I’ve mastered “Kōgō”… but what’s all this about “kizoku”? Seeking Bodhisattva status.

I was taking a walk late Sunday afternoon when, turning a corner, I was surprised as the new spring sun hit my face and I could feel its warmth on my cheeks.


I emerge

The sun strikes my face. Heat-

I feel it with closed eyes.


Matsuo Bashō, often lauded as the most famous poet the entire Japanese literary tradition writes: “How still!/Piercing into the boulders,/The cry of the cicada.” (Inouye, 74) Eleven words that in my opinion, spell out exactly what we were taught this week: the significance of balancing the equal and opposing forces of ephemerality and stasis or evanescence and form while at the same time, infusing this achieved balance with our own human emotions. We activate the words of our poetry by connecting with them, experiencing them on a personal plain. In the words of Inouye, “they express both change as truth and truth as change.” I was fascinated by the concept that this ultimate truth can only be tapped into when one considers the self as “a countering form of permanence” (Inouye, 76) or fueki to one’s ever changing, eternally renewed surroundings (ryūkō). (Lecture 2/25) Stated more concretely, the blending of the fixed nature of the self and the fleeting nature of one’s environment through the poetic expression of lyrical moments of connection is a very normal human “impulse to identify with [our] surroundings.” (Inouye, 76) I found the latter to be one of the most relatable concepts introduced to us this week since I can personally empathize with this part of human nature. Everyone wants to feel integrated into her environment, to connect to it, to feel as if one’s own essence is harmonious with that of the whole. Once I was able to wrap my head around these notions, I could re-read Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no hosomichi) and indeed, understand the extent of his literary genius.  “Under the same roof/ We all slept together,/ Concubines and I-/ Bush-lovers and the moon.” (Bashō, 132) This poem really spoke to me of everything we were taught this week. It displays is a definite conception of the importance of the self relative to it’s surroundings as a more concrete, stable entity. But it also offers an attempt at comparison and eventual harmony with these same environs. In my opinion, its tone exemplifies kōgō kizoku (awakening to the high and returning to the low) as it is both deeply sad and simultaneously beautiful. According to the Bodhisattva cycle, enlightenment (as one hopes to achieve in the transcription of lyrical moments in nature to words) can only occur if one rises above the world of the here-and-now, awakens to ultimate truth and then feels sorrow at the subsequent realization that the world is more a less a total mess- one in which the achievement of enlightenment is nearly impossible. If one is a true Bodhisattva, this sorrow brings about compassion for everything in the world and a concerted effort to return to it, to accept that it is full of disagreement and pain. Everything is at odds with everything else. We are diverse in this sameness. Returning to Bashō’s poem about sleeping under the same roof as concubines. He presents an initial understanding of the similarity of all things and then continues to embrace the diversity within sameness. He turns difference into something that is useful (lecture 2/25) and in doing so compassionately, he experiences peace. I feel like I get stuck following Plan A all too often. I find it very difficult to look at differences positively. Perhaps, like many others, I have some innate desire to make everything reconcilable. But it’s becoming apparent that this is precisely the error of my thinking. Differences are to be celebrated and used to move forwards. In a paradoxical way, the only way I can get anywhere close to total reconciliation in the universe is by accepting and rejoicing in this diversity.

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