Over on my other, smaller blog, I’ve been writing about women poets from the Hyakunin Isshu, and I recently posted a poem by the famous Lady Izumi, or Izumi Shikibu as she’s called in Japanese. She was a very passionate and brilliant poet in the 10th century, and had many lovers, but she also saw them all die before her. Even her daughter, a famous poet in her own right, died before Lady Izumi did.
After I wrote that post, I really started thinking. There is a story in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition about the Buddha’s chief disciples Shariputra (Sariputra in Pali) and Maha-Mogallana. They were good friends growing up and one day, they went to a festival. They had a good time for the first two days. But then on the third day, they realized that after 100 years, all the people there would be dead and the festival forgotten. From then on, they lost all taste for the festivities and began to seek a way of deliverance, ultimately encountering Shakyamuni Buddha.1
Likewise, the life of Lady Izumi, with its many romances and exploits was exciting and scandalous at the time, but now its just ancient history mostly for scholars to pore over. Her diaries are preserved as is her poetry, but it’s another time and another place that we can’t return to.
I feel the same way about my own life. I get swept up in trends, politics, work, my family, etc, but every once in a while, I have a sobering moment. In those moments I realize that in 50 or 1,000 years from now, much it will be dusty and forgotten, just as the trends and gossip of Lady Izumi’s time in the 10th century are forgotten now.
A person’s life can feel so exciting, passionate and important at the time, but when compared to the history of the Human race, or to the history of Earth itself, it looks a whole lot different.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Namu Amida Butsu