Zen Art

The Zen Haiku of Santoka

We have a fine example of calligraphy by the beggar poet and Zen drunk Taneda Santoka (#226.) Santoka’s Zen was not the Zen of temples, robes, and ceremonies but the Zen of “See into your nature to become Buddha.” Santoka could not adhere closely to the trappings of Zen, but he plunged into the mountains of his mind:

Going deeper

And still deeper—

Into the green mountains.

The original Zen masters of China lived mostly outdoors, avoiding the constraints of temple life. Santoka, too, practiced Zen in the Temple of the Blue Sky.

To the mountains,

To the sky,

I chant the Heart Sutra.

Santoka walked and walked, a true unsui, drifting with the clouds and flowing with the water, seeking clarity of mind in nature:

As muddy water flows on,

It gradually becomes pure.

He was a beggar, a real mendicant, accepting whatever came his way:

Begging: I accept

The blazing sun.

Santoka did not “just sit” or struggle with koans—his Zen was straightforward and direct:

Just as it is—

It rains, I get wet, I walk.

As an extension of his Zen experience, Santoka wanted his verse to be composed in a state of “body and mind cast off.”

My heart is empty:

The violent waves

Come and go.

In conclusion, it must be said that Santoka was a Zen drunk. His enlightenment poem:

Intoxication has come as I lie on a stone pillow;

The sound of the valley stream never ceases.

Everything within the sake, completely used up:

No self, on Buddha!


For information on Santoka see: Mountain Tasting: Zen Haiku by Taneda Santoka (Weatherhill) and Mountain Tasting: Haiku and Journals of Santoka Taneda (White Pine Press), both by John Stevens; For All My Walking: Free-verse of Taneda Santoka (Columbia University Press.)

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