Today, I’m talking about a book, Lei: A wreath for your soul, written by Somali K. Chakrabarti. It’s a collection of micro-poetries, inspired by nature and reflecting on life. They are written following the Japanese poetry forms like, haiku, senryu, and tanka.
Meaning of Lei
The title of the book ‘Lei’ is taken by the author from Hawaiian language. It literally means a wreath or a garland. Lei could be understood as a collection of anything that can be strung together in a series or pattern to wear as a wreath or a necklace. But in Hawaiian tradition, it’s constructed of fresh natural foliage such as flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals. Nowadays, beads, plastic flowers, and stones are also used in it, but in ancient times, such things were avoided. And there’s a reason for this. There’s a symbolic meaning in wearing or offering lei to others. Lei is a symbol of connection—a sense of harmony—an idea of integrity.
The lei custom was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by early Polynesian voyagers, who took an incredible journey from Tahiti, navigating by the stars in sailing canoes. With these early settlers, the lei tradition in Hawaii was born.
It was the time when people were not overpowered by obsession—Obsession of Destiny, because they didn’t know their destinies. They were just explorers—The Seekers. They didn’t know whether there’s another shore of ocean or there’s land on other side. They began their journey with trust in their heart.
Well, trust isn’t belief. Trust is something far greater than belief. Belief cannot accommodate doubt but doubt is an integral part of trust. We aren’t sure about something or somebody we trust, but we trust. Trust is paradoxical as Existence.
Early voyagers had great trust in their hearts. They follow their hearts. They didn’t know their goals or destinies. They took guidance from the stars. You will be surprised to know that the word ‘Desire’ which, nowadays, is used in context of obsession of goal, was actually coined in context of guidance from stars. In fact, the word ‘Desire’ is derived from Latin phrase ‘de sidus’ which means ‘from the stars.’ You can find more about this aspect of desire in my post: Desire – A Seed of Success.
When you become obsessed of something, you give your control to that thing. The object of obsession becomes a remote control for you and your activities become mechanical instead of conscious and you act like a machine instead of a living being.
Lei doesn’t contain any stone or other such beads to remind you that you aren’t a mechanical thing but a living being.
In ancient time, rather than using a white flag to end a battle, in Hawaii, lei were often served as peace offerings.
White is a symbol of peace because the experience we get from white isn’t from a single colour but all colours together. Technically, white isn’t any colour but the presence of all colours together. So, when someone’s showing white flag, the person is conveying that he and the other person may be present together peacefully as the different colours in white.
Since, in ancient time, science wasn’t developed that much, so people didn’t know that white was composed of many different colours. But, they did know that different types of flowers and other objects could coexist in the form of lei, woven together through a single thread.
Why is Lei a Wreath for Soul
Apart from wearing lei on head and as necklace, it is also placed on graves as homage for departing soul. It could be one way of looking at it, but the author has another perspective for it.
Author is saying it as wreath for soul because of embedded flowers. We, in Indian culture, offer flowers to God. Do you ever think: What’s it significance? What does flower represent?
Flower is a symbol of flowering. Flowering means expansion—expansion of awareness—awareness of being an integral part of the Cosmos. Another property of flower is its selflessness. It spreads its fragrance for all without discriminating living beings on criteria of castes, religion, species, etc.
Author rightly compared her poems with flowers. She said, “Each poem, like a fragrant flower, is meant to celebrate life, generate positivism, soothe, nourish and rejuvenate the Soul.”
Lei and Moments of Satori
A few months ago, I received a whatsapp message regarding a post which was mocking haiku or Indian bloggers who wrote haiku, I couldn’t understand. I didn’t comment on the post and also asked the person not to do so because Kabir had said:
Don’t display your diamonds in a fake market
Tightly hold your bag and go your own way
In reply to one of the comments, the writer of that post wrote, “People have been gracious in their attempts to enlighten me as is evident in the comments above, but I don’t quite get the moments of satori by what I read from the crème de la crème of the (Indian) blogging community.” He emphasized the phrase ‘moments of satori’ by making it bold or italic in other replies also.
So let me very clear, if you have such wishes then please avoid the book, because you’re also not going to have such experiences by reading Master Basho’s haiku also. Do you feel the moment of satori by reading the following haiku?
furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto
which is loosely translated as:
The old pond
Frog jumps in
Sound of water
It’s said that this haiku of Basho is related to his enlightenment.
I couldn’t stop my laughter on the thought that one could get the experience of satori merely by reading haiku. I mean….it’s hilarious. In fact, Arjuna didn’t get even a place in heaven by listening Geeta from Krishna himself….and getting satori from reading haiku of some bloggers……
Well, haiku has been used by Zen Masters to attain Buddhahood apart from other ways such as painting, drama, flower arrangement, gardening, archery and swordsmanship. The secret lies in the approach of writing haiku not reading.
Lei and Moments of Organic Truth
Shekhar Kapur said, in his Ted talk, “Every day we prepare too much, we think too much. Knowledge becomes a weight upon wisdom. Simple words lost in the quicksand of experience. All preparation is preparation. I don’t even know if it’s honest. I don’t even know if it’s truthful. The truth of it all comes on the moment, organically, out of chaos, somewhere outside yourself. Get rid of your mind. And let’s go to the universe because there’s something out there that is more truthful than your mind. Find the emptiness. Out of the emptiness comes a moment of creativity….If you get five great moments of organic truth in your storytelling, audiences will get it and I’m looking for those moments.”
I’d like to tell you that some haiku in the book reflects those organic moments. For example, consider this haiku:
As potion, the bliss of creation
Engulfs the creator
In book, it isn’t an independent haiku but a tanka. It has two more lines after these. But, it is very close to my heart as haiku because it has a moment of truth. Its very origin is organic. It isn’t the conception of author but originated somewhere outside of author’s mind. The word ‘engulf’ wasn’t the first choice of author because it wasn’t conveying exactly what the author wanted to say but somehow she went with it. She told me what she wanted to use but I forget; may be because I found the organic truth in the word ‘engulf.’ Let me tell you why.
Creation can only be bliss in real meaning if it engulfs the creator. ‘Engulfs the creator’ means swallow the creator, destroy the creator, putting an end to the existence of creator. Engulf normally means to overwhelm, to cover, to surround but it also means to swallow, to ingest. The word ‘engulf’ is no longer used in daily language to convey the meaning of swallowing and ingestion but still used in biology for the same.
Creator means ego and bliss means absence of ego. You can only be blissful when you no longer remain as doer. The term ‘Creation’ represents non-duality. When it is divided into creator and object of creation, it’s manifested as duality.
In fact, Zen teaches how to write haiku without being its writer. Zen is about experiencing non-doing in doing. Zen says that you can create without being a creator. The whole teaching of Zen is about doing without the ego of doer.
Lei and Haiku
In simple words, a haiku could be understood as a Japanese poetry form which captures a moment, especially the contrast in it, and depicts it in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.
Though living beings are one without any real division, but for sake of understanding, we divide them into three parts: Soul, mind and body. In the same way, we are going to divide haiku into three parts: Soul, mind and body.
The body of haiku consists of three lines with first line having 5 syllables, second line having 7 syllables and third line having 5 syllables.
The mind of haiku lies in the juxtaposition of two images or experiences/ideas.
The soul of haiku is kireji, the meaningless word that pauses the stream of thought for a while. It gives you a jerk to awaken you from sleeping.
Understand it like this: When a person is moving in a certain direction and you immediately ask him to reverse his direction, he has to stop for awhile before changing his direction. Same is the condition of mind. Mind is moving in the direction of first idea of haiku and when suddenly encounters its contrasting idea in the haiku, it stops for the moment; all its activity ceases for the moment. It enters into the state of no-thought. And no-thought is the doorway to Satori—the doorway to eternal bliss—the doorway to Buddhahood.
A doorway always lies in between the opposites. To construct a house with a doorway, an arch is put at the top of the doorway with the help of opposite shapes of bricks to support it. It is just this placing of opposite kinds of bricks in the arch that upholds not only the doorway but the whole building. If we use uniform kinds of bricks in the arch, it will be impossible to construct a house.
In haiku, the doorway is formed by the support of two contrasting ideas and a door is placed there, in the form of kireji, to confirm that it’s an entrance to somewhere. It is also noted that doorway is always of opposite nature: the building is a closed space but a doorway is an open space. Kireji is not a meaningful word.
English language don’t have English equivalent for kireji. English haiku have to manage by juxtaposition of images only. It’s travesty that English haiku have doorway but no door to indicate that something is inside also. Sometimes, the presence of door is indicated by exclamatory words, dash, ellipsis, or sign of exclamation.
Most of the people live on plane of body; only some live on plane of mind and a few live on spiritual plane. In this context, author’s statement seems valid when she says, “Most of the short poems are written following the Japanese style of micro-poetry (a Haiku or a Tanka).” She doesn’t claim her poems to be haiku or tanka because most of the poems don’t stand on the criteria of syllables and people who are living on plane of body may argue that they aren’t haiku or tanka.
For example, take this haiku:
Into the clear sky, as the plane
propels, bridging the gap of time,
…bygone age casts its spell.
Its syllable count is 8-8-6. Surely, it doesn’t have the body of haiku but it certainly has the mind and soul of haiku. In my opinion, the mind and soul are more valuable than body alone.
Lei and Other Poetry Forms
Also, anything written in 5-7-5 is not haiku. Senryu, another form of Japanese poetry, is also written in 5-7-5, but it doesn’t contain juxtaposition of contrasting ideas and kireji. Modern senryu deals with human feelings.
Haiku, senryu, and tanka are derived from ancient poetry form, called renga. Renga is a linked-verse poetry form in which two or more poets supplied alternating sections of a poem. The length of a renga could go to 100 verses or even 1000 verses. In fact, renga literally means linked verse (ren = linked, ga = elegance, music or verse). The shortest renga is a tan renga which is composed by two poets, one supplying the first three lines of five, seven, and five syllables called hokku or initial verse and the other the last two lines of seven syllables each.
Tanka could be understood as a tan renga composed by a single poet.
Over a period of time, renga was developed into two distinct poetry forms: Ushin and Mushin. Ushin was the serious form used in courts and mushin was the comic form, a diluted form, used by common people. Mushin literally means ‘no-mind.’ Common people linked-verses were comic, vulgar, illogical and mainly linked with phonetic association instead of semantic or intellectual association. They were considered as below mind. Mushin form was popularly known as Haikai. Masaoka Shiki termed the standalone hokku as Haiku. Later, all hokku were included in haiku as an independent poetry form.
Zen changed the perspective of mushin from below mind to beyond mind. In Zen, mushin is about the state of no-ego. Zen haiku are spontaneous without any thinking. Master Basho said, “When composing a verse let there not be a hair’s breadth separating your awareness from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.” He further said, “Learn about pine from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo. The poet should . . . enter into the object so that the poem forms itself when the poet and object become one.”
When the verses of common people were compiled and published, the style was called Senryu, after the penname of the compiler Karai Hachiemon, to distinguish it from style of haiku which were developed by Zen Masters.
At present, there isn’t any such classification of ushin and mushin in English haiku. Also, there’s a very thin line between haiku and senryu in English poetry. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to separate them; that’s why, everything that is written in 5-7-5 is often termed as haiku. I’ll also use ‘haiku’ for both, haiku & senryu, in this annotation.
Apart from Japanese poetry forms, you can also get the glimpse of author’s talent in English poetry through the last poetry of the book, “Why do I write?” It isn’t a micro-poetry but a full-fledged poetry. In it, the author describes her reason for writing.
Lei and Feeling
Haiku is form of micro-poetry that depicts the experience of a moment by using sensory language. Haiku uses words to illustrate an experience. Haiku are written to excite your senses, to invoke a feeling within you. Haiku aren’t written to give you a meaning or to make you understand something but to make you feel it.
Feeling isn’t dormant but dynamic. It is capable of producing movement. In fact, the only criterion to distinguish between feeling and pseudo-feeling is movement test. When people really feel something, they move. You would have heard people saying, “I’m moved by this or that.” And when you don’t feel like moving, know that it isn’t feeling but just a thought—a pseudo-feeling—a thought in guise of feeling.
Once, I suggested a topic for Indispire and it was accepted. The topic was “If you could plan your death, how would you plan it?” Some bloggers wrote on the topic but there was one blogger, who was moved by the topic. She was Knitha, who writes at fashionoire.com. The title of her post was “Death Is Not A Joke-Be a Resposible Blogger.” Well, I have no grudge against her. On the contrary, I admire her because of her sensitiveness. Most of the people live their lives mechanically like a zombie. They hear but don’t listen. They touch but don’t feel. I’m happy for Knitha that she retains her ability to feel.
It’s the ability to feel that transformed Siddhartha into Gautama Buddha. We often see dead bodies but we don’t feel it deeply. Siddhartha saw the corpse first time and felt so deeply as if he was dying. He left his palace and all royal comforts in search of the secret of dying that could liberate him from the cycle of birth and death.
Feeling can lead you into two types of zones: Zone of thoughts and zone of no-thought. Feeling, when expressed, leads you to thought zone and when overwhelmed, may lead you to zone of no-thought. Feeling is a door. A door separates a space into two. Or, in other words, door is a meeting point of two separate spaces; door contains a little bit of both. The point is door gives you an option to choose between two; it’s the middle point. At a door, you are equally free to enter any side.
Feeling is the meeting point of mind and beyond-mind. On one side are thoughts and words and on other side is Buddhahood.
People in Hawaiian culture greet others with warm ‘aloha’ and offer lei to remind themselves that they are not zombies but living beings; they could feel. The author has rightly chosen the name of book as Lei. Each poem of the book is capable of enticing feelings in you if you are sensitive to it.
Lei and Word Painting
Haiku is painting by words and the author seems good in it. The word paintings, in the book, are divided under four categories: Nature, Life, Inspiration and Illusion. Each category has a number of different shades in it. Some depicts beauty of nature and some reflects wisdom of life.
I’d like to summarize my experience of the book through this haiku of mine:
The lei of haiku
Sense of beauty and wisdom
A wreath for the soul