Zen and Haiku The Influence Term Paper

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Many early haiku poets recognized this, writing purely from the heart and without too much subjective interpretation, perhaps reflecting their adoption of Zen philosophy.

Basho is but one early haiku poet that took Zen moralisms and philosophies to heart when writing haiku. Many believe that Basho wrote purely from Zen tradition, providing contrasting images of time and setting using only observation. Basho notes that "from ancient times those with a feeling for refinement find joy in knowing the truth and insight of things" (Yasuda, 1973:3) reflected that haiku is more about understanding nature and one's path toward enlightenment.

Those creating haiku often attempt to suggest in the simplest manner possible things natural in nature; the job of the artist or poet is merely to suggest the essence of an object or event, expressing the qualities of the object which are natural art in and of themselves (Lieberman, 2005). This sentiment is clearly adopted and conceptualized by Zen Buddhism, which suggests that art is a reflection of that which is natural when done correctly, and execution of must therefore often be spontaneous to be useful and comprehended (Lieberman, 2005).

Going back to Basho's haiku, Zen influence is present in the commonality or presentation of that which exists as very common and natural. This is evidenced in the following haiku by Basho:

Gazing at the flowers

Of the morning glory eat my breakfast - Basho (Lieberman, 2005).

Here there is no interpretation, rather pure reflection on the common events occurring on any given morning. The author has chosen to meditate or reflect if you will on a precisely chosen moment in time, reflective of nature and accessing that which any other man might access in the same given moment. The basic premise of Zen adopted by much early haiku is that it takes only a few syllables to observe and comment on that which is natural. Excessive interpretation or analysis only leads to abstraction and confusion, and is therefore unnecessary.

The very essence of haiku, the short 5-7-5 syllabus are perhaps a reflection of the simplicity evident in Zen tradition. Haikus generally focus on nature and commonality. Most masterpieces written are quite simple and ordinary at best, yet masterpieces in their own tradition, effectively expression the art and philosophy of Zen in many ways.


One may argue that Zen and haiku are intimately entwined. Haiku does take on much of the philosophic tradition presented in early Zen philosophy. Many have gone as far to say that all haiku is a reflection of Zen tradition and philosophy.

Zen influenced haiku traditions in Japan in many was particularly by encouraging natural awareness of the processes of the world and world itself through simple observation and meditation. Suzuki (1970) clearly supports the relationship between Zen philosophy and the art form of haiku in his work Zen & Japanese Culture. Suzuki focuses on the importance of simplicity and non-intervention in his work, sentiments that are clear in much of early Japanese haiku both before and after the Tokugawas era in Japan.

Zen and haiku are intimately related particularly in their encouragement of non-intervention. Both enable the user or believer to express their feelings and emotions naturally, a practice that helps facilitate enlightenment. Haiku is in essence a form of meditation that mankind can use as a tool to reach enlightenment. Haiku is an also a tool that helps men realize their commonality or the common spirit that links all creatures in the universe with one another.

While some may argue that Zen's influence in haiku is only fleeting, the majority of evidence available on early haiku suggests that much if not all of early haiku is influenced by Zen philosophy. Zen's influence is not only evident in the terminology used by many haiku poets, but also in the very idealisms presented in much of the haiku of early Japan. The very structure of haiku poetry, including its simple use of syllables and lack of metaphor or personification supports Zen idealisms in multiple ways. There is no other art form as influenced or reflective of Zen traditions in early Japanese history than the art of haiku.


Aitken, R. & Matsuo, Basho. A Zen wave: Basho's haiku and Zen. New York:


Bieler, J. "Haiku - Matsuo Basho." Naropa Institute, 1981, Sum. Available:


Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Bash ? To Shiki. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958.

Kasulis, T.P. Zen Action/Zen Person. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Pres: 1981.

Lieberman, F. Zen Buddhism and Art. 13, November 2005:


Suzuki, Daisetz. Essays in Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove Press.1961

Suzuki, D. Zen & Japanese Culture. Boston: Bollingen:…

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