Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective. David G. Lanoue

… what matters, that we all die, or that we sing along the way?…

The last example is perhaps the most dramatic and poignant. Issa introduces it with the head note, “Flood” (kôzui 洪水). The insect may be floating to his death, yet he keeps singing. Perhaps Issa sees himself in the insect; perhaps he sees in it the fate of all living creatures, for all are equally, eventually doomed. The important thing isn’t the inevitable death to which the currents of the universe sweep us; what matters, Issa implies, is to embrace the present moment … and sing.1

… what one of us isn’t concerned with the inevitable subsidence of our “conscious” being?… we are crafted to survive at all costs… it’s inbuilt that we worry about the integrity of the configuration of atoms and processes that constitute our bodies and consciousness, whatever that may mean… the Buddhist way is to work hard, through meditation and mindfulness of the present moment thinking, to let go of the obsession with dying which is, in any case, inevitable… so, the advice is to sing regardless of the situation you find yourself in…

… another way of looking at the poem referenced is that we are what we are, even in the face of disaster and imminent demise…

still singing the insect

is swept away …

floating branch

… and now i learn that animals of all kinds can be observed to dance… interact while moving in that exhibit structure and repetition… early humans learned to mimic these animal dances and would do so in ceremonial ways to encourage abundance and successful hunting, to become one with the animal being hunted… close identification with animals of all kinds allows behavior prediction… it also focuses mind and body on a successful encounter, whether the objective be to kill, capture or avoid…2

… the interesting question arises, does one need to know they are dancing to be dancing?… “I think, therefor I am.”3… i dance, therefor i dance?… to be the best kind of dancer i am sure a dance training master would suggest that one need’s to forget they are dancing and simply be the dance… i am groping towards something here… conscious, so called “rational thought,” is a hinderance to being in direct communication with one’s environment… it is impossible to hold anything sacred that is only “thought” about… one must be in seamless relationship with the world to hold the idea, the instinct, that it is sacred, worthy of respect and honor, of careful and respectful interaction… by writing poems about nature and animals and the world in general, one is setting themselves on intimate terms with all of that, dissolving the boundaries between self and cosmos…


  1. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 145). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Ibid, with some embellishment and expansion by me. [return]
  3. Descartes [return]

Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective, David G. Lanoue

  •  The deeper truth of his not purely whimsical poem is that frogs, just as much as humans, are fully part of this universe and, in their way, might appreciate its wonders.1
  • … i read this and think… hmmm… making just a little too much of a claim to animal sentience… but then, but then… i wonder if animals, when their basic needs have been met, take moments just to enjoy the good feeling of having needs met coupled perhaps with an idyllic evening, or afternoon, or morning?… my immediate thought is that they have more to fear from their surroundings than i and most of the humans I know do… can they ever let their guard down?… can they ever experience a moment of vulnerability?, of bliss?… my dogs do, i am pretty sure… wrapped in the security of having their basic needs met and being with humans who love them dearly and protect them, they can afford to have their guards down and perhaps enjoy a pleasant moment in the cosmos…

  1. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 137). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]

Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A buddhist Poet’s Perspective

  • i read about butterflies as road trip companions…
  • i learn about Arukigami, the God of Wandering… i learn that Arukigami entices people to leave their homes and walk about… sounds a little aboriginal to me…
  •  The haiku jokingly connects his and the cat’s restless journeys to a god’s influence, when in reality, as he and his readers must know, the force that compels a cat and a poet to wander is quite worldly: the cat seeks food or sex; the poet seeks inspiration for haiku—which, in turn, makes the attainment of food and sex (whether in marriage or in the brothels of which Issa sometimes writes) possible.1
  • i learn about winter seclusion, what Issa and poets before and after him did in the harsh winters… find a hut to hang out in and stay there until spring came around…
  • i learn that fukubiki can be translated as “Lucky the Toad,” and that Lucky is a common stand in name for toad…
  •  People are genetically programmed to be repulsed by the smell of rotten food, to be excited by the smell of good food, and to be attracted to partners whose faces and bodies exhibit symmetry that indicates health and might therefore ensure the passing of one’s genes to the next generation. If our human sense of beauty evolved from such primal impulses, we might come to suspect that nourishing flowers excite and draw butterflies to them because, to butterflies, they are beautiful.2… i think the question and thought needs to be reversed, that humans need to first acknowledge that as conscious as they appear to themselves, they are largely driven by “animal instincts,” which are the same instincts all animals and even plants possess, so a concept of beauty is the world at large attracting the animal to something beneficial…

  1. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 114). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Lanoue, David G.. Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (p. 124). HaikuGuy.com. Kindle Edition. [return]

Issa and the Meaning of Animals: A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective, David G. Lanoue

… Chapter 2, Anthropomorphism or Realism?…

… the difference between Basho and Issa…

cawing in the tree

are you a widow, crow?

Milky Way above1

… one of Basho’s most famous crow haikus:

on a bare branch

sits a crow…

autumn evening2

… in the first, poet and crow participate in the universe together and share existential possibilities and kinship… in the second, the poet channels his own loneliness and late stage of life through the crow… for Issa, animals are fellow travelers… for Basho, animals are symbolic of the human condition… of his condition…

… overall, this book has confirmed my sense that Issa is a “down to earth” poet… he keeps his poems grounded through anthropomorphism and a willingness to depict life in it’s every day sense…

… Issa observing the universal condition… every creature must “work” to survivie… food and shelter must be obtained and maintained… children must be conceived and fed and supported… life, for most creatures is work… we are blessed when we are one with the work that sustains our lives…


  1. Issa and the Meaning of Animals, p 99, translation David G. Lanoue [return]
  2. Issa and the Meaning of Animals, p 100, translation, David G. Lanoue [return]

First Thoughts

… beginning to look forward to getting home… miss H and the dogs… getting a little bored… M seems as though they will go on… a little sad… a little lacking in motivation… but otherwise ok… doing some future planning…

HCR meter neutral to pointing downwards… about the voting rights landscape… about whether the multicultural majority will control the next many decades, or the mostly white minority will… the filibuster stands in the way of the former and so far, Dems have been unwilling to change it…

… have started reading a book on Issa haikus dealing with animals… i thought, when i bought it, that it was focused on animal symbology, and it does get into that, but the main focus is demonstrating Issa’s attitude towards animals, which was more or less a Buddhist attitude, and making an argument that he believed in the fair treatment of animals as that might be meant in our time, not his… i don’t know that i see the purpose of making such a case in a scholarly treatment of the poet… Buddhist belief systems generally treat all life forms as fellow travelers in the universe… as part of the web of life… i suppose i prefer the web of life view in general, even as i consider machine intelligence, and what might be evolving in the entire life/consciousness/thought system… having just finished George Dyson’s Analogia, which makes the case that machines and the coding that runs them will, have(?), reached the point of self determination and self reproduction, but not without needing us as a sublayer of their existence… this is perhaps the more benign way it could go, if indeed it is going that way… human beings not at the top of the intelligence chain, but necessary to it and therefore guaranteed a place in it going forward… i need to pick up Ken Wilbur’s book and read it again… i think it dovetails with the Dyson ideas… one question remains, however… this whole human machine thing maintains the possibility of self annihilation… how will this machine/human complex avoid destroying itself?… is violence an unavoidable part of all cultural thought systems?…

The Haiku of Issa

  • tiger moth enjoying itself, the poet asks how much…
    • wasn’t able to find much about moth symbolism, maybe a connection to departed ancestors…
  • horse approaching a sparrow, will the sparrow move?…
    • the horse is considered a god and has been worshipped since antiquity
    • the sparrow, on the other hand, i didn’t find much except a fairy tale, the Tongue-Cut Sparrow, which is a morality tale about greed and friendship…
    • the sparrow might be seen as a symbol of strength and industriousness and in juxtaposition to the horse might be about the wisdom of knowing limitations?…
  • apparently, the mountain cuckoo is a crybaby…
    • ahh, here we have more depth to pursue…
    • _The cuckoo has long been popular as a subject in Japanese literature and Haiku, possibly to do with the word having five syllables; and in literature and myth it is associated with the longing of the spirits of the dead to return to their loved ones. Mourning, longing, melancholy; these are suggested maybe by its song and perhaps signals its persistent use in woodblock prints.1
  • dew drops falling by ones and twos, it’s a wonderful life…
  • a query to scarecrow, where does cold come from?…
    • a fall into winter poem?… in Japanese culture, scarecrows are thought of as being all knowing… i wonder if there is linkage between scarecrow in the Wizzard of Oz and scarecrows in Japanese culture?…
  • apparently the moon bends to the shape of cold…
    • in Buddhism, the moon is a symbol of inner enlightenment, so this poem might be about old age and wisdom…
    • interestingly, in the Shinto religion, the moon is possibly male, but also inconclusively gendered, more appropriate to the pronoun they… the major achievement of Tsukuyomi (in the male form), who was married to Amaterasu (sun goddess), was to kill Ukemochi (the goddess of food) because she she spat out and coughed up food for her guests (appalling etiquette as far as Tukuyomi was concerned)… when Amaterasu found out she promptly divorced him and relegated him to the night sky2
    • Issa was a lay priest in the Buddhist religion…
    • i don’t think this poem channels the Shinto moon god…

Haiku by Issa

… a strange set this AM…

… one about fleas in the hut and someone looks skinny… a woman i am guessing…

… another about a zealous flea about to become a Buddha by the poet’s hand… a contradiction since Buddhism counsels non violence?…

… another about ducks bobbing on water and hoping to get lucky…

… another about a dragonfly dressed in red off to the festival…

… dragonflies are another animal that has cultural significance in Japan…

… this from Wikipedia…

 As a seasonal symbol in Japan, the dragonflies are associated with season of autumn. In Japan, they are symbols of rebirth, courage, strength, and happiness. They are also depicted frequently in Japanese art and literature, especially haiku poetry. Japanese children catch large dragonflies as a game, using a hair with a small pebble tied to each end, which they throw into the air. The dragonfly mistakes the pebbles for prey, gets tangled in the hair, and is dragged to the ground by the weight.1

… the festival referred to in the poem is probably the festival of Obon, which is…

A Buddhist tradition celebrated in Japan for over 500 years, Obon is an annual three-day event held in honor of one’s ancestors, which sees families get together as the spirits visit household altars. More recently, the holiday has become a time for family reunions, as people return to their hometowns and revisit the graves of the deceased.2

… and it’s relation to Obon…

 Although they are seen in abundance in early summer, tombo have become associated with the autumn and are often represented flying among the autumn grasses in Japanese art. A folk belief persists that the tombo is the steed of departed ancestors who return to visit their families during the summer festival of Obon.3

02 Daily Read:

Haiku by Issa…

… one about a staring contest with a very large frog… this is a famous one i think… i look up the cultural significance of frogs and find an article on the usc.edu website that has this to say about frogs in Japanese culture…

In Japan, the frog is usually seen as a symbol of good fortune associated with magical powers. Because the Japanese word for frog is “kaeru”, which is pronounced in the same way as “return”, travelers carry a small frog amulet with the intent of returning safely home.1

another article on frog symbolism confirms the above and adds the moon as an association with frogs, the three legged frog and the moon, the three phases of the moon…

… the frog is associated with rainfall and good harvests, and is a symbol of spring, the seasonal reference in the poem… that the artist has a staring contest with the frog presents a kind of stand off moment… is it reluctance to pursue a spiritual journey?… is it a latter stage in life confronting youth?…

… another poem about being a devout Buddhist while killing mosquitos… Buddhism argues respect to all creatures, even the annoying ones… some sects can barely walk through the landscape for fear of killing something unwittingly… yet, there are annoying creatures that can actually make us sick… we kill them regardless of our devotions… mosquitos are a spring-summer reference… the poem perhaps about spiritual journeys having difficulties…

here is an article about insects and Japanese culture that is more general in nature…

02 The Daily Read:

Issa haiku…

… a remarkable set of poems this morning, of the six i read, all six stand out for one reason or another…

… the first pictures a dry river bed seen by the light of a lightning strike… a river bed that is about to flow with water again… a creative mind about to be released into creating by a powerful experience… a poem about summer rains?… where i live, rivers are more likely to be dry in the summer… thunderstorms and heavy downpours are more likely then too… there is also the threat of flash flooding… to much water in too little time…

… the second begs a flea not to jump, as the river is where it will likely land… i suppose it is very Buddhist to wish continued health and well being on even a lowly “nuisance” creature… i would have flicked it to it’s drowning death… of course, the poem might also be about undertaking challenges that are too big, perhaps the flea is the novice, beginner mind, that wishes to forge ahead too quickly and will be drowned if it does?…

… the third talks about how being in this world is like walking on the roof of hell, distracted by the lovely yellow flowers… a poem about not being willing to do the hard work of facing all aspects of one’s reality?… of not admitting the horrors of life which abound… of only being able to acknowledge the pleasures of life, superficial as they may be…

… the fourth is about being naked on a naked horse riding through the rain… now there is a foundational nature image… i read that the Japanese worshipped the horse as a god and “believed that the “divine spirit” appeared in the human world on horseback”1… i also read that the horse is very important in Buddhism… Siddhartha2, the future Buddha, had a white horse that was his favorite and which transported him when he escaped from palace life and began the journey of becoming a spiritual leader… and so, the image of naked human on naked horse in the rain is a deeply spiritual image?…

… the fifth is about a fly wringing its front and hind legs, begging not to be killed… again, i would struggle to be a Buddhist in such a situation…

… and the sixth is about a cat frolicking on a scale and weighing itself… this catches my attention because i wonder what sort of scale would have been in use during Issa’s lifetime?…