Read a little blurb in the spirituality section of the Times of India newspaper today that has given me a moment’s pause. To summarize it comes down to, “We come into the world with nothing. Anything accrued since then is an asset.”
The initial statement is a fairly well known notion in Zen. The death poem of Kozan Ichikyo, died February 12, 1360, at 77
Empty-handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going-
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.
The naked entrance and exit to life is the one experience all humans share. Everything that happens between those two points is utterly unique.
The assets portion was the interesting point. In Hinduism, with it’s belief in literal reincarnation, the notion of accruing in one lifetime is not often discussed and even downplayed in favor of a much longer multi-incarnate view. This more immediate focus is somewhat reminiscent of the Buddhist viewpoint and particularly that of Zen.
However sometimes in Zen, and also in Buddhism in general, these things between the coming and going are viewed as problematic. That suffering business again. Occasionally I am disturbed by some writers who take this problematic approach a few steps too far and wallow in a sort of passive nihilism which says “Nothing matters.” That is a misunderstanding that seems to develop from misunderstanding Sunyata (शून्यता) -emptiness or voidness. On Sunyata
In the words of Robert F. Thurman; “… voidness does not mean nothingness, but rather that all things lack intrinsic reality, intrinsic objectivity, intrinsic identity or intrinsic referentiality. Lacking such static essence or substance does not make them not exist – it makes them thoroughly relative.”
To me this makes the nature of Sunyata and further of Samsara an incredibly rich and valuable asset. There is no mirror which does not reflect all others. There is no thread which is not entangled with another. As much as one might like to posit uniqueness it is not a uniqueness that stands apart from all other uniquenesses. The recipes vary infinitely yet the ingredients are all of the same kitchen.
Hosshin, 13th century
Coming, all is clear, no doubt
about it. Going, all is clear,
without a doubt.
What, then, is all?
All. Assets and Entanglements. With a little Masala.
About Jisei, Japanese death poems.
Japanese death poems from a Salon article.
A list from Quiet Spaces website
In Haiku form
DQ’s Windmill blog has a nice posting of Jisei
An essay with links on Japanese death poems
A piece about forms of the poems, Samurai and Seppuku (ritual suicide) in which the death poem was one of the steps in the ritual.
Here is an essay from the Tibetan tradition which includes the Signs of Dying called DEATH AND DYING IN THE TIBETAN BUDDHIST TRADITION just so you know when to get your pen and paper out.