Many of the respected masters of haiku were Buddhist monks. Many wandered on foot, from temple, to temple. Almost all of them were begging. They were a cherished part of the community. They would chant sutras and write poems for people and be given a few sen in return. Their abilities never questioned or wasted.
Within many faiths, charity is a part of practice. To give, unconditionally to those in need, those who have less, benefits both the giver and the recipient.
With austerity arriving again at our doors, begging and giving have yet again become part of our daily lives. Is there poetry in begging? Of course there is.
He who was called the beggar monk wrote many favorite haiku. Taneda Santoka walked, wrote and drank sake until his death on October 11, 1940. These are some of his poems:
My begging bowl
Accepts the fallen leaves
Chanting the sutras
I receive the rice;
The shrikes sing
The warmth of the food
Passes from hand to hand
If I sell my rags
And buy sake
Will there still be loneliness?
Sometimes I stop begging
And gaze at the mountains
Homeless poets are still a fact of life in our modern times. The American haiku poet Patrick Frank wrote as a homeless person for a year in New England, USA in the 1990s. He now lives in Asheville NC, USA and is an advocate for the poor. His poetry collections include Things That Matter, On the Blue Ridge Line, and Back to the Sun. His one-line haiku have much in common with the writings of Santoka.
head down standing in line a homeless man
making a space in my single room, and in my heart
homeless, alone, but the snow falls gently
dawn walking downtown homeless, but at peace
I walk miles down the highway, my bag stuffed with poems
The Kindness of Strangers is a six-part consideration by Swedish poet Anna Maris of haiku written in consideration of poverty, homelessness, begging and our responses to these issues.