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
Zen garden the monk dips his toe into himself — Joe Sebastian, The Mainichi (2021)
Radhamani Sarma scans the landscape:
The very name “Zen garden” forays much into the coinage. If we delve into a bit of Japanese and Chinese history and culture, such gardens involved landscape, improvised without much water, composed of only rocky mounds, stones and gravel. The Zen gardens of Buddhist temples have a distinct history and heritage of their own. They are designed and constructed in such a way that Buddhist monks can view them from within the meditation hall. This establishes a connectivity with the following: the monk dips his toe/ into himself.
Within the monastery, the Zen garden, and the temple in the gardens, there is lack of water, only stones and gravel; hence, the monk dips his toe “into himself.” In ordinary days, gardens flowed with flowers and watery pools, streams, but here, lacking all these, the monk dips his toe into himself. Humor and practical observation, and the layout of Zen temples are all embedded here.
Lakshmi Iyer contemplates the heart of the matter:
A Zen garden is a place where monks meditate on Buddha’s teachings. Monks are familiar with the surroundings and the energy that synergize the whole system.
I wonder why the poet had to write in the second and third line “the monk dips his toe/ into himself.” Is he trying to practice even more seriously the purpose of his life? Does he want to delve into that aspect where he hasn’t been, perhaps “thinking about not thinking,” being open, receptive with no expectations and trying to seek the light of salvation; removing all the physical and mental clutter and trying to be non-judgmental, trying to concentrate on that aspect for which the monk feels he needs a lot of like-mindedness? Maybe yes, and this is what Zen philosophy is all about: “You look into yourself.”
I like the way the poet has brought up this aspect for us to think about: how to bring more tranquility to our existence.
As this week’s winner, Lakshmi 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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solemn night how carefully words exit — Richa Sharma, Prune Juice, Issue 33 (2021)