WHR January 2015

January 2015

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and have ushered in a positive and productive New Year, especially in your earnest search for better and more genuine haiku!

Curiously, among the haiku poems submitted for this issue there were few haiku about Christmas. Do people think that Christmas is not an appropriate topic for haiku? Doe not the Christian tradition as a religion sit well with that of Shintoism or Buddhism? Is it that the Western culture of separating, dividing and classifying does not allow the Japanese culture of amalgamating, accommodating and fusing to play a part in haiku? When Buddhism came to Japan in 538 (some say 552) the big question was what to do with the indigenous Shinto. The Japanese simply let the latter absorb the former (shin-butsu shugo, or religious syncretism). Many things about Christmas have come to be incorporated into saiji-ki and become proper kigo in their own right such as seiya (holy night), kotan-sai (the birth of Christ) or kurisumasu(Christmas) itself. Here, for once the Japanese seem to be showing cultural tolerance and enjoying the marriage of different traditions.

More profoundly, haiku has inner energy to seek commonality and universality. It is not just the outward shapes and forms of Buddhism but the spirit behind them that haiku is after. The essence of belief, self-sacrifice, dedication, love, compassion, fraternity, humility or prayer is the same in any religion, at least similar to each other. It is that common thread which the Japanese see running in almost all cultures. There is no reason why hai-I, or haiku-no-kokoro (haiku spirit) should not be the same in this important aspect. Haiku seeks to elucidate the inner truths by depicting the outside surface. Superficial haiku without the inner truths will only be just that, superficial. This is why haiku fails if the author does no more than copy the surface of things, or he or she is a superficial person, leading superficial life him/herself.

This is what it really means when one says that haiku is not merely a form of poetry but a way of life. Here, it does not mean, as some have mistakenly and most unfortunately asserted, that haiku transcends poetry (i.e. it is no longer poetry) because it is a Way (of the Zen ilk, Tao, or even “the” Haiku Way). Let us confirm once and for all that haiku is merely a form of poetry, it is poetry and that it is nothing else.

Within that humble and narrow boundary haiku could be profound, universal and timeless. It could of course be just nice as haiku. Haiku does not have to, and it does not, seek profundity, universality or timelessness all the time. Cherry blossoms or Mt. Fuji are beautiful in anybody’s eyes as are bougainvillaea or Grand Canyon. To express the feeling of wonder or aesthetic sentiment is no bad thing at all in haiku as well as in any other form of art and literature.

What we don’t want is falsification of one’s deep feelings or fake upgrading of haiku to that which it is not. In celebrating the New Year let us pledge at least to be a little bit more honest to ourselves and believe that honesty is the best policy even in haiku. It is no small pledge.