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Spiritual Practice and Self
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Power of Wording

Spiritual Practice and Self

I am frequently asked what the difference is between modern waka and tanka. Usually I answer that question by mentioning differences in structure and content especially stressing Taoist/Buddhist roots and a return to some of the aesthetics of the Japanese Court. But another very important difference is the idea of writing as spiritual practice.

I often say that writing modern waka is learning about self (those characteristics which make us separate and individual including ego) and the limitations of self. A member of our Mountain Home community, our internet site for studying the writing of modern waka, recently shared this quote from Zen Master Dogen.

"To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between oneself and others."

Entering the Stream (trans. Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi)

This is very different from much Western thought which nurtures the concept of the individual and the individual's freedom, especially artistic freedom, to express whatever or however he or she chooses even if the expression is incomprehensible to others. This path sometimes tends to isolate the individual, to feed the ego, to lead the individual away from community with others and nature.

Modern waka is not just about writing, composing a verse. It is through the spiritually humbling experience of thoroughly and honestly examining one's self that one learns his or her real feelings. But at the same time it is the thorough examination of the natural world that allows one to see the intimate connections between nature and man. In this practice, then, one is able to shed his or her ego and concepts of separateness to become humbled and united with nature. In this state of selflessness, the experiences of nature and humans share common bonds.

Falling leaves...
On the cottonwood trunks,
High water marks;
Was it so long ago
When love sated all?

Donna Ferrell
2003