Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World – Kamo no Chōmei

Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World

Below the crimson skies shivers the last leaf,
Sings the blue bird, songs of a lonely tree
I wonder where, swallowed by the spring rain,
Floats the leaf, to claim a spotted grave
The sounds from Hojoki deeply permeate,
Heart of a one-room hut, poetry and music rhyme
Nestled within an early bud, what do I see?
Glimpses of Lotus Sutra, one man’s pilgrimage.

Five deciding elements of nature persuading the humble origin of the supreme fruition of man conceptualising the ephemeral life, the sensibility of man imparting the teachings of the universe from a ten foot square hut attuned to the immortality of a poet’s soul. All things are imperfect. All things are incomplete. The image of Amida dwelling among the sanctimonious mountains, the Law of Buddha shinning through the soft cerise lotus petals and the bloom of the lotus in the murky waters spiritualizing the beauty coaxed through the ugliness of stagnation defining the modest truth of the nature. The inevitable cosmos emerging from nothingness, accepting the transient inhabitation weaved into a metaphysical web of turbulence, isolation, hazards and tranquillity, devolving towards the exquisiteness of human totality fading into the depth of nothingness. Humanistic traditions expanding the sensory ambivalence of nature in the spirituality of the mind; the inevitable extinction evocating the aesthetics of existence in tender solitude of nothingness in the core of simplicity. The ‘wabi-sabi’of the universe, in its purest form.

A house and its master
are like the dew that gathers
on the morning glory.

Which will be the first to pass?

Sometimes the dew falls away
while the flowers stay.

More permanent than the emergence of birth is the oblivion of death and the fleeting journey in between is something called life; the ultimate pioneering grace of music and poetry. The inception of bloom and lush, the dew on flowers awaits the morning sun falling then into the decay of the dusk? A wasted beauty it is not, the man who builds a house for warmth only to die out in the cold comprehending the transitory nature of man and his dwelling.

Of the four elements,
water, fire, and wind
often cause great damage.
Earth does not so often
bring catastrophe..

Earth is forever metamorphosing into the permanence of deathly grave a respite for the victims of impermanence. And, when fearsome earthquakes engulf the vanities of the world, nature becomes the supreme equalizer of mankind. You can’t control nature, simply learn from it, the greatest educator.

Sinful times!
That I should witness
such a dreadful thing!

Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216) was the second son of a Shinto priest in Kyoto. One of the leading poets of the late Heian Period at the imperial court, Chomei’s powerful intensity in the poetry and music engaged the phenomenon of nature with the intricacies of human life. The notion of the universe destructing and constructing concurrently progresses the comprehensive system of ‘nothingness’ embedded in the Chomei’s poetic verses. The elegance of Chomei’s well-crafted text mirrors the world he survived whilst recognising the legitimacy of nature and its association with man.

the fire destroyed
sixteen noble houses—
who knows how many more?—
I heard one third
of the entire capital.

In this famed Japanese literary marvel deriving its titular inspiration from the ‘tiny hermit hut’ built by Chomei himself during his pilgrimage in the mountainous towards the divinity of solitude spinning the , Kamo-no-Chomei scripts through various brush strokes the devastation of famine(1180), the Kyoto fire (1175 CE) , the great earthquake(1185), deaths, floods, whirlwinds, political upheavals in the imperial court , yearning to banish materialistic hierarchy and in the end his pilgrimage to acquire a peaceful mind and the pristine beauty of simplicity nurtured in solitude.

In 1204, Chomei adhered to the teachings of Buddhism and lived a life of a recluse monk in the foothills of Mount Hino. The path to enlightenment disentangles the dilemma of possessing an “impure heart” dwelling in the woods of discipline and retribution. The enjoyment of simple company and by the means of mind and body as the only trustworthy entity for health and strength depicts the philosophy of Buddha and the wholesomeness of “shunya” (zero). An “old silkworm spinning its last cocoon”, Chomei contemplates on the benevolent beauty of rural life endowed with materialistic emancipation and minimalism achieved through remoteness from the burdensome world. On the road to achieving tranquillity, Chomei expresses:-

Fish do not hate the water.
But then, none can know
the happiness of the fish
unless he is one….

A quiet life is much the same.
How would anyone know it
without living it?

The four metamorphosing seasons equating the four defining phases of human life, ceaselessly flow like the river reverberating vanity of time concealed beneath the watery whims of impermanence. From the tenderness of glorious spring to the culmination of frosty snow, the poetic immortality of Kamo-no –Chomei defies the reluctant nature meditating through ethereal silence the transitory passage of man and the phenomenon of nature.

The flowing river
never stops
and yet the water
never stays
the same.

Foam floats
upon the pools,
scattering, re-forming,
never lingering long.

So it is with man
and all his dwelling places
here on earth



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