Contentment: Poem Number 8

Photo by Eneida Nieves on

An early poem by an obscure and mysterious figure:

わが庵はWaga io waMy hut is to
都のたつみMiyako no tatsumithe capital’s southeast
しかぞすむShika zo sumuand thus I live. But
世をうぢ山とYo wo ujiyama topeople call it “Uji, hill
人はいふなりhito wa iu nariof one weary of the world,” I hear.
Translation by Dr Joshua Mostow

The poem was composed by a Buddhist monk named Kisen Hōshi (喜撰法師 lit. “Dharma master Kisen”) who lived in the mid-9th century. This is the only poem known to be his, though others may exist. He is considered one of the original Six Immortals of Poetry and is mentioned in the preface of the official anthology, the kokin wakashū.

The location is a place called ujiyama (宇治山), which was associated with sorry or grief, though since then it has been renamed in honor of its resident and is now called kisenzan (喜撰山). Someone did a really nice write-up on their visit to Kisen-zan with photos and a view of what is purported to be Kisen’s original hut. Also, the famous Buddhist temple of Byōdōin also can be found there. It was located south of the capital at the time, Kyoto.

The poem is a tricky one and lends itself to two possible interpretations according to Professor Mostow. One interpretation has been that Kisen came there out of grief and weariness of the world, and made it his home. Mostow provides evidence that instead, Kisen lived there contentedly, and only heard from others that it was called brief mountain.

As there is a Buddhist tradition since the time of the Buddha to withdraw from the entanglement of the world, and find peace of mind. This tradition has led to the Buddhist monastic community that exists today in various parts of the world. Kisen is one of many who sought solace in places like Ujiyama. Question is, did he find only sorrow, or did he find contentedness?

Maybe only Kisen will ever know that.

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