Content: Poem Number 8

May 20, 2012

Mountain Huts Ogasayama 2010-10-17

An early poem by an obscure and mysterious figure:

わが庵は Waga io wa
都のたつみ Miyako no tatsumi
しかぞすむ Shika zo sumu
世をうぢ山と Yo wo ujiyama to
人はいふなり hito wa iu nari

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

My hut is to
the capital’s southeast
and thus I live. But
people call it “Uji, hill
of one weary of the world,” I hear.

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 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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