The almost frantic desire of contemporary society to drop whatever is perceived as no longer fashionable in favor of whatever is new should hold no attraction for writers of hokku. Such chronic dissatisfaction as just another manifestation of the illusion that abandoning what one has for what one does not have will make one happy. And of course change for the sake of change is the very basis of our modern sick and wasteful consumer society, and a major cause of the rape of the natural environment and ultimately of climate change.
The book Blowing Zen (H. J. Kramer Inc., Tiburon, 2000), was written by a man who learned to play the shakuhachi in Japan — Ray Brooks. A shakuhachi is a kind of bamboo flute. At one point, being a novice student, he was playing shakuhachi outside in winter when an elderly Japanese woman passing by heard him practicing a piece called Haru no Umi — “The Spring Sea.” Finally it was too much for her, and she stopped to correct him, saying “Dame! — Dame!” meaning “No good! No good!”
She was not criticizing his playing, but rather the fact that he was playing the melody out of season. That old lady had the perspective of hokku, which pays attention to such things and considers them important.
As I have said before, the aesthetics of all the contemplative arts are essentially the same, so it is not surprising that the old woman perceived the inappropriateness of a spring melody being played in winter. It is like seeing a Christmas wreath on the Fourth of July — out of place, out of harmony with the season.
Modern haiku long ago abandoned this aesthetic, but in hokku I like to value and observe it, finding no reason to change simply for the sake of keeping up with the fashions of the moment in literature. Not long ago, realistic painting was out of style and “old-fashioned.” Now it is again very popular. Things come into fashion and go out of style, but the essential aesthetics of the best hokku transcend fashion, being rooted in the spiritual aesthetic that gave birth to the contemplative arts.
Change is a part of the universe. But the craze for the new simply because it is new is a sign of immaturity and instability. The constant desire for something new and different that pervades modern culture is simply the symptom of a society that constantly tries to replace one distraction with another, but finds — like a drug addict — that the pleasure decreases with each experience.
In spite of its appreciation for the old, hokku is always open to what is new and fresh, because its subject matter is always in keeping with the present season, whatever that season may be. Hokku excludes neither age nor youth, but sees both in relation to the constant change characteristic of existence.
Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden,
I SAY, BEWARE OF ALL ENTERPRISES THAT REQUIRE NEW CLOTHES, AND NOT RATHER A NEW WEARER OF CLOTHES.”
That is something society in general has yet to learn, but it is very true. Writing hokku is not about constantly being in fashion and up-to-date by the standards of others; instead it is about a fundamental transformation in the mind that allows us to perceive the world and our place in it — as a part of it — as constantly changing, yet ever fresh and new.