Zen and Haiku Term Paper

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Zen and Haiku: The Influence of Zen on Haiku

Zen tradition focuses on the commonality and simplicity of life, suggesting that enlightenment is available to those that are open to it. Like Zen philosophy, haiku focuses on that which is simple and easily recognized by man. Haiku is a form of meditation or reflection strongly influenced by Zen tradition that can be used my men to attain enlightenment and simple understanding. Zen tradition has deeply influenced much of Japanese history, from philosophy to art. Among the art forms that Zen has influenced significantly is the art of haiku. Zen teachings had a profound influence on the art of Haiku in Japan prior to the Tokugawa era.

Zen traditions in Japan encouraged pursuit of natural awareness and process of the world without intervention, a sentiment expressed in much of Haiku created prior to the end of the Tokugawa era. Much Haiku written during this time reflects that notion that much of what occurs in life and within the mind should be unmediated and a reflection of simple awareness rather than of judgment or evolutions.

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This paper will examine how Zen traditions influenced early haiku by encouraging the pursuit of natural awareness and simplicity without intervention. Suzuki supports the idea that Zen traditions influence early haiku by encouraging simplicity in his work Zen & Japanese Culture. This paper will review the methods that early haiku poets used to reflect the idea that what occurs in life and within the mind should be presented rather than reflected on. These ideas and emphasis on Zen's influence on haiku in Japan and how connected the tradition of Haiku is with Zen philosophy are discussed in greater depth below.


Term Paper on Zen and Haiku Assignment

Early haiku was written by poets that often recognized the relevance Zen tradition had to one's happiness and joy in life. Much haiku written in Japanese tradition prior to the Tokugawa era reflects the positive and natural elements of life common to all mankind. To understand how haiku and Zen are interrelated and how one influenced the other it is important first to understand the historical origins and traditions of each. Suzuki (1961) defines Zen in its essence as "the art of seeing into the nature of one's own being," providing a tool that can free making from bondage and release him to freedom (p. 2).

Zen is a form of Buddhist philosophy that Japanese Buddhists have followed for centuries on their path toward enlightenment. Even in modern times Zen influences much of Eastern tradition, practices and thought. Zen philosophers believe that Zen allows liberation from suffering and liberates the energy stored within mankind in a natural and health promoting manner (Suzuki, 1970). Zen tradition has influenced many art forms, but is perhaps most influential to the art of haiku, which will be described in greater detail below.

Zen philosophy focuses on the importance of simple living, solitude and meditation and our impermanence or the lack of permanency in all that exists in the world. Adopting Zen morals one must assume that the simple path in life is the one filled with much reward and prosperity. Zen philosophy concentrates on achieving enlightenment, where one recognizes the Buddha nature and sees that this tendency exists in everyone (Lieberman, 2005). Enlightenment according to Zen tradition is possible by simply acknowledging that which is and recognizing that interpretation or analysis of events is not necessary.

Zen philosophy suggests that eternity exists now and one merely need recognize that it is present rather than seek out something new (Lieberman, 2005). Zen tradition suggests that it is useless and absurd for man to attempt to control nature and anything in nature. Interestingly modern Western thought is filled with stories of man's struggles to overcome and/or control nature (Lieberman, 2005). Not so with Zen, which encourages mankind not to worry but rather accept and remain compassionate toward all living things.

Haiku is an art form or form of poetry that typically uses nature as its primary theme and consumes itself with expressing inspiration from nature (Bieler, 1981). Typically haiku is verse using only seven or eight words in seventeen rhythmic syllables broken down into a 5-7-5 pattern (Bieler, 1981). Much early haiku includes use of a word depicting the season. Japanese haiku is extremely popular.

Taking much influence from natural philosophies including Zen Japanese haiku was crafted clearly and without using metaphor or personification; instead most images depicted in early haiku were clear images written as succinctly as possible without interpretation or useless reflection (Bieler, 1981). An example of early haiku by Basho, a leader in Zen influenced haiku is as follows:

Underneath the eaves

A blooming large hydrangea

Overbrims its leaves. (Yasuda, 1973).

Haiku in this form is a simple reflection of that which is. It demands the truth and naturalness of objects. This idea is a very reflection of much of early Zen tradition, which also demands truth, and the acceptance of the natural state of objects or events. Zen tradition encourages simple reflection and commentary rather than interpretations. Here they hydrangea is described as overbrimming, suggesting something positive and bountiful. Haiku is often very aesthetic a natural result of anything that is art like or beautiful.

Haiku often focuses on representing single objects alone without commentary or without presentation other than what is necessary to reveal an object as it is, without representing it as completely as it is (Yasuda, 1973).

This is part of the reason that haiku is so simplistic in nature. Excessive verse or passages would lend themselves to further interpretation or abstraction, which may distort the natural order or simplicity of things. The point is to present rather than describe objects, as excessive description lends itself to interpretation or excessive subjectivity.

Suzuki suggest that art can depict the spirit (Suzuki, 1970). This is reflected in many ways, including the art of haiku. Which leads us next to discuss how Zen is reflected in and influences the traditions of haiku.

Zen's Influence on Haiku

Haiku is often considered expressive of the spirit of Zen, of those that accept the present moment without interpretation or evaluation and in an attempt to preserve the present moment as it is rather than as a symbol of something (Kasulis, 1981). Further haiku is "not an aesthetic object to be admired, by a way of expressing an event of genj ? k ? a" or a glimpse of the poet in the moment in time the poetry is written.

The Zen view of continuity as expressed by Suzuki (1970) is often reflected in Haiku is every moment or the completeness of any experience during a given moment in time (Kasulis, 1981). Haiku has no need to explain or interpret the sensations or evens of a given moment or to capture and freeze a moment, only to acknowledge the presence of a particular moment in time (Kasulis, 1981; Henderson, 1958).

Suzuki (1970) suggests that Zen can save mankind from abnormal temptations and promote understanding by abolishing ignorance and promoting knowledge. Through meditation and reflection human beings can come to understand and interpret life and the significance life has to offer, not in a blind way but in a way that simply allows mankind to accept what is and what should be.

Haiku is a tool that many use to help attain clear thinking and release thoughts or feelings about events without intervention. Lack of interference and pure acceptance of a process or situation can speed one's journey toward enlightenment, which Suzuki emphasizes as critical. Suzuki asserts that "Zen discipline consists of attaining enlightenment" (Suzuki, 1970). Enlightenment according to Suzuki (1970) is satori, and satori can find meaning hidden within ones daily experiences, even within eating or drinking "or business of all kinds."

Haiku is often credited with its simplicity. This is evident in Zen traditions, as Suzuki states "Zen does not indulge in abstraction or conceptualization" but is rather intellectual and freedom promoting (Suzuki, 1970). Artists according to Suzuki (1970) are free to create when they rely on their intuitions, those that directly arise and are not hampered or interfered with by the intellect or the senses. Haiku during this time often reflects this, representing mere description without complication or interpretation.

Critics suggest that Zen influence is occasional or sporadic on haiku and limited to terminology. Aitken (1978) asserts for example that Zen terminology is influenced in the monastic vocabulary of Basho's haiku, in lines such as ge no hajime [beginning of the summer retreat]" (p. 18). Further analysis however suggest that Basho's haiku is fundamentally Zen and reflected of things that are natural, including "dusty roads, bird songs, cool breezes, folklore" and more (Aitken & Matsuo, 1978: 19).

Haiku by nature is noted for its succinct lines and suggestive nature, drawing on imagery and observation to present ideas (Yasuda, 1973; Aitken & Matsuo, 1978). By very nature one may conclude that haiku is a reflection of the very idealisms and basic tenets of Zen Buddhism on this fact alone. Zen tradition… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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