Photo by Gleb Dolskiy on

A while back, I talked about a famous poetess from 11th century Japan named Lady Izumi, one of several famous ladies of the court at that time, but for some reason the one I find most fascinating.1 Lady Izumi was a prolific poet, and I have been reading samples of her poetry compiled in The Ink Dark Moon by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani. I found this poem the other day and wanted to share. The headline of the poem was that Lady Izumi was on retreat while on retreat at a mountain temple in autumn…

Original JapaneseRomanizationEnglish translation
心にはKokoro niwaAlthough I try
ひとつみのりをHitotsu minori woto hold the single thought
思へどもOmoe domoof Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
蟲のこゑこゑMushi wa koegoeI cannot help but hear
聞ゆなるかなKikoyu naru kanathe many crickets’ voices calling as well.
Translations by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

I think this speaks to the classic frustration many Buddhists (among others) have: the willingness to undertake a practice, and the reality of not being able to stay focused. If it were easy, we’d probably all be doing it.

Lately, in an effort to reconnect to the local Buddhist community, and due to recent experiences in Victoria, BC, I decided to join a local Soto Zen group for remote meditation sessions. It’s been great actually: I have something in the week to look forward to besides more work meetings, and it provides a nice spiritual anchor in my life again. However, I noticed that while meditating for 25 minutes at a time, my mind rarely stays focused for long. Sometimes I can discipline myself for a few minutes, counting my breaths, etc. However, most of the time my mind is just wandering around for most of the session.

When I was younger and first encountered the nembutsu, I used to dedicate myself to reciting the nembutsu 1080 times (using my rosary to help count). Usually this takes about 15-20 depending on the speed of recitation. I (surprisingly) continued this practice for months. However, I also noticed a pattern: my mind would quickly grow bored from reciting, then anxious to hurry up and finish, and then relief when I got near the end. My mind would wander, just as it does with meditation.

So, the experience that Lady Izumi has is not unique to her, and even now, a thousand years later, I can empathize with her.

Further, I don’t think there’s an easy solution here: it’s something that every one has to work out for themselves.

Namu Amida Butsu

1 Speaking of fascinating, you might like to read my review of the Diary of Lady Murasaki, her contemporary on my other blog. Lady Murasaki evidentially didn’t think too highly of Lady Izumi.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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