I was walking home from the store Monday night when I took a moment to stand and observe the puddles on the floor.
Cars passing by
A cool night’s breeze
Light reflections on water
There was one statement that stuck with me this week. “Nothingness is what you share with everyone” (Lecture 2/11). The first time I heard this, I simply nodded my head and moved on. However, upon further review, I began to analyze the implications of this statement. Nothing is where we all should be. “When one is in possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in” (Merton, 109). This simple statement applies to so many scenarios. For example, “why would I try something new when I am already familiar with something?” But, how many experiences do we miss out on? I believe the best example was provided by Professor Inouye, “Having friends will prevent you from meeting new friends” (Lecture 2/13). We are creatures that like routine; and yes, I do believe we miss out on great opportunities to meet new people because we are busy doing the same thing with the same people we already know. Therefore, having nothing is in itself something. In Noh Theater, a successful performer may captivate the audience when standing motionless (Lecture 2/13). It is possible that, “Noh’s emptiness is that quality of form that allows the possibility of all other forms to come to mind” (Inouye, 68). Therefore, the nothingness of the performance causes the observers to open up and engage. The emotions experienced by the audience members are not necessarily a reaction to the performance; rather, the observers experience them precisely because they are being open. Being raised in an individualistic society, it is sometimes difficult to accept or embrace such ideas. However, the information we covered last week, along with the discussions, have made a great argument in favor of this concept.
By Nina Watts
Nothing this week.
I found this week’s discussion of “the order of here-and-now” to be very interesting. The concept helped me better understand the idea of form. I think form is a kind of “counterbalance” to evanescence (Inouye 62). “The order of here-and-now” stems from the idea that there is an order, or form, that exists in our evanescent world (Inouye 60). This is the idea behind the many Japanese cultural formalities, such as bowing, applied to everyday life (Inouye 61). I really like that the idea is to treat each moment with respect, for “To move through space humbly is to worship, to experience the sacred” (Inouye 56). I think it’s really interesting that the Japanese have incorporated somewhat religious practices into every day life. I thought this reflected the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. I found it sad that many people have lost sight of the meaning of these cultural formalities. People have just accepted them as just shikitari, or “the way things are done” (Inouye 61). The mindful principles behind the formalities become lost “because the formal life that appropriateness supports generates meaning not by insight but by sight” (Inouye 63). I really enjoyed learning about the meaning behind Japanese cultural formalities. I like that they’re spiritual in origin and am still really enjoying seeing how everything plays into evanescence and form.
Yesterday evening it was starting to get dark and looked like it was about to rain. I noticed that the sky was a little bit unevenly colored in one spot.
A white line on gray sky
Perhaps a plane’s trail
The idea of mu, nothingness, is both comforting and difficult to fully grasp. In the face of troubles, stress, unpleasant emotions, and other difficulties that people often encounter in life, it seems very good to focus on the nothingness that is everywhere and accept that “there is no distance between us and the actual world we live in” (Inouye 63). I do agree with Merton’s emphasis on “the tragedy of a life centered on ‘things’” and the ego as a root of “hopeless struggle with other perverse and hostile selves competing together for the possessions which will give them power and satisfaction”(Merton 82). I also see a lot of truth to his statement that “to be absolutely nothing is to be everything. When one is in possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in,” but I have a hard time imagining how you could exist without holding on to anything at all (Merton 109). True, you would be open to new experiences, but it seems to make enduring relationships of any kind impossible. Since by nature we are social creatures, it seems like there must be some sort of ideal middle ground or balance that allows for some meaningful connections to be kept while accepting nothing in other senses, but maybe it’s all or (completely) nothing. Noh theater seems to be a good expression of detachment from self given the fluidity between characters and the dead and the living, but I see a paradox in the lines “life is a lying dream, he only wakes/who casts the world aside” (Atsumori 64). It could also be said that once awoken you’d be in a dream, since I imagine a state of being free of attachment to the world and open to anything being rather dreamlike as well.
The other morning I was walking across the footbridge at Dowling Hall and noticed the beautiful sunrise after a snowy day.
Breaks the ice
This week was encapsulated by nothing. Not the absence of any cohesive structure, but actually nothing. At first I was skeptical of how nothing (無) could be something to be desired. Professor Inouye talked about how noh actors, like those in Atsumori, try to gain hana, whereby they spellbind their audiences without moving (Lecture, 2/13/13). By doing nothing, they captivate the audience in an intimate, shared moment. I did not fully understand the power of this connection until reading Thomas Merton. He simplifies the concept of nothingness by saying that, “the zero [he] speak[s] of is not a mathematical symbol. It is the infinite—a storehouse or womb (Garbha) of all possible good or values” (Merton, 107). Thus, nothing is everything and everything is nothing. When people approach a new situation with nothing—no preconceived notions or expectations—they are able to take in everything around them. As Inouye put it, when you sit with the same people at lunch every day, you have something, but branching out with nothing might be more beneficial. When we all share nothing, it leaves us open to everything. (Lecture, 2/13/13). I initially had trouble grasping this concept, since I approached nothingness like a child would—with an image of eternal darkness following the end of the world. I do not think I can fully embrace true nothingness just yet, but I am getting closer. To me, nothingness involves emptying your mind to be filled by the world around you; it’s letting yourself be at your most vulnerable to outside influence and fully accepting other people and the natural world. If that is true, we can write our most vivid weekly poems when we are tuned in to nothing.
Awake in the middle of the night on Monday with a bloody nose, standing by the nightlight in the bathroom.
Eyes, cold and red
A dim light in the wall
I get the idea of Nothingness and Something when applied to making friends and not needing any more. But it’s a misleading reduction. They say extroversion and charisma are things that people “have” or “haven’t,” but I’m not sure that’s the truth. I think we’re all just mired by our own compulsions. Look at Atsumori- Taira admits to being as deep in sin as “the sea by a rocky shore” (Atsumori, 69) while Kumagai is so wrapped in remorse he lives as an ascetic. But when the both of them stop being overcome with these preoccupations, they are “re-born together.” (Atsumori, 73) And I truly believe it’s no different with the people you meet every day. Remember in Middle and High school, how you could go to class and be self-conscious *all day* about a blemish or stain on your shirt, or some mistake you made in class? The truth is everyone felt like that. And there are two ways to get over it- 1) point out other people’s shortcomings and put them on the defensive or 2)get over it. What weirds me out about Japanese culture is that the emphasis seems to be on option (1). As you say in E & F, “there are no excuses for doing things the wrong way.” (Inouye, 64) But then you say that “kata becomes a counterbalance to evanescence.” (Inouye, 65) But isn’t this MORE than a counterbalance? In Atsumori it’s a direct conflict! Kata demands that the two BE preoccupied with their duties, but the story reaches its climax when kata falls to the wayside. Do the Japanese *like* when kata is overcome by evanescence?
Week 4: Nothingness
By Songwha Choi
On Friday evening, when I was on my way to a friend’s house to have a dinner, I saw a bright crescent moon in the night sky.
Winter night sky—
A crescent moon
The fourth week, we mainly discussed value of nothingness which is one of the elements of evanescence. Generally, people have a negative view of nothing (Lecture 11/02). In modern times, we live in a materialistic world, so we try to get something as much as possible. However, materialism devastates the human emotions. When we end up fail to get something, we can easily feel the futility of life. On the other hand, emptiness can be everything. Nothing is all space, all wisdom, and free (Inouye 20). When we dismiss all our obsessions, we can have a real freedom. Thomas Merton and two main characters in Atsumori suggest that how nothingness is valuable in our lives.
Thomas Merton had lived nothingness. He had learned the value of emptiness by pioneering dialogue with the Japanese writer D.T Suzuki. He did not speak because he was trying to empty his mind through meditation. By doing so, he wanted to accept to other people’s view. For this reason, he could learn many different countries’ cultural and religious thoughts. If your mind is full of something, something else cannot enter it (Inouye 22). He truly had known the real meaning of nothingness.
In Atsumori, Atsumori and Kumagai also follow the value of nothingness in the different way. Even though Atsumori is killed by the Minamoto warrior Kumagai Naozane, he does not resent Kumagai. Atsumori is not a vengeful spirit. In the last part of play, the ghost declares that Kumagai is not his enemy. Atsumori tries to empty his grudge by forgiving Kumagai. His behavior truly shows the nothingness’ beauty. Grudge is not nothingness. Kumagai also tries to atone for his sin, so he becomes a monk and changes his name. He sincerely regrets his previous sin, and he wants to clean his anguish of heart. “Guide us on our passage through this sad world” (Zeami 66). Those two main characters suggest that even though we are suffering from many problems in the world, we can pursue nothingness by cleaning our confused mind.
I was walking to Tisch during sunset and noticed how the snow-covered President’s lawn was sparkling in the fading sunlight.
crisp frozen ground
In class we talked about whether common Japanese practices, such as the Coming of Age Day for young Japanese women, are considered religious even if practitioners don’t realize the religious connotations. In my mind I don’t think it is religious; the Japanese strictly structure their space and choose to blend spiritual beliefs into this space. In order for Buddhism, and animism, to gain followers in Japan, society had to render “abstract, scriptural practice into concrete ritual practice” (Inouye 58). This created events such as the Coming of Age Day as well as art rituals that were “not simply manifestations or symbolic representations or religious belief” but they were rather “intimately associated with the contemplative intuition of a fundamental truth” (Merton 89). These spiritual values build up to a “fundamental truth” that I think is larger than a single religion. If these rituals were more symbolic then I think it could be considered religious. However since these values and practices permeate every aspect of Japanese life, even the lives of the samurai as seen in Atsumori, they lose the distinct religious qualities as they blend into everything else. Just because some rituals have religious roots and remnants doesn’t make the entire ritual religious. When we bake a cake we no longer refer to the cake as an ‘egg’ or ‘flour’. For that reason I believe that these practices are no longer religious, but simply Japanese.
I did not have a lyrical moment this week
To reach enlightenment from a Buddhist perspective we must become one with both everything and nothing. How is this dichotomy work exactly in the Buddhist mindset? We can reach harmony or oneness with our surroundings through the following of michi or do (the way) (Lecture 2/11). Do is used to break from the cycles of day to day life (also known as samsara) by providing us with the clarity to shatter the illusion of our reality (Inouye 51). Practices like judo or kendo helps us to reach that breaking point where we see the world for what it is (Lecture 2/11). I myself encountered this almost trance-like state last summer when I was cleaning out a neighbor’s pool. By engaging in the repetitive act of dipping the net in the water to skim off leaves, I lost my sense of self and was absorbed in the task, despite its tediousness. By participating in my own form of “the way,” I can draw close the nothingness of enlightenment. What I have trouble understanding is the nature of this “nothingness.” Merton remarks that “zero=infinity, infinity=zero” (Merton 107). Perhaps nothingness in this sense refers to the innate contradiction of oneness with everything and the “zero point” we talked about in class. We try to fill the hole that makes us whole by, in my opinion at least, losing our sense of self and our tenuous grip on what we perceive to be reality. In the play Atsumori, the monk Kumagai says that “life is a fleeting dream, he only wakes who casts the world aside” (Seami 65). The reality we live in is an illusion created by our minds that we must break free of to reach enlightenment. If life is a dream, what do we wake up to? Nothingness is all that greets us. Buddhist may see this as an enlightening process but frankly, I am a little frightened of that very nothingness they try to attain if it comes at the price of losing one’s identity.
By Laura Sabia
At the end of a very grey morning in London, my return flight to Boston was exceedingly turbulent (I’m terrified of flying) until…
clouds recede. At last-
I was raised with an emphasis on “making my mark” on this world, marching to the (clichéd) ‘beat of my own drum.’ By virtue of this philosophy, I have always tried to see myself as a ‘something’ (or someone) with distinct boundaries and with qualities, opinions, and judgments that were distinctly mine. This week, I have learned that according to the Japanese, my way of life is condemning me to remain in a world of ignorance, suffering and “impenetrable moral darkness.” (Merton, 82) WOOPS! The linked concepts of Sunyata (emptiness) and mu (nothingness) were brought to my attention. As I understand them in the broadest of senses, they are the process of “[seeing] the world for what it is,” (Inouye, 51) and finally experiencing satori (breaking from samsara) that leads to our achievement of Nirvana or ultimate enlightenment. Professor Inouye explains this acceptance of emptiness and subsequent ascension to Nirvana as a sort of ‘breaking down of barriers between discrete things,’ and as a merging of the transcendental world and the world of the here-and-now. (Lecture 2/11) So far, all of this makes sense to me. Realizing emptiness is a kind of relinquishing of your rights to an ego. Merton hits the nail on the head when he writes that “the meaning of life is found in openness to being…” (Merton, 81) As we remain preoccupied with the “stuff” of the world- judgments, opinions, material things, goals, etc., we are limiting ourselves and ultimately forcing ourselves to remain ignorant and closed to life’s fundamental truths. Merton tried to explain the concept of nothingness by citing the double equation of “zero = infinity, and infinity = zero” (Merton, 107) He goes on to further define the “place of zero” as “Emptiness as Being” and the “work which is carried on in the zero=place or infinity” as “Emptiness as Becoming.” (Merton, 110) WHAT? For some reason, I find this way of understanding Sunyata altogether too abstract. I have to work in smaller steps. Perhaps by ‘emptiness as becoming,’ Merton is making a reference to the notion that the importance of grasping and accepting nothingness is in the process, and not so much in Sunyata as an end. This lead me to consider the emphasis the Japanese place on kata and on michi or dō (“ways”) as a way of implementing the strict following of a patterned set of behaviors “to confirm their identity by moving through…Japanese space in formalized ways.” (Inouye, 57) As I have mentioned before this is a way of ordering the chaos presented to us in the idea of constant change. It allows us to open ourselves to the unifying truth that the one thing we all share is emptiness- the pure absence of all judgment, opinion and discord. I’m having some trouble buying this assertion. I find it difficult to fully believe that our individuality is nothing but negative and part of an ignorant experience of the world… Our examination of the Noh Theatre really helped my wrap my head around a concrete example of michi and kata as well as the concept of the space created when the transcendental world and the world of the here-and-now merge. The space of the theatre itself presents us with a live manifestation of a zero place where we suspend our preoccupation with the ego. Inouye describes this eloquently when he writes of the theatre experience as an “aesthetic expression of Buddhist enlightenment [turning] divisiveness into unity and [making] the moment of singularity an eternally reverberating one.” (Inouye, 66)
Nothing this week
The idea of nothingness, to be honest, still doesn’t hold much water in my mind. The thought of, “everything is nothing, nothing is everything” (lecture 2/11) is very hard for me to grasp because it is so contradictory in itself. I think I began to understand the idea in a sense that if you let everything go you will gain everything, but even as I say that I have no idea what it means. In Noh theater it is said that, “Noh’s emptiness is that quality of form that allows the possibility of all other forms to come to mind” (Inouye 68). This is another example that makes no sense to my Westernized mind. How does being sparse and empty allow for all other things to happen? Wouldn’t that then fill that emptiness blocking out all other things? This seems lead to you having nothing and everything all at the same time. However, I don’t think that is possible as they are polar opposites. The idea of “nothingness” has become a paradoxical puzzle that I can’t seem to figure out. I believe I understand what it is saying, but I don’t understand what it means. In Atsumori do the priest and Atsumori achieve peace because they both gave up everything and looked to Buddha for salvation? The idea that letting past quarrels go to achieve peace makes sense to me, but again “nothingness” is a mystery.