The Application of Haiku in Zen Buddhism

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Haiku is a short poem, usually consisting of 17 syllables in Japanese. It contains three short lines that evoke emotions by presenting a pair of contrasting images (Hass 11). This short poem does not explain the images created, but leave a suggestion instead. Haiku are used by Zen Buddhists in the teaching of the doctrine in several ways. Firstly, Zen Buddhism emphasizes on meditation which was believed to cause enlightenment. With meditation, Zen Buddhists experience little flashes of knowledge known as kensho. These are daily experiences that surprise people because they reveal the truth. For example, one haiku by Basho indicates that “Old pond. A frog jumps in. The sound of water” (Hass 24). In this case, the old pond refers to the still nature of life, and the jumping frog indicates a flash of enlightenment. Therefore, Zen Buddhists utilized haiku in teaching and practicing meditation. The poems were also used to teach about the nature of human life and show human experiences such as loneliness and loss. Zen Buddhists meditate in loneliness and also see similar loneliness in others. For instance, Basho in his famous haiku indicated that “Along this road goes no one, this autumn eve” (Hass 22). Basho reveals the solitude nature of his life and death, symbolized by “autumn eve.” Issa used haiku to reflect on the loss of his children. He stated that “A world of dew, And within every dewdrop, A world of struggle” (Hass 16). Zen Buddhists also used haiku in teaching the Zen doctrines. According to the Zen teachings of the “three signs of being,” everything is subject to change. For this reason, the Zen Buddhists emphasized the importance of seasons to show a sense of change. An example is a haiku by Koji which says, “Hoarfrost spikes, have sprung out overnight, like the hairs on my chin” (Hass 31). In my opinion, the use of haiku in teaching is a workable process. These poems were successful, and their applications are still relevant to date. 

Work Cited

Hass, Robert. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa. Ecco Press, 2009. Print.

December 12, 2023



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