Hokusai Says: Live with the World Inside You

There is a fascinating story about a Japanese artist called Hokusai who was a painter and printmaker during Japan’s Edo period. In 1810 at the age of 50, Hokusai went to the Buddhist temple Myōken Hall in Yanagishima to make offerings and prayers to the Bodhisattva Myōken. He prayed to Myōken to make him a great artist and then apparently on his way home from the temple he was struck by lightning! He survived this and did indeed go on to become one of Japan’s great artists. He is most renowned for his famous woodblock print series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’, which includes the iconic print most people are familiar with, ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’.

When looking at Hokusai’s paintings and drawings I am really moved by his relationship to the natural world around him. It seems as if Hokusai spent his whole lifetime in a sense of wonder and curiosity. Like all great artists, he communicated his vision and knowledge through his paintings. He seemed to have the ability to look so clearly at the subject of his painting become one with the wave or the fish or the mountain, allowing the world to live inside him and through him.

While working on another famous series called “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji” he wrote:

“From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking in to account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further; at ninety I shall even further penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvellous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own”

One of my favourite poems is called ‘Hokusai Says’ by Roger Keyes. When I first heard the poem on a meditation retreat I was moved to tears.  The poem really captures the poetic and soulful relationship we can develop towards ourselves and the world we live in. The poem offers an invitation to glimpse the world through Hokusai’s eyes and live with the world inside you.

Hokusai Says – Roger Keyes

Hokusai says Look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.

He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child, every one of us is ancient, every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive –shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.

Wood is alive.

Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.

It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.

Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.