Basho died while visiting friends in Osaka. He wrote:
Taken ill on a journey,
my dreams wander
over withered moors.
Aitken Roshi, in The River of Heaven, suggests this was not Basho’s death poem. Apparently, when asked for a death poem, Basho said:
From old times it has been customary to leave a death poem behind, and perhaps I should do the same. But every moment of life is the last; every poem is a death poem. Why then should I write one at this time? In these last hours, I have no poem.
What is your poem in this moment?
The sound of someone
blowing his nose with his hand
the cherry blossoms.
This juxtaposition of the delicate with the indelicate always pushes my edge of practice. Aitken Roshi points out in The River of Heaven, that while it may be blasphemy to blow one’s nose in the presence of sacred cherry blossoms, we can’t be taking it all so seriously. The fleeting nature of life is such that a moment spent getting riled up over something is a moment gone. Basho and the Prajnaparamita remind us: neither sacred nor profane – except that mind makes it so.