An Account of My Hut - David Applbaum Colloquium on Major...

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David Applbaum Colloquium on Major Texts: East Asia Prof. de Bary Paper #2, due May 1, 2006 Kamo no Chomei was quite an interesting man. Raised by Shinto priests, he eventually became fed up with society and its ills, and, with a mopy-ness the level of which would frustrate even Camus, decided to become an acetic recluse. In other words, he became a Buddhist monk, praising a strategy by which one solves all problems simply by avoiding them in the first place. The particular bit of prose which I choose to analyze here is “An Account of My Hut,” hailed the world over as a cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy, and indeed a work whose beautiful simplicity belies a greater inner struggle than can be felt by just a superficial reading. The work begins with all of the various reasons why living among the people of a society in a city is not the best idea. The first argument he brings up is a rather existential one: he dabbles in the impermanence of Man. Chomei’s contention is that since any man’s existence is ephemeral at best, spending time and energy on building a house or a city that will probably outlive him is a waste of time. He writes: “Dead in the morning and born at night, so man goes on forever, unenduring as the foam on the water. And this man that is born and dies, who knows whence he came and whither he goes? And who knows also why with so much labor he builds his house, who knows which will survive the other? The dew may fall and the flower remain, but only to wither in the morning sun, or the dew may stay on the withered flower, but it will not see another evening.” 1 Political problems also plagued the cities of man, causing him great grief. One 1 All quotations come from the 1928 translation by A.L. Sadler, printed by Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
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year, the powers that be decided to move the capital from one city to another. Unfortunately, the plan was not a very good one; the old city was broken apart and its mansions and palaces scrapped, but before the new city could be built. The result was an extremely hurriedly built new capital, with poorly laid out streets. No one was happy with the decision in the end except for the Mikado, who had a nice palace of round logs built for himself. Natural disasters, however, seem to be the key reason Chomei doesn’t like cities and society, in part because of their physical effects and also in part because of the way these physical effects display the impermanence and futility of Man. Danger of fire is the first of these examples of terrible disasters that befell his people. Chomei describes a fire that occurred in the capital once, that resulted in tremendous loss of life and property:
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