japonisme: 5/10/09 - 5/17/09

15 May 2009

Created half to rise, and half to fall

so what then, peace or passion, passion or peace? animal nature or buddha nature? at birth: sinner, or buddha? can the impetus to quiet the mind to reach one's inner buddha, or one's outer god, effect one's art? internal v external motivation, or lack of any motivation at all?



these questions, of course, are older than time.

from ESSAY ON MAN, Epistle II

I. Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;

The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Alexander Pope

passion or peace, peace or passion
must one choose? can one choose?


waga io ya hana no chiisai kakitsubata




To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

William Blake

what i find myself wondering is if this is why i so love this moment in history-- what is life without passion, what is life without peace? in the moment of japonisme, we have a grand collision into a grand dance.


tsuji dangi chinpunkan mo nodoka kana



In my article, "The Dewdrop World: Death and Other Losses in the Haiku of Issa," I write:

Issa regards the crossroads sermon as a lot of "gibberish"--long-winded and fundamentally meaningless. However, his attitude is not one of disdain, but rather of quiet, peaceful acceptance, for the sermon, too, is part of the lovely spring day. The final words, nodoka kana, translate literally as, "peacefulness!" but in the shorthand of haiku nodoka specifically connotes the tranquility of springtime. Hence the monk, his listeners, Issa, and the crossroads are all seen as part of a greater picture--the spring day itself: green fields, blue sky, and the peace evoked without and within. The poet is not condemning the sermon or the monk; his calling the sermon gibberish, in the whole context of the poem, sounds almost like a loving tribute, for the outdoor sermon is as much a sound of spring as the warble of birds. However, its content is evidently not to be taken seriously. Modern Haiku 16. No. 3 (1985): 20-31 2

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13 May 2009

does man have kuniyoshi nature?

This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head buddha
would make a nice fire


man's basic nature is sinful and has the tendency to continue to sin. Thus although man may act righteously at times, on his own, or may love unconditionally, ultimately he is bounded by and infected with his sin nature which results in disobedience to God's standard.

On Buddha's birthday
a spotted fawn is born –
just like that

basho 2

A special tradition
outside the scriptures,
No dependence on words,
A direct pointing at man,
Seeing into one's own nature and the attainment of wisdom.3

At a roadside shrine,
before the stony buddha
a firefly burns

buson 4

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12 May 2009


The prison of one's character is painstakingly built to deny one thing and one thing alone: one's creatureliness. The creatureliness is the terror.

Once admit that you are a defecating creature and you invite the primeval ocean of creature anxiety to flood over you. But it is more than creature anxiety, it is also man's anxiety, the anxiety that results from the human paradox that man is an animal who is conscious of his animal limitation.

Anxiety is the result of the perception of the truth of one's condition. What does it mean to be a self conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms.

This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self expression - and with all this yet to die.

It seems like a hoax. . . . . Culture is in its most intimate intent a heroic denial of creatureliness.

Ernest Becker,
The Denial of Death

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11 May 2009

solitude II

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself.

While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me. The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house today is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too. Though it prevents my hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my hoeing. If it should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the low lands, it would still be good for the grass on the uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me.

Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.

In one heavy thunder-shower the lightning struck a large pitch pine across the pond, making a very conspicuous and perfectly regular spiral groove from top to bottom, an inch or more deep, and four or five inches wide, as you would groove a walking-stick. I passed it again the other day, and was struck with awe on looking up and beholding that mark, now more distinct than ever, where a terrific and resistless bolt came down out of the harmless sky eight years ago.

Men frequently say to me, "I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially." I am tempted to reply to such — This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.

The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervish in the desert. The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can "see the folks," and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate himself for his day's solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and "the blues"; but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it. 1

Henry David Thoreau

from Walden, Chapter 5

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