Is the house burning?

Waking up early Saturday morning to a snow-covered campus.

The morning stares
silently as the snow
falls onto the staircase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image of the material world as a burning house is a vivid one, but one that I’m not sure I totally agree with. As Kamo no Chōmei puts it: “So as we see our life is hard in this world. We and our houses fleeting, hollow. Many troubles flow from your status, social rank.” (Hojoki 54) I agree with the idea that material goods alone cannot bring people happiness and are hollow, but how about the other things that can bring us genuine joy – such our family and friends? Are those also manifestations of an “opulent building that will someday become nothing more than firewood”? (Inouye 45) Under the Buddhist view (as I understand it) even those things are not worth much because they too are impermanent. But does the impermanence of things really mean that they are worthless and not worth pursuing? I struggle with this idea. Can we really invalidate our past experiences of happiness from our human relations just because they are gone now? What would even be the purpose of a being that has no desire for anything? To do so seems to be a denial of what makes us human. On another note, I feel that there is a contradiction between the native Japanese appreciation for evanescence and the Buddhist perception of it – doesn’t impermanence contribute to the beauty of things rather than devaluing them?

 

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2 Responses to Is the house burning?

  1. I liked your poem, it really was awesome to wake up to a completely blanketed campus. I also agree with your paragraph, I took Intro to Buddhism last semester and still feel so conflicted about its teachings. This idea that we’re suffering without realizing we’re suffering makes me wonder why we care then. Ignorance is bliss right? I find it hard to want to immerse myself in readings that will just convince me I’m suffering. I guess Buddhists would argue there are other meta-physical benefits, but I’d rather be unaware and living in a fantasy of happiness while still living as moral of a life I can. I’m totally still stuck in the burning house too.

  2. I’ve come up with a lot of the same questions as you. I’m also perplexed about why strive for goals if they are fleeting. Are their no Buddhist professional athletes, or lawyers, or any other occupation that features goal-setting? A society that entirely embraces all of the teachings of Buddhism sounds like it would be stagnant and unproductive. I suppose I’m having a difficult time imagining what a modern Buddhist in our society would look like and how they would behave under the same stresses we experience every day.

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