Like Leaves In The Stream:
The "Lineage" of Hermit-Poet Consciousness
Frank LaRue Owen (Wandering Stone Lantern)
No one truly knows when the lineage of contemplative poetics began in the Far Eastern spiritual traditions. Some say it started with Lao Tzu in 500 BCE, author of the renowned Daoist text - The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), The Book of the Way. Organized into eighty-one brief chapters of poetic reflection, the Dao De Jing (sometimes rendered the Tao Te Ching, or simply called the Laozi) is a key text of Daoist philosophy, and has also had a significant influence on Ch'an and Zen Buddhism.
Perhaps the advent of contemplative poetics was even earlier when Chinese emperor and herbalist Shennong, 2800 BCE, accidentally discovered the phenomenon of brewing tea and it inspired him to say something about it.
The story goes that Shennong, who is venerated as the Father of Chinese medicine, preferred to boil his water before drinking it. As chance would have it, two leaves from a nearby tea bush blew into the water. Naturally, the bouquet, amber-color and taste of the beverage made a strong impression on him. Though the text attributed to him, Shennong Bencaojing - The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic , was compiled after he lived, it is said that he waxed poetic about the tea, and other herbs and elixirs sourced in nature.
Right from the start, with Shennong's experience of the tea, we see an interesting formula that remains consistent throughout the poetic lineage of the Far East:
Common, every day experience + the movement of inspiration = poetry.
While we will never know what man or woman first put brush to paper to express the movement of their consciousness, one thing is for certain: contemplative poetics is an ancient practice observed both rural and urban, ranging from the inspired nature verses of T'ao Yuanming a.k.a. T'ao Ch'ien (365-427 CE, China) and the humble nature-musings of Pure Land hermit Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), to the verses of modern-day Buddhist poets like Ando McDonnell, Jane Hirshfield, W.S. Merwin, and Gary Snyder.
This "lineage" of poet-ancestors is highly unique. Unlike the phenomenon of Dharma transmission (where there is an unbroken, direct mouth-to-ear. mind-to-mind succession of knowledge dispensation from teacher to student), the "lineage" of hermit-poets of China, Japan, Korea, and beyond, have always been called into the "lineage stream" via their own inspiration and the life example of poets that inspired them to which they did not have direct access. While hundreds of years may separate the lives of the poets of the "lineage," they took inspiration from the works and life example of those who walked the Way before.
One good example of this is the Zen hermit Ryokan a.k.a. Daigu (Great Fool). Ryokan lived in Japan from 1758-1831, yet on a daily basis he would copy the poems of Han Shan (Cold Mountain) from 9th-century China and place the poems around his hut for contemplation.
According to Nobuyuki Yuasa, author of The Zen Poems of Ryokan:
"Ryokan's indebtedness to Han-shan is so great that it requires special attention. One of Ryokan's Chinese poems indicates that he had a copy of the works of this legendary hermit, and used it as a holy text...In fact, the spiritual congeniality of the two poets was so great that Ryokan found in Han-shan not only a poet to learn from but also a spiritual leader to follow."
Similarly, Matsuo Basho, Japan's most revered haiku master, lived from 1644-1694; and yet, every step of the way Basho emulated the way of life of wandering poet Saigyo (Sato Norikiyo), who lived 450 years before, from 1118-1190. Basho even goes so far as to suggest that Saigyo was his teacher, and it is because of Saigyo's poetry and life example that Basho was inspired to take his great haibun journey, retracing Saigyo's steps of pilgrimage, which resulted in the now-classic work Oku no Hosomichi - The Narrow Road to the Interior.
Another example is the fascinating life of Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703-1775), one of Japan's most famous female haiku poets. Though the great Basho died a decade before her birth, Chiyo-ni began emulating Basho's style at the ripe age of 7, and went on to study haiku with some of Basho's students. By her late teens, Chiyo-ni's poetry had become well-known throughout Japan. Inspired by the creative example set forth by Basho, Chiyo-ni's own work and notoriety was sustained her whole life until, in later years, she took the Buddhist name Soen and became a hermit-nun.
For those individuals who are attracted to such themes as simplicity, solitude, dreams, the seasons and wild places, and the movement of heart-mind-energy into flowing ink, I recommend exploring this "lineage" of hermit-poets and wandering poets. Below is a list of just a few of these shining souls on The Way.
Sources of Spiritual and Poetic Inspiration:
T’ao Chien (365-427, China)
Meng Hao-jan (689-740, China)
Hanshan (9th century, China)
Bai Juyi (772-846, China)
Jia Dao (779-843, China)
Stonehouse (1272-1352, China)
Wonhyo (617-686, Korea)
Jinkag Haesim, (early 1500s, Korea)
Baekoon Kyunghan, (early 1500’s, Korea)
Jungkwan Ilson (1533-1608, Korea)
Han Yong-un a..k.a. Manhae (1879-1944, Korea)
Saigyo (1118-1190, Japan)
Ikkyu Sojun (a.k.a. Crazy Cloud, 1394-1481, Japan)
Matsuo Basho (a.k.a. Sobo, a.k.a. Tosei, 1644-1694, Japan)
Baisao (a.k.a. Ko Yugai, 1675-1763, Japan)
Chiyo-ni (1703-1775, Japan)
Yosa Buson (a.k.a. Midnight Studio, 1716-1784, Japan)
Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831, Japan)
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828, Japan)
Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875, Japan)
Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902, Japan)
Santoka Taneda (1882-1940, Japan)
To purchase Roy Mattson's stunning ambient album MESMER, visit his Bandcamp for a digital download.