At the Hut of the Small Mind
Sanford Goldstein

Copyright © 1992 by Sanford Goldstein

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 0-994676-37-5

AHA Books
POB 767
Gualala, CA 95445

At the Hut of the Small Mind


In July 1982, I traveled to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island to visit the nearby farm of Masanobu Fukuoka, the famous Japanese farmer whose book on natural farming, The One-Straw Revolution, I carried with me. An editor of a small American press had asked me to interview Mr. Fukuoka. I knew a little about Mr. Fukuoka's Zen experience, and since I had been interested in Zen Buddhism for at least twenty years and since a Zen master had lived in my house in Indiana on two separate occasions of a year each, I went to Shikoku with trepidation -- I would be courting difficulties and the inevitable contradictions that surface in any Zen-oriented world.

Since my spoken Japanese succeeds only on the most mundane levels, I planned my list of some twenty-eight or so questions, planned them with the help of two Japanese friends in Niigata, where I had been living and teaching the past two years. That list I no longer have, for Mr. Fukuoka confiscated it without my ever getting beyond the first question, which he claimed had to be answered before any of the others could be. That question concerned itself with satori, or enlightenment, and since my own little breakdown of the written Japanese character for satori included five mouths in order to explain the emotion behind satori, I was aware of the difficulties I would be encountering by posing that question first. A young Japanese who was at the farm to learn Mr. Fukuoka's methods of Japanese farming and perhaps to translate Mr. Fukuoka's latest book into English (I was never quite certain) sat by me to pass on in English the various statements made by Mr. Fukuoka.

Those three nights and four days I spent at Matsuyama remain memorable -- days that were among the most difficult I had spent on my five two-year trips to Japan during the last thirty-two years. It was a period in which I felt I was throwing off much of the clutter (and ease) of the modern world. I was of course frightened and frustrated, and yet I realized I was in the middle of something crucial to my life, my own and that of other persons, something ambiguous and beckoning and building. My bare cabin without electricity or running water with an easy accessibility to all that crawls or flies in the outside world, my keyless door and battered screens, my pile of damp futon -- all that found me groping in darkness after a long first-night session with the farmer and some family members and neighbors and disciples. I was obviously the gaijin-foreigner who had come to ask questions, not someone there to work at natural farming.

Later I helped with meals, with cleaning the kitchen floor and low table we ate at, with sweeping and peeling. It was not the KP of my remote life back in the forties. Throughout I felt something of mu (interpreted audaciously as I write this introduction as Buddhism's complex yet rich nothingness), of sabi (acceptable human loneliness), of wabi (the preciousness of old things in all their bare limitations). I remember feeling that even Matsuyama's hills were wabi, an obvious poetic-license-ism. There were natural peaches, natural rice fields, natural tangerines, and natural summer-mikan (unlike anything tangerine in the world with their shibui rough-textured shapes and skins), and of course the world was shiori, effectively and variously ambiguous on several different levels.

I had come to interview, but only occasionally did I meet Mr. Fukuoka, who appeared and disappeared with strange regularity. I thought he had given me more attention than I deserved in that long three-hour nighttime session in which I had felt like something out of Breughel watched by more than twenty-four eyes. My interviewless-interview found me less a questioner than an examiner of this American self sometimes defecating in a shed under rains that seemed to proclaim some antediluvian connection. But if I saw less of my famous Zen farmer, I saw more of Rebecca, an American from the East Coast studying natural farming, yet more concerned, I felt, with trying to find the Zen way, the Gateless Gate, the magic formula that somehow allows one to walk this tightrope life without falling down. There was also that young Japanese translator (Jiro I shall call him) who every now and then sat pouring over Japanese texts. It was odd the third day out to be invited by a group of four young workers, including Rebecca and Jiro, to spend a long rain-filled afternoon and long-long evening together, the first at a famous Japanese hot spring bath on the island and then, as if to reinforce the irrationalities of my journey, at a disco bar.

I was actually torn between staying longer at the farm or spending a full week in Kyoto as I had originally planned. But another American visitor suddenly arrived to help me decide to leave. Late in the morning of my fourth day I walked the long muddy road down to a spot where taxis maneuvered along the highway to the airport.

I had no advance plan to write At the Hut of the Small Mind, but I had, even since 1964, kept up what I call my tanka diary. Since I have never counted out the traditional thirty-one syllables in writing any of my tanka poems, it has been easy to continue framing tanka over the years, yet it has always been hard to come up with a good one. At any rate, I knew in advance that I'd be adding poems to my tanka diary, but I hadn't expected to be so on my own in the hut I lived in. I had never before so vividly experienced the limits of my own quite limited self.

And so this tanka sequence: At the Hut of the Small Mind. For quite a long long time, more than a decade in fact, I had thought I was writing tanka sequences, but actually I was writing clusters of poems around a single event or experience or person or thought or feeling. It is not my intention to discount those earlier efforts. But for the last five years I had been studying and translating Mokichi Saito's Shakko [Red Lights] with my long-time tanka-translator-collaborator, Professor Seishi Shinoda, and it was through our joint study that I came to realize the dramatic impact of a tanka sequence with its beginning, middle, and end toward some new awareness of the self and/or the world. Mokichi's dramatic night-run entitled "Sad Tidings," the run made just after he learned of the death of his famous teacher Sachio Ito, is perhaps the most famous tanka sequence in Japanese -- unless it is Mokichi's sequence on the death of his mother. Whether or not my own tanka sequence is perhaps the first tanka sequence in English by a foreigner is of little consequence, but that it is at least a true tanka sequence pleases me, consisting as it does of the day before my trip to Shikoku, the trip to Matsuyama, the four-day stay at the farm, and the following twenty-four hours in Kyoto.

Perhaps a note of clarification is in order: Mr. Fukuoka calls his method of farming do-nothing farming. While this is misleading since a great deal of labor does go into his methods, I believe he means by it his protest against the excessive scientific procedures modern farmers are forced into complying with for their yields. A devoted advocate of natural farming, Mr. Fukuoka has gained the admiration of a large following.

Sanford Goldstein

West Lafayette, Indiana

December 1985

these supermarket cakes
as if tomorrow's
may be my last!

window gaze
an almost-satori --
and still only this neon, only this car glare

I pass rice fields,
tiled roofs,
pine, and all the rest;
oh, Japan,
my passing is a passing through

a taxi maze
these Matsuyama hills --
until at last
the farm! the farm!

in his rubber raincoat
against white hair
and drooping specs,
the solidity of master?

on the way up
to the mountain hut
the Zen farmer
a tangerine pest

they give me
food --
I eat
chopsticks without Japanese points

this candle-
the eyes
of my natural farmer

around the table
of this mountain hut
our Zen farmer
talking his way
through mu

I toss out
a theory
in this Zen hut,
but how real
the brown rice ball in my hand

I zigzag
my way
through theoretical Zen,
hurling my smile
at the master's face

first night:
in the dark
I stumble for a place
to send my urine

how many before me
have found in this mountain hut
moths clinging to corners,
over this July flesh?

how bare
this mountain hut,
my unwashed body
to summer smell

voices distant
from my mountain hut
and the long long
of falling rain

the flesh clings
tighter still
as if to tell me
this world is smell,
is touch

a universe
of crawling, flying,
insomnia in my mountain hut

that wing
by candleflame,
and still it fluttered,
still it flew

I am a lump
of thought
this fragmented night
of insect cry
and crawl

I listen
for the soundless --
oh, you analyst,
can't you hear?
can't you smell?

I too
am Basho,
and that urine smell
in this mountain hut

up this mountain
I came
with my usual
of dishrag servilities

in a corner
to the mud wall
of my mountain hut,
Mother Teresa

it was roosters
at morning light-fall --
how joyous
even that crack

is it
with rain water
I wash?
first morning
in these Matsuyama hills

my hut
where I piss,
am I stepping on radish,
on burdock?

it's by candlelight
and perpetual
I write
my morning poem

in the morning's
candlelight glimmer,
I sweep
these mountain hut

no god
came down
to tap my shoulder,
to say
there's a primitive world

the master
gathers the young,
and by candlelight
their various worlds

with legs
on solid ground:
this morning world
at my Matsuyama hut

is it coffee
giving me
this huge split
at the back of my skull?

in this Hut
of the Small Mind,
I'm made
to read
about "knowing"

why I came:
the Zen farmer
asks twice,
three times,
as if my own koan's in it

where's the talk
at breakfast
poking these chopsticks
into miso soup,
vegetables, rice?

the others
my Zen farmer led
to practicalities,
me to abstractions
in the Hut of the Small Mind

of labor in those fields,
of insect cry,
and, of course, cock-crow

how vivid
that spider
in its lair
I urinate

at least
Mother Teresa
smiles at me
from the mud wall
in my Hut of the Small Mind

for hours
I lay
on my hut futon
even the candleglow waned

as if the world
out there
not nature enough,
a picture of a bird
nailed to my hut's wall

I walk
to the natural rice fields
and back,
I write
my natural poem

green and more green
and greener
these tangerine leaves
in the July rain

the cool
of rain,
July relief
in my Hut
of the Small Mind

not a single complaint
do I hear
from these blades of grass
by afternoon rain

all day
in this hut,
mind pouring
over the abstract prose
of this man of Zen

a mountain child
in this Hut
of the Small Mind,
I wrap the dampness

that bee
stayed and stayed
as if it too
sought shelter
from the July flood

the hills
are wabi,
and there's a shiori smell
in this Hut
of the Small Mind


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