Nothing & Everything ~ Haiku of Japan

in GEMSlast month

yado no haru nani mo naki koso nani mo are

spring at my hut
there is nothing...
yet, there is everything

(trans. David LaSpina[1])

(Print by Shiro Kasamatsu)

This is absolutely one of my favorite haiku. Sodo is embracing his poverty. As many spiritual teachers have taught throughout time: the less we own, the more free we are. One of our more recent guides, Throeau, wrote:

Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society.

At the same time, he is speaking in the kind of riddle that is common in Zen. To confront an apparent paradox and truly understand in an intuitive way (not an intelligential way) that it is both and neither is the path to enlightenment. As the Lao Tzu wrote:

The tao that can be spoken of
is not the Eternal Tao.
The name that can be given
is not the Eternal Name.
The nameless
is the beginning of Heaven and Earth
The named
is the mother of everything
Free from desire
One sees its wonders
Filled with desire
One sees its manifestations
Both are the same
but differ in name
Different but the same
this is the mystery
Mystery of mysteries
the door to all understanding[2]

Both are the same, yet differ in name—understand this and you understand everything.

This idea is at the very heart of Zen Buddhism and it is indirectly what Sodo is hinting at. This is a common theme that shows up in haiku, at least in older haiku which were more influenced by Buddhist ideals than the modern version of the poems.

Hi thereDavid LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.

  1. That is, me! If you like this translation, feel free to use it. Just credit me. Also link here if you can.

  2. Tao Te Ching Ch 1, translation mine


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