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Buddhist Poet Longs for a Deeper Hope

Author Os Guinness tells the hauntingly sad story about the beloved 19th century Japanese Haiku poet known as Issa. When he was a young child, Issa's mother died—the first of many tragedies in his life. Many years and many sorrows later (including the death of his daughter), Issa went to a Zen master for solace. The master reminded Issa what Zen Buddhism teaches: that the world is an illusion; like the morning dew our lives will evaporate with the rising sun.

Although Issa remained committed to his Buddhist worldview, he still yearned for a more hopeful existence. (Christians would say that Issa shared our common longing for the hope of the Resurrection.) When he returned home he penned the following words:

The world is dew—
The world is dew—
and yet,
and yet …

Guinness comments about Issa's poem:

Here is a truth that should make [us] stand still in [our] tracks, but it is expressed in such distilled beauty that the fragrance of its pathos … becomes such a jewel of poetry that its lesson is easily lost. Issa the orthodox Zen believer must say [that life is only dew], but Issa the father, the husband, the human being, with his agonized grief and tortured love can only cry into the unfulfilled darkness where Zen sheds no light, "And yet …" He feels the inescapable tension between the logic of what he believes and the logic of who he is.

Issa's "and yet" makes total sense and finds its hopeful satisfaction and fulfillment … when Christ swallows up death in victory: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"

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