SBP Blog

Making Sense of Natural Disasters with 'Hojoki'

Intern Intern - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The hurricanes that in the past few months have ravaged Texas, Florida, eastern Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean have left vast regions swamped and in anguish. Massive earthquakes continue to pummel Mexico.
 
And most recently, raging fires have devastated large regions of Northern California, destroying thousands of homes and taking over forty lives. 
 
Whether we’re directly affected by these disasters or not, nature’s seeming indifference to human suffering has left many reeling, disillusioned—broken. Immersed in the meaninglessness of such horrors—devoid of any semblance of pattern—we are forced to contemplate our human mortality and the inevitability of suffering.
 
At the same time, these recent catastrophes have tested our ability to persevere, to anchor ourselves to one another with compassion and love—the ultimate salve to death and destruction. As one saying that has made its way around the scorched regions of Northern California goes, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”
 
We may not be able to control or make sense of these horrors of nature, but we can still choose how to react when the horror strikes. Our uniquely human capacity to think and act a certain way liberates us from the seemingly insurmountable forces of fate and chance that heave us about.
 
Of course, as long as there have been natural disasters to afflict humanity there have been philosophers, spiritual thinkers, and artists trying to make sense of them, to find some means of coping with them—to answer that timeless question: why?
 
Medieval Japanese writer and poet Kamo no Chōmei was particularly preoccupied with the eathquakes, fires, and storms that he witnessed devastate Kyoto throughout his lifetime. His meditations on the misery Kyoto and its inhabitants suffered culminated in one of the greatest literary works of medieval Japan: Hojoki, a lyrical, reflective, and stunning meditation on impermanence, suffering, and detachment from “this unkind world.”
 
One of the most famous opening passages in Japanese literature, Hojoki begins with these words:
 
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.
 
In this passage alone, Chōmei’s verse reveals the sweep of the universe. Life is fleeting, Chōmei contemplates; if we accept that we never linger long on this earth, that humanity and its civilizations are constantly scattering and reforming, then the pangs of loss, destruction, and death become blunted.
 
Chōmei’s imagery evokes one of the key precepts of Buddhist thought: that life is suffering, that the cause of suffering is desire, and that the way to end suffering is to end desire. Without desire the death knell becomes mute.
 
Powerfully evocative and calming, bleak but consolatory, Hojoki is as relevant today as ever. Ruminating on Chōmei’s visions of the torn world he witnessed centuries ago can help us make sense of the torn world we’re currently living in.

☀☀☀

There is some good news here: we're giving away a free copy of Hojoki! Simply  subscribe to the Stone Bridge Press mailing list for a chance to win. Subscribers will receive bi-weekly newsletters detailing our latest upcoming books, special deals, promotions, book giveaways, excerpts from our newer titles, and other SBP related news. 
 
For daily content and news on East Asian culture as well as info on our latest titles, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
 
Written by Nikolas Bunton
 
 

Like our blog? Please share it!

Categories

Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan


Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

Exploring Kyoto


This revised and updated edition of the Japan travel classic and cultural guide gets you wandering from downtown quarters to remote mountaintop temples and features expanded information on new museums and gardens now open year-round for viewing.


Japanese Garden Notes


Marc Peter Keane's personal journey through 100 Japanese gardens, looking at them with a designer’s eye.

My Year of Dirt and Water


Married to a Zen monk in training, an American woman in Japan chronicles her own year of growth and discovery.

Tag Cloud

china history the silver spoon Nikolas Bunton World War II t.k. nakagaki Olympics japan custom pottery swastika Chinese Astrology shun medoruma Korea photography kansuke naka haibun The Colorado Review China classic japanese literature Asian Studies comic history poetry of consciousness danica davidson AAS green tea japan restaurant WWII japanese stone bridge cafe eating in japan award tourist behavior Spring Festival photography william f sibley diary japanese people literary prize Culture book tour Poetry wife Christianity amy chavez Spirituality Ukiyo-e Basho's Narrow Road jing liu Chinese culture Japanese aesthetics the buddhist swastika author tour book review eastern and western philosophy 1960's Japan a shameful life mark gibeau japan food drinking in japan osamu dazai manga henry kiyama 1960s Korea manners Chiune Sugihara otakuusa Travel 2020 Olympics Japan Japanese literature min kahng books tricycle magazine religion japan travel Coming of Age Day university of chicago japanese customs japan guide no longer human takuma sminkey new books Japanese art review zazen center of east asian studies History comics literary review Okinawan literature astrology guide monk yukio mishima gaijinpot bowing in japan chinese comics travel Japan Basho hitler japan etiquette how to travel in japan gratitude in japan book hoarding monks wife Chinese history memoir japanese etiquette non-fiction Korea japanese culture Children's Books Interview UCLA tracy franz Christianity in Japan matcha world literature today Year of the Dog reviews book zen monk gaijin pot Chinese New Year ningen shikkaku journal' monks wife what do in japan author Translation internment how to order in japan koun haiku Shoah michael emmerich World War Two etiquette zen hiroaki sato frederik schodt Children's Literature Language suicide memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist in the woods of memory understandind china through comics literature four immigrants my year of dirt and water japan memoir Second World War tea garden musical Japanese holidays seppuku announcement japanese drunk Art/Design Anime/Manga/Comics tea holocaust japanese book buddhist japanese travel asia Tokyo Olympics journal stone bridge press
RSS