Japanese Buddhist poetry: Saigyō, nature, and solitude

Japanese Buddhist poetry: Saigyō, nature, and solitude

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The young Saigyō Hōshi (birth name Satō Norikiyo) was born to a noble family in Kyoto. However, the cultural dynamics were shifting because Buddhism was increasingly being questioned during his period of life – despite Buddhism remaining potent. Therefore, with Saigyō living between 1118-1190, he felt the internal tensions between new samurai warriors who were challenging the traditional court nobles.

Saigyō, for no known reason, decided to become a Buddhist monk at an early age. Henceforth, at the age of 22, he took the Buddhist religious name of En’i despite writing under the name of Saigyō at a later date.

It is known that Saigyō adored nature and the solitary life he found during his travels. Thus he traveled extensively to Ise, Mount Koya, Mount Yoshino, Northern Honshu, Saga, and other parts of Japan. During his journeys, he would witness the beauty of nature, write poetry, contemplate the world, and often seek solace away from the world. 

Saigyō wrote: 

Leaving no trace
Once again into the mountains’ depths
I’ll make my way;
Not to hear the world’s pains–
I wonder, is there such a place?

In another lovely poem, he wrote:

The years and months:
How have I
Spent them?
Yesterday, he was here, but
Today is gone – even so is this world.

Shintoism and various Buddhist sects brought a sense of purpose to Saigyō. Similarly, nature and Shintoism naturally fuse. Therefore, different Buddhist concepts and his independent mind brought richness to his life outside the world of the warring clans. 

Saigyō pointedly questioning himself wrote:

My fickle
Spirit: if in its strength
I were to place my trust,
Well then! What
At the end, would I feel?

Overall, Saigyō was inspired by nature, various Buddhist sects, poetry, high culture, and Shintoism. Hence, unlike the poor who felt the convulsions of the warring clans and the edicts that ruled them, Saigyō could spend time in deep contemplation and visit holy places – concerning Buddhism and Shintoism. Therefore, Saigyō connected his soul to religion and nature that inspired him to the very end! 

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http://www.wakapoetry.net/skks-xvii-1643 – Saigyō poetry 

http://www.wakapoetry.net/skks-xviii-1750/ – Saigyō poetry

http://www.wakapoetry.net/skks-xviii-1749/ – Saigyō poetry 

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