If It’s true that haiku is a state of mind, as I believe it is, the next question is: What is the right state of mind for writing haiku? But before that you must answer this question: What is mind?
And that’s a question which pre-supposes that there is only one mind to bother about; it’s what in the ordinary way we usually assume to be the case. But it’s an assumption that can often lead us into a state of confusion.
What if we have more than one mind? After all there is the common expression, ‘I’m in two minds about that…’ What about three or four minds? Five or six minds? Enough minds managed by a single brain to sink a battleship? One part of me thinks that’s nonsense; another part thinks it’s an interesting idea; another part of me is willing to carry on reading these notes to find out what it might all be about.
Then I realise that I do have several minds with different purposes: one that focusses on making a living; one that likes meeting people; one that’s good at arithmetical calculations; another that concerns itself with the state of the world – and so on. I am a person of many parts.
We are not one person but many: you can check this out when you next have an argument with another part of yourself about what to do next; you will now be able to notice how you’re in a different frame of mind driving a car from when you’re cooking sausages, or feeding the cat, and so on…
On the other hand, it is certainly possible and often highly desirable to be single-minded. It will be an uncluttered state of mind – one that we’ve deliberately emptied out of all rival concerns. How do we do that?
Since each of our different parts is run by a particular ‘I’, let’s call them all ‘I’s. Becoming aware of the many different ‘I’s in your make-up – ‘I drive a car, I cook sausages, I feed the cat…’ – puts you in a very strong position to be able to manage the different parts of yourself: when you’re in an ‘I’ that’s driving a car you don’t need to bother about the ‘I’ that’s concerned for the cat getting fed; when one of your ‘I’s is angry with your friend another ‘I’ can stop it from showing it’s angry.
the white peony
Long-time members of The British Haiku Society will remember the late John Crook whose haiku came from a Zen state of mind. He wrote a book called Catching a Feather on a Fan (1991) – an account of what occurred at a Zen Retreat at his place in Wales. The Retreat was managed by Zen Master Sheng Yen. The expectation for the retreat was that members would simply come to realise that we are not in control of our mind [or minds]; to find ways of getting to an awareness of this and to discover ways of calming the mind [or the many minds]…
Re-reading John Crook’s book after many years I was very conscious of my own need to substitute ‘minds’ for just one ‘mind’ and to adopt a Multiple-I standpoint which I got from GIGurdjieff: I had moved without realising it into Re-interpreting-I; there was an ‘I’ that had no intention of doing this when it started reading but it came over another ‘I’ that the way to control what Sheng Yen calls ‘monkey-mind’, one that hops about all over the place, is first of all to get to grips with the idea that we constantly flip from one state of mind to another, from one ‘I’ to another ‘I’. First become aware of this – it just happens.
Then it becomes possible to decide to be in an ‘I’ that’s appropriate for whatever you’re doing – single-mindedness…
The Zen Retreat was a silent six days except for Sheng Yen’s input which John recorded faithfully. The account starts with something very familiar to me after having read Alan Watts in the mid-sixties:-
(i) Body and mind are one. (ii) Internal and External are unified, (iii) Previous thought and subsequent thought are continuous…
No longer is there an experience of the mind separate from the body… No longer is the observer separate from the observed; and experience flows without time being split into now and then. These three conditions arise together… Once the mind is unified, so the one is guarded.
Here are three more ‘minds’: one that thrives on intellectual energy, one with an emotional grasp of things and an active, athletic, one – Thinking-I, Feeling-I and Doing-I. In Zen they focus together in One Point so that what goes on inside you is what’s out there & vice-versa.
Then Sheng Yen recommends Isolation, Non-dependence and Non-attachment
Isolation means keeping your self separate from the environment and from others. Isolation is an attitude of practice. Even though you are sitting and working with others, let it be as if you were the only one here, as if there was only one sitting place in the meditation hall, in the whole building. It is as if you are alone, a solitary practitioner in the mountains. It is important sometimes to withdraw and to be solitary, to be isolated and separate. Usually we are in constant interaction with the environment – our everyday worlds. We are disturbed by the ongoing concerns of the world, the news bulletins, the politics of the capital, new taxes, old commitments. All this involvement causes us to lose touch with our basic being. We get filled with the noise of the world. If you isolate yourself in practice, from past and from future, just being present, then you can see your self-nature more easily, without interferences.
The Haiku State of Mind is one that isolates itself from the noise of the world. No discursive thinking. No paying attention to distractions. The temptation when taken over by the haiku moment is to adopt worldly practices to express it in words – worldly poetic devices like simile & metaphor, poetic tropes. left-brain thinking, expressing an idea. These are all ‘interferences’. Avoiding anthropomorphism. Even words themselves are a problem – they represent over-identification with things, tempt you into thinking…
By Non-Dependence I mean not being concerned with what others are thinking, doing or saying. Most of our lives are spent in some sort of adjustment to other people who we want to influence in some way. Maybe we want to please somebody, or we feel obliged in some way; or we owe somebody a favour; or we may want to reject or harm somebody. We are driven by our involvement with others and cannot let it go. This is dependency. When we let ourselves be ourselves, we are not involved with others. We may still be concerned about other people but not dependent on their thoughts, attitudes or opinions.
What is highly desirable is to get to a state of mind…
…so that at any time and any moment you choose, you can free yourself inwardly from your world, from others, from the past, from the future, from the previous thought and the next thought. That is to find freedom. Yet if you then think you are free and have some wisdom, this is not so. You should not be attached to solitude or to experiences of relative freedom. When you are neither attached to independence nor to company then wisdom will manifest.
Both isolation and independence can result in Non-Attachment – to your self, to the all the ways in which you play safe. Playing safe is about depending on the way you’ve always done things in the past, copying other people. Conversely, being attached to putting yourself down in comparison with others.
A Haiku State of Mind is non-attached: the old-worldly ways of writing poetry are left behind, identification with old ways of doing things is to be avoided, capturing wandering thoughts, the ones that drift back into standard well-worn grooves, stopping them happening is doing the trick. It’s simple: as soon as you recognise that you’re hopping from one ‘I’ to another you can just stop it. Just observe what’s happening. Things are always happening. Don’t put anything between you and what happens. Haiku is just what happens. No comparisons, preferences or judgements and there’s no need to get worked up about it, no self-congratulation and no congratulation of others which only encourages self-congratulation.
All this happens in everyday life. There’s no need for any special discipline or pose; no need to take yourself apart from the world, swapping it for a bed of nails or a tub on a pole, monastery or nunnery – things happen in the world itself for instance…
ON A TRAIN JOURNEY
(27th July 2019)
turns out her handbag
on the carriage seat
pills & credit cards
sitting beside the debris
from her handbag
wrapping an old sandwich
contemplating past events
– her long blond hair
built for a ballet
adjusting her pumps
– rain on the windows
bent to the station exit
off the 8.30
This sequence happened in time, one thing after another, but each of the five moments was a present moment. Sheng Yen:-
If you make yourself one with the moment, you stop the thought. There is simply experience without time because, without thought, time becomes a continuous present. You have to discover for yourself what being one with the moment actually is.
When you make every thought a present moment, there is no continuity of time, no carry over from moment to moment. Everything is continuously fresh, like the water of a spring endlessly bubbling up into the open air. In such practice every moment is a rebirth. Here we have no thought succeeding thought, rather there is endless re-creation, an endless momentless continuity. As one ancient master has said; ‘One thought for a thousand years…’ Yet, in this thousand years, there are no thoughts. There is simply a continuous unbroken newness.
On that train journey I went through a number of ‘I’s: Observing-I, Being-amused-I (at the conjunction of ‘pills & credit cards’, Lining-up-I (the alignment of debris & old sandwich), Noticing-the-curiously-contradictory-beauty-I (she was strikingly beautiful, long fingers, agile body, tearing up old train tickets representing past journeys), Surmising-I (was she a ballet-dancer?), Turning-attention-elsewhere-I, Becoming-aware-I-was-going-into-thinking-I, Quitting-the-immediate-scene-I, Avoiding-thought-I… Going-way-outside-the-train-I. And then emerging into what I call Meta-I – the ‘I’ in this case that taps into a series of ‘haiku moments’ with a sort of swift objectivity. Says Sheng Yen:-
…cultivate going beyond thought …focus directly upon the present moment. There is no need to think about it. Just enter the present moment like a diver who has left the springboard. Plunge into it without judgement or consideration. When the diver dives, he lets go. There is only the long fall into the water, which takes no time …dive into the present moment, becoming thoughtlessly one with it. And you will find that every moment is indeed a rebirth.
The paradox is that if you have the intention to go somewhere beyond self ‘there must be first a firm sense of self. Someone who is all over the place, who changes mood or intentions with every shift in circumstance’ is not likely to be able to get to Meta-I, not likely to be able to stand outside their habitual loss of self – they dissolve in outside circumstances.
Going beyond all the usual distractions of worldly life helps to
…develop a larger sense of self. A major step in this progression is the discovery of the undivided mind, one in which the splits produced by discrimination are healed …internal and external become united, body and mind become one. Yet the unified mind remains of the same structure as the divided one. It has not yet gone beyond. It is not the no-self …a state of
being in which the self is absent. There is no self centre, no habit of self-reference. Everything else in experience is the same as before but the quality of being has become radically different. It is usually the case that the appearance of no-mind depends on the prior integration of the mind [integration of multiple minds or ‘I’s]. So long as self and its object are separate, the one regarding the other, there is duality. The split mind of discrimination cannot transcend its own habits. You cannot experience release into no-mind from a divided mind only from a unified one. And where there is no-self we may say there is no-mind. For, in this perspective, the ordinary mind is the activity of self.
I made no judgement about the woman on the train; Making-judgements-I was absent; I became the woman on the train, she was myself for an hour. No observer-observed relationship. My mind was divided – divided attention is a useful knack which can be used to help Observing-I to associate with Making-sense-I and then Doing-I (Scribbling-a-haiku-I). Unified-I joined all this up in No-mind, absence of thinking, just being in conjunction with the scenery. One thing simply followed another. The rain on the carriage window served as the exit point. And then the focus on externality – another woman, but bent & twisted, poor soul, charging along the platform – massive contrast. Just an observation.
I notice how I go in and out of No-mind; we are habitual occupiers of thoughts & feelings; all we can do is notice the changes, the flipping from one mode to another. A good start is to consider how foolish one would be to consider oneself expert at enlightenment. The word ‘idiot’, however, does contain the root that means being able to see clearly (the same ‘id’ in video) so there’s always hope! We just need not to be attached to anything. Especially what we imagine to be the things we know.
Knowledge is framed by our viewpoint. It is necessarily limited by the scope of intellection. If we spent a whole lifetime accumulating knowledge, it would still be like the mound of a termites’ nest. It is not at all in the same dimension as wisdom. [In Zen,] …wisdom is a state that is free from attachments, free from measurement, free from self-reference, empty of vexation. It cannot be found through accumulation, through adding to a pool of knowledge, or through measuring how far we are ahead of others. On that path we only pile confusion on confusion.
On the other hand, one just needs to be aware of what might be useful in a particular context, knowing what to do, how to feel – self-knowledge accumulates relevancy. Examine all your beliefs to distinguish what might be relevant.
…Just keep going in the right direction. Every single step is then an act of reaching the goal. Going on is the goal. The goal is in the going. If you run a race and your mind is on the winning post you split yourself into now and then. If you forget the goal and just place all your attention on the energy of running, you will suddenly find yourself there.
If you stop to think that you’ve arrived, you’re certainly not where you imagine you are.
composed in it