this ruined house: a meditation on beauty

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“More than a thousand years ago, a Japanese woman writer named Izumi Skikibu wrote a poem:

“Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roofplanks
of this ruined house.”

In those evocative lines, the conventional distinctions between ruin and beauty blur. One can read the poem as metaphor for how to find consolation in the world of devastation, but looking again, one finds a more challenging suggestion: it is because of the house’s disrepair that the moonlight can enter. A poet of our own time, Leonard Cohen, Zen practitioner and Orthodox Jew, sings:

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

… Most of us have grown up in a culture devoted to the habits that blind us. We resist, replace, disguise, crave, acquire, hoard, defend against, and throw away. We lionize the new and discard the outmoded. We believe that “more is better,” whatever the cost. We yield our obsession with novelty only when we turn what ages and decays into a status-conferring commodity—antique furniture, heirloom clothes, vintage cars, historical preservation districts—but it is not a yielding that brings us peace. We collect and remodel, via carpentry and surgery, in order to prop up the illusory sense of a separate and enduring ego. Yet all around us, the evidence of the Buddha’s teaching asserts itself: nothing lasts, life brings suffering, there is no solid, separate self. We flee these truths in terror, but a life of meditation and inquiry can transform our denial into freedom.”

—Joyce Kornblatt, “This Ruined House: A Meditation on Beauty,” from our winter 2010 issue of Parabola, “Beauty.” Read the full issue here: http://bit.ly/1NBoTMZ

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