Of a no-light condition

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Dec 2017 10:57:40


By Vijay Phanshikar,




The lamp once out
cool stars
enter the window frame


- A ‘haiku’ by
Natsume Soseki.
(‘Haiku’ is a Japanese poem
with 17 syllables)



Wonderful expression this!
It offers a paradox typical to Japanese
culture where the extremes reside in
wonderful and harmonious coexistence.
The lamp!
The darkness once lamp is out!
The window frame that opens to the dark universe outside!

The lamp is the impediment, so to say, to the universe outside to enter. It is a barrier, a block, a stern wall that darkness cannot penetrate!

This paradox is almost spiritual, sublime in form and content. In still words, this is one paradox that speaks of a formless content. In still other words, it speaks of a contest -- contrast, too -- between light and darkness. Whereas many other cultural symbolisms speak of light as pointer to opening up of the inner being, this little poem speaks of a need for the lamp to be out (put out) so that darkness can enter the window frame -- and with that darkness all those bright stars, cool and shining, taking one to the higher zones of non-existence, to the more sublimated non-zones where nothing exists -- no light, no darkness, but a sense of deep and high stars that point to a possibility of how the human spirit can comprehend, interpret, the Brahma -- the One that has no beginning and no end!

The Japanese mindset is set on such values -- traditionally. This Eastern orientation is very special. In fact, one can understand ‘orientation’ only by Eastern standard. For,
if Orient is the place where the Sun -- light -- rises, then orientation means understanding the process of light. And in contrast, it also means understanding the process of darkness. This ‘haiku’ is simple:The lamp once out cool stars enter the window frame.

If one wants to expose one’s thought to the universe, there must be a no-light condition -- so that darkness can waltz in with innumerable possibilities that the cool, bright stars indicate, the possibilities of countless specks of
awareness (which we call knowledge --

self-awareness). True, as everybody who meditates realises the existence of the vast, limitless and dimensionless inner space, the stars can enter that labyrinth only if there is no disruption of light. In that darkness, in that no-light condition, the mind opens to vast possibilities.

Natsume Soseki speaks of that possibility -- glorious in romance with the stars flooding through the window frame! Wow!

The expression ‘window frame’ is not just a physical mention; it has a metaphysical
dimension as well. For, the human mind is often used to frames and limitations. It looks at the vast universe only through two small eyes, almost oblivious to the inner eye with limitless scope to take in the whole universe in a glance. Here, the poet talks of that inner eye that can defy the frame, defy the light -- or consciously puts out the light -- so that the outer darkness floods in with so countless numbers of stars.

This paradox has its own charm, though it may mystify an ordinary comprehension. But when the light is out and when the cool stars flood in through the window frame, does not one rise to a height without high-ness?
That is what these 17 syllables mean.