understood without the need for words.  Westerners for the most part lack this “unconscious” foundation for hokku, and because of this it must be developed in some other way, and no way is quite as good as returning to the source, which is meditative spiritual practice.

Second, Westerners (and now most Easterners as well) live in today’s very materialistic, superficially rational culture, and desperately need a counterbalance to that in order to understand the spiritual principles underlying hokku.  A meditative spiritual practice can help.

We should never forget the anecdote told of Bashō — that he became so obsessed with hokku within the practice of haikai that he neglected spiritual practice, and when the time of his death neared, he greatly regretted that his obsession had kept him from spending more time on spiritual training.  We should never let hokku have that effect on us.  Spiritual training should be the priority, and hokku only secondary.  As I always say, it is more important to live hokku than to write it.  But of course to write it with great depth of understanding, one has to first live it.


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