Monday, May 21, 2007

Poem of the Week 5/21/2007: Death Poem of Koho Kennichi

Death Poem of Koho Kennichi

To depart while seated or standing is all one.
All I shall leave behind me
Is a heap of bones.
In empty space I twist and soar
And come down with the roar of thunder
To the sea.

Koho Kennichi 1316
Died on the twentieth day of the tenth month, 1316 at the age of seventy-six

In Japan, there is a tradition of death poems: poems written just before the moment of death. Koho Kennichi was a Zen Monk in Japan in the 14th Century. A few notes will be helpful in order to understand this poem. First, departed "while seated or standing" treats the position in which it is worthy to die if one is enlightened. Ultimately, this position is merely a form, for bones are the only thing that remain of the physical form.

The next three lines are somewhat more mysterious, and I have only a few thoughts as to their ultimate meaning. If Koho is enlightened, as the sitting or standing comment implies, the "empty space" *might* refer to the open, unified realm of the absolute. His moving toward the sea as death approaches is then the particular manifestation of the infinite (his Buddha-seed, as it were) rejoining the sea of ultimate reality. Death for the enlightened person is Pari-Nirvana, the final extinction of ties to samsara.

1 comment:

Safa said...

Question for those of you (including Sarah :P) who know more about Buddhism than me: How does one distinguish between the "empty space" and "sea" that the author plunges into? Are both treated as manifestations of ultimate reality? And also traditionally,is the idea of being alone in a broad expanse of emptiness often related to the entirety of the life experience or the moment of dying itself? Thanks everyone, hope you're all having splendid summers!