Out of a living silence

A contemplative shares thoughts that emerge in moments of quiet reflection

Hanging on to the past

with one comment


“The world of dew
is the world of dew.
And yet, and yet–”
― Kobayashi Issa

When I lived in Hiroshima from the autumn of 1977 until the spring of 1979, I often passed by the iconic A-bomb dome, the ruined remains of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Someone pointed out to me that the infrastructure of the building was so compromised that it would collapse if measures were not taken to keep it standing. While fully aware of and sympathethic to the purpose of keeping a visual reminder of the devastation wrought by an atomic bomb, I also reflected on the irony of putting effort into keeping something perpetually in a state of being on the verge of collapse. How does that differ from, say, putting a brain-dead person on life support on display for no other reason than to serve as a reminder that life ends in death?

In recent years I have been a volunteer in two organizations that monitor archaeological and historical sites in New Mexico. Monitors visit sites periodically to see whether damage has been done by natural occurrences such as fire or water, or by burrowing animals, or by human campers or treasure hunters. Any damage found is reported to an archaeologist, who then surveys the site more carefully to see whether steps need to be taken to restore the site to the state it was in just before the damage was done. The state a site was in just prior to being damaged, of course, is usually a state of collapse. Sites that were villages built by ancestral Pueblo peoples in the thirteenth century are now piles of stone and scattered pot sherds or flakes from the manufacture of lithic tools. Eventually the occupants of those villages moved on to other locations, probably taking with them whatever was both useful and portable. During the past century, however, and even more during the past twenty years, efforts have been made to keep those piles of stones and middens and pottery and tool scatter, so far as possible, in the condition in which we now find them. Archaeologists used to do much of their research by digging, which of course altered the nature of the site being researched. The tendency now is to use tools, such as ground-penetrating radar, that leave a site while gathering information about it.

I would not participate in the endeavor of site monitoring if I did not value knowing about how people lived in the past and if I did not respect the Pueblo peoples who still life in New Mexico and their ancestors who have lived here for many centuries. At the same time, however, I am struck by how holding on to things from the past runs counter to the fact that everything in this universe is constantly changing and that the material of any given epoch must be the same material of previous epochs. Materials are constantly being reused, transformed, and repurposed. There is something unnatural about preservation, not only physically but psychologically. It is, I am inclined to think, generally speaking more psychologically healthy to let the past slide into forgottenness than to hold on to it. Anything that is truly useful or valued is bound to survive somehow, or to be rediscovered if it goes missing for a while and turns out to be indispensible. This being the case, there is a part of me that is inclined simply to let nature, including human nature, simply take its course, knowing that the course nature takes is always destruction of the old to make way for the new. There is, however, another part of me that says with Kobayashi Issa, “And yet…. And yet….”

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Written by Richard P. Hayes (Dayāmati Dharmacārin)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 11:44

Posted in Social analysis

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on 1513 fusion and commented:
    From birthing’s washbowl,
    To the washbowl of the Dead,
    Blathering nonsense.
    Kobayashi Issa

    Harry Nicholson

    Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 13:21


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