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Renku, Haiku, and Buddhism

It is commonly known that the one-breath poetic form of haiku evolved from the starting verse of Japanese renga—the linked verse form that is widely referred to today as renku. Not commonly known is that renku was shaped over time by Japanese poet-priests to become ultimately a Buddhist ritual designed to lead its participants on an imagined tour of the Mandala of All Creation with the sole purpose of helping them to realize the transience of the universe, thereby taking a major step toward enlightenment. This paper traces the development of renku and haiku to the present day to show how twenty-first century haiku poets stand at a crossroads: they can either continue Masaoka Shiki’s trajectory of de-spiritualizing haiku, or they can cultivate a more traditional spiritual understanding of haiku’s art and deep purpose.

Key words: renku, haiku, Buddhism

This essay first appeared in David G. Lanoue, My Journal with Haiku Sprinkled in (, 2019).
Joint publication of journals NotaBene and Haiku World, Issue 5, 2019

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