This poem was written while getting out of a nighttime class in Packard Hall and walking back home.
A fort in the snow
Caught by shimmering moonlight
Which came through the trees.
It seems only too fitting that the moving of the capital from Kyoto resulted in further disasters under Chōmei’s mindful gaze. You can’t help but recall the lessons learned from The Tale of the Heike regarding ambition and the belief that a single person (or clan) can uplift the natural order of things. Although we live in an impermanent world where everything is transient, there is still a form to this impermanence, a method to the madness. Although the power of Kyoto would eventually have to fall, so too will the power of the emperor, and moving an entire society from one place to another is an express route to having one’s own power wane, if the process of uprooting people from their homes isn’t done right. Most people can’t separate themselves from their burning houses after all, and having them abandon their houses and have to build new ones elsewhere is never a popular move. Therefore, if there is a lesson that is to be learned from this passage of the Hōjōki, it would have to be the basic fact that even though we might all be due “a fall”, but there are still definitely things that we can do to push us in that direction quicker. Those who were uprooted from court in Kyoto could also take a page from Chōmei himself and undergo the act of separating oneself from society, shukke, but such a deprived life is too alien to one who can’t see through the smoke, as most of us are. Although I personally am not one willing to abandon everything, I can appreciate the value of shukke. It allows us to gain a new perspective on the things that really matter in life by separating us from that which we falsely treasure. This is a lesson that is not seen just in Japan, but throughout much of the postmodern world, evoking lines from such novels as Fight Club. Such a time-tested lesson is truly one of importance to have lasted in this world.