the great monk’s fart
(From the Mutamagawa, an anthology of senryu in 1750)
Most senryu were written anonymously in the 1700s in Japan because of their often explicit and personal nature. In senryu, no one and nothing is safe or sacred enough to escape being written about in a critical or joking way.
In this instance, we have a humorous senryu about a senior monk. Though the first line is funny, the second line has overtones of spirituality, believe it or not.
The last line is an invitation to a riddle: why was the great monk’s fart totally forgotten? Well, in Buddhism, you are supposed to live in the present moment, and be beyond thoughts of the past and future.
There is a story of a man who shouted obscenities at the Buddha, but when he learned that it was the Buddha who he spoke to crassly, the next day he met with him. He said, “I’m sorry for saying all those bad things to you the other day.” And the Buddha replied, “What do you mean? I live in the moment.”
This senryu is expressing this teaching, albeit in a silly way. It even shows how great the monk really was as a teacher if his students could forgot about his fart.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky