Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Editor’s note: Santoka was a Japanese haiku poet of the early 20th century. When he was 12 years old his mother committed suicide by throwing herself into a well. After that he was raised by his grandmother. He began his poetic life as a translator of Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant and then began writing haiku. He took the pen name Santoka, “Mountaintop Fire.” He wrote possibly thousands of short poems, and died at age 40, apparently from complications of his lifelong love affair with sake. -RCB


Santoka’s Vows

Santoka tried a buddhist monk’s life from time to time, but wandering and writing poetry suited him better than the monastery.

Do not attempt the impossible.
Do not feel regret for the past.
Do not berate oneself.



Wake itte mo wake itte mo aoi yama.

Going deeper–
And still deeper.
The green mountains.

Dō shiyō mo nai watashi ga aruite iru.

There is nothing else I can do;
I walk on and on.

Ie o motanai aki ga fukō natta.

I have no home;
Autumn deepens.

Kuchite mainichi hokorobiru tabi no hōe da.

Daily torn and tattered,
Turning to shreds:
My robe for traveling.

Daishō mo watakushi mo inu mo shiguretsutsu.

The giant camphor tree, I,
And the dog
Are soaked through.

Yōte kōrogi to nete ita yo

Found myself sleeping
with crickets.


Photograph by Rachel Boughton

Santoka’s House 

Santoka’s friends worried about him and so they bought him a house. It was a cottage, but spacious, though unkempt like the poet himself. Outside the door Santoka posted this sign:

–If you bring your favorite sweet or sour food with you
–And dance and sing unreservedly with the gentleness of the spring wind and autumn streams
–Without putting on airs or being downhearted, all will share great happiness. 


Taneda Santoka








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