Japanese Death Poems - vehicles for Mindful Living

The past couple of months, the focus of my sangha has been on Death and Dying

This series has really touched my heart and has truly been a great way for me to connect with life as I ponder what my own death might be like.

Most recently we have been asked to explore jisei.

Japanese Death poems or jisei are oftentimes linked to Japanese Zen monks.  Jisei are simple poems much like a haiku and are a brief reflection on one’s life or death.

The poems were often crafted near the time of death or occasionally on birthdays.

What I like about these poems is that they tend to be very raw, unrestrained and sometimes funny.

Simple and to the point.  Very Zen.

However, my intention here is not to go into the history of this style of poetry but share some of my favourites and some of my own in a series of blog posts.

I also  hope to inspire you to try this practice for yourself and should you practice and feel safe enough to share, I would love to see any submissions

The way that I have been going about this practice is to have a short meditation and then imagine what my own death might be like and see if anything comes up.  I’ve been limiting the poems to 4-5 lines.  I have also found that after a couple of days of practice I am hit with spontaneous ones during the course of the day.

Another suggestion is that they are a great tool to use in the context of psychotherapy sessions.

However, before I share any of my own, I would like to share some of the favourites I have come across:

Kozan Ichikyo, died February 12, 1360, at 77

Empty-handed I entered
the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going –
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

Moriya Sen’an

Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel
in a tavern.
With luck
the cask will leak.

Japanese Zen master Hakuin

Oh young folk—
if you fear death,
die now!
Having died once
you won’t die again

If you want to know more about this topic and read some of these amazing poems please refer to Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death by Yoel Hoffmann

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