BASHO AND THE DAO III

“Follow zoke and return to zoke.” (Qiu, p 81) This was Basho’s most fundamental principle for the creation of “sincere” poetry. Zoke translates Zhuangzi’s zaohua—creation/transformation.

Zaohua is at the heart of the Daoist response to the world. (Yes, I say that of nearly everything—but then everything explains everything else.) “Creation” is an unfortunate word here because it is actually quite the opposite of what that typically means for us—that things are made to happen. Rather, it speaks of the inexplicable spontaneous (self-so) arising of things without causation or intention. “Dao does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.” That says it all.

I like to speak of the Great Happening because, for me at least, it conveys this sense of the uncaused spontaneity of this world-experience. It also envelopes every single real or imagined happening—it is a oneness that is also a not-oneness. It is also a ceaseless transformation—and only that.

Still, there is a sense of its arising out of. Out of what? Utter Mystery. Psychological Dao is the appreciation of this Mystery even as we live the happening. It informs the manner of our own zaohua—our act of living.

Daoist spontaneity is this—living in the manner of the arising of all things—not creating, but happening.

Authentic poetry (for Basho) then is not a creation but a happening. And it reflects the happening of the world in one’s immediate experience.

What’s the point? To the extent that a poem is a communication with others, it is an invitation to experience that same moment of wonder at the zaohua of a particular moment.

Can it be the same wonder, given its being mediated? I cannot say for sure, but I think that since at best what we experience is an inkling of Mystery, this inkling has its merits.

The experience of an inkling through a poem that can only be experienced through a reflection of the original inkling is, I think, in part a training exercise. We learn to have our very own joyous inklings of the wonder in the happenings of the Great Happening.

Zhuangzi’s appreciation of zaohua is much more than an idea about the arising and continuous transformation of the world; it is participation in it. It is “following along” with it and “soaring upon” it. It is experiencing ourselves as that same spontaneous happening and seeing it everywhere and in everything.

And from whence this reported joy? It too self-arises. That’s the way of it. That’s the human life-experience. Joy must of necessity be unmediated and non-dependent—there is no “reason” for joy—just as there is no reason for the world—there is just the happening of joy.

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