Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

My ten-foot hut

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Kamo no Chōmei

Now I am sixty years old, and again changing my way of life so late in life, have constructed a house to which to entrust my last years. It was like a silkworm diligently making a cocoon, or as if designed to provide a single bed for a traveler for a single night…The house is only ten feet square, and the height is less than seven feet. I did not model it on houses I have lived in all through my life, but selected the lot and built the house on other principles. I built the foundation and constructed the simple roof by linking timbers together and pulling them up so that they are suspended from metal fittings. By planning it this way, if I become displeased with the place it is located, it is easy to move it to another location. The house is so constructed that to move it is relatively easy to pile the pieces in two carts, and, except for the charge for the rental of the carts, no other expenses are required.

So I have withdrawn to live in the Hino mountains in this ten-foot square hermit’s cell. On the east side, where the eaves extend less than a meter, there is a place to burn the firewood I have gathered. On the south the bamboo drainboard is spread. Inside, on the west, is a shelf made for the water offerings to the Buddha. On the north, in a single-leaf screen partition, the portrait of Amida Buddha is placed, and, next to that, Fugen Bodhisatva’s portrait, before which the Kekyo sutra is placed. On the east side of the hermit’s cell, I spread the straw from bracken grain as a cot. In the southwest corner, I have built a hanging shelf on which three black leather-covered boxes are placed, for poems, music books, and collections of sutra prayers. Next to that a koto and biwa stand, one on either side.  These are the circumstances in this temporary hermit’s cell.

If reciting the nembutsu becomes troublesome, or I do not feel I have time to read the sutras, no one is here to accuse me of being lazy. There is no one to interfere in any way. If I do not impose the severity of silence as a religious discipline, as may be my responsibility, living alone it is difficult to violate the rule in any case…I try to skillfully combine the sound of the koto with that of the autumn wind through the pines, or the sound of a valley stream, as I accompany my prayer by playing on the biwa. I am clumsy in playing on the instrument, but, since no one else can hear it, it doesn’t matter. Alone by myself in musical performance, or singing, it is only for personal enjoyment.

Kamo no ChōmeiHōjōki

Written by nevalalee

January 2, 2016 at 7:23 am

Posted in Quote of the Day

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