chô hira-hira hotoke no hiza wo modoru nari
to Buddha's lap
Haiku By Issa Translated into English by David Lanoue
We will first attempt to imagine the delicate scene. [蝶]chô[butterfly] are delicate ~ 蝶 ["chô"] is a spring kigo. So we have the whole spring in Japan laid bare in our respective possible mental cosmos. the [sakura] cherry blossoms are blossoming all around and little sparrows are ecstatic in song and butterflies fluttering all around. People are watching cherry blossoms, people are in delight. children are playing around in random abandon. It is a divine icon of Buddha, in some Buddhist temple [ possibly a temple he visited often] that is referred to in the next line . Here again, we can as readers, create innumerable connections depending upon our predeliction and imagination. The word "Buddha" is a vast cosmos a unique one for each conceiving and perceiving the seamless vast word. The lap is a place of rest repose ,abhayam ( safe, free from fear ). the butterfly though flitting here and there returns to the Buddha's lap as a place of divine repose. It is just a beautiful Zen moment.
Yet It has deeper Buddhist and ancient associative interpretations possible if considered symbolically in terms of life, death, eternity, immortality satori [ samadhi ] and nibbana [ nirvana ] and surely Issa intended those too whatever the shasei people may say! It is the Cosmic butterfly after flitting here and there on earth finally is liberated gets Moksha and is once again fully united with the Buddha in Maha Nibbana. Janmajanmantharam [ the vast cosmic cycles of births and deaths ] of each being is also referred to here. The classical religious idea of returning home to God's own lap as a child may also be seen as another primal mythogrammatical interpretation.
On intuitively checking the original Japanese with David's translation this alternate translation occured to me.
butterfly flits flits,
to Buddha's lap