Home / Blog / Haiku: Artistic expression created out of contemplative practice

Why do spiritual practitioners and followers of the arts alike turn to the ancient practice of haiku?
“The form and style of contemplative haiku appeals to those interested in a Dharma art or contemplative practice as a way for personal enrichment and insight,” explains haiku teacher John McQuade.

Haiku, which marries the insight from meditation with the creative process, “can work as a catalyst for these practices as well as a means for expressing the experience of these practices.”

But what is haiku?

Haiku is a simple poetic form that emerged from medieval Japan. One of its distinguishing features is that it consists of three short lines with a total of 17 syllables.

Haiku began as an artform in the Court of Japan, but developed into a contemplative practice available to everyone who was literate. As a contemplative practice, haiku allows the everyday experience of our senses to provide insight into the depths of our humanness, according to McQuade. This sensory experience and the insight that arises from it, is reduced to its absolute essence in haiku, down to 17 syllables. The resulting poetry is “a heartfelt sensibility that says more than can be said in so many words”.

Is haiku a mindfulness practice?

“Haiku practice includes mindfulness but runs much deeper than mindfulness.” explains McQuade “[O]ne of the skillful means of haiku – and contemplative arts – is to ‘invite’ mindfulness.” You can think of haiku as a practice that opens the door of the mind inviting the outer, phenomenal world in. What we take in through our sense perceptions empowers us to be awoken by the perceived world around us. Often we think of mindfulness as coming out of one of the formal practices of sitting meditation, yoga or other structured discipline, but contemplative arts in general and haiku in particular “empowers the phenomenal world – the ‘out there’ – to wake us up.”

How is haiku different from other poetry writing?

Contemplative Haiku is an experiential, transformational practice which gives rise to an expressive form, an artistic practice. It is one of the advanced arts that can tap into the depth of our inner experience through our outer, sensory experience. “Haiku is a direct way of registering and expressing our personal and human ways of being-in-the-world” according to McQuade.

There is a subtle understanding or ‘sensibility’ of the contemplative experience that also develops. Many “subtle aesthetic moods” come from contemplation, but three are fundamental to the Japanese aesthetics:

  • Sabi – loneliness/heart-break
  • Wabi – ordinary/ simplicity
  • Yugen – mystery/ a beyond that is not somewhere else

A class on haiku

John McQuade will be teaching a class on haiku in Moon and Sun: Introduction to Contemplative Haiku and Aesthetics. This class is especially well suited for artists and those involved with contemplative practices, as it blends the medium of poetry with the insight from contemplation. It resonates well with those people practicing the Buddha Dharma, Shambhala Dharma or Daoism.

It works well for both those interested in an introduction to haiku, as well as practitioners familiar with the art who are looking for community, teacher feedback, and active critiques of their work in order to deepen their practice.

How is the class structured?

  • This will be an online class via zoom
  • It will go 5 Saturdays from 11am – 1pm EST, Nov 5 – Dec 3
  • Each week there will be teachings on contemplative art and contemplative haiku.
  • A haiku assignment will be given for the next week.
    a. Each person will send in five haiku and will be given feedback on these
    b. Of all the haiku submitted there will be a selection made
    c. During the next class we will collectively share, contemplate and comment on this community of haiku
  • Then it starts over with a new teaching and assignment

John McQuade holds a PhD in phenomenology and has taught at many institutions such as Trent University, York University, the Omega Institute and the Haliburton School of Art.

He is a long-time meditation student of the renowned Buddhist and Shambhala Master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He is also the founder of Nalanda Misang Photography and co-author of the books Looking and Seeing and Heart of Photography. You can find out more about John McQuade and the Moon & Sun Haiku Community at: https://www.dralaimage.com/

Register for Haiku Class


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.