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Japanese Buddhist poetry: Saigyō, nature and solitude

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Japanese Buddhist poetry: Saigyō, nature and solitude

Lee jay walker

Modern times of Tokyo

Young Saigyō Hōshi (birth name Satō Norikiyo) was born into a noble family in Kyoto. However, the cultural dynamic was changing because Buddhism was increasingly challenged during its period of life – although Buddhism remains powerful. Therefore, with Saigyō living between 1118-1190, he felt the internal tensions between the new samurai warriors who challenged the nobles of the traditional court.

Saigyō, for no known reason, decided to become a Buddhist monk at an early age. Now, at the age of 22, he took the Buddhist religious name of En’i although he later wrote under the name Saigyō.

Saigyō is known to adore nature and the solitary life he found during his travels. So, he traveled extensively to Ise, Mount Koya, Mount Yoshino, North Honshu, Saga, and other parts of Japan. During his travels he witnessed the beauty of nature, wrote poetry, contemplated the world and often sought solace far from the world.

Saigyo wrote:

Leaving no trace
Once again in the depths of the mountains
I will make my way;
Not to hear the pains of the world–
I wonder, is there such a place?

In another beautiful poem he writes:

Years and months:
How did i
Have you spent them?
Yesterday he was there, but
Today is no more – even if this world is too.

Shintoism and various Buddhist sects gave meaning to Saigyō. Likewise, nature and Shintoism merge naturally. Therefore, different Buddhist concepts and his independent mind enriched his life outside the world of warring clans.

Ostensibly questioning Saigyō wrote:

my inconstant
Spirit: if in its strength
I had to place my trust,
Well! What
In the end, would I feel?

Overall, Saigyō was inspired by nature, various Buddhist sects, poetry, high culture, and Shintoism. So unlike the poor who felt the convulsions of warring clans and the edicts that governed them, Saigyō could spend time in deep contemplation and visit holy places – regarding Buddhism and Shintoism. Therefore, Saigyō connected his soul to the religion and nature that inspired him to the end!

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