The Mirror Self, Emptiness, and Compassion


Saturday I went to the Fells and climbed to the top of this hill of huge boulders; I sat still and watched the tall evergreen trees slowly swaying.



Breaking through the winter sky,



I was intrigued, once more, by the paradoxes surrounding our discussion last week about permanence, evanescence, self, and selflessness. Basho writes, “How still!/Piercing into the boulders,/ The cry of the cicada” [Inouye p.74]. Professor points out that “[i]n this poem, the ephemerality of the cicada’s song [] is contrasted with the solidity of rocks” [p.74]. This kind of juxtaposition is again seen in his poem “A thicket of summer grass/ Is all that remains/ Of the dreams and ambitions/ Of ancient warriors” [ Basho p.118]. The grass lingers, as the warriors’ selves and their self-induced trifles disappear. This poem speaks even more loudly as it makes the point the nature outlasts all human activity and meaning. Perhaps this is what Basho understands; He seeks selflessness as a way to escape from the evanescence of human existence and connect to the natural world. What is selflessness and how does it do this? Selflessness is the “unity of thing [or object] and self” [Inouye p.77]. To me, this means that the quick-to-label mind is silenced, and so perceptive awareness opens; this awareness is a mirror. I would also say that the perceived, the trees, the rock, the other, is also a mirror. And so when the opened awareness meets the perceived and become one, eternality, infinity emerges-like the Mise en abyme between two facing mirrors. Eternality amidst evanescence. But Basho still “was a self-concerned poet” as his writing has self awareness and makes reference to a self[Inouye p.77]. But I do not see this as a flaw in his advocation of selflessness; instead, I see it as a fundamental reality of this realm of existence. The fact that awareness is infused within individual bodies with individual minds cannot be escaped while alive; Basho only attempts to live rooted in this this larger awareness, rather than the transient individual self. In his poem “ Under the same roof/ We all slept together,/Concubines and I-/ Bush-clovers and the moon”, I think this can be revealed. The roof they sleep under is Awareness, or I would even say emptiness. When we live in the perception of the individuated and limiting self that stems from the mind, the concubine and Basho, and the moon and clovers are worlds apart, sharing nothing. But under this Awareness, the concubine and Basho are of the same, just as a the moon and the clovers exist in this realm equally. I think this understanding is the root of all compassion.

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