On Friday morning I was walking across a snowy field.
Near the end of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus he writes, “He who understands me finally recognizes [my propositions] as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it) … Then he sees the world rightly” (Tractatus, #6.54). The image of the burning house (hōben) functions similarly to Wittgenstein’s ladder: it allows for a new perspective. “If we understood the world for what it really is we would flee its complications and live simpler lives … the problem for us is that …we hardly notice the heat and flames closing in around us” (Inouye, 45). Hōjōki is an account of Kamo no Chōmei’s decision to do just this — he leaves the world for a simpler life. He writes, from his 10 x 10 hut, “Buddha taught / we must not be / attached. / Yet the way I love this hut / is itself attachment” (Hōjōki, 30). Chomei’s story teaches us that shukke does not necessarily lead to “a resignation to the lack of choices this floating world actually offers” (Inouye, 43). Enlightenment does not spring directly from material circumstances, however austere, “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 thieves” (Hōjōki, 23). Instead, “Reality depends / upon your mind alone” (Hōjōki, 29). A note indicates that the word ‘reality’ should be understood here as sangai a Buddhist term that refers to ‘the three worlds’: the world of desire, the world of ‘color’ and the world without ‘color.’ The world of desire (for food and sex) is the lowest. The world of ‘color’ is for those who are rid of these two desires, and the world without ‘color’ is for those who are rid of all earthly desires. Neither the burning house metaphor nor shukke will take you straight to “the world without ‘color.’” But what they will do is wake you up from your food/sex/status delusions; to allow you to see that the other worlds exist. Consider Vimalakirti from last week’s readings, “Though using the jeweled ornaments of the world, yet adorned with spiritual splendor. Though eating and drinking, yet enjoying the flavor of the rapture of meditation” (Nara Buddhism, 101). He has transcended the world of desire. Chōmei berates himself for being unable to truly detach from this world of desire despite the fact that: “[His] home is modeled on / that of Vimalakirti” (Hōjōki, 30). Again, “Reality depends / upon your mind alone” (Hōjōki, 29). What hōben does for us, then, what awaits us at the top of the ladder we climb (and then discard) is a shift in our orientation towards our own lives. This new perspective helps us live more like Vimalakiriti.