Let Life Flow


With its variability and frailty, what do you compare life to? Let’s look into the opening of “Diary from a Cabin” by Kamo no Tchomay, which is one of the most famous prose in Japanese literature.



Rivers never cease to flow and never stay the same. Even where the water looks stagnant, the bubbles rise, form and disappear with no exception. Nothing stays the same even in human society – man and his home… One is to die in the morning. Another is to be born in the evening. Everything is in an ever-changing flow of birth and death.
– Kamo no Tchomay Diary from a Cabin


Another striking characteristics of Japanese traditional sensitivity – or mentality – is based on the idea of impermanence of all things, meaning that everything is inconsistent, variable and shifting. The misunderstanding sometimes arises that the shifting nature of life inevitably leads to helplessness, transience and frailty of life. But the idea of impermanence involves a deeper insight into life.


Japan is a country exposed to risks of numerous natural disasters; there are so many earthquakes, typhoons and floods. Kamo no Tchomay himself experienced catastrophic droughts and earthquakes, destructive fires and political turbulence. Some people might think that it is a fate, that there is nothing we can do about it, but he looks into urban policies and political measures and doubts that kind of mentality.


Kamo no Tchomay, after his retreat from aristocracy, moved his meager belongings to a hermitage cabin in the outskirt of Kyoto and wrote Diary from a Cabin. He can be compared to Henry David Thoreau, who also lived in solitude in the woods.


He says you can put yourself in any frame of mind. What he looks at in awe is not only each natural fluctuation but the need to resign ourselves to a bigger fabric of life. Calamities happen for no reason. Asking why is useless. Things just happen. Your wish will be dispelled; your hope crushed. You never live up to expectations; you never escape from nagging uneasiness. Too grim, demoralizing? No, it’s no pessimistic world view; rather, it’s open to opportunities once you peacefully accept disappointments. Life is once strong but fragile next moment. The link between the metaphor of stream and its bubbles and the idea of recurrent birth and death represents this idea well. Stop clinging to what you believe you should do. Let life flow.


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