Japanese Buddhist poetry from centuries ago

Japanese Buddhist poetry from centuries ago

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The holy Buddhist monk Jien (1155-1225) followed Tendai Buddhism. Naturally, with the passages of time and the political power dynamics of the day, it is important to enter his world. However, for Jien, “All the flowers are but the flower of the law” irrespective of time.

In a past article, I comment, “Jien was born before the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), that was established officially in 1192. Hence, the warring period – and convulsions that led to the rise of Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199) – shaped the cultural and political dynamics of society. This culminated with Yoritomo becoming the first shogun of the Kamakura Period in 1192.”

Henceforth, Jien fully understood the power concentration dynamics of the Kamakura period. Also, his poetry was shaped by the changing times that were ushered in. Despite this, a sense of continuity was also preserved concerning the impact of Buddhism on his thought patterns.

Jien wrote:

In a mountain hut
At the edge of dawn
A deer’s cry makes
Midnight’s misery
All too clear…

Further political convulsions would erupt during his lifetime. However, the consolidation of the Kamakura Period meant new ideas were emerging in the realm of governance. Yet the Jokyu War (1219-1221) and the Battle of Uji (1221) – just before Jien departed from this world – highlight continuing convulsions.

Jien pointedly wrote:

Unfit, yet
The common folk of this cruel world
Would I cover,
Standing in this timber-grove
With sleeves stained black.

Jien understood the constraints of power concentration in the early Kamakura Period. Hence, his poetry – free and unfree – was shaped by the history he belonged to.



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