Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Haiku and Rust

Someone sent around the following poem and exerpt:

this deserted mountain
the aged farmer
digging wild potatoes

-- Bashô

"Where the mood of the moment is solitary and quiet it is called sabi...
Sabi is loneliness in the sense of Buddhist detachment,
of seeing all things as happening "by themselves" in miraculous
spontaneity. With this goes that sense of deep, illimitable
quietude which descends with a long fall of snow, swallowing all
sounds in layer upon layer of softness." - Alan Watts, The Way of Zen

Ah, that old sabi nonsense. What a mysterious cult Westerners have made of it!

Sabi means 'rust'. Plain and simple. Thus, sabi is the Japanese 'rustic.' It only appears exotic thanks to the distance in time, space, and culture. More broadly sabi means 'patina of age' which is to say, the deteriorating effect on things caused by age of which rust is the most obvious example, but includes the weathering of wood, the fading of clothing, the build up of soot, etc.

Basho was an urbanite and required an urban setting to make his living, but he did not care for the rat race and tried to opt out as much as possible. Edo had a population of more than a million people in Basho's day. It was a bustling, sophisticated city, obsessed with making money, climbing the ladder of ambition, and enjoying the pleasures of theater, sex, and alcohol. In other words, it was a lot like New York City. I think this is the reason why Basho appeals to us. He tried to resolve the tension between the attractive, yet unnatural, life in the city and his own human need for something deeper and more lasting.

The poem above is an excellent example of sabi -- a rural location, an old peasant, gathering wild foods. It was Basho's genius to appreciate such things; in this he follows the tea aesthetic established by Sen no Rikyu approximately a hundred and fifty years earlier. Basho was rebelling against a materialistic, urban life. Rikyu also rebelled against the conspicuous consumption that had been the hallmark of the tea ceremony in his day; it was Rikyu who made the door to the tea hut so small that even the shogun had to get down on his knees and crawl.

To chase after Zen does no good if one doesn't give up materialism and consumerism. If materialism and consumerism are abandoned, there is no need for Zen. Zen is not about doing or not doing. Zen just is.


1 comment:

  1. I just found you.... looking into this old foggy monitor .. all creation is new again.