Nature in Hokku and Haiku
One of the key differences between hokku and contemporary haiku is the definition of nature and how it is used in the different forms of the verse. This issue becomes somewhat complex since hokku is based on a way of life that has the spirituality of Zen at its roots. Conversations regarding nature between some of the major figures in the Haiku Society of America indicate the direction which contemporary haiku has taken since the early 1970's.
Hokku relies on the ideas of R.H. Blyth who believed that nature and Zen are at the center of the verse. Blyth suggests in Volume 1 of Haiku that "...[Zen] means that state of mind in which we are not separated from other things, are indeed identical with them, and yet retain our own individuality and personal peculiarities" (Blyth 5). The object of hokku, then, is to show the "suchness" or essence of nature. In order to do this, a person must live in a state of awareness and unity with nature in order to perceive shared experience between himself and nature.
But even more important is that hokku is a way of living that demands a person to have a certain attitude towards nature: "When there is any feeling of competition, of enmity with nature, of desire to use things, instead of having them be, when anything is wanted,--purity is no longer there. Tranquility comes from nature to us, and we return it to nature" (Blyth 146). If one looks closely at his ideas, Blyth is implying that man must be humble enough to not wish to manipulate nature for his own desires and ends but rather to respect it for what it is. If man can accept nature's spiritual effects without attempting to change it, then not only will man feel tranquility, but this respect will allow nature to retain its pristine existence.
The book A Haiku Path chronicles some of the major directions that early leaders of the Haiku Society of American suggested that contemporary haiku take. The discussions in the early 1970's by major figures in the contemporary haiku movement indicate that the definition of nature becomes something more than what Blyth and Henderson, early translators of haiku into English, had in mind. The inclusion of technology as a form of "nature" became accepted by many in contemporary haiku. In a discussion about technology, writer Alan Pizzarelli suggested, "In order to progress, we all must see nature/technology as one" (A Haiku Path 112). William Higginson continues with this discussion: "...We have to accept the fact that we live in nature whether nature happens to be really in a thicket of bamboos or sitting here looking at a bamboo that's framed by glass and steel. It still is as much nature as the bamboo is and it is worthy of our attention poetically if it happens to be worthy in other respects" (A Haiku Path 114). Higginson continues by suggesting that there needs to be a redefinition of nature for purposes of writing haiku. Pizzarelli suggests: "To say that nature is all and all is nature, that the substance of this planet, the universe is of one nature and is also to conclude that nothing is unnatural or artificial" (A Haiku Path 116). To conclude that nothing is "unnatural" because man has made everything from "natural" elements is extremely different from Blyth's idea of a pristine nature that gives healing, spiritual effects to man when he accepts the "being" of nature rather than the "using" of nature. The attitude of "redefining" nature puts man's interests at the center of what he is creating.
The implications of this discussion help to deepen the understanding of the differences between hokku and haiku. Hokku accepts that man in a state of humility does not try to manipulate nature for his own ends. What is more important is the spirituality of hokku suggests that man keep his focus on the reality of life in order to connect with nature; he accepts nature as it is rather than trying to make it what he wants it to be. Instead of writing verse with the intention of manipulating wording to create beauty or truth or evoke an emotion in the reader (create art), hokku's focus is to find the essence of an object or event in nature and attempt to depict it without intruding the writer's own ideas and thinking--thus changing its reality. But if there is nothing in man's life that is "artificial" as some contemporary haiku writers suggest, then everything that is real or in man's imagination is acceptable as content for the verse. Reality can then be what the writer wants it to be. This attitude can lead one towards a life of obsession with one's own mind and creative abilities drawing one into his or her own ego.
It is important to understand that these different ways of looking at nature do not imply any evaluation of a "right" or "wrong" way of writing. The differences, however, do indicate a separation of philosophy, content and writing process between the practice of hokku and haiku.
Blyth, R.H. Haiku Vol. 1, Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1981.
A Haiku Path, N.Y.: Haiku Society of America, 1994.