Nothing this week.
This week, we read Nitobe’s Bushido and discussed the monumental changes Japan was making from being the world to being in the world. I loved hearing about how quickly Japan adopted only the best Western traditions while still maintaining their identity. As someone in love with technology, I tried to think about what I would do in that situation. Never in my life have I been presented with such an immensely new piece of technology so great that it would change the entire society I lived in. It could have been dangerous to the Japanese, but Nitobe explains why the Japanese accepted it in the way that they did due to their general belief in ceremony as: “If there is anything to do, there is a best way to do it, and the best way is both the most economical and the most graceful” (Nitobe 67 in my digital copy of the book). In your book you explain how this graceful change was so much more important conceptually than it may have outwardly seemed: “the world beyond Japan mattered in a way that required the Japanese to change their conception of space itself. This new way of thinking would eventually render Japanese space, along with the order of here-and-now, a relative rather than absolute source of meaning and identity. In short, Japan would become a part of (world) space rather than the definition of space itself.” This change in the Japanese self was extremely important to the basis of what I, personally, as a westerner see as Japan today – first and foremost a titan of technology, and changed the views of current westerners, especially more so once they began fighting other western powers like the Russians.
Scenario: Feeling overheated in my room after being in a daze of work, I open my window.
cold and warm
This week, we learned about the beauty of sorrow, the Japanese views of nature (as a continuation of last week), and the need to be connected. The idea of sorrow and loneliness in Japanese society and in the modern self seemed at odds to what I read in your book; or at least what I mainly enjoyed in this reading. You talk about change: “What is beautiful about the cherry blossom and the moon is that they are neither no more nor no less created than anything else, and that their beauty is what teaches us that we, too, are like them. We are both made and makers, alive to our truest nature (as agents of an for change) by virtue of our sameness with all that surrounds. Realizing this sameness, we become poets, realizing that ‘the changes of heaven and earth are the seeds of poetry’” (Inouye 79).
This week’s haiku was very difficult for me, and I’m not at all happy with the result. I couldn’t associate myself enough with nature this week – I felt like I was looking at it through the glass of an aquarium, not a part of it. I felt that I was “more” and “less” than the cherry blossom this week, not the same. I felt sorrow and loneliness because I didn’t feel the same as nature. Is that these readings were trying to say? Bashō’s loneliness seemed to come from the feelings of self, so perhaps mine were the same.
Scenario: while walking, I catch a reflection in a puddle for a brief moment.
Trees and the sky
This week’s lectures about hedonism and the floating world and the idea of perspective and nature were very intriguing to me. As someone who completely believes that selfishness is a good trait and that everybody is selfish, it seems unbelievable to me to think that until this age of hedonism, people weren’t doing things for themselves, spending money on superficial things, and having lots of sex. I was reminded of your earlier lecture discussions about whether or not we would still try so hard in school if our grades weren’t associated with ourselves, to which I quickly answered “hell no.” I truly believe that hedonism is okay, and there isn’t any point in “wasting precious time in the pursuit of anything else” (Inouye 70), but I don’t necessarily mean hedonism as sex, but instead see it as any form of doing what you want. If you want to get good grades or keep learning, then that is your hedonism. It seems that the Japanese at this time realized that they no longer had to care about their “grades,” and yet they still kept many formal aspects of their lives in culture even though they didn’t have to, because they knew that form was still necessary – they liked to learn (in this metaphor). I hope that my views on doing what you love aren’t too associated with loving love, as Saikaku’s protagonist does: “I let myself be swept away to ruin. There was no way for me to stem the current” (Saikaku 159). I believe those are different “loves,” and that the woman actually was too hedonistic.
I’ve run out of space to talk as much about “perspective” and the east vs. west mentality as I had wanted, but one thing I felt when comparing the two gardens shown in class was that when something is so pristine and man-made and well-kept, any little thing that’s out of place sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s the reason why bad CGI in movies is unbearable, and that CGI in general feels weird to human beings. Maybe that’s another reason why I much prefer the Japanese garden to the European one.
Scenario: Walking home after class.
Movements make no sound
As snow falls
This week’s discussion of nothingness and Merton’s explanation of why nothingness is the key was very illuminating for me and reminded me of two things quite instantly. Firstly was the idea of “potential energy” or “stored energy of position” (Physics Classroom) in science – the idea that an object on a ledge, for instance, has potential energy because it could potentially fall. Merton describes this as a form of nothingness: “Nothing to gain, nothing to lose; nothing to give, nothing to take; to be just so, and yet to be rich in inexhaustible possiblilities” (Merton 109). This object on this ledge only has the potential to fall, however, if it is full of nothing. Otherwise, it will stay on that ledge and never do anything new. The idea of spontenaity, openness, and nothingness is romanticized in the Western world, but few ever embrace it. As someone with ADHD, I relate well to the idea of needing to leave room in one’s mind in order to learn and encounter new things. Merton says “When one is in possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in” (Merton 109) and I believe that while doing so is extremely difficult for me, as my mind is always racing and constantly “talking,” so to speak, when I am finally able to silence my mind and feel nothingness, I am able to learn, think, and be creative. I will continue to practice emptying my mind.
Scenario: a man asks for help getting his
powerful car unstuck from a snowbank.
tires on ice
legs deep in snow
the engine spins
This week during our class and readings, we learned about the house (the house!) being on fire and about the exaggeration of that statement in order to push people to realize that the things in their life are evanescent, even if they do not always seem so, and that they are causing suffering. I found it very satisfying to learn that even the process of shukke, or leaving home and becoming a monk (Inouye ___), is, just like the rest of life, evanescent and only temporary. Eventually, one must come back into a society as a bodhisattva, perfectly encompassing the idea of evanescence, since even following the path of Buddhism is not a constant and still can cause suffering if it is clung to too long. As someone who has left, Chomei looks at those whose homes have burned and says “to build a house in this hazardous city is especially foolish” (Chomei 38). But who is to say that the house Chomei in isn’t on fire, and the he is the foolish one? Just as I brought up in class, in Plato’s cave analogy, the man only realizes his house is on fire, so to speak, once he’s seen it from a different perspective (The Republic Book VII), and this happens twice, so how can we believe that it won’t happen again? I don’t mean to say that the house isn’t on fire – I just mean that the next one might be too. Perhaps that’s the point; I guess that truly shows evanescence.
2 Amanda Greaves
I spent the weekend in Texas- but nothing came to me this week.
This week gave the class a taste of some Japanese culture. The theme that I sense I will see a lot this semester is the notion that life is ever changing; nothing in life is permanent. The example that was used in Evanescence & Form is love. The book states that, “Love becomes a game that is no more stable despite its many rules.” I don’t believe that for a second; albeit I would like to qualify that statement. It is true that love does change, as do the seasons do with each year. It is not true that just because love changes, it does not mean it is not constant. The factor that seems to be what ruins love, makes it magical. It is within love you can change yourself, and the others under its spell. Love does change. It does not need to be for the worst it could be for the better. Kamis are placed on things that are not constant. The sumo wrestler champion will not always be the supreme, but he is still worthy of praise. I would but a Kami on love. It is worthy to be noticed, revered, but in the end appreciated for what it is.
9 Greaves, Amanda
-Still sick after months of medicine
Warm, wet rusty air
Plagues places with no bright light
Dark clouds make my home
After watching Grave of the Fireflies the main theme that resounded the most with me was the notion of nothingness / nihilism. Seita and Setsuko lose everything and cannot find a place for themselves in society. At one point of the picture, they use fireflies to illuminate their bomb shelter. The insects having short mature life spans died and they create a grave for them. This action causes them to ultimately ask. “Why do fireflies die so soon?” The lyricism of fireflies representing their own young demises, which is the same as fireflies as they reach maturity.
It is also worth noting that ,“along with the unconditional surrender that soon followed, the holocaust caused a disruption of the meta-narratives of modernization and Japan’s invincibility. This break with the transcendental order returned Japan to nothingness (Inouye, 146).” The return to nothingness is seen within the movie as the children have to survive on their own. It is interesting to see that after Seita and Setsuko are kicked out of society, they still follow its rules.
When they are left with their backs against the wall, they still depend on what they have learned from society and in returning to nothingness they are perhaps returning to their true selves.
Looking out beyond South Hall, thick snowflakes contorted the appearance of the houses in the distance.
From heavy snow fall
If nothingness is not achieved, which it rarely is, you are stuck in a frustrated state where you are a slave to desire. I tend to agree that we are driven by desire, which catalyzes dukkha. These can be tangible or intangible desires, for example a car versus love. In theory, it is nice to imagine a life where we are perpetually content—a world absent of power struggles and disappointment, preventing “a hopeless struggle with other perverse and hostile selves competing together for the possessions which will give them power and satisfaction” (Merton, 82). If we could abandon our unattainable desires and the illusion of fixed things, then this peaceful world would be much more conceivable. On the other hand, if everyone were empty, the world would notice minimal progress because those in a “state of zero” are “poor [men] who want nothing, know nothing, and have nothing” (Merton, 108). How would we motivate people to invent, procreate, and explore if they want, know, and have nothing? Furthermore, these tasks would be hard to do in a state of nirvana because they require extensive knowledge, which would contaminate the innocent mind. Because of this, I do not think desire is all bad because “all the moral values… come out of this life of Suchness which is Emptiness” (Merton, 104). So, although desire leads to suffering, suffering is necessary in order to reach emptiness which is synonymous with compassion and generosity.
After a long day at a track meet in Springfield, MA, I went for a short run as the sun was setting.
In a sunset sky
I agree that sadness can be beautiful in that it allows people to really feel and learn compassion, but the idea that Japan breeds a generally sad population struck with ‘mono no aware‘ is depressing. Maybe part of this sadness stems from the attention to appearance. For example, the “old fellow” who asked for a concubine with very specific characteristics like “she should have the most up-to-date good looks. . .the hips firm but not too well padded, the buttocks plump” (Hibbett 166-167). Another example is the emphasis placed on etiquette, which creates a very black and white society. People are bound by traditions and standards like the one provided by the “old fellow”, which I think can inhibit the Japanese from finding their sense of self that is so longed for. Being a slave to etiquette and norms is a catalyst for the separation between the inner and outer dimensions of personalities, which creates a “self-conscious schizophrenia” in the population (8). So while it may appear that someone is committed to an action, their “inner personality” may feel totally opposed to that action, causing this split and wounding the self. This is evident in the drinking culture in Japan. An employed person could be the type who wants to go home to family on a Friday night, but instead gets wasted with co-workers because that is what etiquette dictates. Furthermore, this separation between inner and outer dimensions is also seen in Japanese life in general. It maintains the appearance of being very proper, yet had this culture where married men slept with geishas and “their true wives never enter[ed] their minds” and get/got wasted on weekends (170). In these examples, we see people acting in ways they are not proud of, yet choose not to change their habits: “at the bottom of his heart such a man feels deeply resentful towards the courtsan. . . no wonder a man will ruin himself for a clever girl” (177). The rigidity of the nation makes vices even harder to resist, which I think affects the Japanese ability to create a sense of self because it is difficult to differentiate between etiquette and hedonistic desires, leading to “ruin”.
While I was running, I passed an iced over Mystic Lake.
My poem is written about a moment I had running along Mystic Lake. The road was empty, the air was brisk, and the lake was frozen over and completely still. In that moment, I felt peace and freedom. I engage in these moments especially when I am running because I can experience nature for uninterrupted periods without talking to people, and when I am lucky enough to also escape my thoughts, I can feel these moments. According to Inouye these are learning experiences because they are a “means to enter into the thing, to be emotionally moved by the essence that emerges from the object, and to let your feeling become verse” (Inouye 77). In other words, embracing the animism that exists in the “here and now” infuses you with invaluable knowledge. It is a way of finding yourself. Basho’s journey was his way of learning, evident from his poem: “I cannot speak of / Yudono, but see how wet / My sleeve is with my tears” (Basho 118). He is overcome with emotions so powerful that his tears are the best means to articulating his feelings. Similar to how electronically produced pictures portray a scene often absent of emotion that would otherwise be present in paintings, these moments can be restricted by descriptions. They are hard to describe, and are often better with limited detail in order to preserve the emotion. Here, the painting is Japanese poetry and the photograph is descriptive writing. This sort of experience is what Basho describes in The Narrow Road to the Deep North– a relationship with nature and “the here and now”. The “here and now” is “unchanging and ever-changing”, meaning it is constantly in flux because nature is untamable, yet amidst the evanescent tendency of the natural world, Japan superimposes the chaos with form (Inouye 74). A prime example of this is seen in Ginkakuji, where a sand mound is maintained in a large cone-like shape. This structure is made out of sand, a material that is vulnerable to the elements. Additionally, it has very fine lines, which require frequent refurbishing in order to retain their shape. So while nature is acting against ginkakuji, the Japanese strive to overlay the unpredictability with structure.