Osho talks on poetry. As an example he takes a haiku by Basho and a poem by Tennyson.
Just the other night I was reading the famous haiku of Basho, the Zen mystic and master. It does not look like great poetry to the Western mind or to the mind which has been educated in a Western way. And now the whole world is being educated in the Western way; East and West have disappeared as far as education is concerned. Listen to it very silently, because it is not what you call great poetry but it is great insight – which is far more important. It has tremendous poetry, but to feel that poetry you have to be very subtle. Intellectually, it cannot be understood; it can be understood only intuitively.
This is the haiku:
When I look carefully,
I see the nazunia blooming
By the hedge!
Now, there seems to be nothing of great poetry in it. But let us go into it with more sympathy, because Basho is being translated into English; in his own language it has a totally different texture and flavor.
The nazunia is a very common flower – grows by itself by the side of the road, a grass flower. It is so common that nobody ever looks at it. It is not a precious rose, it is not a rare lotus. It is easy to see the beauty of a rare lotus floating on a lake, a blue lotus – how can you avoid seeing it? For a moment you are bound to be caught by its beauty. Or a beautiful rose dancing in the wind, in the sun… for a split second it possesses you. It is stunning. But a nazunia is a very ordinary, common flower; it needs no gardening, no gardener, it grows by itself anywhere. To see a nazunia carefully a meditator is needed, a very delicate consciousness is needed; otherwise you will bypass it. It has no apparent beauty, its beauty is deep. Its beauty is that of the very ordinary, but the very ordinary contains the extraordinary in it, because all is full of God – even the nazunia flower. Unless you penetrate it with a sympathetic heart you will miss it.
When for the first time you read Basho you start thinking, “What is there so tremendously important to say about a nazunia blooming by the hedge?”
In Basho’s poem the last syllable – ‘kana’ in Japanese – is translated by an exclamation point because we don’t have any other way to translate it. But kana means, “I am amazed!” Now, from where is the beauty coming? Is it coming from the nazunia? – because thousands of people may have passed by the side of the hedge and nobody may have even looked at this small flower. And Basho is possessed by its beauty, is transported into another world. What has happened? It is not really the nazunia, otherwise it would have caught everybody’s eye. It is Basho’s insight, his open heart, his sympathetic vision, his meditativeness. Meditation is alchemy: it can transform the base metal into gold, it can transform a nazunia flower into a lotus.
When I look carefully…. And the word ‘carefully’ means attentively, with awareness, mindfully, meditatively, with love, with caring. One can just look without caring at all, then one will miss the whole point. That word ‘carefully’ has to be remembered in all its meanings, but the root meaning is meditatively. And what does it mean when you see something meditatively? It means without mind, looking without the mind, no clouds of thought in the sky of your consciousness, no memories passing by, no desires… nothing at all, utter emptiness.
When in such a state of no-mind you look, even a nazunia flower is transported into another world. It becomes a lotus of the paradise, it is no longer part of the earth; the extraordinary has been found in the ordinary. And this is the way of Buddha: to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, to find all in the now, to find the whole in this – Buddha calls it tathata.
Basho’s haiku is a haiku of tathata: this nazunia, looked at lovingly, caringly through the heart, unclouded consciousness, in a state of no-mind… and one is amazed, one is in awe. A great wonder arises, How is it possible? This nazunia – and if a nazunia is possible then everything is possible. If a nazunia can be so beautiful, Basho can be a buddha. If a nazunia can contain such poetry, then each stone can become a sermon.
When I look carefully, I see the nazunia blooming by the hedge! Kana…. I am amazed. I am dumb. I cannot say anything about its beauty – I can only hint at it.
A haiku simply hints. The poetry describes, the haiku only indicates – and in a very indirect way.
A similar situation is found in Tennyson’s famous poetry; comparing both will be of great help to you. Basho represents the intuitive, Tennyson the intellectual. Basho represents the East, Tennyson the West. Basho represents meditation, Tennyson mind. They look similar, and sometimes the poetry of Tennyson may look more poetic than Basho’s because it is direct, it is obvious.
Flower in the crannied wall
I pluck you out of the crannies
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – if I could but understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
A beautiful piece, but nothing compared to Basho. Let us see where Tennyson becomes totally different. First: Flower in the crannied wall I pluck you out of the crannies….
Basho simply looks at the flower, he does not pluck it out. Basho is a passive awareness: Tennyson is active, violent. In fact, if you have really been impressed by the flower, you cannot pluck it. If the flower has reached your heart, how can you pluck it? Plucking it means destroying it, killing it – it is murder! Nobody has thought about Tennyson’s poetry as murder – but it is murder. How can you destroy something so beautiful? But that’s how our mind functions; it is destructive. It wants to possess, and possession is possible only through destruction.
Basho looks carefully, just looks, not even gazes concentratedly; just a look, soft, feminine, as if afraid to hurt the nazunia.
Tennyson plucks it out of the crannies and says: … I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, little flower…. He remains separate. The observer and the observed are nowhere melting, merging, meeting. It is not a love affair. Tennyson attacks the flower, plucks it out root and all, holds it in his hand. Mind always feels good whenever it can possess, control, hold. A meditative state of consciousness is not interested in possessing, in holding, because all those are the ways of the violent mind.
And he says: Little flower…. The flower remains little, he remains on a high pedestal. He is a man, a great intellectual, a great poet. He remains in his ego: Little flower….
For Basho, there is no question of comparison. He says nothing about himself, as if he is not. There is no observer. The beauty is such that it brings a transcendence. The nazunia flower is there, blooming by the hedge – kana – and Basho is simply amazed, is struck to the very roots of his being. The beauty is overpowering. Rather than possessing the flower, he is possessed by the flower, he is in a total surrender to the beauty of the flower, to the beauty of the moment, to the benediction of the herenow.
Little flower, says Tennyson, if I could but understand…. That obsession to understand! Appreciation is not enough, love is not enough; understanding has to be there, knowledge has to be produced. Unless knowledge is arrived at Tennyson cannot be at ease. The flower has become a question mark. For Tennyson it is a question mark, for Basho it is an exclamation point. And there is the great difference: the question mark and the exclamation point.
Love is enough for Basho – love is understanding. What more understanding can there be? But Tennyson seems to know nothing of love. His mind is there, hankering to know… But if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all…. And mind is compulsively perfectionist. Nothing can be left unknown, nothing can be allowed to remain unknown and mysterious. Root and all, and all in all… has to be understood. Unless mind knows everything it remains afraid – because knowledge gives power. If there is something mysterious, you are bound to remain afraid because the mysterious cannot be controlled. And who knows what is hidden in the mysterious?
The scientific insistence is that we will not leave anything unknown, and we cannot accept that anything can ever be unknowable. Science divides existence into the known and the unknown. The known is that which was unknown one day, now it is known; and the unknown is that which is unknown today but tomorrow or the day after tomorrow it will be known. The difference is not much between the known and the unknown; just a little more endeavor, a little more research, and all unknown will be reduced to known.
Science can feel at ease only when everything is reduced to the known. But then all poetry disappears, all love disappears, all mystery disappears, all wonder disappears. The soul disappears, the God disappears, the song disappears, the celebration disappears. All is known… then nothing is valuable. All is known… then nothing is of any worth. All is known… then there is no meaning in life, no significance in life. See the paradox: first the mind says “Know everything!” – and when you have known it the mind says, “There is no meaning in life.”
You have destroyed the meaning and now you are hankering for meaning. Science is very destructive of meaning. And because it insists everything can be known, it cannot allow the third category, the unknowable – which will remain unknowable eternally. And in the unknowable is the significance of life.
All the great values of beauty, of love, of God, of prayer, all that is really significant, all that makes life worth living, is part of the third category: the unknowable. The unknowable is another name for God, another name for the mysterious and the miraculous. Without it there can be no wonder in your heart – and without wonder, a heart is not a heart at all, and without awe you lose something tremendously precious. Then your eyes are full of dust, they lose clarity. Then the bird goes on singing, but you are unaffected, unstirred, your heart is not moved – because you know the explanation.
The trees are green, but the greenness does not transform you into a dancer, into a singer. It does not trigger a poetry in your being, because you know the explanation: it is chlorophyll that is making the trees green… so nothing of poetry is left. When the explanation is there the poetry disappears. And all explanations are utilitarian, they are not ultimate.
And you can go on searching for God and you will not find him anywhere, because he is everywhere. The mind is going to miss him, because the mind would like him to be an object and God is not an object.
God is a vibe. If you are attuned to the soundless sound of existence, to the mysterious, you will know that only God is, and nothing else. Then God becomes synonymous with existence.
But these things cannot be understood, these things cannot be reduced to knowledge – and that’s where Tennyson misses, misses the whole point. He says: Little flower – if I could but understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is. But it is all ‘but’ and ‘if’.
Basho knows what God is and what man is in that exclamation mark, kana: “I am amazed, I am surprised… Nazunia blooming by the hedge!” Maybe it is a full-moon night, or maybe it is early morning – I can actually see Basho standing by the side of the road, not moving, as if his breath has stopped. A nazunia… and so beautiful. All past is gone, all future has disappeared. There are no more questions in his mind but just sheer amazement.
Basho has become a child: again those innocent eyes of a child looking at a nazunia, carefully, lovingly. And in that love, in that care, is a totally different kind of understanding – not intellectual, not analytical.
Osho, The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 3, Ch 3