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A Taste of Zen

Haiku meditation with tea

Mist in a forest
Photography by Yann Allegre

morning after morning
my tea tastes better…
falling mist

—Issa

A traditional haiku is a brief Japanese poem, consisting of three sections, with two aspects, typically a wide view, and a close up, with a leap between the two. It will usually express a reference to nature.

Haiku often refer to mists, flowers, mountains, the moon, and other iconic images of Zen, and Japanese culture.

The finest Zen haiku embody a brief flash of Enlightenment, or a small Samadhi.

Contemplating a traditional haiku, this short leap, this flash of enlightenment, stirs in us an awareness of the Universe. It can still the mind in a split second, bringing us to silence.

To contemplate the traditional haiku of masters such as Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Shiki, can bring about a peaceful spaciousness, a sense of calm that no medicine can offer us.

These are not poems to read page after page, but rather to pause and contemplate, to enter, and breathe within.

The best haiku for meditation and contemplation, as peace-inducing medicine to calm the mind, are the traditional haiku of the masters of the art.

Haiku may express directly the nature of Zen, tea, and poetry. Those shared below are of this genre. There is a link between Zen, tea, and poetry, stretching back over five hundred years.

How to Read a Haiku
Below are a selection of traditional Japanese haiku, for your exploration. Choose one of these, or select one from a book.

Take this single haiku as a meditation, mindfully contemplated over a cup of tea.

First, leave all other activities aside. Turn off your phone, close your computer, and give your attention fully to this moment, just for a few minutes.

This is a tea break like no other.

Now brew your tea, selecting the leaves, paying attention to your choice of cup, including the temperature of the water. A mindfully prepared cup of tea is a meditation in its own right.

Sit down in a quiet spot, cup in hand, with your chosen haiku before you, or open a book of haiku at random.

Taking a few moments to sit quiet and still, sip your tea, and begin to read the haiku, slowly, mindfully, bringing your full attention to it.

Don’t try to understand it, rather, simply allow it to expand fully into your awareness. Enter the poem and it will expand into you, one thing. You will be there in its timeless moment.

the tea smoke
and the willow
together trembling

—Issa

drinking morning tea
the monk is peaceful
the chrysanthemum blooms

—Bashō

morning after morning
my tea tastes better…
falling mist

—Issa

Let the reading and contemplation of this simple, minimal poetry bring about your own inner experience.

Allow the space within and around it to become your own spaciousness.

Approached with a quiet, open mind, the haiku will speak to you.

If you enjoy this simple form of meditation, you might choose to buy a pocket-sized book of haiku, or put a Kindle edition on your phone, so you can sip from this peace, time and time again, wherever you find yourself.


Originally published for our Inside Minimalism series.

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