The Narrow Road Within

With strange synchronicity I see that today’s prompt word on WordPress is ‘panicked’.  A feeling of panic was precisely what came over me when I attempted to write a blog post this morning.  I have been reading about Basho, haiku and haibun.   These are all complex subjects and I am still decoding what I’ve read.  I want to write a series of blog posts about it all but when I try to do so I am engulfed in panic.   How can I do the subjects justice?   Will I get it right?   How can I dare to offer an opinion when there are so many experts out there?


Writing helps me clarify my thoughts.   Blogging gives me a way of communicating with others and, hopefully, opening up a dialogue.  I’ll let my fear of getting it wrong take a back seat and plunge in.  I’ll begin with some thoughts on haibun writing.   (Haibun is a Japanese form of travelogue that was developed by the poet Basho (1644-1694).    Basho’s classic haibun is titled “Oku no hosomichi” –  (translation) The Narrow Road to the Deep Northor The Narrow Road to the Interior. )

In an article by Sam Hamill*  – – I read an explanation of ‘Oku no hosomichi’ –

“Oku means “within” and “farthest” or “dead-end” place; hosomichi means “path” or “narrow road.” The no indicates a possessive. Oku no hosomichi: the narrow road within; the narrow way through the interior.”

Hamill says of The Narrow Road –  “Basho … is not looking outside himself; rather he is seeking that which is most clearly meaningful within, and locating the “meaning” within the context of juxtaposed images, images which are interpenetrating and interdependent. The images arise naturally out of the kokoro or shin — the heart/soul/mind.”


“his journey is a pilgrimage;   it is a journey into the interior of the self as much as a travelogue; it is a vision quest which concludes insight.  The means is the end, just as it is the beginning.   Each step is the first step, each step the last.”

The Buddhist concept of the interconnection of all things resonates in Basho’s haibun and haiku.    It is in nature that Basho experiences the intense interpenetration of heart, mind and soul.   While the obvious place to take this blog post now is into a complex dissertation on the ways and means Basho employed in writing both haiku and haibun  I seem to have gone so deeply interior words are eluding me.


Hopefully I will find the words to express my thoughts in further blog posts but for now I shall ponder the complexities of kokoro in silence.  Each step is the first, each step is last…


*Sam Hamil is an American writer, peace activist and  Zen Buddhist.


9 thoughts on “The Narrow Road Within

  1. The depth to which you investigate things that interest you is inspiring. May I say stuff the experts! Everyone’s sort of their own expert especially when they put in the hours. Maybe experts equate with orthodoxy: it’s interesting that “expertise ” has a different, gentler, more democratic feel to it than “expert”, to me at least. I need to go back to Basho, and make what I will,of him, I think (now the search begins! Where’s that book? I’ve got a warm feeling … about … here?) That second image is particularly exquisite – it somehow contains the four elements, either in colour or in object.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, experts may well equate with orthodoxy. They have the weight of numbers behind them anyway and can be very off putting. I think I will withdraw from all sites like that even if it means very few people read my stuff. I hope you find your book.


  2. I thought I’d bought it from Kindle – turns out to be someone making a Basho pilgrimage! When I went back to try again, I found that pilgrimages are very common, and the original text is not!


    1. Yes, I’ve been hunting for translations of The Narrow Road. I found several available from Amazon and similar companies. I think the most recent one is the Sam Hamill translation. I can find the link for you tomorrow if you are stuck. 🙂 (Wouldn’t that pilgrimage along the route of The Narrow Road be great to take though).


      1. Thanks for the offer of the link, but I know I have my aunt’s copy here, and it’s a prompt to sort through my mountainous disarray of books. From what I saw on Kindle a Basho pilgrimage is competition for the Camino pilgrimage. One of my favourite photographic bloggers is off to live in Japan soon: I’m hoping she’ll provide some Basho landscapes.


      2. How wonderful to have an old book on Basho. It would be a real treasure – very hard to find a replacement I would imagine. I hope your friend has a wonderful time. What a great trip to take with a top notch camera .


  3. I enjoyed this. Having read Basho 3 years ago, you allow me to reflect in my haibun journeys. Haiku and haibun have allowed me to grieve my mother by getting in touch more with nature.

    I feel you are an amazing expert Sue., has humbly sharing your reflections thank you for that


    1. Thank you for reading. It was presumptuous of me to send the link. I was a bit carried away with the idea of getting a new group going but I was probably day dreaming. I doubt I’m an expert – its just a subject I love. Thanks again.


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