We have been living and writing with the help of this book for several months now. The great Natalie Goldberg is one of our Living Spiritual Teachers. We have learned much from her.
Goldberg is a teacher of writing, a Zen Buddhist, and the author of one of the true classic manuals for would-be writers, Writing Down the Bones, first published in 1986. Goldberg’s gift is to communicate the application of spiritual practice to the writing craft.
She will hook you from the opening sentence of Three Simple Lines: “Haiku is a refuge when the world seems chaotic, when you are lost, frightened, tangled, and nothing is clear.”
Her own responses to haiku samples from classic authors in the genre (and there are dozens of them on these pages) run the full range of human emotion, such as: “I read this and cock my head, listening deeper than my pain and confusion.” And, “My busy thoughts are settling.” And, “I move deeper into the truth of my life.”
She describes being introduced to the practice of writing haiku by the poet Allen Ginsberg at Naropa Institute in 1976. Another great teacher, the seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho, is introduced as a haiku master from whom twenty-first century people might still learn a great deal. Later in the book, Goldberg makes her way to Chuson-ji, a collection of temples in the mountains where Basho wrote many of his haiku, as well as to Otsu, in the outskirts of Kyoto, to see Basho’s grave. There are many trips back and forth between New Mexico and Japan.
At one point, Goldberg summarizes: “What is the Way of haiku? Bare attention, no distractions, pure awareness, noticing only what is in the moment. Being connected to seasons, unconnected to self-clinging. And then, out of that, composing your experience in three lines that go beyond logic, that make the mind leap. In the center, a taste of emptiness. A frog, a crow, a turnip — the ordinary right in front of you is the realm of awakening.”
This demonstrates her beautiful writing, deep wisdom, and her Zen orientation. We highly recommend Three Simple Lines, and not only to writers and would-be writers.
Why should every person consider composing haiku? Because we all need to live these ways. And as Natalie puts it: “To put this experience down in three lines is to transmit a taste of what is possible and pass it on. Great generosity.”