Nothing this week.
Is Shukke the answer? I believe the “bad news” is true. Success does not last (Lecture 2/4). It is also true that we will continuously be disappointed in this world. However, would separating ourselves from these experiences be the right thing to do? What do we have to gain? For one, we would avoid the pain. Maybe we can avoid being disappointed by others. However, what would be the cost? We would also be avoiding pleasure, love, companionship, and much more. Many of us have experience great disappointment, at times a broken heart. But, would you walk away from a good relationship simply because of the possibility of a breakup in the future? What about the positive experiences you will miss? I can see the appeal of “staying at zero” (Lecture 2/4). If you maintain a stable position at zero, you will never be disappointed – you cannot fall. Nonetheless, you do miss all of the positives. I believe this approach is similar to saying, “If you do not play, you cannot lose.” Is it not better to play though? I believe Chomei would say “No.” He would agree that we are children playing in a burning house, unaware of the danger (Inouye 39).
After witnessing many people’s homes burn in the fire, Chomei writes: “All of man’s doings are senseless / but spending his wealth / and tormenting himself / to build a house in this hazardous city / is especially foolish” (Chomei 38). As an outsider, Chomei sees various difficulties people experience in their lives, primarily the destruction of their homes. However, this is what he sees precisely because he is an outsider. He does not see the good things that they experience in their lives, or the good memories they create in their homes. If we were to run away from our lives, we would miss out on all of the good and bad experiences we should have. Is this not what it is to be human? In my opinion, life is not a goal –it is a journey. Therefore, to “leave” would be to miss the point of life itself.
The night after the blizzard, a friend opened his window wide—in silence we stared out, listening to the soundlessness of the usually busy Boston Ave.
The cicada-shell world
Frozen still with snow
Soon to melt
Sitting in the dark room, singing soprano (alto?) beside my fellow classmates, and having my professor rap about the unavoidable failure of life was both hysterical and enlightening. The concept of the ever-changing world was once again really driven home, literally. I’ve never fully realized how houses are a manifestation of our yearning for permanence (Lecture 2/6). It makes sense then, like everything else in this world, that they “will not outlive the day” (Chomei 33). Further, accepting evanescence is accepting that bad things will happen—success will be followed by failure. It then does not make sense to then question why it happened, or internalize it too much (Inouye 50). On the bright side, it’s nice knowing that neither success nor failure prevails! The Buddhist reality of relieving dunka by accepting anitya really resonates for me here. We cannot be unhappy if we know that the world is constantly shifting, our failure will soon be followed by success, and that even though pain is inevitable, it cannot lasts forever. We should live our lives similar to Japanese skyscrapers; using flexibility to withstand the world’s surprises (Lecture 2/6)—“nothing gives the mind stability like an awareness of the world’s radical instability” (Inouye 50).
Think about Decline, failure, and leaving the world
By Songwha Choi
On Saturday morning, I awoke to find the world mantled in a sheet of white snow.
All the world
The third week, we continually discussed that nothing lasts in life. It is true that in life there are always ups and downs. When we sung “The house is on fire,” it enlightened us to think about our lives’ decline and failure. I realized that even though I tried to succeed in my life, I might end in failure later. I think that failure is an also very important part of people’s lives. If I think about my life in this way, I do not need to try to get fame, money, and status aggressively. I should not struggle over tangible assets because those can easily be lost. I realized that I should focus more on intangible assets from now on. This idea definitely wakes me up from my ordinary life. “You don’t need money, you need enlightenment! “ (Inouye 9) If life is bad, why stick around (Inouye 20)? Maybe we cannot easily give up our obsessions. We should leave our lives as they are. Why do we try to be someone who is adored by other people. Why do we mostly try to be doctors, lawyers, and CEOs? We can just give up if we end up failure. Maybe I am not a doctor, or lawyer, but rather something else (Lecture 02/06). “Reality depends upon our mind alone” (Chomei 75). We also learned about the Japanese history of Samurai who were “the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan” (OED: Samurai). Samurai are familiar with me because I frequently saw the movies which are related to them. I felt Samurai act in obedience to the orders of their commanders, and they care about a sense of a loyalty. Professor Inouye taught that dew is another image of evanescence (Lecture 02/06). “A place of beauty has no owner so there is nothing to spoil the pleasure” (Chomei 67). This part of poem is one of my favorite parts of Hojoki. We might feel depressed because we do not feel beauty of nature. We can take some time to appreciate the beauty of nature unless we are slaves in a harsh world.
As I was out walking during the height of the blizzard a plow was coming towards me way down the street and I could see the silhouettes of people running in front of it.
A light through the storm
Two shadows run
This week we continued to focus on Buddhism with the newer subtopics of success, decline, and leaving the world. The main ideas behind the past two lectures were that life is suffering, or samsara, and that failure and success are cyclical (inevitably one leads to another). The concept of anatman, or no self, is particularly difficult for successful people to grasp, and we discussed how that is especially relevant at Tufts, where so many students are success-driven (Lecture 2/4). We also talked a lot about the samurai, and how Tale of the Heike is a fitting expression of the relationship between success and failure. The famous moment in which Kumagae na Naozane must behead a young soldier even though he is the spitting image of his young son shows the incredible dedication of the samurai to his duties and the conflict between giri and ninjo. The triumph of form over emotion shows just how important kata is in this circumstance, regardless of personal opinion (Lecture 2/6). We also found out that we are all trapped in a burning house, blind to the horrible state of our reality unless we get out and look back at the madness. This connected to the concept of the floating world, ukiyo, a manifestation of why it is foolish to become attached to objects and other things that are not constant. “To seek security and permanence by attaching ourselves to that which is unpleasant and floating is to be deluded” (Inouye 40) This is well exemplified in Hojoki. Numerous natural disasters that visited the capital during Chomei’s time “mocked its sophistication and finery” and “reinforce the notion that we are nothing but foam upon a stream” (Inouye 45). Chomei talks about how after these natural disasters people seem cognizant of what is really important for awhile, and then fade back to normal life (Chomei 54). I think this is a pretty good representation of how people always fall back to their patterns and tie themselves back into the floating world because it’s just easier than pursuing a path to an enlightened existence. Even though suffering could be avoided through acceptance of samsara, that would require rejecting the materialism which is so deeply ingrained in American society in particular. I do find comfort in Chomei’s assertion that “reality depends on your mind alone” (Chomei 75) and was especially interested in the concept of the shukke, the formalized process of leaving it all behind in Heian Japan (Inouye 40). It is attractive yet sad, but it seems that if it was pursued properly it would lead to contentment. With all of this it also seems to me futile to pursue any sort of success knowing that it will eventually lead to failure. I am still waiting to see how the Japanese are generally recognized as a very driven and successful society if this is the basis of their culture.
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.
Walking in the Powderhouse circle around 11:00pm on Friday night, passing another group of daring travelers.
I cannot feel my ears.
The wind rips around me,
silhouettes in the distance.
This week we read about the boy with the flute, the moving of the capital, and some reasons to be homeless. The idea of “shukke” came up in lecture 3 (Inouye, 2/6) and I gotta admit it sounds appealing. However, in REL 194 (Zen and Tea) we are currently reading about the history of Buddhist monks, and the rigid lifestyle doesn’t really grok with me. If “shukke” meant I could go to a new village and be a new person, that would be sick. Why take classes when I can just make a new name and catch fish? Writing that, I realize I obviously have my reasons for staying, but still. Concerning the readings: the story of the samurai that must kill due to their honor (even when they don’t want to!) is pretty sad, but it super reinforces the “form” concept of the course (Heike, Chp 9). It kind of breaks my ‘eart that the Minamoto guy AND the Taira kid felt rules were more important than life, because we’ve learned that “form” is there to sort of counteract “evanescence.” But here the “form” reinforces it. How’s that for personal reflection? Alternatively, the houseless Chomei (Hojoki, 29) had an evanescent fluidity that dwelled upon the chaotic nature of Mother nature and the stupidity of social norms. Reading about the disasters was interesting, but I feel like the guy didn’t fully flesh out his ideas on homelessness. The kids in class were pointing out that he’s still super lonely, and that none of us today could do what he did. So, if Chomei’s ideas were so profound, how come they’re not relevant today?
By Michael Chu
I was walking to Davis square on a Saturday night and experienced the aftermath of the blizzard.
Waist- deep snow
This week we focused on talking about the concept of ukiyo, the floating world. The Buddhists suggested that we should get out of our house to end suffering (Lecture 2/4). As a house is a symbol of a part of us that wants to last forever, we can’t truly invest in a permanent thing as the house can be on fire any time. This bothered me because if we can’t hold onto anything at all, then what’s the point of possessing anything? Maybe I should just rent houses in the future. The fact that we can’t possess anything permanent also relates to how success and failure must keep following each other in a cycle (Inouye 50). Just like in The Tale of the Heike, Kiyomori’s success is fated. Though he had been a formidable figure, he eventually suffered from a disease that left him burning hot and could only speak in “a painful whisper” near the end of his death (Tale of the Heike 211). The evanescence of success is a scary thought because you know failure will ensue anytime. However, success and failure are both social constructs based on societal standards. As Chōmei puts it, “if you conform to the world, it will bind you hand and foot” (Chōmei 58). Shukke then seems to be an appealing idea because when leaving the world behind you, you also leave the societal standards behind. Hence, success and failure will be based on personal standards, which is more beneficial because accomplishing or failing your own set goal is much rewarding than failing the society’s expectation. I find this, however, hard to do nowadays especially with the constant comparisons and competitions.
I leaned on a glass wall at a concert I thought about the people I would miss if they were gone and how easily the glass could break.
The glass shattered
And you reflected in every piece,
But only for a moment.
Home is where the heart is. People work hark everyday just to come back home and find their peace there. A home is unique to each person and belongs just to them, but why would you want something on fire? This week we learned about our houses being on fire. Chomei said “Men of means have much to fear.”(Chomei 59) By putting value in what is truly valueless, like homes, we create suffering for ourselves. What makes the homes valueless is that they are part of the floating world, which is impermanent (Lecture 3/15). The floating world is impermanent (ukiyo), but through shukke (leaving home) one could separate themselves from the floating world. While shukke is a way to escape from ukiyo, I’d rather stay in ukiyo because failure and suffering can only last so long.
I was walking home from rehearsal late on Wednesday night when I saw some street lamps illuminate the snow that was falling around them.
Illuminated by street lamps,
Drifts into darkness.
During the past week, what has fascinated me the most is the rise of the samurai, who originated as the sons of people in the Heian court (Lecture, 2/4). From this came our discussion of Kamo no Chomei, who practiced shukke, which we defined as leaving the world (literally, leaving the house) (Lecture, 2/6). Shukke is a way to rid ourselves of the struggle that comes with success and failure in life. Chomei says it best himself, “I struggled on for thirty years / in this unkind world…Therefore, / in my fiftieth spring / I retired from the world” (Chomei, 60). Though failure can be the reason for much of this struggle, “if it is the case that failure follows success, then the converse of this statement must also be true. Success follows failure. You cannot have one without the other” (Inouye, 50). This is the answer to the question that many of us were thinking: Why go through life if it’s going to be full of failure after success? Chomei’s contemplations in his book are wonderful because they occasionally contradict themselves, for example, “Buddha taught / we must not be / attached. / Yet the way I love this hut / is itself attachment. / To be attached / to the quiet and serene / must likewise be a burden (Chomei, 76). This contradiction is in large part the beauty of his writing and of the ideology that inspired it.
I went outside after the snow fell in the morning to find a dead bird on my porch and then looked up to see the sun rising over my neighborhood.
A fallen bird—
Snow-covered feathers glimmer
as the sun rises
This week’s lecture focused on the idea of success. I feel however, a lot of this has to do with the idea of balance and letting go. We traced back to themes of evanescence and impermanence in our successes and failures. Professor Inouye said distinctly that the idea of success and failure is impermanent, saying that “[we] may be doing well today, but failure will strike tomorrow” (Lecture 2/6). This hit home for me as I have lived my life striving for success, and the idea that I will always be faced with failure was incredibly discerning for me. Given the ideas of impermanence and evanescence that we have expressed so far, I feel as this idea makes sense under the context of Japanese culture. We cannot control the outcome of events in our life, so the idea of success and failure is impermanent. In our reading, The Tale of Heike, the author opens his narrative by equating temporary success to a “dream,” saying that the “prosperous must decline” and, “the proud do not endure” (Heike 1). This message correlates strongly with our burning house example we did in class. Professor Inouye talked, and rapped about how people may become disillusioned by their present success. If they don’t realize their complacency, they may never escape it. Inouye goes on to say in his text that, “[i]n this floating world of illusion and misguided attachments, our moments of victory and accomplishment are like a dream. We ourselves are like dust in the wind” (Inouye 47). Becoming attached to our successes and our failures only brings us suffering, and that by understanding that each of these occurrences is transient we can attain spiritual peace. I think the best summation of this is what Professor Inouye said at the end of class that, “we should not strive to be at +1 or -1, but at zero” (Lecture 2/6). This kind of thinking is completely foreign to me. I’ve always tried to be at a “+1” but maybe if I started to look at life this, I wouldn’t experience so many “-1s” all the time.