Words of WonderAmong deep mountains - Saigyō

Among deep mountains
the heart’s moon
shines pure
and I see within that mirror
the whole world enlightened

Saigyō, translated form Japanese by Meredith McKinney


This is a Tanka poem by Japanese hermit Saigyō Hōshi who lived in the 12th Century. Saigyō is very widely known and much loved for his poetry of renunciation and nature. He was a wanderer and spent much of his life meditating deep in the natural world and far from human habitation.

I find his poems luminous and potent, as I’m reading them in Meredith McKinney’s translation Gazing at the Moon: Buddhist Poems of Solitude. The images envelop me in a calm, earthly transcendence. When I let this poem in to my practice I first sense that I’m invited towards the deep mountains. This feels to me like turning towards the uncontrived, towards wild natural being. The majesty of life as signified by the mountains and the moon, is a reflection of potential of the mind/heart to open into presence and freedom, through awe.

Is the moon out there or in here, in my own heart? The poem becomes almost holographic.

I think it’s worth noting that the Japanese word kokoro here translated as ‘heart’ actually means mind and heart as one. In English we have two words and so we separate the two conceptually, in Japanese this division is not made in the same way. How does this awareness effect the way you experience this poem?

Ps. If you enjoy exploring poetry and mindfulness you might want to book on our Mindfulness meets Mystical Poetry course in the Autumn.

Photo by Nathanaël Desmeules on Unsplash