Friday, June 22, 2007

Dreaming Poetics 3: LaFleur on Saigyo

This is why in Saigyo's verse we have a valorization of nature which, in fact, goes beyond that given to trees and plants by Chijin. Out of the intellectual currents which he received from the times in which he lived, times which-as we have seen-allowed for the harmonization of Tendai and Shingon patterns of thought, Saigyo brought forth a new valorization of the natural world. The degree to which he did this in a self-conscious manner is, of course, problematic. My argument simply is that these things were so much part of the Buddhist milieu in which he at times moved that they can be expected to have shaped and informed his own usage of symbol in verse. He differs from Kukai, however, in two ways. Although he takes phenomenological forms as identifiable with Buddhist absolutes, he is selective in what he takes as such; due to his times and his own sensitivity, he has a decided preference for identifying the Tathagata with forms and phenomena in the natural rather than in the civilizational world. And, second, this means that he does not follow Kukai in placing primary value upon rites, constructed symbols such as mandalas, and cultic patterns of religious expression. For Saigyo in a very literal way nature is All.

This does not mean that religious value is attributed to the concept of nature or to "Nature" as something abstracted from the phenomena that compose it; this would be in violation of the idea of samaya, the intent of which is to valorize particular phenomena as the Tathagata. The arc of value returns to these particular and concrete things in the world of nature. The result of this is that, although theoretically any- and everything in the natural world is identifiable with the ultimate value, a poet must make a practical selection. Saigyo does so and in his verse celebrates certain particular concrete phenomena.

by William R. LaFleur in "Saigyo and the Buddhist Value of Nature. Part I" from History of Religions, Vol. 13, No. 2. (Nov., 1973), p 123. Emphases mine

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