Buddhism is filled with a wonderful lyricism stretching all the way back from it’s oral tradition to it’s more modern expressions. The following are just some modes of expression I found interesting in these last few months. Disclaimer: this is in no way meant to be complete or representative.
Our current canons of discourses all lend themselves to verses of descriptions of settings and to the words of the Buddha and his disciples. Awesomeness would not describe how amazing it would be had they actually broken out in verse in the very first transmissions of dharma by the Buddha! It is not to stretch the imagination to think of them breaking into song and dance in far-off landscapes, but I digress. Precious written forms of the discourses were kept sacred and preserved whereas chanting served day-to-day purposes of transmission and reminding. And what a wonderful tradition it is!
Discourses composed later, such as the Heart and Diamond sutras, continued this tradition without missing a beat. I can only imagine the missing history of Buddhist lyricism that has not made it to this day. Thankfully, we are admonished to see for ourselves!
There’s a special place in my heart for Zen poetry, particularly those belonging to Ryokan. Many examples have an immediate and direct quality, the same quality that tells us to sit on our asses now and breathe, or to look around and take it all in.
When mortals are alive, they worry about death.
When they’re full, they worry about hunger.
Theirs is the Great Uncertainty.
But sages don’t consider the past.
And they don’t worry about the future.
Nor do they cling to the present.
And from moment to moment they follow the Way.
Peach blossoms cover both sides of the river bank like mist.
In spring, the deep blue river appears to be the stream of Heaven.
Wandering here and there gazing at the peach blossoms as I follow the flow of the river–
What is this? An old friend’s house!
frog jumps in
With a very liberal attitude towards the precept to refrain from enjoy songs, Buddhist songs take to directly stimulating the hearing sense while also attempting to transmit dharma. Results have been mixed. Some are very simply the traditional chants put on CD and mp3 for our enjoyment. A more contemporary take are monks using their pipes. Anecdotally, I know of Rev. Kusula and his friends at Urban Dharma and Deer Park Monastery who use this expression. And as a sign of our times, pop stars have taken the stage as well, putting the Heart sutra to modern tastes, as well as having composing new songs and staging competitions! Any Buddhist Idols out there?
That’s all for now. Please share any thoughts or other lyrical expressions!