Myokonin: Saichi’s First Poems

Myokonin are people who typically were unworldly, lack formal education, and deeply pious, but whose spirituality came directly from the heart. The great Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki first introduced myokonin to the West through his writings.

Among them, Saichi Asahara (1850–1932) is particularly notable for thousands of poems he wrote expressing his Jodo Shinshu faith. A woodworker by trade in Japan, he used simple kana writing on wood shavings and scraps, later copying them to grade school notebooks.

Edatsu Teramoto (1898–1953) first met Saichi at his uncle Kenkyo Umeda’s temple Anrakuji in Shimane prefecture. He wrote about Saichi in the Japanese magazine Honi (issue November/December 1919), which published for the first time some of Saichi’s poems. Teramoto later met Suzuki in Hawaii in 1949 and in Los Angeles the following year, helping him interpret difficult to understand passages of Saichi’s poems.

(Following are poems first published in Honi, translated freely into English by Wayne Yokoyama, along with a Romanized version of Saichi’s original in Japanese.)

(1)

As for Saichi, his last moments over and done with,

his funeral over and done,

now he lives with Namu Ami dabutsu in this world

where Saichi becomes Amida

and Amida becomes Saichi.

 

Saichi wa rinju sunde soshiki sunde

Namu amidabutsu to kono yo ni wa oru

Saichi wa Amida nari Amida wa Saichi nari

 

(2)

When catching a cold,

cough comes out.

Saichi caught a cold

of Seeker and Dharma,

and cough of Nenbutsu

comes out again and again.

 

Kaze o hikeba seki ga deru

Saichi ga gohouki no kaze o hiki

Nenbutsu no seki ga deru deru

 

(3)

When awakening to Namu Ami dabutsu,

however often Namu and Amida,

or Seeker and Dharma meet,

they dance round and round,

round and round —

blowing me away.

 

Namuamidabu o shinzuru wa

Namu to Amida to

kihou ga yuku tabi mo

mawari mawari te

koko de torarete

 

(4)

I still don’t know Land of Bliss.

Where’s Land of Bliss?

Why that’s impossible, you take the cake,

not knowing Land of Bliss,

you’re pretty dumb.

Land of Bliss is Namuamidabu

that’s Land of Bliss.

Humph, I see!

Well, well, ain’t that something,

ain’t that something.

 

Washi ya manda Gokuraku o shiran ga

Gokuraku wa doko kana.

Konna baka, odoriya,

manda gokuraku o shirankai

Daibun baka da no.

Gokuraku wa Namuamidabu ga,

Gokuraku da ya.

Hun, sou kai. Soriya soriya

arigatai no, arigatai

 

(5)

As for “Aint that something,”

Aint that something isn’t about Saichi.

Aint that something is Oyasama.

Oyasama means Namu Ami dabutsu,

saving Saichi, I’m blown away.

Namu Ami dabutsu, Namu Ami dabutsu .

 

Arigatai. Arigatai no wa Saichi ja nai yo.

Arigatai no wa Oyasama de,

Oyasama to wa, Namu amidabutsu,

kore ni Saichi ga sukui torarete,

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(6)

Your heart, my heart,

perfectly fits heart to heart,

making a Child who saves me.

Your kindness is more than I deserve,

filling my heart with joy.

Namu Ami dabutsu, Namu Ami dabutsu .

 

Anata [no] kokoro, watashi no kokoro.

Kokoro to kokoro kuiai de,

Dekita sono ko ni tasukerare.

Go-on ureshiya

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(7)

Nanmandabutsu, Nanmandabutsu.

My dear, without asking me first,

camped in my heart,

taking this person,

this person filled with

deluded thoughts and attachments,

 epitomizing hardheartedness,

you kindly made me

Jewel of salvation of living beings,

you made me Namuamidabu.

 

Nanmandabutsu, Nanmandabutsu,

Anata watashi ni soudan nashi ni

washi no kokoro ni jin o tori,

ikana, mounen moujuu mo

jaken kiwamari nai washi o

shujo saido no tamamono ni

nashite kudasaru Namuamidabu ni

 

(8)

If Compassion didn’t find me,

I’d be falling, falling through darkness,

that moment

Namuamidabu shined light on me

and blew me away.

 

Moshimo ojihi ga nai nara ba

Watashi ya yami yami ochiru no ni

Namuamidabu ni terashi torarete

 

(9)

From bounty of

tears of sorrow and tears of joy

from the floating world

you served a feast,

feast of Namu Ami dabutsu,

through this meal you raised me.

Namu Ami dabutsu, Namu Ami dabutsu .

 

Ukiyo kara

zangi kangi no hyakumi

onzeki hyakumi onzeki

Namu amidabutsu watashiya

anata ni yashinaware

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(10)

You ensured me safe passage home

from the floating world.

Your kindness is more than I deserve,

filling my heart with joy.

Namu Ami dabutsu , Namu Ami dabutsu .

 

Kunigae o sasete kudasaru

Ukiyo kara

Go-on ureshiya

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(11)

Hey, Saichi, you are so miserable.

Miserable I am,

but I see sparkles,

I see sparkles.

I’m miserable, this hardhearted fool.

Yeah, miserable, that’s what I am, miserable.

Namu Ami dabutsu, Namu Ami dabutsu

 

Saichiya, asamashii. Asamashii no ga,

chira chira mieru, mieru.

Asamashii, jaken mono.

Asamashii, asamashii,

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(12)

Hey, Saichi,

still seeing sparkles of Compassion,

are ya?

I see ’em, I see ’em,

I’m seeing ’em from inside Compassion.

Namu Ami dabutsu, Namu Ami dabutsu

 

Saichi ya, o-jihi ga

Chira chira mieru

Mieru, mieru

o-jihi no naka de miru

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(13)

I told that Child not to go out,

popping out again!

With nowhere to go,

popping from my mouth.

Going out again,

popping out saying,

Namuamidabu here!

 

Konna ko ga

Denna chu no ni

Mata deta yo

Deba ga nai kara kuchi ni deta

Mata deru yo

Namuamidabu to itte deru

 

(14)

This old Self of mine has

delusions piled up,

now I hand ’em over,

now I’m gonna hand ’em over,

now I’m gonna hand ’em to you!

Aah, what a great feeling!

 

Mayoi kasaneta watakushi ga ima wa,

anata no ima wa

anata no ima wa

anata no o-te ni agerare,

aa, ureshiya

 

(15)

Hey listen, there’s something to tell you,

When sitting at the foot of a high seat

listening to a sermon,

in my breast, joy rises up.

This Namuamidabu is something else!

 

Watashi ya tamaran

koosan no hita de seikyo kiku toki

mune ni, kangi ga tsuki ageru

Namuamidabu ga arigatai

 

(16)

I’m so happy, I’m so-o happy,

I’m so happy, I’m so-o happy.

Namu Ami dabutsu , Namu Ami dabutsu,

Namuamidabu comes to Saichi’s rescue,

Saichi rescues Namuamidabu.

That’s something else, don’t you think?

 

Washi ga shiawase, washi ga shiawase

Washi ga shiawase, washi ga shiawase

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu.

Namuamidabu wa Saichi o tasukeru

Saichi wa Namuamidabu o tasukeru

Arigatai te ya no

 

(17)

I’m so happy,

this old heart of mine in Namuamidabu

asks what I’m asking.

Those who understand are few.

I’m so happy, Namu Ami dabutsu.

 

Watashi ya shiawase

washi no kokoro o Namuamidabu ni

tanomarete oru koto o, watashi ya tanomu.

kore no wakaru hito ga sukunai,

watashi ya shiawase, Namu amidabutsu

 

(18)

Oh this Ho-onko, our birthday was celebrated!

Oh this Ho-onko, our ages became one!

If we become two,

my turn to become Mida.

 

Kono Ho-onko

Tanjo o yuoote morota

 Kono Ho-onko

Kore de toshi ga hitotsu ni narimashita

Futatsu ni nareba,

Mida ni naru

 

(19)

Oh wow, this taste is something else!

Hey there Saichi!

“Ho!”

How can I go about experiencing this taste?

There’s no way to

experience this taste.

To experience this taste,

taste on your tongue.

Your kindness is more than I deserve,

filling my heart with joy.

Namu Ami dabutsu , Namu Ami dabutsu .

 

Arigatai na, arigatai, kono aji. Saichi yoi. He.

Kono aji kaku ni wa, doushite kaku ka.

Kono aji kaku kota dekimasen.

Kono aji kakukota, hita de ajiyau.

Go-on ureshiya

Namu amidabutsu, Namu amidabutsu

 

(20)

How happy happy happy

happy happy happy happy

happy happy happy I am,

Namu Ami dabutsu.

How happy I am, Namu Ami dabutsu.

It’s something else, Namu Ami dabutsu.

It’s something else, Namu Ami dabutsu.

 

Ureshi ureshi ureshi

ureshi ureshi ureshi

ureshi ureshi

ureshi na Namu amidabutsu

ureshi na Namu amidabutsu

arigatai na Namu amidabutsu

arigatai na Namu amidabutsu

 

(21)

This old Self of mine, no good, no good.

If feeling “This is really something else” were real,

if feeling “I’m so happy” were real,

I wouldn’t feel this way.

No good, no good, no good,

no good, no good, no good.

I feel miserable, just miserable.

Even if “I feel miserable” is only faking,

even if “I feel happy” is only faking,

even if feeling

Oh this is something else

is only faking,

this old Heart of mine is only faking.

Anything and everything

is faking.

Just one lie atop another,

no matter how many,

still lies atop lies.

The more there are, the more faking.

No juice flows because it’s faking.

Although I’m a big miserable faker,

although I’m miserable,

I’m in (Amida’s) hands.

 

Watashi ya, tsumaran tsumaran

Arigatai ga honyara

Ureshi ga honyara

Ate ni wa narano.

Tsumaran tsumaran tsumaran

Tsumaran tsumaran tsumaran

Asamashi ya, asamashi ya

Asamashi no mo uso no kawa

Ureshii no mo uso no kawa

Arigatai no mo uso no kawa

Washi ga kokoro wa uso no kawa

Nani mo ka m uso de katameta uso no kawa

Nanbo he we demo uso no kawa

Hegu hodo uso no kawa

Uso no kawa ni wa shiro mo nai

Uso no kawa ni wa kawaranai

Nani mo nai

Asamashii no mo was ga janai

Asamashii no mo, hito no mono

 

(22)

Tho’ burdened by guilt,

my guilt’s tears of sorrow in the Six Letters.

Tho’ burdened by sin,

my guilt’s tears of joy in the Six Letters.

Namu’s the misery, Amida’s the joy.

It’s Namu Ami dabutsu of

tears of sorrow and tears of joy.

 

Watashiya tsumi demo rokuji no zangi

Watashiya tsumi demo rokuji no kangi

Namu wa zangi Amida wa kangi

Zangi kangi no Namu amidabutsu

 

(23)

O Saichi, what to do when

you can’t be happy?

Well, I shut the gate,

rest my mind,

fall soundly asleep.

My becoming buddha comes

from Oyasama’s heart,

the heart born

from Oyasama’s heart,

Oya’s experienced in

these things,

somehow it works.

 

Saichiya, yorokobaren toki wa, dousuru ka

Mon shimete anketsu ko ite neru bakari yo

Jobutsu wa Oyasama no kokoro kara

Oyasama no kokoro ni umareru kokoro

Oya no ajiwai, umaikoto

 

(Excerpted from, “Ikeru myokonin Asahara Saichi,” by Edatsu Teramoto, Honi, vol. 22/23 (Nov/Dec 1919). Teramoto’s original article contained an introduction, not included here.)

Rev. Yokoyama is a translator of Buddhist works living in Kyoto, Japan, and former editor of Higashi Honganji’s The Eastern Buddhist academic journal. The translations in this article are entirely his own.

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