Monday, 23 August 2010


A hot evening indoors;
The flying mantis
Settles on the kids’ drawing of a plant

June 7, 2007


  1. I'm usually terrified by the mantis, but this haiku made me love it! (with a little pity in my heart :-) And that painting must have been well done!

  2. There's this quote of Suzuki that you once mentioned in a comment, Paul, that took me nearly a year trying to understand it : "Before studying zen, mountains are mountains...after studying, mountains are not mountains...and later, mountains are mountains again."
    Does it apply in haiku in a sense, before the "aha" moment, things were just ordinary, at the "aha" moment, those things take a different look and after the "aha", they become ordinary again. For example in the "fooled" haiku, before reading it, there was no way I'd feel sympathy for a mantis...during reading, the "ah!" moment was so intense that the mantis became human and even I put myself in its shoes... but eventually, I could never have a handshake with a mantis or even look at it!

  3. Carla, about your first comment:

    The three reactions you mention (loving the mantis, pitying it, and admiring the power of the painting) precisely show the power of haiku to transmit the "moment" from writer to reader. So, that's one good point for you, and one good point for me! :-)

    About your second comment:

    Yes, you're absolutely right, and I can only admire the way you are linking ideas together.

    My own explanation would be something like this: before, a mountain is "just" a mountain, i.e., we don't even see it; it's "normal," "boring," and obstructed by so many mental formations that it's not a mountain at all. It could be a "romantic" mountain, a "savage" mountain, a "happy" mountain, etc. Everything but the real mountain.

    Then comes phase 2, the enlightenment (satori), when the mountain suddenly becomes something else, totally new, with new colours, new shapes, something living.

    But here is the danger: it is so unique and so new that we can fall into the same trap of stage one, and call it a "real" mountain, i.e., adding to it another mental formation, and we're stuck again. So we tell our friends "I can see the mountain as it REALLY is," "I HAVE it," "I am ENLIGHTENED!" In reality, we have replaced an illusion with another, because by calling it/seeing it like that, we're not really seeing it as it is, we're seeing what WE want to see. The ego again!

    So phase 3 is very important: we have to overcome the "novelty" of phase 2 and really try to see the mountain not as we want it to be, but as it is. Very simple but very difficult at the same time!

    So "the mountains are mountains again," but paradoxically different from the mountains in phase 1 and in phase 2 at the same time. So phase 2 is essential in order to get out of phase 1, but it must also be left behind!

    "gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate," as the Heart Sutra says at the end; please google it and read this wonderful text with the above in mind.

    Finally, I have changed one word in the haiku. Originally, the verb I used was "settled," but then I wrote it, for the blog, as "landed." I don't like it, though, so I reverted to the original which, I think, captures the image better.

  4. Yes, I feel that "settles" gives the mantis less weight but more permanence, whereas "lands" gives it more weight and less permanence :-) . But they are both nice. Thanks for the comment. I will read the "Heart Sutra" again and again, hopefully with a better understanding each time.

  5. Yes, "settles" gives the idea that it came as the result of different options, whereas "lands" would imply that it just came from outside and directly landed on the drawing.

    "Settles" captures it better and shows the mantis as even more "fooled," because of all the choices outside, how did it come to choose the fake plant?

  6. AH!!! What a fool! :-)
    Great choice of words.
    Great haiku.

  7. The greatness about this haiku, in my opinion, is that the reader, if sensitive enough to put oneself in that mantis' shoes, remembering how many times one is fooled due to own ignorance, delusion, lack of experience and unconscious choices, will laugh at oneself, as William Ward defined Maturity, and learns from each mistake.
    And I've said "what a fool!" or "stupid!" to myself a million times!

  8. I have please a question about haiku for a final clarification: (no hurry :-)
    Does every haiku mean something different to every reader and can we be subjective (like my opinion in the last comment) while reading or not? (is this subjectivity the trap?) Should a haiku like "fooled" remind us of our human nature for a moment before going back again to be just a mantis that settled on a drawing by accident..? If yes, in what phase does the reminding come? Is it following phase 2 of satori? Like for example the "old man" haiku cutting barley bent like a sickle, while picturing the man shaped like a sickle during the aha moment (when thoughts stop), a thought or reminder of old age, poverty, hard work follows. Is in phase 3 what need to be transcended both the sickle shape of the man and the reminder; back to zero, nothing before nor after?
    Hope my questions are clear. Thanks a lot.

  9. As I wrote earlier, a good haiku should neither be too "free" nor too "dominating," i.e., if it can mean a million different things, it's too free, and if it can mean only one thing, it's too dominating. The Middle Way.

    About the haiku reminding the reader about things, of course, that's its job, but the danger is if it is too intellectualized, it's not a haiku anymore, and it becomes a parable, or a moral lesson, or a spiritual lesson, or a philosophical lesson.

    The primacy must go to the "aha" effect. In Zen, the mind and intellectualization are the big enemies, the filters which stop us from seeing reality.

    If you read the haiku, get the "aha" realization, and then continue to the philosophy of life, you've lost it already. You have intellectualized an otherwise "clean" moment and added to it a filter, a "mental formations," which sits between you and reality.

    The purpose of Zen, as you may know, is to get "it" as transparently as possible, and any filter (whether it's a mental formation, a desire, a hate/love reaction, and so on) will stand in the way of achieving this.

    That's why the haiku is so small: the longer it is, the more chances for filter to step in.

    So, reaction, "aha," realization and accompanying pleasure.

    Why pleasure? Because we clearly see that the naked reality was there in front of us, beautiful and simple.

  10. Thanks again. So the next best thing after haiku (for being small) is "Silence".