A ‘cult of beauty’ informed much Japanese poetry. “A love of sheer beauty had been given.. a Japanese complexion as early as the 8th century A.D. with the Man’yoshu, a collection of poems characterized by deep feeling, sensibility, and colourful imagery” [Tom Lowenstein and Victoria James, ‘Haiku Inspirations’, 2013, p 46].

“Profound love of the varied and dramatic Japanese landscape, allied to sensitivity to the vividly changing seasons, had been important to Japanese people at least since the 6th to the 8th century A.D.” [p 10].

So far, so Eros..

Shinto is the origin for this; Shinto, the Japanese form of Shamanism, celebrated the strangeness, power, and beauty, of nature.

Buddhism entered Japan in 500 A.D., and brought “the doctrine that life is characterized by the impermanence of all worldly things..” [p 11]. “While Buddhism in India had suggested that beauty, [due to] its impermanence, was of little importance, Japanese Buddhists, in particular those who practiced Zen, developed an appreciation for the way in which beauty and transience co-existed, and deployed images such as dewdrops and cherry blossom to imply that things are beautiful ‘because’ they were impermanent. The term aware [sadness] was used often in art and poetry, and the tradition of ‘mono no aware’ [the sadness of things] described the way in which life was tinged with a constant sorrow that was also aesthetically delicious” [p 11].

“Many haiku poets were Buddhists, and many of their poems contain poignant visions of dewdrop-like transience in the ‘ukiye’ [the floating world] — a frequently used term for our fragile, dreamlike social and natural environment” [pp 11-12]. It is God who is absolutely real, whilst this world is non-substantial, dream-like, flowing not fixed..

‘Yugen’ means a suggestion of the unseen, of what lies beneath the surface. Thus Yugen “is an overtone that does not appear in words” [Chomeri, 1200 A.D.]. Evening sky in autumn= no colour, no voice, “but still you find tears welling up in your eyes. It is what lies behind that enchants you” [ibid].

Basho= do not impose yourself, your ideas, emotions, desires, on the object, but contemplate it such that its ‘essence’ [‘kyo’] emerges. This contemplation is to see the object as God sees it. It is also to love the object as God loves it= to venerate the object as God’s, not your own to exploit, and throw away, as you vainly and foolishly choose..

Predominant subjects of haiku= nature; the passing of time; the four seasons; the sadness of transience; but also= everyday human events.

Haiku poems touch on religious, social, historical, and cultural themes — but the touch is light. Moreover, it is natural occurrences and processes that often serve as the metaphor for revealing the essence of human events [what is really going on]. Nature is a mirror reflecting us back to ourselves.

Virtues revered in court in the classical period between 800 and 1200 A.D.= sincerity, sadness, courtly manners. High born people had to be connoisseurs and practitioners of the arts. Aristocrats= the ‘good people.’ The masses= the ‘mere people.’

Over a luminous robe of beaten silk,
a lady’s hair

One of life’s exquisite delights, this sight, according to a woman courtier.

A solitary and melancholic poetic mood was cultivated. The Japanese term ‘Sabi’ alludes to “the solitary contemplative condition in which poetry is written” [p 49]. A lonely mood, feeling, or atmosphere, is implied.

Basho [1664-1714] sought out places expressing Sabi. Yet paradoxically, Sabi could lead to, or be combined easily with, the most ecstatic joy. The Chinese Zen poet Hanshan [circa 700-800 A.D.] “abandoned society to ‘sing madly in the mountains.’ His ‘madness’ was really spiritual joy, and Basho similarly described his own departure on a journey as “ecstasy in the moonlight” [p 49]. Mountains in Chinese Buddhism had always signified spiritual exaltation, bringing a vast panorama. Spaciousness is key to Eros= its welcoming of anything and everything, its ‘making room’ for ever more riders in its carriage.

Basho’s poetry expresses a grasp of things as they are in nature, uninterrupted by human interference. Basho embraces the joys and sorrows of the brief span of human life; he also “considers his own humanity and questions the nature of the ‘wind-swept spirit’ that inhabits his body. At times, he compares himself to the plants and animals with whom he shares the world” [p 58].

Basho’s last and arguably best book is the record, in prose narrative and haiku poems, of an epic journey [1689]= ‘The Narrow Road To The Deep North.’

Buson [1715-1783] was a haiku poet and painter. He used the ‘nanga’ style that Zen monks brought from China in 1300 A.D. Nanga= free, intuitive brush strokes, intended to capture the spirit of a subject rather than represent it literally. ‘Capture the spirit’= portray the essence.

Buson’s haiku displays a massive appreciation of the wonder and mystery of nature [again, a Shinto quality]. Like other Zen painters, he deployed an unfashionable ‘poverty’ in his bare, non-symmetrical, and ‘imperfect’ representations.

Closely related to haiku was the older tradition of ‘ink painting’, sumi-e [960 A.D. in China; 1338 A.D. in Japan]. As with the haiku emphasis on the ‘wordless line’ or what is unsaid, so in this black ink painting the spaces left white convey more than what is said.

4 strokes in sumi-e=

1, sturdy yet elegant [= bamboo]
2, elegant yet retiring [= rare orchid]
3, contemplative [= chrysanthemum appears in late autumn, just before winter]
4, flowers that drop before they wither [= plum tree blossoms in winter].

A whale plunges mightily
tail rising
a feather.

Issa [1762-1826] is known as ‘the gentle rebel.’ He loved this world. Joyful poems emerged from huge losses in his life= he outlived his parents, his two wives, all his children. Another homeless wanderer.. ‘Homelessness’ evoked metaphysical grandeur in some of his poems, but he is remembered as loving the very ordinary things of human life. He had an attachment to the everyday. [His name means ‘cup of tea.’]

He dressed in a very unkempt manner, and at times his poetry was considered ‘rough’ by Japanese standards.

Here comes a bush warbler!
wiping his dirty feet
on the plum blossom.

Eros embraces ‘clean and dirty’= the lotus in the mud.

Shiki [1867-1902] created the ‘haiku revival’ in modern Japan. He thought traditional haiku too formalized. He recommended a retaining of the haiku essence, but a freeing of its form. A new body for an old soul..

He called haiku poetry ‘shasei’, sketch from life. Describing life just as it is, without too much reverence for the old forms or artificially twisting the poem’s structure and content, would produce the best haiku [p 71]. He said= “forget grammatical rules.. write to please yourself.” He valued ‘spontaneity’ above all else. He founded the Nihon School, which emphasised ‘naturalistic, realistic writing.’ He was not a Buddhist, and was tired of religion.

To ears
fatigued by preachers
the cuckoo.


Most commentators see the main influences upon haiku poetry as Shinto and Buddhism.

Shinto= “The Way of the Spirits.” The Japanese term ‘kami’ is mistranslated as ‘gods’, but it refers to the ‘spirits’ who indwell places in nature, like rocks, trees, waters, mountains.. Shrines to such spirit beings are always sited in places of natural beauty. The spirits inhabiting nature create nature’s beauty, whether calm or savage. This is not a Buddhist doctrine.

Shinto ceremonies are tied to natural cycles and stages in human life= the two are inter-connected. As in the Lakota Sacred Circle, the four seasons of nature are also four steps on the human path to spiritual maturity. Shinto devotions= to attain purity and health. Buddhist devotions= to secure good karma, or ‘merit’, which will determine one’s future reincarnations.

Shinto regards nature as ‘Sacred’, and certain places are markedly Sacred. Sacred means, in English root, ‘set aside for God.’ Thus to see nature as Sacred is to see God in nature, and to see divine energies indwelling natural essences. It is an incarnational vision. For, if God is embodied in nature, then it is not as ephemeral, not as transient, as Buddha claimed. There is something insubstantial in matter, something psychically fluid and un-fixed, but it exists not as an end in itself which rises and falls and finally will pass away, but this very ‘flux’ at the root of matter and all natural things is for a different purpose. It is ‘user friendly’ to God, and thus its rationale is to be a flimsy membrane penetrable by divine energy and divine activity.

The Buddhist vision and the Shamanic vision coexist= both are true. The world is not thing-like, not the machine our ego wants it to be so as to manipulate it for selfish ends, but this no-thingness at the root of material nature exists for the indwelling, the embodiment, of divine forces, presences, processes, gifts.

Shinto Sacredness is the more primary truth; Buddhist impermanence is the secondary truth which needs to be set in proper context as nestled in the Sacred. The Sacred needs Impermanence; yet if you separate Impermanence from its root in the Sacred, then it is open to endless misinterpretation. Matter is ‘saved’ for indwelling by the divine, and that is why it and all its fruits are Sacred. This is what Shamanism knows. Buddhism does not know it..

Shinto also honours an Eros composed of a primal father and primal mother who are married. Eros includes and depends upon a Sacred Marriage. Thus, both the cosmos, nature, and life on earth, and human life, dance to the Eros music of Sacred Marriage. Again, Shamanism knows that Marriage is Sacred, on all levels, yet Buddhism does not know it.

Shinto had priests but no monks traditionally [this may have changed now]. Buddhism has priests and monks. Actually, wherever Eros appears, the figure of the priest and the figure of the monk emerge. The priest represents the positive meaning of Eros as love and abundance shared among all the people, whilst the monk, and his ascetic spirit, represents the willing acceptance of the loss and ‘curbing’ in Eros needed not only to deliver us from the false goodness we seek, a phantasy and corrupted Eros, but to drive us to greater sophistication with even the true goodness of Eros. Priest= rich clothing of Eros, its fertility and fructifying. Monk= impoverished rags of Eros that bring us closer to its naked core. Eros needs both monk and priest, to signify its loss and gain, its necessary polarity of fasting and feasting. We fast from devouring, and jettison polite eating, so as to grow capable of the real and full feasting.

Eros is the ‘sweet and sour.’

The priest without the monk= the danger is that priests are the first to sell out to the bourgeois life, the first to talk Sacredness whilst succumbing to materialism; without the Zen stick, or the Desert simplicity, the priests become too comfortable, too lazy, too ‘easy’ about handling the material realities of this world. No longer the keeper of the Sacred, the priest becomes a money maker and a power broker serving the evil forces running the world.

The monk without the priest= the danger is that monks get stuck in fasting, as an end in itself, and do not realise it is only a necessary station on the way to feasting. Monks then start taking immense pride in their feat of hard, uphill climbing in ‘self-restraint’, and look with contempt upon the weakness of lesser humans.. This turns Luciferian, rapidly. Moreover, such monks lose the Sacred and make too much of the spiritual as a replacement, or alternative. Pure spirit, freed of matter, becomes an anti-incarnational, dis-embodied, creed which they fall into, almost by default. Buddhist monks are drawn towards this error if they fail to realize that — not despite but because of its Impermanence — material life is Sacred. Consequently, if you meet a monk, do not let him start bragging about all he has given up to ascend the mountain of self-mastery, rather, ask him if he can enter the Sacred Feast. Ask him to sing you the song, and perform the dance, of Eros Reborn. If he is as stilted as ever, then give him a wide berth; he is still lost like everyone else, despite his rigourous yogas, disciplines, practices.

Priest and Monk together= Sacred and Spiritual conjoined, each putting corrections upon the other. Eros= the Good Red Road, from south [summer=flowering] to north [winter=declining] of ‘Making Sacred’ and ‘Spiritual Understanding.’ This is the narrow road to the deep north.

When Buddhism began to exert influence on Japan, the spirits indwelling nature became regarded as bodhisattvas, the buddhas of ultimate mercy who, instead of entering nirvana and leaving behind the wheel of birth and reincarnation, chose to return to the world of deluded cravings in order to enlighten those stuck there. This is the generosity of Eros= not content with being saved oneself, one gives away the benefits of salvation in order to return to the realm of the unsaved and make an impact in saving others.


The term ‘meditation’ is dhyana in Sanskrit, ch’an in Chinese, and zen in Japanese. Ch’an originated in China in 500 A.D. via the Indian monk Bodidharma [450-530 A.D.]. He sat in a cave for 9 years meditating. [The ‘cave’ is the symbol for the feminine mystery in physical and psychic matter that enables it to be indwelt by Spirit; the Messiah was born not in a stable, but in a cave.]

Bodidharma belonged to the more generous, broader, northern Mahayana tradition, not to the stricter southern tradition. He taught that everyone possesses the ‘Buddha nature.’ We think we have fallen out of the Way of Eros, but we remain a part of it even when we are like ‘the fish, surrounded by water, crying piteously from thirst.’ Enlightenment is thus like a return to what really is and never ceased to be, for us. In a subtle sense, we remained in the light even when our eyes were closed and hence all we saw was darkness..

Buddhism arrived in Japan around 500 A.D. Zen arrived in Japan 500 years further on, late in 1100 A.D., brought from China by the famous monk Dogen. It was, interestingly, initially taken up mainly in the north eastern part of the country. North= Loss in Eros. East= Rebirth after Loss, in Eros.

Lowenstein offers the usual account of the 2 schools of Zen, the Rinzai School, which uses koans and was standardized by the Zen painter Haikun in the 1700s A.D., and the Soto School, Dogen’s outfit that taught ‘zazen’, or ‘just sitting.’

Lowenstein= Meditation in general, and wrestling with koans in particular, is designed to lead the mind beyond rational, or ‘discursive’, thought and thereby release it into an intuitive and direct knowing without the interference of ego.

Lowenstein= disappointment, or discontent, ceases when we renounce our desire for worldly happiness and our dependence on the notion of selfhood.

Dogen’s master Hongzhi advised him to sit “in silent introspection without confusion from inner thoughts of grasping..” In ‘The Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma’, Dogen suggests to the monks that they meditate alone, “resting as with the floating clouds or running water” — these changes in nature signifying the impermanence of all things.. This is like Hinduism= do not try to make the Relative into the Absolute. We try to ‘absolutize’ what is only relatively real, and thus life makes us restless and discontented, disappointed and frustrated, caught in a misery that is inconsolable. Dogen is saying, like the Buddha, let this life be relatively real, do not try to make it into something which it cannot be. It cannot satisfy our grasping attachment that requires it to be something it is not, something graspable that would make us safe and secure in the holding on to it, something graspable that would guarantee we can slate our deranged appetites.

Freud is not so far from Buddha. Freud’s ‘wish fulfillment phantasy’ is near ‘delusive craving.’ Freud is teaching that ‘wishing’, the anti-realistic kind of desire, unconsciously drives the conscious mind, such that the mind’s expectations, assumptions, agendas, are generated and dominated by the phantasy scenarios that wishing demands in order to be ‘fulfilled.’ The conscious does not realize it is being ‘run’ by the unconscious, until cracks appear in the pavement [in the form of neurotic symptoms, or other eruptions from beneath the brittle crust of conscious control].

Put it more simply. In the grip of wishing, we invent or concoct a phantasy world, coloured, textured, shaped, by what the wishing demands from the world. Thus do we live in unreality.

Buddhism, with more philosophical acumen inherited from Hinduism, puts the same Freudian point more spiritually, in terms of delusive cravings ‘confusing’ the mind, taking it over, and thereby dictating the conscious mind’s way of proceeding. We believe this conscious proceeding is objective, but it is not; we see the world as fixed, and graspable, as separate from us — an I–It, not an I–Thou — because of the ‘grasping’ inherent to our desire. When the soul-mind axis is changed at root, then the world that is apprehended by virtue of soul and mind changes at root. William Blake speaks of cleansing the doors of perception, so that what appears finite and corrupt is seen as infinite and holy.

Dogen advised his monks not to waste the brief time we have on earth= “You can see that moments pass without stopping, and that all is transient. Use each fleeting moment.” He goes on to say, don’t waste the brief human life pursuing the trinity of ego aims= renown, money, pleasure. Interestingly, Freud’s definition of what the ego seeks from the world is identical to Dogen’s= fame, wealth, being loved by attractive women. In more sober monastic lingo, this is the vain narcissism, the avaricious greed, and the lustful devouring, of the fallen erotic energy in humanity. This erotic energy is entirely ‘for itself’, or caught up in self-love, which kills the ex-stasis in the soul and mind; such erotic thirst [1] is seeking glory for itself, [2] is mean and ungenerous in accumulating for itself; [3] it is exploitative in seeking pleasure for itself, using and throwing away what it consumes.

A different categorization in Buddhism, as in Eastern Christianity, puts greed and lust together, since both are appetitive, and makes ‘hate’ the third aspect of eros, for hate arises when our greed or lust is blocked by situations beyond our control, or rivals appear who threaten to prevent our greed or lust from being gratified, because by grabbing what we are after, they deprive us of getting it. Thus we revile them and indeed ill-wish them. We would prefer it if they did not exist, because they interfere in our possessing of what we insist upon ‘having.’ The more exclusive our possession of this desired object, the better. If it does not want to be possessed, we grant it no right to a life apart from us= we would like to kill it. Even if we do not act on that ‘aversive’ dislike, resentment simmers..

Dogen insists= “Now is the time to save your head from a scorching fire.” The fire is the desirous attachment that consumes whatever it latches on to, whilst the saving is to get the head out of the fire, where it can regain its ‘right mind’ toward the world. In stricter versions of Buddhism, the fire is not transformed into a true attachment of loving the world, because the attachment is unrealistic inherently, and cannot be ‘made good’; thus, the fire of attachment burns out, replaced by dispassion= the cool, calm, tranquil, non-attachment.


In Japanese Zen this is not so straightforward, whatever the explicit teaching of classical Buddhism might say..

Japanese haiku poets, who were implicitly Shinto even as they were explicitly Buddhist, identified the sadness all around them, in nature, as well as in human life, and did not attribute this sorrowing of all things, this poignancy of all things, just to ‘the error of grasping attachment to the world.’ They saw this sorrow in nature, and in the human world, in the passing of time. Basho’s “sorrow is shared by birds and fish, who also lament the passing of the spring season” [p 95].

Buddhist impermanence is one way of interpreting the Way of Eros in this world, always functioning through a spring and a winter. But there are other reasons for this.. Spring and Winter are, in Shamanism, as in Messianic Jewish Christianity, a secret way of Renewal, pointing to a fully natural and genuinely material Rebirth after matter has flowered and withered.

It is hard for creatures and for humans to lose the summer fruits and journey on the narrow road to the deep north, where all fruit is finally lost, yet the north is ‘deep’ because it is the turning point, the matrix of change in things, for from its dying comes the east of everything Reborn.

In time, as time is now, Eros must flower and decline, explode raucously, like Qaw’wali music, and then depart, like a sad requiem. This is the Way of Eros, in this world, for now.. ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’

But in Shamanism, as in Messianic Jewish Christianity, there is a hint of a mystery that this polarity, this oscillation of opposites, will come to an end, because it prepares for something unexpected and new. “I make all things new.” Not the two, the rising and the falling away; the three= the birth, the dying, and the Rebirth.

Buddha said, facing his own death and reacting to the grief of his disciples= “All phenomena are subject to decay.” But hidden from the Buddha in the light that came to him, secretly tucked away in a pregnant dark, was the further and final reality of Eros.

The Daemonic significance of Christ’s resurrection= those who are dead with Christ’s passion will live again in his regenerated passion. But the resurrection has Eros significance as well.

The resurrected life is also the Eros that makes the creation always and forever new, that renews embodiment after death has sundered soul from body. This is the Eros that reinvigorates incarnation, bringing soul alive in matter, and animating matter in soul, and making both the vehicle of spirit= spirit married to matter.

The final Rebirth that is coming was not disclosed to Buddha. It is tacit in Shamanism, and becomes evident only after Messianic Jewish Christianity when all of nature and humanity is resurrected with Christ.

This is why the Jews and the Shamanic Celts started their sacred year in the darkness of winter, and therefore made the journey through time a movement from death to life. Not a journey from spring to winter, youth to old age, but the journey from winter to spring, old age to youth. We have a brief taste of our everlasting youth when young, then get old and stale, like everything, yet we are moving from oldness to a renewal of newness.

In this final end of time, when the Messianic Age will have resurrected nature and matter in a transfigured state such as Christ revealed on Mount Tabor and lived after his bodily resurrection, we will have our flowering, and we will bear fruit, ‘fruit that will last.’

Buddha brought us back into Eros. The Messiah, dead and resurrected, takes us forward into the future of Eros.