Friday I went on a walk around the campus in the snow and was moved by the children sledding down the hill, so light in their play.
playing in each other’s belonging.
The wind freshens.
This week we focused on the rapid change Japan took into modernity. This is the first time I’ve seen symbolism and conceptualization so highlighted in this class. But I guess this is the way it happens as time unfolds. When I was a kid, I was care free; I was not embarrassed to do something strange and I didn’t pay any attention to what others thought of me or even what I thought of myself. But this all changed around probably the 4th or 5th grade, when I guess I began to pay attention to other people were doing and how they were doing it and thus became aware of myself. I could say I started to think of, or conceptualize, myself against them; this continued to sharpen as I grew older. This is what I feel Japan went through. The way I see it, animism provided them with child-like awareness of not knowing the difference between self and other. Buddhism introduced symbolic conceptualization; but this conceptualization was about what beyond this realm. During this shift into modernity, we see the conceptualization of the self. It was their encounter with the other that moved them to encapsulate themselves in symbols, to define in order to know and demarcate their place in this larger world. Nitobe was a writer who embarks to define the Japanese nation, making the argument that all Japanese are Samurai (Inuoye 3/6). He writes, “What Japan was she owed to the samurai. They were not only the flower of the nation, but its root as well”( Nitobe p.159). This is because Bushido had “ furnish[ed] a moral standard for the whole people” (Nitobe p.163). But what I find strange is that Nitobe wrote this devotion to morality for a foreign audience. In doing this, Japanese morality and therefore its identity is being shared and adopted by “the other”. I wonder what this does to the Japanese identity and how will it influence future Japanese identity. It feels that by the other becoming more like the self, the line between the two becomes blurred. Perhaps, in full circle, this means becoming once more like a child.
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.
know what to draw anyone?
Walking on Saturday night in Jamaica Plains after a night of drunken drama ( my attempt at a hedonistic life), feeling tired of the snow and the city that makes it (and sometimes me) so ugly.
The whiteness of the snow
turns black in the city.
Where can I rest?
“ The blossoms of the heart are scattered; by evening the tree itself has been turned to firewood. Who can escape?” [ Saikaku p.154]. There is no escape from the evanescence of reality. The hedonist realizes this and instead of seeking a way out, I would say like the Zen Buddhist, plunges head first into life’s physicality. If we are stuck, why not make the best of it and immerse ourselves in pleasure? While I see the draw to this, I do not buy it. Making the pursuit of pleasure paramount in life seems like a way of distracting ourselves from many truths. Mainly, that all things end, all is sadness (mono no aware), and that the self is not. People who constantly pursue pleasure cling to the notion that this pleasure will continue to give the good feelings, the fulfillment, that it has given them in the past; They in turn forget that all is change. These feelings do not continue, they become dull and can even end up hurting you, like they did Saikaku’s prostitute. I believe that the Hedonist runs away from his sadness or at least tries to over-compensate it. I think we have to embrace the sadness of our existence so that we can see the whole beauty of it. As Momokawa puts it, “ [mono no aware] is a sadness that is constantly evolving towards gaiety”[p.11]. Finally, hedonistic living, by its very essence, is self centered as it is fueled by the desires of the individuated self. This kind of living sees everything as a dichotomy; there is pleasure and pain, good and bad, and I only want one side of the story. I think this fundamentally stems from the notion as self as separate from other; I want that. When really it is I am that; thus there is no need to seek or to pursue. When we live from emptiness, we transcend the dichotomy and we are freed from desire and the attachment to those.
Friday afternoon, I went to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plains and climbed all the way to the top of the hill, where I laid on a bench and became lost in the beauty of the leaves blowing in the wind.
Lying motionless beneath
leaves that glisten in the
In furthering our conversation about Buddhism, in particular, Zen, I found our discussions and readings for this week, again, fraught with paradox. Professor Inouye explains that “[t]he Zen goal of achieving nothingness, or mu, is to create emptiness in a way that is radically receptive” [Inouye p.68]. That is, we cannot expand our experience or ourselves until we are emptied of our preconceptions about other ways of being and even of ourselves. Our fulfillment grows out of our realization and embrace of Nothingness. Nothingness transcends dichotomy and is what everything has in common [Inouye 2/11]. Thomas Merton even equalizes nothingness with infinity [Merton p.107]. Merton goes even further to say that it is out of nothingness, “this zero[,] that all good is performed and all evil is avoided”[Merton 107]. This is because when we are and act from this nothingness, we are rid of our ego-self, which sees itself as separate from other and confines itself to false conceptions. Kumagai committed a grave sin when he killed Atsumori; this is because he acted from his conception of himself, his role, his ego, instead of from the emptiness he felt when he recognized Atsumori’s likeness to himself. It is not until he has abandoned the world of dichotomies, leaving his military post and becoming a monk, that he is able to heal and save Atsumori soul through prayer. Nothingness has always been a concept that has fascinated me, but in this discussion, I do not believe that nothingness is an idea to be grappled with; instead nothingness seems like a way of being in the world. When I practice mediation and am able to calm my mind and transcend my ego (my self-told stories), I become nothingness, but I also become everything here in this present moment; I feel lightness and connection, emptiness and fulness. To be nothing is to be free, like professor said during class. I’ve heard from many meditation masters that meditation is a way to practice dying. If I can attain the empty state of being, return to nothingness, while I am alive, then death is an illusion. And perhaps that in turn means that this life as an individuated being is also an illusion.
Having a long and hard day at work, on top of a week full of frustrations, emotions piled up and exploded as I left to walk home on Friday evening as the blizzard started; while I was feeling miserable, it felt so relieving to let it all out.
A winter’s storm.
Wind howling, snow whipping.
I feel that the main topic of this week’s readings and lectures has been detachment. The Buddhist believes that suffering is caused by our attachment and dependence to things that will inevitably disintegrate, leaving us unfulfilled (Inyoue 1/28). And so, to find peace, one must consciously renounce his attachments. The poet, Chomei, realizes this truth and implores his readers to not cling to the world of things, of houses, and social roles and obligations. He recounts all of the catastrophes that leave these things not only destroyed and useless, but as sources of unhappiness. Since “reality depends upon your mind alone”, material and social “possessions” are superfluous in attaining true happiness (Chomei p.75). Once again the theme of detachment is paramount in that the Japanese have long valued the truth that success does not last. This is emphasized in the Taira’s rise to and fall out of power as “the prosperous must decline[,] and the proud do not endure…” [Tale of Heike p.1]. Equally as true is that failure, too, does not last [Inyoue 2/4]. Thus, it is silly to immerse ourselves in our successes and failures. Instead, we must take a detached perspective; to enjoy our successes and mourn our failures but not define ourselves by them.
I was walking through a neighborhood close to Teele Square during the mid-morning on Friday when I walked by a house with a large wind-chime and I paused to listen and appreciate.
The leaves dance
to the wind’s song.
The sun upon my face.
This week we focused on the three main tenets of Buddhism, Anitya, Duhka, and Anatman; Of all three I found the concept of Anatman the most difficult to understand, but also the most alluring. Anitya is a Buddhist term for Evanescence, but with emphasis not only on the impermanence of the external world but also of our own perceptions (Inouye p.31). I feel like I understood this concept within the first class. Duhka is the suffering that we experience due to Anitya and to our tendency to rely on and attach ourselves to that which is impermanent, be it our lovers, our egos, or our bodies (Inouye 1/28). This is a Buddhist concept that I am much familiar with and prescribe to (and I must say, practicing healthy detachment has freed me in many ways). Finally Anatman expresses the Buddhist truth of “no-self”. Bear with me on this one… I am so interconnected with all that is, that my solitary Self couldn’t exist without the existence of another (a multitude of things, events, people, etc.). This interconnectedness binds the self with the other, disintegrating my singularity or separateness. In other words, if self is defined by other, that is, self is other, then the self (which is traditionally defined as the not-other) does not exist. What a trip!! One of Aldous Huxley’s characters in his book The Island seemed to recognize this truth as he would only refer to himself in quotations. It shakes me to hear that self does not exist, in fact its seems contrary to my very perception of reality. Even now my language is infused with reference to a self. But at the same time, I understand no-self as I have experienced moments where my particularity vanishes and I merge with another. Oneness. So how can these two experiences, of self and of no-self, exist together? Well neither could exist without the other. That is the nature of dichotomy and the nature of language. I think there is a higher question. Can I live in my self and in the oneness simultaneously?
After contemplating professor’s advice to bathe today because I might die tomorrow, I decided to bathe in the second floor, pretty dingy, bathroom early Saturday night .
A Space Transformed-
Candle Flame, Still Water
I feel that paradox surrounds what we have been talking and reading about in class thus far. Everything changes and everything is impermanent, yet this change has a “form” to it: Orderly Chaos. Second is that nothing is permanent , and yet the “eternality of the present” moment is central to Japanese understanding (Kitagawa p.58). These tenets even give rise to paradoxical feelings. I feel sad that everything I love and care about, myself included, will someday disappear. It makes me feel that nothing matters. At the same time I feel full of gratefulness and alertness as I realize fragility of life. It makes me live fully in this present moment, where my love is, as I know it will soon be gone. This “sadness is beautiful” because it puts us into perspective, it takes us more fully and truthfully into the reality of life (Lecture 1/23).