His life could come from today’s headlines—controversial, charismatic and polarizing, with a life filled with tabloid worthy scandals. Rev. Haya Akegarasu (1877-1954) became a renowned Buddhist whose teachings were strongly influenced by Manshi Kiyozawa, whose own experiential approach modernized Jodo Shinshu. Akegarasu eventually held the top administrative post in the Higashi Honganji denomination.
For 12 years, Akegarasu served from age 24 as de facto editor of Seishinkai magazine, which published many of Kiyozawa’s essays. He became one of the leaders of a Buddhist reform movement and helped start a Dobokai campaign to invigorate followers to strengthen their conviction. Akegarasu’s wife, Fusako Yamada, was a poet and sister of Gesshō Sasaki, a leading Higashi Honganji Buddhist scholar and later third president of Higashi’s Ōtani University. When Fusako fell ill with tuberculosis, Akegarasu had an illicit affair with her nurse. After his wife died and the affair became public, Akegarasu’s world fell into disarray, his reputation in tatters.
Akegarasu eventually pieced together his life, establishing a publishing company called Kōsō-sha, hiring as editors Shūichi Maida and Towa Nomoto. Maida, who also came from Ishikawa prefecture, studied philosophy under Nishida Kitarō at Kyoto University and later became a respected Buddhist teacher in his own right. Nomoto studied poetry under famous poet Kyoshi Takahama. She helped organized women poetry groups in local farming communities and authored a biography of Akegarasu, called Akegarasu Haya den.
Akegarasu eventually married another woman and also met a poet named Toyoko, who became his mistress. The trio lived openly and traveled together. He published many of Toyoko’s poems in his literary magazine Kōsō.
Nomoto and Maida edited a stream of Akegarasu’s writings, which later were compiled into a 28-volume set of collected works. The untitled poem below is my English translation from his book, From Within the Awesome Array of the World of Flowers (Japanese: Kegon zanmai no naka yori), published by Kōsō-sha in 1922.
—Wayne S. Yokoyama
Oh, how awesome—world of flowers!
Oh, how splendid—phenomenal spectacle of flowers!
Where everything is alive and
the land is flooded with light …
Where there’s no barrier
between man and things,
where there’s no distinction
between the living and nonliving,
where everything is alive,
where all things are dancing,
where the grass and trees speak,
where land itself sings,
where tile shards whisper,
where dust heaps scream and shout …
It’s said Man is born from earth,
yet entire worlds appear
from the pores of a man,
gods appear from all things
in myriad forms sparkling with light …
From a single pore
appears a trichiliocosm, three thousand worlds,
in a single moment’s thought
innumerable asaṃkhya buddhas are born,
each buddha in a separate world,
each with a trichiliocosm,
from each world a great trichiliocosm,
again appears another great trichiliocosm …
Each world is a flower,
Gods are flowers,
The Enlightened One is a flower,
all phenomena are flowers—
flowers of different kinds,
each shining with the light of love of a different kind,
one soul embracing another soul,
one soul entering another soul.
Oh, how great the universe!
Oh, how many souls within it!
Flowers of joy,
flowers of sorrow,
flowers of suffering
flowers of pleasure,
flowers of laughter,
flowers of Ultimate Bliss,
flowers of rage and resentment,
flowers of Hell—
each flower linked to others,
each flower helping others grow.
We become flowers,
our world becomes a flower,
our mind becomes a flower,
our body becomes a flower,
there is nothing that doesn’t,
not even the tiniest speck of dust
all through which love runs …
When the mind’s eye awakens to the world of flowers
all phenomena sparkle with light,
all mountains and oceans fill with music,
our individual world becomes one
that now accommodates a world full of people,
an individual becomes an entire tribe,
and all society becomes an individual,
like Indra’s net, where all things are mutually reflected.
Where there is death, there is life,
without life, there is no death.
Where there is permanence, there is change,
where there is Nirvana, there is impermanence,
as clouds change into various shapes and forms,
as water freely changes shape as needed,
as flowers change hue from moment to moment.
Ahh, what richness we live in!
Ahh, what an honor to live!
Flowers sparkling with love,
Flowers sparkling with life of all phenomena—
We’re born from flowers,
we give birth to flowers.
With no beginning or end,
with no boundary or bottom,
even the tiniest speck of dust is us,
mighty chiliocosm is us.
Lofty and great are we,
far in distance we go,
we embrace to bosom all things,
we are embraced to bosom by all things.
In the bosom of love,
on the dais of [lotus] flowers
do we sit.
we dance with love,
our flowers sparkling.
The whole plant world sings,
layers of minerals dancing,
gods communing with men,
birds and beasts meeting with Buddha.
To become men is to embrace all women,
To become women is to embrace all men,
we are love,
we are flowers.
All beings everywhere shining uniqueness,
all things everywhere melting into a color of oneness.
We are one,
we are many.
We only have this moment in time,
we only have this place in space,
we only have this body here,
nothing outside ourselves,
making our appearance on a stage of all things,
there we dance.
As we sit in silence,
as we dance gleefully,
as we dance like surging billows,
as we dance like white clouds,
we see ourselves,
we see the me who sees ourselves,
how happy we are to see the me,
how happy we are our me is seen.
The world as me, the me as me,
me as actor, me as audience
the me that freely exists,
the me that does not freely exist,
the me that does not “not freely exist.”
There is nowhere our me came from,
there is nowhere our me goes,
there is nowhere our me dwells,
there is nowhere our me does not dwell.
This me of mine belongs to everything.
This me of mine belongs to nothing.
This me of mine experienced an inexplicable change.
This me of mine is love.
This me of mine is the flower.
Oh, white lotus!
Oh, red red rose!
Oh, hardy begonia!
love of man,
love of woman,
love of youth,
love of maiden,
we blossom to a variety of flowers,
we burn with all kinds of love,
we shine with glory of love of every kind.
We are stone,
we are pine,
we are canary,
we are sea-slug,
we are lion,
we are amoeba,
we are all,
we are we,
we are flowers.
we are the awesome world of flowers,
we are lovely, graceful flowers,
where all creation shines,
where all phenomena sings.
Close your eyes and look quietly,
cover your ears and listen quietly,
to the fragrance of flowers,
to the sound of flowers weeping,
to cheeks of flowers,
to foreheads of flowers—
to ever-changing faces of flowers,
to voices of flowers—
Oh, what great flowers are we!
What glorious flowers!
And oh, what a glorious world of flowers!
Flowers we are!
Flowers [we are]!
(The original Japanese language poem follows below.)
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.