Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Living in a Ten-Foot Hut

Excerpts from Hojoki: An Account of My Hut by Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216)

"Though the river's current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.

...Nor is it clear to me, as people are born and die, where they are coming from and where they are going. Nor why, being so ephemeral in this world, they take such pains to make their houses pleasing to the eye. The master and the dwelling are competing in their transience. Both will perish from this world like the morning glory that blooms in the morning dew. In some cases, the dew may evaporate first, while the flower remains--but only to be withered by the morning sun. In others the flower may wither even before the dew is gone, but no one expects the dew to last until evening.

...People want power and authority, for if their family has none, others look down on them. But people who have property have many worries, too, just as the poor people who envy them do. Whenever you must rely upon others, so are not self-sufficient, then those others come to possess you. Even helping a stranger, if you are drawn to that person, infringes on your independence of spirit. On the one hand, it is difficult to maintain independence in following the standard social conventions, but, if you do not, you will seem absurd, will look like a lunatic. And wherever you live, whatever you do, in the short period of time of this life, you should seek peace of mind--but this seems impossible for human beings.

... In general, the past, present, and future history of human beings is a product of the mind. If there is no peace of mind in possessing the elephant or horse, or the seven wonders or treasures of the world, it is meaningless to have palaces and buildings of many stories. Now I dwell in my tranquil residence. It is only a ten-foot hut, but I love it. When I want to go to the capital for something, I may feel ashamed to go in the appearance of a beggar, but I return feeling sorry for the people I see there, who are so caught up in and preoccupied with wealth and honor, so busy doing things. If you are doubtful about what I am saying, look at the situation of the fish and the birds. Fish are always in the water, yet they don't become bored with the water. If you are not a fish you probably can't understand that feeling. Birds hope to live in the forest. If you are not a bird, you probably can't understand that motive. My feeling about my tranquil residence is of the same kind. Who can understand this if they haven't tried it?"


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