04 December 2010

Japanese Poems when life ends!

Gesshu Soko, died January 10, 1696, at age 79
Inhale, exhale
Forward, back
Living, dying:
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice
The void in aimless flight --
Thus I return to the source.

Goku Kyonen, died October 8, 1272, at age 56
The truth embodied in the Buddhas
Of the future, present, past;
The teaching we received from the
Fathers of our faith
Can be found at the tip of my stick.
When Goku felt his death was near, he ordered all his monk-disciples to gather around him. He sat at the pulpit, raised his stick, gave the floor a single tap with it, and said the poem above. When he finished, he raised the stick again, tapped the floor once more, and cried, "See! See!" Then, sitting upright, he died.

Hosshin, 13th century
Coming, all is clear, no doubt about it. Going, all is clear, without a doubt.
What, then, is all?
Hosshin's last word was "Katsu!" (a word signifying the attainment of enlightenment.)

Shoro, died April 1894, at age 80
Pampas grass, now dry,
once bent this way
and that.

Sunao, died in 1926 at 39
Spitting blood
clears up reality
and dream alike.

Senryu, died September 23, 1790, at 73
Bitter winds of winter --
but later, river willow,
open up your buds.

Kozan Ichikyo, died February 12, 1360, at 77
Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going --
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.
A few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. He wrote this poem on the morning of his death, laid down his brush and died sitting upright.

Senryu, died June 2, 1827
Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf
I vanish.

Shinsui, died September 9, 1769, at 49
During his last moment, Shisui's followers requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died.
The circle is one of the most important symbols of Zen Buddhism. It indicates void -- the essence of all things -- and enlightenment.

The poems collected and edited by Yoel Hoffman are part of a centuries-old Japanese tradition in which Zen monks, samurai and others compose poems at the moment of death.

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