Buddhist poetry of Japan and the last twilight before the shadow of time

Buddhist poetry of Japan and the last twilight before the shadow of time

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Two exquisite short poems by Buddhist holy men from Japan focus on the shadow of life and the memories left behind. It matters not that both poets come from extremely contrasting times in history. For Henjō (816-890) and Sōgi (1421-1502) share the escape of time due to cultural continuity.

Thus, the binding forces of Buddhism, philosophical concepts, and the role of Shintoism render the enormous gap in time to be unimportant. Therefore, the thoughtful short poems by Henjō and Sōgi hit a powerful chord to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, irrespective if yesteryear or now.

Henjō exquisitely wrote:

On his way to leave the world, a man
Comes to rest
Beneath the trees
But he finds no shade
For every Autumn leaf has fallen.

These words are extremely poignant because all that once seemed possible is now but a second away from nothingness. Of course, individuals will read the words differently. Irrespective of this, the power remains for all time. Also, you can feel the firmness of Buddhism that shaped the world of Henjō.

In the poem by Sōgi below, you feel the aftermath of a loved now parted from life. This Buddhist holy man wrote:

We may realize
that people are merely dreams:
the house abandoned,
its wild garden becomes home
to a swarm of butterflies.

Both poems hit my emotions after the death of my mother, Judy Doggett Walker (1934-2019). This equally applies to her last moments on this earth and her home now feeling abandoned and soulless. Just like the withering inside flowers denote the wild garden and the dream world that I seek to enter.

Hence, despite the passages of time both poems continue to interconnect with personal memories that people hold. The years pass and in time memories become a salvation of hope on good days. However, during times of loneliness and despair then grasping at a world that can never be reached in this lifetime.

Overall, the words in these two poems by Henjō and Sōgi are timeless and apply to all people irrespective of faith or no faith.

http://www.wakapoetry.net/kks-v-292/ – Waka Poetry website

http://sawakoart.com Two art pieces by Sawako Utsumi – the first is Buddhist based and the second image shows religious duality.

http://davidbowles.us/poetry/translations/dream-people-by-monk-sogi/ – translated by David Bowles

In memory of my mother Judy Doggett Walker who passed away from this earth on April 10, 2019 – Images of Judy Doggett Walker and her son Lee Jay

Rest In Peace – Judy Doggett Walker (November 29, 1934, to April 10, 2019)


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