Basho vs. Hegel: Competing Worldviews

Basho vs. Hegel: Competing Worldviews

        This post is going to be a lot shorter than others because I only want to draw a quick comparison and save my longer post for what is coming next. I will (hopefully) see Batman vs. Superman this weekend, or shortly thereafter, and may come up with some ideas to share with you all following that viewing! Ecstatic about the whole thing. The soundtrack is amazing, as is usual with Hans Zimmer (though he was joined this time by Mr. Junkie XL), and that gives me some ideas already which I may, or may not, share. So:


How the World Looks Different To Different Eyes


Basho: The World As Is


The Grave of Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694) in Otsu, Japan


While I was reading, almost simultaneously, Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North and Hegel’s The Philosophy of Right I came to realize that these two men, geniuses both of them, have the complete opposite perspective.

Basho was a Zen Buddhist poet who traveled Japan, his native island, writing some of the greatest haikus of the genre. This was an important exercise to me for my writing because haiku poetry teaches writers something that is difficult to teach: to say a lot with very few words.

You can always write a Homeric epic, but the haiku form restricts one’s use of syllables and lines so that the message must be condensed into those few lines. Usually the haiku creates a juxtaposition between the transient here and now and the eternal.

This juxtaposition between the eternal and the transient, though, is fascinating to me because it chiefly relies on seeing the world, the external reality around us, as two separate things: those that last (i.e. autumn, the sun, and stars, etc.) and those that don’t (branches, crows, shadows, etc.). Part of this comes from Basho’s belief (so I feel) that the true beauty and purpose of nature is within itself.

Traditional Buddhism, as I remember from reading about Siddhartha Gautama, in several different classes, teaches that we have to separate ourselves from everything in order to achieve enlightenment. Meditation helps us focus on separating ourselves from want, which is the cause of suffering. Anecdotes of how Siddhartha did not even recognize his son nor held any emotional attachment to him can make us see him as cold-hearted person, but in truth, it was his belief that he had become enlightened and achieved a higher status and was released from samsara (rebirth).

Basho has a similar element in his poetry. We have to remove ourselves from the object we are looking at if we are to truly see it, then can we see its purpose and its beauty.


Hegel: The Power of Will

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) , portrait by Jakob Schlesinger in 1831

ntroduction. He was a great madman and genius. That’s why it’s so much fun to read his texts. Much of what he writes makes no sense or is so far gone it’s laughable, but still fascinating enough to cause us to hesitate and wonder at it.

Hegel’s view is a bit more complex because it involves his philosophy of private property. He assumes in the introduction to his book that our wills are free, and that “right” is the manifestation of this will (philosophers may correct me if I am wrong in this interpretation and I welcome emails or comments that show me where I erred).

In his view of private property, he essentially claims that property comes from when we, as intelligent beings, exert our will onto an object. He also states that the object, in this case all of nature, has no purpose until we exert our wills into it and make it ours. Conservationists are going to like that!




Now while Hegel clearly isn’t describing the origin of that beauty, or seeing it for “itself,” as Basho does, Hegel is still making a claim, as I interpret, that that original beauty or “seeing it” is useless because a rock can have no purpose unless its owned. What would the point be of seeing it then?

I have a tremendous amount of respect for both authors, and while I find Hegel’s description of the origin of private property to be the most compelling I’ve found yet, I still tend to favor Basho in this description of whether things have purpose. I do not believe that a rock is purposeless until I’ve owned it. I do think that many beautiful things in this world are taken for granted, because we are unwilling to see them as they are. Look at people, how many of us find humanity beautiful, despite all the ugliness? It’s no different from a hideous insect.


Special Edition Prompt!


Combining my post with Saturday’s prompt, here’s a test. What would a conversation between Hegel and Basho be like? (Pretty epic, but come on, let’s be detailed). What about two characters who have opposing viewpoints originating from different philosophers? What could they say? That itself will create a plot, because both will somehow seek to prove themselves right, by dialogue or action. Think about other conflicts that two characters could embody (symbol!) that could create a plot for your story.


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