Nov 26 2019

Basho – snow-viewing

Published by at 9:52 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Come, let’s go
by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Come, let’s go
snow-viewing
till we’re buried.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto


/ Image by dadofliz /

I am sitting here at my computer reading poetry in snow boots. I just came in from shoveling the sidewalk. It looks like we might get two feet of snow today.

My car is in the shop and probably needs to be replaced. After 15 years of loyal service, it died on the road just as the first snowflakes started falling yesterday. In the space of a few blocks of driving it went from running fine, to making a strange noise, to completely dying. I had to jog half a mile in the snow to my home because I don’t have a cell phone, call a tow truck, and then watch as our car got hoisted up on the truck bed, and ride with it to the repair shop.

Rather than going into anxiety about the whole situation in the midst of the increasing snow, I found myself… dare I say it?… content. Even entertained. Accepting the situation for what it is, I rode along with the events. It became a sort of adventure.

I’m being told that it’s probably not worth the cost of repairs at this point, so in a few days, when we dig ourselves out, I will be shopping for another car.

A longtime car becomes a sort of family member, like a pet or trusted workhorse. Some people may feel it’s silly, but I’m fond of that old car and there is a bit of sadness at saying goodbye. I hope to adopt a new wheeled family member who becomes just as much of a friend.

Thankfully, past chronic fatigue patterns have been in abeyance for most of the past year, so I have been working more hours at my day job and I have a small amount saved that can now be used as a down payment for our next car.

When events just happen and there is no avoiding their cascading onslaught, sometimes the best option is just to grow still, enjoy the scene, and laugh as we are buried.

So, with no car at the moment and nearly two feet of snow on the ground and with more snow falling, it is a good day to pause and go snow-viewing…

That phrase “snow-viewing” may seem rather odd, if poetic, but it is actually a playful twist on the Japanese practice of tsukimi or moon-viewing. In Japan, there is a tradition of moon-viewing in autumn. Towns have moon-viewing festivals, a family might invite friends over for moon-viewing. To me, as an outsider, that sounds like a beautiful way for all of society to slow down and appreciate the masterful artwork of nature, communing with the rhythms of the world. Basho’s snow-viewing is an expansion of that idea — inviting a friend to step outside in order to appreciate the beauty of a recent snowfall in quiet companionship and shared ritual.

Particularly the Zen poetry, snow often carries with it the suggestion of deeper meanings we might want to explore.

When the difficulties and coldness and enforced internalization of winter are emphasized, snow can represent the struggles of spiritual practice that precede the spiritual awakening of spring.

When the silence that settles of the world bathed in snow is emphasized, it can represent the perfect stillness of mind that occurs in true meditation.

When the quality of blanketing all things in a uniform whiteness is highlighted, snow can be seen as an allusion to the unifying white or golden-white light that shines through everything, the light one perceives when the mind awakens.

This haiku by Basho can carry variations of all of these meanings, but especially the last one.

Notice the joke in these lines: By viewing the snow we become buried in it — and that is what Basho is really inviting us to do. With a lot of snow (and a dash of wit), Basho might be saying that by viewing something deeply, we become the beauty we perceive. Seeing the universal radiance, we become the radiance. Hearing the silence, we become the silence. Witness the eternal, and we become consumed by it, the ego self becomes lost in the blanket of white that covers everything, making all of existence one.

Have a beautiful day, with or without snow! And be warm and safe!


Recommended Books: Matsuo Basho

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku
More Books >>


Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

Japan (1644 – 1694) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Basho took his name from the Japanese word for “banana tree.” He was given a gift of a banana tree by a student and the poet immediately identified with it: the way the small tree stood there with its large, soft, fragile leaves. (See his banana plant haiku.)

Basho was probably born in 1644 in Iga Province outside of Kyoto, Japan. His father was a poor samurai-farmer.

As a teenager, Basho entered the service of the local lord, acting as a page. The young lord was only a couple of years older than Basho, and the two became friends, enjoying the playful exchange of haiku verses.

When Basho was still a young man, his friend and lord died. In reaction, Basho left home, abandoned his samurai status, and took to a life of wandering.

After several years, he settled in Edo (Tokyo), continuing to write and publish poetry. His haiku began to attract attention. Students started to gather around him. At about this time, Basho also took up Zen meditation.

Basho remained restless, even in his fame. A neighborhood fire claimed his small house in Edo leaving him homeless, and Basho once again took up the itinerant life, visiting friends and disciples, taking up residence for brief periods only to begin another journey. It was during this time that Basho composed some of his greatest haiku.

Basho returned to Edo in 1691 and died there in 1694.

More poetry by Matsuo Basho

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Basho – snow-viewing”

  1. Franceson 26 Nov 2019 at 5:34 pm

    THANK you, IVAN…I love snow…and appreciate your acceptance and calm during a situation that might cause distress. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Mystic Meanderingon 27 Nov 2019 at 12:00 am

    Am so glad your physical health has been doing better! Yeay! And I love that you *found yourself* content in the midst of a stressful situation… You didn’t try to *be* content, you just were! I love the imagery of the statue where the snow seems like a buffer of comfort around her. We got about a foot of snow here just south of Denver…

  3. Carol Burnson 28 Nov 2019 at 3:56 am

    Happy Thanksgiving Ivan,

    I loved Basho’s haiku and your commentary. So good to be able to accept our life
    experiences, reality, instead of being frustrated,angry, feeling incompetent about
    the situation. I’ve had two weeks of sickness, keeping me home bound. By the
    third week, I ventured out to the world, able to visit my homecare clients and
    that made me very happy. I felt so much better, but some of my physical symptoms
    lingered, and it it was definitely more difficult to be out in the world.

    The haiku and your commentary reminded me of how good accepting reality, really
    noticing things, and not having the negative feelings that often prevail, when we can’t
    be totally in charge! (smile). So glad your negative physical symptoms have diminished!
    Appreciate so much Poetry Chaikhana!

  4. Ivan M. Grangeron 30 Nov 2019 at 8:30 am

    Carol, I’m so glad you’re feeling better. It sounds like you were hit hard by the sickness. Sending love! ~Ivan

  5. Isabel Tippleon 28 Nov 2019 at 4:29 am

    Lovely poem for the winter season which brightens what can often be thought of as a dull and inhospitable season. I believe that in Islamic culture, snow is a symbol of purity which fits well with your helpful commentary. My mind also reflects on that fact that snow can protect us as well as in when we build an igloo for example. An interesting place to meditate perhaps! Glad your health is improved. A friend of mine suffered similarly for years and then one day, it all just went……melted away like snow…

    Sorry to hear about the car. I too have felt quite a pang of sadness at the demise of a beloved old volvo. The Universe has come together in this energy form of apparent lifeless material and it transports us to and from our business, much like old packhorses did. It is right to extend gratitude to their form and service. If i need to ‘drive’ in Heaven, i know what will be waiting for me!!!!

    All the best, and keep cosy..

  6. Anna M.on 28 Nov 2019 at 7:15 am

    Basho is unique
    in his Simplest
    Uniqueness.

    Always.
    Nothing to add.
    Nothing to say.

    =

    It is easy to read about awareness
    in poetry and in the old scriptures.

    What about practice it, live it?

    Come, let see our own growing,
    our every day expanding and expanding awareness
    in the challenges of our everyday life.

    More and more we are getting Masters
    with the skilfulness of re_acting, or merely
    acting in a New Way of the events in our personal life
    as well in the collective.

    We are getting simultaneously aware both
    about individual awareness and the whole.

    Come, let’s pay attention and see this, feel it…
    It is palpable…

    Like snow-viewing
    till we’re buried
    …and are dissolving
    in awareness…

    Or are we already
    have dissolved?

    P.S. I love the photo.
    Wondering to what is looking Buddha
    in his white coat and mysterious smile
    …hmmm… may be a bit like
    a movie star…:)

  7. Elaon 30 Nov 2019 at 10:13 am

    let’s experience the
    stage of nirvana
    the same as He is in

    let’s visit the
    sweet home nirvana
    beyond sound

    let’s constantly practice
    our original form of being
    incorporeal in this
    corporeal body

    let’s be free from every
    distress and negativity
    Thus.

  8. Lilias Darcy-Foxon 02 Dec 2019 at 7:40 am

    Thank you Ivan, it has been a while since I had your list as I have moved back to Warwickshire from Sussex to be near my sons so the upheaval plus being now 83 is my excuse!!. Oh how I long for snow, it has been nearly 20 years since i was out on the hills here with my german shepherd, it was a white out with fog!! I had been watching it fall in the night, so quiet, the spirit of Mystery which always accompanies snow enveloped the night and I felt it keenly. The sadness of climate change; alas this is something missed here in the uk. I loved your description and felt”being there”. Just went onto Amazon to search for the book on Basho translated by Lucien Stryk but could not find it, it again attracted me because of the Snow reference.. I will keep searching, maybe its very new.
    Thank you again
    Lilias

  9. Ivan M. Grangeron 03 Dec 2019 at 8:50 am

    Hi Lillias- Let the Spring Breeze Enter has been out for a few years. It is available on Amazon.co.uk https://www.amazon.co.uk/Zen-Poetry-Spring-Breeze-Enter/dp/0802134076/ and on Wordery https://wordery.com/zen-poetry-lucien-stryk-9780802134073

    I hope you get a gentle, magical snow soon…

    Ivan

  10. Anna M.on 02 Dec 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Suddenly a remembrance came about the Basho’s ‘snow-viewing’.

    Probably it is not a real winter snow, as we all know, but it is a light energy,
    that is looking like a snow.

    I remembered, on a dry clear days I saw many times
    a bright circular white-Light images
    that was sort of snowflakes-like in appearance.

    This energy moves, the ‘light snow’ comes from below,
    above, left, right and diagonally,
    it is mesmerising.

    Now ‘till we’re burred’ makes more sense?

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