I'm spending this week in the high desert to the east of the Cascades, in the town of Bend, Oregon. A wide and open World of plains, buttes, and peaks, of Ponderosa pines, sagebrush, tufts of wild grass, and junipers. A mostly quiet World. Of course, the other world is continually going about its business, and it lurks here in this computer, and over there across the room in an iPhone.
In the mornings and evenings, I travel to Japan to visit Kenkō and Ryōkan. A quiet World as well.
"When people meet they are never silent a moment. There is always talk about something. If you listen to their conversations, most of what they say is meaningless chatter. Their gossip about society and their criticisms of other people cause much harm and little profit, either for themselves or others. When people are gabbling over these things, they never seem to realize that it does neither party any good."
Kenkō (1283-1350) (translated by Donald Keene), Tsurezuregusa, Chapter 164, in Donald Keene (editor and translator), Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō (Columbia University Press 1967), page 143.
During the last three decades of his life Ryōkan lived in a small hut in the hills near the Sea of Japan. He was a kind and sociable man, but he was alone most of the time.
Twilight — the only conversation
on this hill
Is the wind blowing through the pines.
Ryōkan (1758-1831) (translated by John Stevens), in John Stevens (editor and translator), One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan (Weatherhill 1977), page 76.
David Murray (1849-1933), "Landscape" (1885)
One tries to keep the noisy world at arm's length and at bay, but the sheer volume of words is unstoppable and insidious, and always will be. Being weak-willed, I am often undone by the briefest of forays into the electronic world: words, words, and ever more words (including the words I am writing at this moment). One comes to value reticence.
"I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of 'having nothing to do.' I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone. . . . Even if a man has not yet discovered the path of enlightenment, as long as he removes himself from his worldly ties, leads a quiet life, and maintains his peace of mind by avoiding entanglements, he may be said to be happy, at least for the time being."
Kenkō (translated by Donald Keene), Tsurezuregusa, Chapter 75, in Donald Keene, Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō, pages 66-67.
Ryōkan found his path of enlightenment in the hills, but it was never an easy one, and he never claimed that it was the only path.
My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.
Ryōkan (translated by John Stevens), in John Stevens, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan, page 43.
David Murray, "Crofts on the Island of Lewis" (1921)