Principles of Buddhism

By Julia Russell

I woke up Sunday morning to a thin layer of snow outside, but with new flakes melting quickly on the street.

Snow floats past the window;

A gust drives it faster

toward the ground.

        This week in class we focused on the Japanese reception of Buddhism and its principles. Due to traditional nonsymbolism in Animism, when Buddhism arrived, “expressions of religious fervor generally assumed a tangible form” (Tsunoda, de Bary, Keene p. 94). The concept of hakanasa allowed the Japanese to accept mujō, the Buddhist term for evanescence. Three basic tenets of Buddhism are anitya, duhka, and anatman. Duhka, meaning suffering, stems from our attachment to unreliable things. Anitya is another term for impermanence. Supposedly, “pondering anitya heals duhka” (Inouye, 31). I can accept that the things I’m actively pursuing—a Tufts degree, a job, a family, possibly some money—are all transient and I have no control. But does that mean that I should just give up on them? I think I can still pursue my goals as long as I’m generally aware of how little they actually mean. This seems to be the norm; clearly, not every Buddhist has renounced the world and retreated to nature. The last belief, anatman, is accepting oneself as a “part of this world” (Inouye 32) and realizing that we are different every day, if a ‘self’ really even exists at all. We saw these notions played out in Lady Sarashina’s book As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams. Through carefully extracted excerpts of nature and religion, Lady Sarashina shows us how she considers change (Lecture 1/28). She writes of nature and her sadness when the world changes, focusing little on materialism or people. Also included in her writing was the concept of koi, of longing, an “evanescent presence that is absence” (Inouye, 27). We can see this in the short exchange with her father, “Forest of Child-Yearning/How sad it is to see you here” (Sarashina, p. 68). Koi is seen as beautiful because of how much you want to share an experience with another person. While I can objectively think of sadness as beauty (since I’ve now been told that it is), it’s much harder to step back when you’re in some moment of sadness and think about how lovely it is. I think this is related to anatman. You realize that you’re only part of a great big universe, and that the universe is always changing, and it will never stop changing, and you have to be all right with that. Only then can you gain some sort of inner tranquility.

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One Response to Principles of Buddhism

  1. Avatar of Min  Zhong Min Zhong says:

    I like the way you intergrate three readings into your interpretation of Buddism. You provided a lot of examples from life and reading to support your paper. I agree with your understanding of “as I across a Bridge of dreams”. Lady Sarashina focus most on her feelings and emotion instead of her physical existence based on the changes. Your image is pretty nice.

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