R H Blyth and W H Hackett

November 2002

R. H. Blyth and J. W. Hackett

James W. Hackett

Hawaii, US

The World Haiku Festival 2002
Yuwa-town, Akita 20-22 September

I am very pleased to be here to celebrate and honor the life and works of R.H. Blyth, my esteemed mentor and friend. Our relationship coincided with the period when Dr. Blyth was tutor to Prince Akihito, and our correspondence continued for some five years until his passing in 1964, when Blyth was in Japan, and I was in California.

My first introduction to Reginald Horace Blyth was in the early 1950s. When I was a university student in philosophy, keenly interested in metaphysics and spiritual inquiry. It was through Blyth’s monumental volumes of Japanese haiku and the Essays on Zen Buddhism by his close friend D. T. Suzuki (Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki), that I became interested in Tao and Zen philosophy, and their influence upon haiku and other Zen arts.

My studies in Zen philosophy, while serious, remained largely intellectual and academic until after my graduation in the 1950s. For at this time, I suffered a life-threatening injury that profoundly changed my values and direction. This trauma was an apocalyptic experience in which I met death with each breath, and every live moment was an epiphany. In a baptism of blood I became directly aware that the Way of Zen and Tao was ever present, in a NOW that is Eternal. Having survived, I sought redemption for taking life for granted. I resolved to somehow express my new-found love of life, and to honor the omnipresent miracle of Creation.

Certainly, I owe my decision to create haiku poetry in English to Dr. Blyth’s Zen view of haiku. Through his profound and insightful writings I realized that haiku poetry offered the best means to express my reverence for this present of life. I was deeply influenced by Blyth’s and Nyogen Roshi’s revelation that Zen methodology focused on selflessness (muga) and the immediacy (imma) of the Tao. I realized how Zen could center the poet’s consciousness upon this Eternal Now: the very nave ’round which Creation’s wheel of life revolves, and this established beyond question that haiku’s destiny included its spiritual capability to be a high art of Zen.

Significantly, it was not Blyth’s awesome erudition or his intellectual genius that caused me to contact him. I did so out of respect for his spiritual-aesthetic approach to the haiku experience. Blyth possessed an acuity and spiritual understanding I found in no other translator.

Blyth’s and Suzuki’s writings became my scriptures, and composing haiku in English my passion — and my very reason for living. My spirit was on fire with enthusiasm, dedicated to expressing my reverence for Creation’s miracle through haiku poetry and the spirit of Zen. Hence my use of the term “Zen haiku.”

After some six months of writing, I sent a collection of my haiku poems in English to Dr. Blyth, and in a cover letter told him that an unusual,  Zen-revealing sentence in one of his books  caused me to seek his counsel. His sentence read:

 There’s more significance in the sound of the nib I’m now writing with than anything I could say.

(I imagined the sound of Blyth’s old-fashioned pen, dipped in the ink jar, then ‘speaking’ as it wrote.) This demonstrated to me Blyth’s transcendent awareness of Zen.

Blyth’s subsequent reply was more than I could have dreamed. It was a long letter, full of suggestions, praise and encouragement. (During a recent visit with Blyth’s elder daughter, Harumi, she recalled that when Dr. Blyth received my poems, he excitedly told the family he found a poet who could write English language haiku! (How I treasure this recollection!)

I was aware of only translations of Japanese haiku in the 1950s. My life was     devoted to Zazen (meditation), and to living and writing haiku poetry; this in a society dominated by values completely antithetical to my own. However, Blyth’s enthusiastic support kept me writing. I know I would not have continued to write haiku but for Dr. Blyth’s warm encouragement and respect — which, by the way, extended to my Zen practice, along with a kind regard for my personal life, as well.


It was Blyth’s enlightened, independent spirit that drew me to him. His writings deepened my soul, and greatly clarified and focused what I had suffered to learn through my accident.

I was able to syncretize haiku and Zen through the inspiriting influence of “Blyth’s Zen.” R. H. Blyth was more than a scholar: his deep spirit came from experiential realization — as did my own. As dedicated, independent spirits, we bonded and shared a non-religious Way of Zen to serve what is truly beyond category.

Incidentally, I first heard the term “Blyth’s Zen” from my Roshi friend, Soen Nakagawa. We were taxiing through Tokyo traffic when Roshi asked,

Who was your Zen teacher?

I told Soen Roshi that I was deeply influenced by D T. Suzuki and Nyogen Senzaki, but as for incorporating Zen values in my haiku, I was a disciple of R. H. Blyth. To this, Roshi murmured a long


then said,

Blyth’s Zen, eh?

(Most significantly, Soen Roshi respected the transcendent [‘beyond borders’] Way of Zen and haiku which had “chosen” Blyth, and myself.)

As I focused on living the Way of Zen, a compassionate identification with natural subjects developed. Blyth discerned this in my writing and believed it characterized my haiku. As he wrote in his foreword to my first book of haiku:

To attain this ability, to express the immediate sensation, to pour all of one’s self into the thing, and let the thing penetrate every part of one’s self, needs much travail of mind and body.

Indeed, it is this “That Art Thou” spiritual interpenetration with all things that has inspired my life and Way of Haiku.

The following excerpt of “Spiritual Penetration” (from my essay That Art Thou: A Spiritual Way of Haiku) is presented out of respect for Dr. Blyth’s inspiring influence, and for the ken of an ever evolving Way of Zen:

Blyth’s Haiku Approach

The following opinions are, like the snow on the poet Kikaku’s hat, easy to hold — being my own. However, I freely and most gratefully acknowledge that not a few of my views are derived from the writings and correspondence of my mentor and friend, R. H. Blyth. Despite his influence and indeed because of it (Blyth being a paradigm of Bodhisattva courage), I too remain an independent spirit … albeit one deeply indebted to history’s masters of reality: those whose vision and spiritual depth provided insights of incalculable value.

The suggestions offered here are born of living and writing haiku and Tao/Zen poetry for some 50 years: a time concurrently devoted to the study of Far Eastern art and philosophy. Persuaded by the truth and depth found there, I have tried to make my writings serve the enlightened goals of this philosophy. I am more than aware however, that a spiritual approach to haiku is not common (save for Zen’s influence upon the later Basho). And some may find such a spiritual Way of haiku too alien or abstruse. So be it. As in Japan, there are in the world today many approaches to haiku: one for virtually every level of consciousness and taste — given the genre’s aesthetic anarchy. Yet whatever the approach, the writer (and the reader as well) should not mistake the simplicity of haiku for the trivial. As R. H. Blyth discerned:

Haiku have a simplicity that is deceptive both with regard to their       depth of content and to their origins… (Blyth 5:iii)


” … haiku require our purest and most profound spiritual appreciation, for they represent a whole world, the Eastern World, of religious and poetic experience. Haiku is the final flower of all Eastern culture; it is also a way of living.” (Blyth 5:iii)

In regard to the spiritual Way I believe haiku can be, I wrote the following in a letter to Blyth in 1963:

For haiku is ultimately more than a form or even kind of poetry: it is a Way — one of living awareness. This, together with its rendering of the Suchness of things gives haiku a supra-literary mission, One of moment. (This was included in his History of Haiku, volume II: J.W.H. in Blyth 6:352)

The definitive aim of haiku is beyond wit, ideology, didacticism, or even beauty. Rather, it seeks to share, through suggestion, those special moments in which we see into, and experience the life of “things.”

Haiku does not … aim at beauty.  Like the music of Bach, it aims at significance. (Blyth 2:x)

So saying, I know of no better Way into the mystical landscape of Tao/Zen haiku, than the spiritual Way presented here. The Way suggested is not a geographic trek, nor does it emulate any other Way, save for the following:

[The Buddha says] “‘I have seen the ancient Way, the Old Road that was taken by the formerly All-awakened, and that is the path I follow …” (Ananda Coomaraswamy 11:45-46)

As Blyth remarks:

There is no miracle, for all is miracle. (Blyth 9:182)

And from Roshi Nyogen Senzaki:

Carry your meditation as the eternal present and saturate your everyday life with it. (Nyogen Senzaki 17:62)

Having acquired a reverence for life, I was inspired by the Tao/Zen spirit of tradition haiku to compose such poems in English. It wasn’t long before haiku became my Way of living awareness, and spiritual realization.

The spiritual Way of haiku presented here may seem rather more steep than some. For it is preeminently a Way of awareness and compassion: one that reflects a spiritual approach to reality. Certainly the terrain encountered is as metaphysical as it is literary. For this transcendent Way of haiku leads beyond poetry. When practiced as an adjunct to centering meditation, haiku can be a spiritual art: one whose centering focus reveals the miraculous continuum of Creation manifest in this Eternal Now . . . in whose imminence the causal Spirit abides.

I believe if haiku poetry is to achieve eminence in the world (and not just popularity), its unique spiritual-aesthetic needs to be realized by poets, critics, and readers.

“That Art Thou,” the quality of Spiritual Interpenetration in haiku poetry

The Way of haiku requires … a perpetual sinking of oneself into things. (Blyth 2:330)

The aim of Zen, the aim of the poetical life, is to reach and remain in that undifferentiated state where subject and object are one. (Blyth: 000)

Haiku is a kind of satori, or enlightenment, in which we see into the life of things. (Blyth 2:VII)

A bitter morning:
sparrows sitting together
without any necks.
………………..by JWH

It was the spiritual potential of haiku that initially caused me to write and develop this unique poetry in English, and which continues to command my respect and creativity.

Preeminent among the potential Zen qualities of the haiku experience is spiritual interpenetration: a transcendent (numinous) state of being in which a sense of identity is intuited between what we usually think of as ourselves and other things. In haiku this can occur when an immediate sense of empathic union prevails between poet and the subject of moment: a direct intuition often experienced (and even expressed) unconsciously. As such, spiritual interpenetration is a non-cognitive  experience whose spiritual antecedents Blyth describes as:

… the [East] Indian (and the Ancient Taoist) view of the world is mutually interpenetrative, each thing containing all things, all-things concentrating itself into each thing. (Blyth 00)

Spiritual interpenetration can be traced to ancient  Hindu scriptures (the Vedas), whose very theme — the Spiritual Oneness of all things — is ‘That Art Thou.’ So brief a statement, yet upon reflection how very profound

For encapsulated in those few words is a spiritual insight of cosmic proportions. A
Ghandian view of Oneness  — namely, that

the true disciple knows another’s suffering (and joys) as his own.

The same spiritual interpenetration is found in other religions, as seen in the following by Meister Eckhardt, the fifteenth century Christian theologian:

That Art Thou. Behold the One in all things. God within and God without.” and,  “When a man sees All in all, then a man understands beyond mere understanding. In the Kingdom of Heaven, all is all, all is one, and all is ours. (Eckhardt, in A. Huxley: 56, 76)

Instances of spiritual union in haiku are moments of revelation: an epiphany of oneness common to many religious traditions, as when Lao Tsu, author of the Tao Te Ching, admonished:

Be at one with the dust of the earth. This is primal union. This is the highest state of man.

And from the Original Teachings of Chan Buddhism:

The entire great earth is nothing but yourself.

Roshi Nyogen Senzaki, an early Zen teacher in the United States, is quite explicit:

It is the inherent nature of the Buddha-body that it individualizes itself in myriad manifestations in the phenomenal world. It does not stand alone outside particular existences, but abides in them, animates them, makes them move freely… Its essence is infinite, but its manifestations are finite and limited. (Nyogen Senzaki, Buddhism and Zen, 00)

Such compassionate identification of poet and subject deserves, and indeed warrants, suggestion in the finished haiku poem. Such empathic union is, however, a subtle intuition, all too easily overlooked by the poet. Such intuitions of identity  are spiritually significant, and possibly intimate revelation, as we shall see. For however things seem, in an ultimate sense, we are destined to know:

… God is in all things … Every single creature is full of God… . We must learn to break through things [through interpenetration] if we are to grasp God in them.  (Eckhardt 14, 113)

Indeed, such a sense of identity in the haiku experience (whether consciously realized or not) can be a transcendent reflection of the One within All that abides in Becoming. For miraculously, some haiku experiences can be veritable mirrors in which The King of Emptiness momentarily recognizes its Self in things. For as Zen masters well know:

The Buddha eye is everywhere seeing its Self. (in Blyth 00)

Again from the Original Teachings of Chan Buddhism:

Find me on top of a hundred blades of grass, and recognise the King in the market place … whether an eagle, a mouse, a butterfly, or hairy lion, all of it is you

Spiritual union is sometimes confused with anthropomorphism, whose attribution of strictly human characteristics to things stems from hubris and sentimentality. The haiku scholar Joan Giroux asserts in her book, The Haiku Form, that spiritual identification in haiku is not merely “cute anthropomorphism” but is:

… an instant in which the mind becomes united to an object, virtually becomes the object, and realizes the eternal, universal truth contained in being. (Giroux p. 00)

Only strong empathic intuitions rising directly from our ‘heart of hearts’ intimate spiritual union. That Basho held such interpenetrative experience to be an
important principle in haiku is clearly shown by his advocacy of:

…entering into the object, perceiving its delicate life, and feeling its feelings, whereupon a poem speaks for itself. (British Haiku Society, Consensus, n.d.)

Again, in the following, Basho makes clear in no uncertain terms the importance of such identification in haiku creation:

Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one — when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there. However well-phrased your poetry may be, if the object and yourself are separate — then your poetry is not true poetry but a semblance of the real thing. (Yuasa, The Narrow Road: 33)

In analyzing the theme of Oneness, Aldous Huxley explains:

Direct knowledge of the (Spiritual) Ground cannot be had, except by union, and union can be achieved only by the annihilation of the self-regarding ego, which is the barrier separating the ‘thou’ from the ‘That’. (A. Huxley: 35, The Perennial Philosophy)

Basho’s advice regarding the importance of such interpenetration makes its neglect in contemporary haiku more than enigmatic or ironic: it seems sadly emblematic of the hubris and superficiality of our age. Indeed, serious haiku poets might consider how costly to the genre is the neglect of this profound spiritual principle: one with a long, hallowed history, having evolved from ancient Vedic origins in India, through millennia, to Mahayana Buddhism, to Zen, and now beyond — to the world, and this very time and place.

If the principle of “That Art Thou” were utilized in haiku poetry, I believe there would be fewer ‘snapshot’ and ‘So What?’ verses to sully the name of haiku. The
extent to which haiku is marginalized from the world of Western poetry is surely due to a proliferation of trivial verses, lacking any literary or spiritual attributes. And the suspect practice of omitting the terms “poetry” and “poem” from that of “haiku,” has doubtless played a role in vulgarizing the genre.

A harsh assessment? Perhaps. But the major reason for writing this “That Art Thou” text is to renew and reassert the neglected Tao/Zen spirit of haiku. And by so doing, to raise and return haiku’s status to not only that of “poetry,” but beyond, to the spiritual Way I know haiku can become.

Now before concluding, some mention of the metaphysics responsible for spiritual interpenetration should be addressed.

The spiritual interpenetration R. H. Blyth discerned in my haiku was an intuitive actualization  of the Zen dictum: “Samsara is Nirvana — Nirvana is Samsara.” This enigma relates to one of Buddhism’s fundamental queries: “What Am I?” Indian scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy asserts:

The only possible answer to the question ‘What am I?’ must be ‘That Art Thou.'”….”God is an essence without duality … but this Essence subsists in a twofold nature, as being (Samsara), and as becoming (Nirvana). They call Him many, who is really One. (Coomaraswamy: 10)

Indeed this spiritual revelation is implicit in the dictum: Samsara is Nirvana; Nirvana is Samsara.

How this paradoxical tenet of Zen relates to haiku is profoundly revealing. Spiritual union in haiku is, in actuality, an experiential resolution of the “Samsara is Nirvana. Nirvana is Samsara” enigma. The seeming dualism between Being (that is, Samsara) and Becoming (that is, Nirvana) is transcended in the poet’s interpenetrative experience. This is, by any metaphysical measure, a profound spiritual realization. Such haiku combine the everyday categorical consciousness of Samsara, with intuitions of the all-compassionate heart, resulting in a transcendent experience of union. For to spiritually interpenetrate — to intuit Oneness within the imminence of Creation, is indeed Nirvanic. This spirit is identified by many terms:

The proverbial “One without a Second”… and “the One before whom all words recoil”; that which a famous Zen koan refers to as ‘Your Original Face before you were born.’

The same Universal Spirit known by terms such as ‘God,’ ‘Creator,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘the Void,’ ‘Christ’, ‘Buddha’, or ‘Allah’.

Personally, I prefer the Chan patriarchs’ designation, the ‘King of Emptiness.’

Viewed transcendentally, all terms refer to the metaphorical Masked Actor: the Spirit that manifests Its Self in myriad roles upon Life’s eternal stage of Now.
The scholar, Coomaraswamy, declares that ultimately none but One abides, for:

…what we call the world-process and a creation is nothing but a game that the Spirit plays with Itself. (Coomaraswamy: 14)

By whatever names the Creator be known, such refers to the causal ground of reality — the Infinite Spirit within all ….. that seems to be.

The Hindu Upanishads summarize “That Art Thou” in the following:

The lord is the one life shining forth from every creature.” “Whatever … creatures are, whether lion or a tiger, or a boar, or a worm or a gnat, or a mosquito … All these have their self in him alone. He is the truth,” (and) “… THAT ART THOU. (Upanishads)

May Heaven help us see beyond the divisive cant of nations and religions, whose sanctification of words and concepts constitutes an idolatrous reverence for what is intrinsically relativistic and abstract. Heaven help us be aware of the imminent miracle of Creation NOW, and of the ONE whose Eternal Spirit we share … and may express through our haiku poetry.

Within this hollow shell
–and all the time around it–
the shape of Emptiness.

………………..by JWH

by J W. Hackett

The Relation of Mystical Metaphysics
to Recent Sub-Atomic Speculation in Quantum Physics

In this world not one isolated thing can be seen. (Original Teachings of Chan Buddhism)

Astoundingly enough our ordinary way of categorizing ‘things’ (indeed our very perception and conception of reality), would now seem only verisimilitude. All the entities and myriad classified phenomena that comprise our everyday consciousness (the multiplicity that life seems), is ultimately illusory.

For according to recent sub atomic theory, the substratum of “matter” (the presumed ground of reality) ultimately resolves to ever-flowing, interrelated fields of pure energy. In short, “things” are not the disparate, solid entities they seem. ” This accords with Zen’s view that “each particularity (besides being itself) penetrates all other particularities and is in turn penetrated by them.”
(Original Teachings of Chan Buddhism)

Indeed, quantum physics posits a continuum metaphysic, one not unlike that intuited millennia ago by Vedic, Taoist, and Chan Buddhist sages: that the reality of Tao (Creation) is a constant Becoming of cosmic energy within a Now that is Eternal.

——————A  SOUL  NOTE ———————-

On recalling Wordsworth’s poignant lines “What Man Has Done to Man”:

A wondrous world,indeed, but one made hellishly divisive by conceptual ‘walls’ of mind. Such is the dichotomous a priori world of abstract ideologies before which we genuflect, while

…..ever suffering sacrosanct notions of nation, race, and faith conjured by idolatrous reverence unto bloody sacrifice;

…..all those divisive, jingoistic, racial and religious prejudices which, by precluding higher transcendent levels of consciousness, continue down the ages to brutalize every generation of Eden Now.

“Behold the One in all things. It is the second that leads us astray.”
(Kabir, Sufi poet)

from The Zen Haiku and Other Zen Poems of J. W. Hackett
(Tokyo: Japan Publications @1983 by James W. Hackett)

A tiny spider
has begun to confiscate
this cup’s emptiness.

    The kitten crouches,
then leaps at the genie
rising from the tea.

    Time after time
caterpillar climbs this broken stem
then probes beyond.

    With death’s arrival,
this present moment alone
becomes known as real.

Grasshopper’s game:
to light on a tip of grass
then ride out its sway.

    Tiny goldfish,
though cruising with the others,
stay out of their way.

Pavilion empty
the old Shanghai gardener
dances with herself.

Butterfly’s wing
barely grazed my cheek, and yet
I felt his surprise!

Parakeet performs
his high wire act, then proudly
puffs up and poops.

Roaring cloud of bees
but trusting butterfly floats
right through the swarm.

This blessed present,
wherever I look I see
nothing — but Buddha.

Too cold for snow:
the loneliness standing within
each flophouse doorway.

City loneliness …
dancing with a gusty wind:
yesterday’s news.

Never more alone
the eagle, than now surrounded
by screaming crows.

Signaling wildly
for all to take care: the tail
of the pissing cat.

    A spider crouches
at the center of this empty web,
trusting his design.

    See this fly
that long since met eternity,
his kneeling remains.

A tiny winged bug
crawling his way out of
a forest of hair.
Now centered upon
the flavor of an old bone,
the mind of my dog.

The lone parakeet
nudges his hanging mirror
and watches it move.

Left by the tide
within a shallowing pool:
a frantic minnow.

A bee in a web,
whirring one free wing
in spurts of hope.
Playful kitten,
how calmly it chews the fly’s
buzzing misery.

Even while squatting
the puppy diverts herself
by smelling flowers.

Hardy ant, even
heavily burdened you climb
the sheer mountain wall.

    Now free in the world
the old parakeet just perches:
his loneliness!

R. H. Blyth and J. W. Hackett is the keynote speech, given by WHC Honourary President, James W. Hackett,  for the WHF2002 English-language session.


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