Author Archives: Michael Charewycz

Misunderstanding Sorrow?

First, I saw no “draw this” on any slides… I’ll put up a picture after I know which to draw.

Also, there is no category to add this post in for week 6…

On the Monday of last week I came back from an optometrist’s appointment with contact lenses, after going for years nearsighted, and marveled at the truly dingy state of the Porter Square metro station.

Slime on walls

Empty benches

The janitor mops.

After weeks of talk on the lack of self, and the coming awareness of said self with Japan’s first steps to modernization, I was confused that poets such as Bashō would go on long epic journeys and appreciate their surroundings from their own perspective. However, when it is realized that he had previously tried Zen meditation, and was more focused on the blending of self with surroundings as his poetry would try, I understood the purpose of his journey. Dohō’s interpretation of this can be seen as follows, “’As for the pine, learn from the pine; as for the bamboo, learn from the bamboo,’ he meant to cast aside personal desire or intention” (Inouye 76). I also noticed in many of Bashō’s poems, there are two clashing forces, that of the impermanent and permanent. This should come as no real surprise, as it is a running theme in the course, however, one of the interesting aspects in the poems is the mourning I found over the impermanent. Bashō describes a ruined castle of Lord Yoshitsune, starting with the lines “A thicket of summer grass/ is all that remains” (Bashō 118). He becomes emotional, and weeps. He contrasts permanence with the fleeting often, whether castles and cicadas or tombstones and the cherry blossoms, and expresses sorrow over the fleeting, as above, or joy in the things that are permanent or repeating, like the sun shining through fresh leaves on Mt. Nikko (Bashō 100). I understand already that an appreciation of suchness as related to nothingness (see my last post for elaboration on this) leads to sorrow, followed by compassionate understanding of the universe (and a return to it), but I can’t help but feel a bit more conflicted on that subject compared to last week. Did that castle not have a place in history, and contribute to the world Bashō appreciates in some way? Did the graves of the warriors he mourned over accomplish nothing, and fade out of the world unknown? Of course not, so then, is their passing, is their end due to the forces of evanescence something to be sad about, when realizing they made up “suchness”?  I suppose I may still be ignorant on the concept of sorrow in relation to Zen.

Posted in Week 6: The Order of Here and Now | Tagged | 1 Comment



This week I was walking back from Olin at night, and I noticed a large sheen of ice sitting amidst the snow in the center of the residential quad.


Snow melting


The ice shines


Reflecting yellow lamps.

When the lecture involved a group statement of “we all suck”, I knew I was in for an interesting topic to think about.  This week’s concept of embracing hedonism through the acceptance of the sadness of things, mono no aware, made me sad for reasons unrelated to accepting that life sucks and we should celebrate its suck-ish-ness. Hedonism in a western context usually brings images of sexual debauchery and general selfishness to mind, and the week’s readings did little to assert the contrary.  Starting with Saikaku’s the Woman Who Loved Love I began to look for positives within the effects of hedonism. I unfortunately found few. Instead of that I saw one of the classic consequences of embracing pleasure as a means towards life, blatant irresponsibility and selfishness. Saikaku’s narrator acts as a professional seductress, an escort, and in her haughty success she becomes selfish, “Moreover I took money from guests I didn’t like, and then refused to sleep with them” (Hibbett 179). Basically, she acts as both a con and prostitute, and it is no surprise that her status and prestige rapidly slides, but her attitude stays roughly the same no matter what level of class she arrives at. She also makes a point to deny responsibility for many of her actions, and instead celebrates the tragedy of her predicament (though at least part of her stature is legitimately out of her control, as a slave, she has a sad life). Personally speaking, I see great danger in throwing off all responsibility in exchange for pleasure, as one may mistakenly accept their failures under the lens of being a part of life. I find this as being partly justified in the ideological shift that occurs in the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa eras, when this passive philosophy was overturned with nationalism, Japan became a global power (Inouye 84). While it had led to disastrous consequences, things got done. Admittedly the ideas spawned by mono no aware would lead to an increased diversity in the art of painting (the practice of European style perspective), or theater through the spreading and popularization of Kabuki (Lecture 2/21), I am of the belief that any change in ideology would lead to a more diverse culture by way of simple entropy. Now having studied this concept, I can’t help but wonder if Japan’s ongoing problem with suicide has to do with a romanticization of death and suffering.


Posted in Week 1: Shell of the Cicada | Leave a comment

Mu, Suchness, Understanding

On Tuesday I was struck with a strong moment of Déjà vu as I crossed the street from the memorial steps toward Anderson Hall, hearing the wind, cars, and seeing and smelling the rain on the grass and pavement reminded me of when I played football, both the things I perceived and felt.

Puddles rippling

Cars sighing

The smell of wet turf.

There were a lot of things that stood out to me in the week’s series of lectures and readings, most particularly the concept of mu in relation to understanding, and most strikingly, how compassion is intimately linked with contemplating the (imperfect) opposite of mu, suchness, and (in my opinion) anatman. On the lecture of the 11th we discussed how nothingness may refer to a positive quality, that of cleared slate, an open mind towards ideas or opportunity when false notions of desire (whether for material objects or false understanding) are demolished. I greatly identify with this idea and feel true understanding in many cases is greatly hampered by willful ignorance at the hands of those to gain, or (at least I interpreted it as), Avidya (Merton 82). The world is an innocent place, without bias towards what we define as good or evil, such is why evil exists; “…the sun rising on the good and on the evil, on your foes and friends” (Merton 106). What is good is eventually destroyed, what is bad may sometime rise up, but eventually the slate is cleared again, and the world will reset itself to a more neutral place. The world is nothing, we must embrace this through realizing nothingness. There is no larger pattern to the world; one must purge themselves of all false subjective relation to it, in order to achieve Nirvana through reaching a simpler, less falsely justified and biased state. I think this realization there is no pattern to the world (thus there is nothingness) must lead to a realization that regardless of why they happen, things happen, and that the universe is what it is for reasons beyond our ability to perceive. This is suchness, which Merton described in some detail. All action, thought, prejudice or love has a root cause somewhere, not necessarily a reason, but a cause. The sum of these causes is suchness and describes why things are, and, when this is realized will lead to compassionate understanding, for how can one be cruel when we identify with the person we would malign? Why harm when a twist of fate could throw us in their position? This is the nature of evanescence. This is why we cannot have a true sense of self, nor can there be valued a constant universe. The effect of this reasoning is seen in Atsumori, where the dialogue states Naozane and Atsumori “In truth may we be named…Friends in Buddha’s Law” (Waley 71), for they were enemies only as a cause of being born in the wrong families. And to think, ultimate boundless compassion and understanding is just the eventual result of eliminating false bias and desire! So much war, devastation and oppression would be avoided if more people shared these values. The world is inextricably linked to everything else, and thus we should be kind to everything in it. 

Posted in Week 4: Nothingness | 1 Comment

Success and its consequences – Mike Charewycz


Nothing this week

The past week of lectures centered on failure, success, and the consequences of both in this universe. I could not help, as lecture progressed on the sixth, but draw a comparison between Chomei and Thoreau. Both left their worlds out of perceived social ills, both became self-reliant recluses in order to further their introspection, both on themselves and human nature, and on society itself. One example of their similarities is seen in Hojoki, where Chomei describes how his appearance does not matter, being out of society, and how in the capital when he visits, people mistake him for a beggar (Chomei 74, 75). Thoreau made a similar point, in how once alone; man can define his own values and virtues. But as stated in in Evanescence and Form, Walden chose the life of deliberate self-reliance in finding true virtue, where Chomei did it out of resignation to the illusion of choice (Inouye 43). I must admit though, I am still struggling with the idea that things like Karma or a measure of success or failure can exist in this evanescent world as posited by the Tale of the Heike. It seems to say that, although one may fail, as sometimes it is inevitable, and although ones virtues or sins are taken into account, they may or may not be punished in the here and now, or maybe in the hereafter. I can come to terms with a world largely beyond one’s control, but a world in which one’s actions are totally meaningless seems beyond my comprehension. I cling to what Chomei says (75), “Reality depends upon your mind alone”. Is there wrong in defining our own measures of success or failure? I worry that without such guidelines of success or meaning we may fall into the trap of the Hikikomori, the modern day social recluses in Japan, defined by acute social withdrawal and failure. While failure may be necessary, I see danger in romanticizing it.

Posted in Week 3: Failure, Success, and Leaving the World | Leave a comment

From Hakanasa to Mujo – Michael Charewycz

This past weekend I visited my girlfriend in New York City, and on the way back in the evening I noticed the reflections of passing towns and cars and lights through and on the large window I sat next to.


Gliding over glass

Fireflies in night

Lives wandering on


This past week we discussed the transition from traditional animistic beliefs to Buddhism within the scope of Japanese culture, with special focus on the concepts of anitya, dukha, and anatman, which translate to impermanence, suffering, and lack of self respectively (Inouye 31). We framed these values within a cultural context by examining works including As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams and the Nara Buddhism reading. Through this we realized anitya as the connecting principle between dukha and anatman central to Japanese Buddhism. For there can be no sense of self, anatman, when all is changing both within and externally; this lack of self and control over one’s surroundings leads to a sort of existential suffering, dukha (Lecture 1/30). I find these concepts easy to relate to, as I identify as a stoic. Having recognized myself as unimportant with the vast scope of an ever changing reality contrasted against any sense of self, and being largely out of control of my surroundings, I try and control and shape myself in response to the universe, thus trying to achieve contentment.

Posted in Week 2: From Hakanasa to Mujo | Leave a comment