EASTERN PHILOSOPHY – Matsuo Basho – Free Ebook

In the west we have a vague sense that poetry is good for our souls, makes us sensitive and wiser yet We don’t always really know how this should work Poetry has a hard time finding its way into our lives in any practical sense in the east however some poets like the 17th century Buddhist monk and poet Matsuo Basho knew precisely what effect their poetry was meant to produce It was a medium designed to guide us to wisdom and calm as these terms are defined in Zen Buddhist philosophy Basho was born in 1644 near Ueno in the Iga province of Japan As a child he became a servant of the nobleman Tōdō Yoshitada who taught him to compose poems in the haiku style Traditionally haikus contained three parts: two images and a concluding line which helps juxtapose them. old pond. a frog leaps in. Water’s sound. This is the best-known haiku in Japanese literature, and it’s called Old Pond by Basho himself It’s all deceptively simple, and when one’s in the right generous frame of mind, very beautiful after Yoshitada died in 1666 Basho left home And wandered for many years before moving to the city of edo where he became famous and widely published. However, Basho grew melancholy and often shunned company and so until his death in 1694, he alternated between travelling widely on foot and living in a small hut on the outskirts of the city Basha was an exceptional poet but he didn’t believe in the modern idea of art for art’s sake Instead, he hoped that his poetry would bring his readers into special mental states valued in zen buddhism His poetry reflects two of the most important zen ideals: Wabi and Sabi Wabi means satisfaction with simplicity in austerity while Sabi means an appreciation of the imperfect It was nature more than anything else that was thought to foster Wabi and Sabi and it’s therefore unsurprisingly one of Basho’s most frequent topics Take this spring scene which appears to ask so little of the world and is attuned to an appreciation of the everyday first Cherry budding by Peach blossoms Basho’s poetry is of enormous shocking simplicity at the level of theme. There are no analyses of politics or love triangles or family dramas The point is to remind readers that what really matters is to be able to be content with our own company to appreciate the moment we’re in and to be attuned to the very simplest things life has to offer like the changing of the seasons, the sound of our neighbors laughing across the street the little surprises we encounter each day take this gem: violets – how precious on a mountain path Basho also used natural scenes to remind his readers that flowers weather and other natural elements are like our own lives ever-changing and fleeting. Time and the changing of weathers and scenes need to be attended to as harbingers of our own deaths This transience of life may sometimes be heartbreaking, but it’s also what makes every moment valuable yellow Rose Petals Thunder a waterfall Basho liked to paint as well as write and many of his work still exists usually with the related haikus Written alongside them this painting by Basho depicts this very haiku in literature, Basho valued Karumi – lightness He wanted it to seem as if children had written it He abhorred pretension and elaboration, as he told his disciples: “In my view, a good poem is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of its two parts seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed the ultimate goal of this lightness was to allow readers to escape the burdens of the self: one’s own petty particularities and the circumstances in order to experience unity with the world beyond Basho believed that poetry could, at its best, allow one to feel a brief sensation of merging with the natural world One may become, through language, the leaf, the waters, the stars, leading one to an enlightened frame of mind Known as Muga, loss of awareness of one’s self. we can see Basho’s concept of Muga, or self forgetting a work in the way he invites us almost to inhabit his subjects even if they are some rather unpoetic dead fish Fish shop. How cold the lips of salted bream In a world full of social media profiles and crafted resumes it might seem odd to want to escape our individuality After all we carefully groom ourselves to stand out from the rest of the world Basha reminds us that muga or self forgetting is valuable because it allows us to break free from the incessant thrum of desire and incompleteness Which otherwise haunts all human lives Basho knew what some of this was like. He suffered for long periods from deep melancholy after his house burnt down, after his mother died and sometimes for no reason at all Sometimes he didn’t feel like seeing any of his friends he spent long periods of time traveling the dangerous back roads of the Japanese countryside With little more than writing supplies, and he spent some truly unglamorous nights Fleas and lice biting awake, all night a horse pissing close to my ear Yet Muga freed Basho And it can also free us from the tyranny of glum moments of individual circumstance the poems are valuable not because they’re beautiful though They are this too But because they can serve as a catalyst for some of the most important states of the soul His poetry constantly invites us to appreciate what we have and to see how Infinitesimal and unimportant our personal difficulties are in the vast scheme of the universe they remind both the writer and the reader that contentment relies on knowing how to derive pleasure from simplicity and how to escape, even if only for a while, the tyranny of being ourselves you

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