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by Kamo no Chômei (1155-1216)

Robert Oxnam :: Central to Buddhism is the notion of the impermanence of life. Buddhists see a need to renounce worldly attachments to gain release from the sufferings of human existence. The Japanese literary world reflected these beliefs some eight hundred years ago.

In his famous essay written in 1212, called An Account of My Hut, Kamo no Chômei describes his own evolution to becoming a Buddhist monk. The first part of his essay illustrates impermanence and suffering.


[Excerpt from An Account of My Hut]

Then there was the great earthquake of 1185. ... The rumble of the earth shaking and the houses crashing was exactly like that of thunder. ... Those who were in their houses ... ran outside, only to meet with a new cracking of the earth. ...


Donald Keene :: There are natural disasters; there are earthquakes. He describes one earthquake very vividly, where houses are destroyed, with people caught in them. He tells of a samurai who saw his child crushed flat when the wall fell down. He describes fire, huge fires which destroyed most of the cities, houses. He describes whirlwinds. And each of these disasters destroys houses, but there were also manmade disasters. He tells of one when the capricious tyrant who was ruling Japan at the time ordered that the capital be moved, and people floated their houses down the river to the new site, and the old capital was just empty fields. All this made him, convinced him, that the things of this world, the things that we prize such as having a house, that's such and such a dimension and so on, are not really of importance. The real important thing is salvation, believing in Buddha.

Robert Oxnam :: After the apocalyptic first part of his essay, Kamo no Chômei guides us to his hut, taking us into his Buddhist world of serenity, peace, and contemplation.


[Excerpt from An Account of My Hut]

Now that I have reached the age of sixty, and my life seems about to evaporate like the dew, I have fashioned a lodging for the last leaves of my years. It is a hut where, perhaps a traveler might spend a single night; it is like a cocoon spun by an aged silkworm. ... It is a bare ten feet square and less than seven feet high. ... Since I fled the world and became a priest, I have known neither hatred nor fear. I leave my span of days for Heaven to determine. ... My body is like a drifting cloud — I ask for nothing, I want nothing.


Robert Oxnam :: In the end, Kamo no Chômei sadly admits that, although he has made every effort to renounce the world, he has become rather attached to his little hut. He wonders if this attachment will be a hindrance to his salvation.