07 January 2016

The Lady and the Monk

I thought to commemorate that I'm actually going to Kyoto by reading a book on it. But it turns out less to be about the city, though still a worthwhile read because I learned some interesting words.
This quotation is very representative of the book:
 As spring went on, Sachiko and I still found ourselves often trading metaphors over the phone, exchanging complex feelings in pieces small enough to throw, and catch, I at a little open booth, on an empty, narrow alleyway, in the dark, she in the small room that sometimes seemed an almost unbearably wistful compound of her dream.
"I want only dream time together with you. You are from other world. I want see and learn this other world. But I cannot join. My heart very tiny - little fragile, like grass on windy day."
"But dream world only not so good," I replied, reflecting her English back to her. "If I was talking to Yuki, I could tell her stories she cause she is a child. But you are not a child. I want to help you if you have problems. Dream time only not so good." [...]
"Then your heart change?"
"Not change. But sometimes tired. I feel I am on a beach, waving, calling out, 'Sachiko,' but you are on a far boat and cannot hear me [...]."
"I little moon feeling, then you cannot reach?"
"Yes. And I cannot give an answer to your problem. I can only give you a quiet time, a relaxed time, the chance to forget your problems so that you will be more strong to conquer them. "[...]
"You say true. But if I much cry, have much tear in eye, then i cannot see star, or beautiful thing. Only cloud."
To that I could say nothing in return.
This made me want to pick up The Life of the Mind again, also happy that I recognized the Macbeth reference:
I had often thought that the mind was, quite literally, a devils advocate, an agent of diabolical sophistry that could argue any point and its opposite with equal conviction; an imp that delighted in self-contradiction and yet, though full of sound and fury, ultimately signified nothing. None of the truest things in life - like love or faith - was arrived at by thinking; indeed, one could almost define the things that mattered as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder. Too often, i thought, the rational faculty tended only to rationalize, and the intellect served only to put one in two minds, torn apart by second thoughts. In that sense, God could be said to be nothing but the act of faith itself. Religion lay in the leap and not the destination. And Zen was as much as anything a refutation of doubt itself; a transcendence of the whole either/or sensibility that makes up all out temporizing.  
This made me look up lacrimae rerum, which in turn created a brief desire in me to learn Latin:
The Japanese were famous, I knew, for their delight in lacrimae rerum and for finding beauty mostly in sadness; indeed, it was often that their word for "love" and their word for "grief" are homonyms - and almost synonyms too - in a culture that seems to love grief, of the wistful kind, and to grieve for love. So I was hardly surprised to learn that most of their stories were sad and that all of them end in parting. Parting was the definition of sweet sorrow here. 
Upon looking up lacrimae rerum, I like the definition of "tears of things, the inherent tragedy of existence", and the line in Aeneis that it was from: "Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt" meaning "These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart." Perhaps it's a case of the grass is always greener on the other side (relevant, this theme frequently appears in the book), but don't ancient languages sound so much nicer? I type this as I listen to Jay Chou songs with 方文山's lyrics.

More of his observations on Japanese culture:
It substituted atmosphere for meaning and so caught the aroma of a feeling. Meaning or its absence hardly mattered; there was no more point in belabouring a meaning here than in trying to pin one down in a photo or a tanka. Instead of analysis, one should simply surrender; surrender to the lovely, strange trompe l'oeil
"Why you so kind?" Asked Shinji, not for the first time. My kindness, I knew, had extended so far to nothing more than accepting his hospitality, but I heard the same question from Sachiko too, and knew that it reflected not just empty pleasantly or routine inquiry: the Japanese really were anxious to know what was expected of them in return, and what kind of emotional debt they were running up. 
The latter is very true in China as well.

On space:
I began to feel i could understand a little, for the first time ever, the power of blank space. How space can live, and draw one in, as silences can speak [...]. Autumn was merely the faintest outline of a falling leaf.
I began to think how much we need space in those we love, space enough to accommodate growth and possibility. Knowledge must leave room for mystery; intimacy, taken too far, was the death of imagination.  

On a Zen story:
The roshi ended, in the classic Zen manner, with a story. Once upon a time, an old man was trying to explain to his grandson the belief of Jodo Buddhism that the Pure Land lies in the West. Practical and alert as children are, the little boy had pointed out that if you go west, and farther west, you end up going around the world and back where you first started. Paradise, in short, was all around us, if only we would stop and look.
Shorter quotations:
to surrender all of yourself to an illusion, and yet somewhere, in some power of yourself, to know all the while that it is an illusion.

Memories could be as possessive, and as wasting, as sapphires, or lusts, or hopes. 

Surface is an illusion, but so if depth. 


I am looking forward to my trip.

No comments: