As I was out walking during the height of the blizzard a plow was coming towards me way down the street and I could see the silhouettes of people running in front of it.
A light through the storm
Two shadows run
This week we continued to focus on Buddhism with the newer subtopics of success, decline, and leaving the world. The main ideas behind the past two lectures were that life is suffering, or samsara, and that failure and success are cyclical (inevitably one leads to another). The concept of anatman, or no self, is particularly difficult for successful people to grasp, and we discussed how that is especially relevant at Tufts, where so many students are success-driven (Lecture 2/4). We also talked a lot about the samurai, and how Tale of the Heike is a fitting expression of the relationship between success and failure. The famous moment in which Kumagae na Naozane must behead a young soldier even though he is the spitting image of his young son shows the incredible dedication of the samurai to his duties and the conflict between giri and ninjo. The triumph of form over emotion shows just how important kata is in this circumstance, regardless of personal opinion (Lecture 2/6). We also found out that we are all trapped in a burning house, blind to the horrible state of our reality unless we get out and look back at the madness. This connected to the concept of the floating world, ukiyo, a manifestation of why it is foolish to become attached to objects and other things that are not constant. “To seek security and permanence by attaching ourselves to that which is unpleasant and floating is to be deluded” (Inouye 40) This is well exemplified in Hojoki. Numerous natural disasters that visited the capital during Chomei’s time “mocked its sophistication and finery” and “reinforce the notion that we are nothing but foam upon a stream” (Inouye 45). Chomei talks about how after these natural disasters people seem cognizant of what is really important for awhile, and then fade back to normal life (Chomei 54). I think this is a pretty good representation of how people always fall back to their patterns and tie themselves back into the floating world because it’s just easier than pursuing a path to an enlightened existence. Even though suffering could be avoided through acceptance of samsara, that would require rejecting the materialism which is so deeply ingrained in American society in particular. I do find comfort in Chomei’s assertion that “reality depends on your mind alone” (Chomei 75) and was especially interested in the concept of the shukke, the formalized process of leaving it all behind in Heian Japan (Inouye 40). It is attractive yet sad, but it seems that if it was pursued properly it would lead to contentment. With all of this it also seems to me futile to pursue any sort of success knowing that it will eventually lead to failure. I am still waiting to see how the Japanese are generally recognized as a very driven and successful society if this is the basis of their culture.