A Nice Straw Hut

There’s an old Buddhist poem that starts with the line (roughly translated):

“I have built a straw hut with nothing of value in it.”

I read this book giving an interpretation of the poem. It’s an excellent book offering insight into often-elusive aspects of the Buddhist tradition.

To me, this poem talks about holding life lightly in the face of transience. It emphasizes how the hut will inevitably be conquered by the elements. The speaker of the poem has not attempted to construct an epic monument because they realize that everything arises and passes away. There is no need to try to leave something of significance behind. The pyramids, the colosseum, and even our modern cities will one day be swallowed by nature. Maybe it will be an epic flood, maybe an earthquake, or maybe it won’t happen until the sun explodes and takes our entire planet. However it happens, nothing lasts forever.

Instead of exerting all their effort in the futile attempt to construct something that cheats infinity, the speaker just builds a nice little hut that they can enjoy while they are here.

This can be an allegory for the simple life. We don’t need to become powerful characters in the ultimate story. We don’t need to leave a legacy. We can just enjoy the small things that the universe gives us in this life.

Is a plaque on the office wall commemorating your career really worth it if you miss getting to see your kids grow up? Should you risk your life on a ridiculously dangerous hike, just to say you did it, if there is a safer path with an equally nice view? Why drink too many beers for the sake of being the cool one at the party, when you could have a couple that taste nice and still get a fun buzz?

I understand that there is satisfaction in accomplishment. I love landing new tricks on my skateboard, writing a good piece for this blog, and learning to play stuff on the piano. I think it’s a human need to feel like we’ve done a good job, and there is merit in pursuing that. But too often we take it overboard. Our drive to accomplish can ruin our own happiness and, at times, make us act like assholes.

We won’t get to be here forever, and neither will any of the things we leave behind. Don’t waste time building a life as epic as the pyramids if it means you’ll always be stressed out, or if you have to harm others to do it (like the Egyptians did to build those pyramids).

Just build a nice hut and enjoy it while you can.

 

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