On Saturday morning, while snow was still falling, I looked outside my dorm window and saw a glaring world of snow, which almost matches the piles of snow of the winter of 2011 that took several months to accumulate – they would nevertheless melt and fall again the following winter.
A Saturday morning’s sunshine
Renders the world glaring -
A winter’s snow in a day.
This week our discussion continues to focus on Buddhism, and in particular, the notion of “a burning house” as an analogy for this world of illusions (Inouye 39.) As a matter of fact, I reviewed the slides before Monday’s lecture, but had not imagined that the burning house image and the lyrics would have become a choir plus Professor Inouye himself presenting a rap. Back to this conceptualization itself, the one condition that I find indispensable in its reasoning is that those trapped in the house are “small children” that would not take notice of the danger by themselves. This unmistakably points to the people fooled by the false promises of this ever-changing world, and stands in contrast to those who take the notice, leave the world, and even come back to help the still-trapped. “Leave the world” refers, of course, to the idea of shukke, which we see in detail through Chōmei’s Hōjōki. That he would toward the end re-examine his life at the shabby abode and wonder if he is again indulging in the illusionary world indeed exemplifies how we are prone to fall for it: “Buddha taught we must not be attached. Yet the way I love this hut is itself attachment” (Chōmei 76.) And finally, the Japanese perception of success and failure, as exemplified in The Tale of the Heike. Two different ideas come across: firstly, defying formality leads to despicable failures; secondly, doing everything righteously promises nothing, and only evanescence guarantees to bestow failure fairly upon everyone (Inouye 48, 49.) The consequent third idea confuses me a little at first: “… if it is the case that failure follows success, then the converse of this statement must also be true. Success follows failure” (Inouye 50.) To me it sounded like a classic example of affirming the consequence. Then, of course, I come to realize that it is evanescence that sponsors both ideas. This (pseudo-)glitch aside, the three ideas seem to explain pretty well the Japanese exactness and the successes that it has led to.
- George (Zesheng Xiong)
It was 5:30 p.m. when I sat in Haskell’s common room and saw the reflection of myself on the window covered with cars outside on Packard Avenue.
Look into a window.
The darker the outside,
the clearer I see myself.
In this week’s class, we spent a lot of time talking about the burning house. Why do people build house for themselves? I believe the original usage of house is functioning as a shelter, a place for people to stay, like a cave. But today, a house means much more than that. House is our property, is the representative of oneself, is a proof of one’s existence. It’s just really hard to imagine a person who does not have a home address. House can be permanent but people cannot (Lecture 3). Maybe we are just building the houses to make ourselves more “permanent”. In another word, we are all aiming at something “impossible”. We all have desire and ambition, which trapping us on things around us, keeping us focusing on the “self”. We want success, but we forget that nothing’s permanent. What goes up, must come down (Lecture 3). So we fall. Like Taira no Kiyomori, the higher we climbed at first, the harder we’d drop ourselves on the ground later. Having a common heart is the best thing we can do about that. For those people who cannot control themselves from “climbing up”, Shukke (Lecture 3) is the best choice for them to realize “Anatman” in Buddhism. Like Kamo-no-Chomei said in Hojoki: “I built a simple living space, but had no means to build what most would think a proper house.” (P59) “Being a zero”, we should see the house as one of the many in the floating world.
After a two days snow, children and students were having fun by sliding down at the President Lawn.
At the President Lawn,
Spread through the whole Tufts Community
In Hojoki Visions of a Torn World, the ideas of evanescence and form came to me through Kamo_no_Chomei’s description of unexpected natural disaster. As “the flowing river never strops and yet the water never stays the same,” life never stays constant (Kamo 31). With an expected fire, large houses, communities and everything people have contributed their whole lives to, turn to ash in one night. These sudden, unexpected and dramatic changes are overwhelming. People hurt because they care. Their desire of holding on happiness and victory conflicts with the nature of evanescence and their inability to control anything.
If you live among crowds you cannot flee when fire breaks out.
If you wish to live far from others, traveling is hard and there is danger of
Everything comes with a downside. Is it possible to search some inner peace? Kamo_no_Chomeri offers a solution- detach from the material world. By living in a small hut, Kamo tries to be free from anxiety that caused by the desire of power and wealth in the material world. In his philosophy, happiness contributes to sorrow. Having a simple life keeps him from being too happy and therefore from being too sad. However, no one can completely detach from the world. Kamo is attached to his surrounding as he comes to love his “ten-foot-square” hut (Kamo 76). In my opinion, a complete detachment from the outside world is unrealistic and unnecessary. To search inner peace, we need to understand and accept the fact that things change all the time in a consistent way. There is no forever success and there is also no forever failure. Happiness comes with sadness and Joy always comes after sorrow. A positive attitude towards lost and failure will bring inner peach to our hearts.
In a house with friends during the blizzard, gathered around a few musical acts.
are all we need to keep warm
We began this week by talking about Japanese lyricism. The idea of universal lyrical competency (we are all inspired by the same kami, after all) (Lecture 2/4) is winsome due to the fact that writing poetry often feels exclusive, which discourages someone like myself, an engineer, from being lyrical. Slightly less inclusive is the concept of the samurai, a class of men with aristocratic roots and pretensions who controlled Japan from 1185-1868. (Lecture 2/4) Their competitive and destructive natures do not seem like a good combination. The battle for power and property seems like a contradiction with the Buddhist notion of material aversion, as does the ornamental nature of their armor and weapons. Why build up fortresses when they will just burn down in battle? Why try to control a province when you will inevitably lose it? In the context of their battles: the river of blood never stops, but the blood is always changing. (Bastardization of Chomei 31) Edit: As the commenter pointed out, perhaps the samurai are simply filling their expected form. “I would never have suffered such a dreadful experience if I had not been born into a military house. How cruel I was to kill him.” (Tale of Heike 317) I was lucky to be born into a family with a very undefined form to fill.
By Laura Sabia
I played in the snow with my dog as we walked around my neighborhood in Montreal at midnight.
Wisps of snow settle
Around her happy, wet face-
I let loose my grip.
This week, we were presented yet again with the rather bleak assertion that life is suffering. I was both puzzled and humbled by the analogy of this Buddhist truth offered in The Lotus Sutra of our mutable world as a burning house and us, as “children playing in it, unaware of the danger.” (Inouye 39) In this view, the home is a representation of how we measure our success in life. But as we place so much significance on the physical structure that is our house, we remain ignorant of the temptations and distractions of samsara or ukiyo (the disagreeable world) in which we live. Our ultimate task? We must awaken to the reality of the flames around us and relinquish our ties to everything that is impermanent and without substance to achieve full happiness, fulfillment and enlightenment. (Inouye 40) In Heian Japan, the concept of abandoning the “floating world” was expressed in the term shukke (leaving home)- the process of leaving life to live as a recluse in total isolation. (Inouye 40) There is no better example of the process that is shukke than Kamo no Chōmei’s An Account of My Hut (Hojoki) which traces the shift in power from wealthy aristocrat- to samurai-dominated Japan. Having lived as a courtier himself, Chōmei’s eventual distaste for aristocratic life lead him to chose a life of shukke as “a wayfarer/raising a rude shelter,/an old silk-worm/spinning one last cocoon.” (Chōmei 61)
My favorite part of this brief work is actually its first lines: “the flowing river/never stops/and yet the water/never stays/the same.” (Chōmei 31) They elicit the now all too familiar two-pronged reaction from me (of admiration and simultaneous confusion). I am continually in awe of the way the Japanese use their lyrical relationship to the natural world to articulate the ultimate truths of life. The literary ‘holy grail’ of Japanese culture (lecture 2/4)- The Tale of The Heike (Heike monogatari) begins in a similar moment of commune with nature with the words: “…the color of the śāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.” I understand this statement to be an example of another manifestation of evanescence but I fail to see how the color of a flower can be so directly linked to the almost religious conviction that failure always follows success. However, I am encouraged by the fact that the converse of this claim is also true- success always follows decline. Inouye makes the crucial point that “…being able to see our outcomes as both success and failure…follows from an acute awareness of change.” (Inouye 50) Our entire mental state is clearer and more stable because we are cognizant of the world’s instability. Vulnerability is particularly uncomfortable for me to feel. I am always trying to avoid it. But the notion that this humbling experience may be inevitable for me and for everyone else in the world is something that I haven’t spent much time thinking about. I’m beginning to feel a bit of comfort as I become aware of the work of evanescence at play here. Perhaps I will try loosening my grip on life a little- see what happens…
I woke up Saturday morning after two feet of snow had just fallen and took a few minutes to lie silently in bed.
A clock ticks
I found the coupling of success and failure, or “what goes up, must come down” an interesting concept that we explored in this week’s lecture (Lecture 2/6). Inouye’s quote “We may be doing well today, but misfortune will strike tomorrow” speaks to the fleeting nature of not only successes, but failures as well (Inouye 50). It’s understandable that the Japanese would embrace such an idea, as it reflects the evanescence and uncontrollable unpredictability of life. This theme is especially prevalent in our assigned excerpts from the Tale of the Heike. The fall from the top is particularly noticeable in the opening paragraph that says, “the prosperous must decline,” and “the proud do not endure,” equating their temporary success to a “dream” (Heike 1). The message resonates strongly and this is likely why Japanese children memorize this poem from a young age. While I find it easy to discuss the concepts of success with failure, it gets distressing when I try to understand my own life in these terms. I consider myself very ambitious, and this trait comes hand-in-hand with an innate fear of failure, a feature I notice to some extent in many of my peer’s personalities. As a result, I often find myself avoiding failure, trying to evade what many Japanese people would consider a fact of life. Success with failure is a topic that has caught my eye and one I hope to continue to ponder and visit as this class goes on. I already have a lot to learn from the few concepts we have covered in this first three weeks of class.
Not this week.
In class we discussed Hojoki and how its author was compelled to seek a life of “complete seclusion” (Lecture 2/6). To me it seemed like the main reason he did that was because he was getting old and running out of potential. Specifically he says “In this time, my best intentions foiled, I came to understand my hopeless luck” (Chomei)* Left without a family, he abandons worldly possessions and lives a quiet secluded life. It’s interesting that, as we get older, things stop changing as rapidly as they used to. Form dominates evanescence. By his fifties Chomei did not have a wife or children and seemed to accept that his luck wouldn’t change. At that age form settles in and it become harder (but not impossible!) to completely change the course of a life. I think this ties back to why people praise your first year of college as an amazing one: it’s overflowing with the possibility of who you can be (Lecture 2/6). Society values potential so when someone reaches the end of his potential and is unhappy it makes sense why he wants to turn his back on society.
*I have the book on my Kindle and it doesn’t have the pages marked so sadly I can’t provide a page number
During one of the snow days, I was walking by the bookstore to the President’s Lawn when I turned to see a small opening of blue sky.
Penetrating the haze
Glazes a snow day
This week’s class discussion focused on the evanescence of success and failure, and why and how people might want to leave the world. As mentioned in earlier posts, the human world is filled with fleeting moments and change, and that concept extends to success and failure. While we love not always living with our failings, we only have momentary success as well. On a grander scale, the class talked about how our homes and living spaces are rarely permanent either, as only a small minority of the students still resides in the home where they were born. I have personally moved over twenty times, so I can easily relate to the impermanence of the home. The Hōjōki focuses on this point in particular when it says that “great houses fade away, to be replaced by lesser ones,” and “thus too those who live in them” (Chōmei, 32). Additionally, we discussed the divide between societal duty and personal emotions in the Tale of the Heike (平家物語). It is hard not to feel bad for Kumagai as his duty to the Minamoto family overrides his personal interest in not killing a boy who resembles his own son. Thus, Naozane took the head in tears (Tale of the Heike, 317). Last, we talked at length about shukke (出家), or leaving the world. People often desire to leave this chaotic, fleeting world, by simply escaping society altogether. As Inouye puts it, “shukke was actually a way to remain in control by removing oneself from the limelight to work behind the scenes” (Inouye text, 40). Overall, I was definitely not expecting the “House is on Fire” song and rap, which sought to open our eyes to a few key Buddhist tenets, and unfortunately had it stuck in my head for the rest of the day, but the message of the impermanence of life and our tenuous grasp on reality undoubtedly resonated with me.
The house, the house, the house is on fire.
I was on my way to class when I saw, intermingled with the mass of students leaving the library, a friend from freshmen pre-orientation who I have not talked to in a year and half.
An old friend walks by—
Not a word is spoken
As we pass in anonymity.
This week in class we continued our discussion of Buddhist philosophy, specifically talking about our ephemeral world and how we should react to it. In a world where everything is changing, the ones who are the most at risk are those who are confident in their sense of self (Inouye 2/4). If you are self-assured and complacent in your place in life, you fail to see the Buddhist notion that life is suffering. While I may believe that my life is great and nothing can go wrong, it is inevitable that I run into failure in the future. We will always fail. When first presented with this idea, I found this notion to be almost defeatist. Thinking you will fail in the future doesn’t make me want to try harder since said failure is inevitable. However, the good news is that while we are doomed to fail at some point, we also will succeed at another point (Inouye 2/4). What we must be wary of is becoming overly confident in our present and future endeavors, as this confidence does not help reach us spiritual enlightenment. “In 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 46). If we stay attached, we become stuck in this floating world, or ukiyo, where we become complacent in our lives. What we need to realize is that this ukiyo, or, as we talked about in class, this burning house we build for ourselves is nothing but a trap. We need to look beyond the present and come to the realization that our lives are not permanent. At first, I was skeptical. After all, who wants to live their life having accepted they will fail and die? However, what I came to realize is that through the understanding of our own impermanence we can live better, more wholesome lives where we do not define ourselves by our successes or failures. As Inouye says, “nothing gives the mind stability like an awareness of the world’s radical instability” (50).
Woke up earlier than usual on Sunday morning because it was bright outside, so I opened the window and smelled the snow.
Morning arrived earlier
Waiting behind the shutter
Sunlight, the smell of snow.
Last week we talked about the paradox of success and failures in this floating world, which led to the discussion of leaving the world as an alternative option for us to deal with sufferings brought by the evanescent nature of life. In The Lotus Sutra, there is a famous analogy. It says our mortal life is like a burning house, and we’re children playing in it, unaware of the danger. (Inouye 39) We are attracted to it and insist not to leave because we think that we are “having fun”, which we’re likely to lose by leaving the house. So most of us will not choose to leave the house until we realize that we’re actually in great danger and there is a safer place that we can go to. In Buddhism, the burning house is our life in which we are enslaved by our unwise desires and pursuits of ever-changing things like a house, fame, and someone that love us forever. Desires on these external things trap and torment us, blocking our eyes from seeing the truth. So one option that Buddhism gives us is to leave the world, or shukke. By physically isolating ourselves from the “floating world”, we can get rid of some distractions and thus focus more on obtaining inner peace. In the first half of Hojoki, Chomei describes scenes from several natural disasters and how vulnerable people’s lives were when facing those disasters. And he brings up the question that if our houses are so vulnerable and fragile, why should we dedicate our life to build and maintain a seemingly secure dwelling? The second part of the book, Chomei documented his life as a recluse. He abandons the world in which he cannot fit in, and builds a shabby hut in a mountain as his home. But at the end of the book, he says that although away from the floating world, his attachment to the hut and the quiet life itself is a likewise burden. (Chomei 76) My understanding of the “house on fire” is that it is our desires and attachment that are troubling us. The objects that we attach to do not distinguish ourselves from others, as long as we all attach to something. So the key to our salvation is to forgo the unwise desire, which does not necessarily require us to physically leave the world, but to learn to forgo desires and delusions inside us.