Haiku of Sôen Nakagawa 2

Sôen Nakagawa Roshi

Soen Nakagawa Roshi (1907-1984)


Shigan (“Coffin of Poems”), 1936

"Ten Haiku of My Choice", 1973

Endless Vow: The Zen Path of Soen Nakagawa (presented with an Introduction by Eido Tai Shimano, Shambhala 1996)
In his "Preface" Kazuaki Tanahashi writes: "Zen Master Soen Nakagawa was a key figure in the transmission of Zen Buddhism from Japan to the Western world. As abbot of the historic Ryutaku Monastery, he trained monks and lay practitioners. Among them were Robert Aitken and Philip Kapleau, who later became two of the first Westerners to teach Zen in the United States... Soen Nakagawa was also an extraordinary poet. In Japan his haiku are renowned, even though no substantial collection of his work has been made available to the general public."

tears melting into
mountain snow

March 11, 1931


How solemn
each patch of grass
illumined by the moon

Autumn 1932


Having entered monastery
I now know
my life is less than a dewdrop

Autumn 1932


Splendid affinity
sun's great halo
green leaves

May 5, 1933


Straw sandals tossed aside
approaching distant mountain slopes

Spring 1935


Bowing to Hakuin's Stupa at Ryutaku-ji in Mishima

Endless is my vow
under the azure sky
boundless autumn

Autumn 1937


May this maple leaf
from Hakuin's stupa
cross the ocean

Autumn 1937


On the occasion of the Death of Inido Sensei

One note of the shakuhachi
resounds endlessly
piercing the winter clouds

Winter 1938


A nun has come to visit
now in the moonlight
how bright the icicles!

Winter 1938


snow on mountain peak
unfurls a rainbow

April 1938


Spring approaches
the Pacific Ocean
will be my sitting mat

March 1949


Vast emptiness
as the year comes to a close
I re-enter the mountain

December 1949


Your slightest sorrow --
how dense the summer forest! --
my sorrow deepens

Summer 1949


Wisteria blossoms
saha world

Spring 1953


Step by step
a new-born lamb
eternal spring

Spring 1955



Endless is my vow
under the azure sky
boundless autumn

Out in the blizzard
a monk sits
life and death matter

Vast solitude
my thinning body
transparents autumn

Touching one another
each becomes
a pebble of the world

On his travels, Soen Nakagawa Roshi liked to pick up pebbles from the different countries he visited and place them in a bag. Swinging the bag around, he would listen to the sound they made.

Snow of all countries
Melting into
Namu Dai Bosa.

Sound of mountain
sound of ocean
everywhere spring rain.


Into the zendo
Twilight maples
Come [dancing]

Soen—perhaps the zaniest Zen master of modern times—was, among other things, an accomplished haiku poet, and this was one of his favorite verses. It is featured in his book "Ten Haiku of My Choice." Soen often recalled the crimson leaves dancing in the twilight of the meditation hall at Ryutaku-ji in Japan, and he frequently brushed this poem. Here the character for dance forms a one-word barrier that is really moving.


Wherever I go
My HOME is here
This Boar Year!

The inscription, formed around the large character for HOME, is one of Soen's haiku. Soen spent much of his life traveling far abroad, but his real home was always Japan, and as he wrote in his poetic diary in January of 1971: "Mine is a homeless home and a selfless self."