Saturday morning I went for a walk and ended up on the Tisch roof garden (as per usual) and in watching the light snowfall was struck by an overwhelming belief in the loneliness of life.

A world of white flakes

Driven into loops by the wind,

Melting on the ground.

I think of all the concepts we have had to grasp, this week’s was most difficult for me—nothingness. Essentially, this idea comes from the Buddhist idea of nagarjuna, or that “everything is contingent on everything else”, all is relative (Inouye, Lecture 2/11/2013). Upon first reading Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite, I was by almost every definition, completely and utterly lost. Phrases and ideas that at first threw me off, “zero = infinity, and infinity = zero” for example, gradually began to make more sense with the more reading I did (Merton 107). It is all about understanding the shared qualities of fullness and emptiness. We can’t peg either as a tangible thing so how can they differ, how can we know? I think one of the major turning points was the analogy he drew between having a broken leg and man’s innate desires. To avoid aggravating that broken leg, and be among the few who “cast the World aside” (Seami, 64) you have to remain motionless, for even the desire to lack desire is a motion (Merton, 83-84). Maybe it was the physical grounding of all the theoretical, but this was the first crack in the wall. From here it was easier to recognize and appreciate the form of both the Noh theater and the Japanese strict formalities. Practicing something like nenbutsu to the point where it is a mechanical habit perhaps devoid of personal meaning is undoubtedly a way of hitting on that emptiness. “Ceaselessly” Rensei/Kumagai performs “the ritual of the Holy Name” all aimed at ridding himself of his guilt at killing Atsumori (Seami, 69). He reaches a whole new form of religiosity grounded not in meaning, by some definitions, but in habit—he “creates emptiness in a way that is radically receptive” (Inouye, 68). Noh theater represents all these things with absolute form to the point of predictability, the blurring of lines between life and death (or even person and persons), and possessing some manifestation of that emptiness that we all have in common (Inouye, Lecture 2/13/2013).

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One Response to Infinity

  1. Hi Benjamin -

    I really like your analysis that links nothingness and form. Your poem also reads beautifully – but perhaps it would be better to include less detail?

    - George

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