Our next author on the simple life is Yoshishige no Yasutane who was strongly influenced by Po Chu-i whose grass thatched hall we visited yesterday. Although Yoshishige no Yasutane wrote of a large mansion in the heart of Kyoto rather than a thatched hut, his sensibilities were rooted in the simple and the spiritual. After he retired from the civil service in 986, he became a Buddhist monk. His Record of the Pond Pavilion describes the displacement of people from areas of the city as the landscape was dramatically shifted to accommodate urban sprawl. Changing the course of the river Kamo and the widespread deforestation to make room for estates caused floods in many areas. Yoshishige no Yasutane describes the vast changes in the community:
There are abandoned homes where thorns and brambles grew till they covered the gate, and foxes and raccoon dogs dug their burrows there in peace. From all this it is clear that it is Heaven that is destroying the western sector and no fault of men.
Despite the attempts of farmers and gardeners to adapt, rice paddies flood. Do they expect the citizens of the capital to turn to fish?
The exodus into what were recreational lands cause the loss of forests and streams. Is Heaven causing this as well, or is it the madness of men themselves? he asks.
He describes his own home: the buildings cover four tenths of the area, the pond three ninths, the vegetable garden two eights, and the water-parsley patch one seventh… Everything I’ve loved all my life is to be found here.
Just outside the range of the picture to the right are rows of townhouses and supersized homes built on what was farmland and marsh. The joke in one of the new developments was that they built a pond to replace the marsh because the latter was smelly. But that only expanded the ground of water and floods everything in the Spring. It’s natural, I suppose, to want shiny, new things – homes, cars, gadgets. I freely admit to lusting after the iPad at the moment. So I can’t be judgmental about the buyers and sellers of what are the grass thatched huts of others. An externally constructed hunger is an illusion and only feels so real because it mirrors an inner hunger. We each design our excesses to feed this imagined hunger and, strangely, are surprised when it can only mirror lack.
Yasutane pushes the edge: if we can’t control many aspects of our outer environment, we can be master architects of our inner environment. In its construction, our spiritual abode causes no expense to the people, no trouble to the spirits. We use benevolence and righteousness for the ridgepole and beam, ritual and law for the pillar and base stone, truth and virtue for a gate and door, mercy and love for a wall and hedge. The piling of goodness is the family fortune. Such a house cannot be destroyed, invaded, or fall victim to disaster and it passes long into successive generations.
But first, I do have to deal with the external mirages of wanting more and more. Out of the neural mess I call thinking, Zeno’s challenge emerged as an interesting bodhisattva practice. So, I invite myself to see how I can get by with half of what I think I need and push to practice with even half less and half again – 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, ad infinitum.
Thank you practicing – and not by halves,
Addendum: Please read Ox Herding today for Barry’s brilliant insight to the difference 1% can make.