The Buddha on the Road


This will be the last “On the Road” prompts.  Thank you very much to everyone who followed the site and for the wonderful poems you have written in response to prompt.

This week I’ve been really struggling to write a prompt.   I’ve had lot of ideas but can’t seem to get traction on any of them.   Searching for inspiration I came across the three vows of the Japanese haiku poet Santoka –

Do not attempt the impossible.

Do not feel regret for the past.

Do not berate oneself.

I feel like I am attempting the impossible in trying to keep things going here beyond this week.   The idea for the site grew out of online conversations with another haiku poet.   I was under the impression she wanted to be involved and was interested in creating some prompts.    What actually happened was that when I let her know the site was published she unfriended me on Facebook and stopped replying to emails!

Taking Santoka ‘s advice I shall not regret what happened or berate myself  for not having the energy to keep the site going by myself.   Instead I’ll offer you this last prompt.   I had written most of it already and saved it as a draft.


Since I began writing these prompts I have been remembering songs, poems and quotes that make reference to roads and being on them.  One that popped into my mind is the strange Zen koan attributed to the Chinese Zen master Linji Yixuan “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

This koan has puzzled me for a long time.  The contemporary Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön  offers this explanation –

““When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha” means that when you see that you’re grasping or clinging to anything, whether conventionally it’s called good or bad, make friends with that. Look into it. Get to know it completely and utterly. In that way it will let go of itself.” – buddha on the road

Jack Kerouac expressed a similar idea when he wrote:-

‘When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you can’t understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.’ – from “On the Road”.

The freedom Kerouac is insisting on seems to me to be very like the freedom of spirit Kikusha-Ni embodied.  (See last week’s prompt for more information here)

Writing a haiku or haibun about mental freedom and the koan “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” does seem particularly hard.   That’s why the post was still in my draft file.   Still  if you are inspired leave a link to your work in the comment thread.  

I’ve loved all the work that has been linked to this site and really appreciate your support.   Thanks again.



Following the heart


Thank you to everyone who responded to my “On The Road” prompt last week.  It was a pleasure to read your beautiful and inspiring poetry and haibun.

This week’s prompt is inspired by the life and work of the wandering nun, Kikusha-Ni or Tagami Kikusha as she is sometimes called.


Kikusha was a woman who defied the conventions of her time.   She refused to marry again after being widowed at 24.   Instead she became a Buddhist nun and took up the life of a wanderer.

At 29, inspired by haiku and Basho’s journey she made her own journey to the deep north.  It took her four years for she often stopped for extended periods to study subjects that interested her.   At one point she spent a year learning from the haiku master, Chobo-en Sankyo.   Moving on from there she visited the hometown of the poetess Chiyo (1703-75) and stayed overnight at the home of Chiyo’s adopted son.    From there she journeyed on visiting many of the shines and temples Basho had visited.

This style of wandering from place to place to study and to visit sacred sites became a way of life for Kikusha.   During her forties she became very interested in Chinese music and poetry and spent years in Nagasaki studying with Confucian poets and painters.  There she developed her own unique style of haiga which often incorporated Chinese style calligraphic painting with Japanese haiku.

This independent spirit comes across in her haiku.   There is an immediacy to her connection with the world around her that speaks to me of the Buddhist concept of the interconnection of all life.

on the summer hills
I saw a cloud – that’s all
there was in Yoshino

That first cry
it was not my imagination
– a mountain cuckoo

‘puppy’ by Kikusha-N

We are just
the moon and I –
cold on the bridge

When she was 64 Kikusha-Ni returned to her home town following the death of her mother.   There she stayed until her own death at age 73.

Throughout her life Kikusha-Ni followed the dictates of her own heart – guided always by her own free spirit.

To walk
with the moon as a hat –
the traveler’s heaven

PROMPT:  Create a haiku, tanka, haibun or haiga inspired by Kikusha-Ni’s love of life and her appreciation of the natural world.   Please post a link to your work in the comment thread below.   Thankyou.



A moment on the road…

For Basho wandering was a form of spiritual practice.   His pilgrimages to religious sites became portals into a direct experience of the sacred.   A haibun in The Narrow Road to the Deep North reads:-

‘In Yamagata Province, the ancient temple founded by Jikaku Daishi in 860, Ryushaku Temple is stone quiet, perfectly tidy.   Everyone told us to see it.   It meant a few miles extra, doubling back toward Obanazawa to find shelter.  Monks at the foot of the mountain offered rooms, then we climbed the ridge to the temple, scrambling up through ancient gnarled pine and oak, gray smooth stones and moss.   The temple doors, built on rocks, were bolted.  I crawled among boulders to make my bows at shrines.  The silence was profound. I sat, feeling my heart begin to open.

Lonely stillness-
a single cicada’s cry
sinking into stone’

(translation found on –

Of course it is not always necessary to clamber over rocks to come to an awareness of the sacred.  Sometimes it is there, right in front of us, just waiting for us to open our eyes and notice.

“As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”  ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

A haiku by the wandering nun, Kikusha-Ni (1752-1826) speaks of a similar moment of transfiguring awareness:-

‘the spirit, the truth
of silent prayer –
just the moon on the road. ‘

leonie-copy[1] (1)

This week’s prompt is to use these haibun and haiku as inspiration for your own haiku, tanka, haibun or haiga.   Please create a pingback to your work or leave a link in the comment section below.    Thank you.   I hope you enjoy the prompt.























The call of the Road

“As we turn every corner of the Narrow Road to the Deep North, we sometimes stand up unawares to applaud and we sometimes fall flat to resist the agonizing pains we feel in the depths of our hearts.  There are also times when we feel like taking to the roads ourselves, seizing the raincoat lying near by, or times when we feel like sitting down till our legs take root, enjoying the scene we picture before our eyes.”  –  Soruyo

This week’s prompt is to use Soruyo’s words as inspiration for a haiku, tanka, haibun or haiga.   Please post a link to your work in the comments thread here or create a Pingback by copying and pasting the URL for this post into your response.   Thank you.   I hope you enjoy the challenge – Suzanne