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re:Virals 296

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

 
     stone Buddha —
     all the blows
     that made him
          —  Srinivasa Rao Sambangi, cattails, October 2017

Lakshmi Iyer turns over the stones:

“stone Buddha” — This image immediately transports us to the world of enlightenment, the ultimate realization of truth! The poet has cleverly framed the first line with the word “stone” to give it the attributes of stone sculpture. But the em dash separates the two images of line one with lines two and three. They are unrelated, but juxtaposed to establish truth.

Lines two and three uplift the reality of human nature:

all the blows
that made him

Who is the sculptor? Who did the thrashing? Who is the poet referring to as “him”?

Let us talk about the stone sculptures, which hold seven elements: line, color, value, shape, form, space and texture which they have to undergo to achieve a perfect structure. Yes, the sculptor gives his hard blows with hammer and chisel to the stone until he achieves a perfect form. Sometimes, the blows are hard and harsh, or soft, tender and graceful. But the question here remains: Is the poet describing the ways an ordinary stone can be given the form of Buddha? Is the stone personified as a human being who behaves stubbornly? I believe the latter question is correct.

I can relate this to a worried parent who tries hard to transform his stubborn child into an individual worthy of living in society. For this, he tries hard to teach value-based stories by quoting the sayings of seekers. Further, the child is given advice, guided at the crossroads, taught the signboards of life! Then when things don’t go his way, the parent uses strict measures to make the child understand. Striking or beating the child is not always the answer. But tactics can also be used as “blows” on the child and make him a new Buddha — the enlightened one! We can all take these blows from the environment and try to improve ourselves.

I appreciate the poet’s techniques of brevity, minimalism and close association, too.

Robert Spiess said, “The more words the more distance, the more silence the more proximity.”

I think, I can become a Buddha!

Radhamani Sarma imagines the configurations:

Needless to say, this is all about Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, known all over the world. Right from school children’s history books down to grown-ups’ visits to holy places of worship with statues, we are all bound to know about the noble person who preached renunciation.

Beginning with “stone Buddha,” we have an intended gap and the extension of the image of an idol of Buddha, which makes us want to know more about the saint. In general, a stone seated Buddha is in a sturdy, meditative pose, with legs crossed and closed eyes. It prompts us to imagine many configurations. The second and third lines, “all the blows/ that made him,” lead us to infer and expand, to consider all his sufferings, the initiatives he took to prevail in spreading his gospel to humanity. Successive setbacks, sacrifices, caused him to become hard, and made the Buddha succumb to insults and injuries. Hence, a stone Buddha’s warp and weft of Life are infused, imagined, carved in compact form, with a passive, unmoved, static posture.

One can imagine a stone Buddha, his closing eyes, becoming so hard, inured to the sinister ways of an uncompromising world; he just cannot help closing his eyes. “All the blows” need not necessarily be physical blows, hence, all in stone. Another possible inference, might be constant rain splashing on the stone Buddha, sometimes causing corrosion, “erasing” all his preaching, and symbolic of his advice at times falling on deaf ears.

In many ways, this poem offers a rare chance to deepen our insightful knowledge about Buddhism, Buddha, and his personal life; the quest for peace, the abolition of mendicancy.

Sushama Kapur follows the wonder:

At first reading, we see the narrator probably looking at a statue of a stone Buddha with a sense of wonder about how it was created.

We read again and we see a wry juxtaposition in the two words of line one itself: “stone Buddha”! Worldwide, the Buddha has become a symbol of enlightenment and peace and occupies a space that is more akin to “living in light” than “stone” and what stone is — inanimate and thus lifeless.

Then comes the second image of wonder. The statue was made as a sculptor chipped away at it, and even hit the block of stone to break it in order to shape this statue! Buddha emerges, but at what cost?

And so we could move into a more symbolic reading of the poem.

Buddha’s path towards his goal (one being the answering of his question on suffering in life) was not an easy one. Renouncing all worldly ties, he practiced strict austerities for many years in order to achieve the sense of detachment that led to his enlightenment.

The lines, “all the blows/ that made him,” give us a picture of this difficult quest.

Thus, in an incredible eight-word poem, the poet has captured the very essence of Buddha’s journey towards enlightenment!

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As this week’s winner, Sushama gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.

Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!

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re:Virals 297:

 
     winter morning...
     the farmer's sneeze
     startles the new-born calf
          — K. Ramesh, a small tree of tender leaves (2020)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. On the face of it, an unexceptional – and unexceptionable – haiku, simply observing the skittishness of a new-born confronted with a sudden noise. Yet if the reader dwells on it, focusing on each word chosen with care, there is much more to bring. First, it is the unfamiliarity of the noise that causes the alarm. As we gain experience with age, we get used to things. In this case, the thing is a sneeze, in winter. Is it something to be alarmed about? Perhaps carrying disease…..(in 2020, a Covid year). And the source of the calf’s alarm is the farmer….. For now, a new-born calf has nothing to be startled about from a farmer whose aim will be to nurture it. But later, when the calf is full grown and accustomed to his sneezes, no longer paying attention, it will be time for market.

  2. Excellent commentary. I am “enlightened” by it. It always amuses and pleases me that we poets can find so much to say about poems of so few words. Yet a good haiku opens us up to a vast world.

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