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Four Huts: Asian Writings on the Simple Life [Paperback]

Burton Watson

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Book Description

2 Aug 2002
The short works collected in Four Huts give voice to one of the most treasured aesthetic and spiritual ideals of Asia—that of a simple life lived in a simple dwelling. The texts were written between the ninth and the seventeenth centuries and convey each author's underlying sense of the world and what is to be valued in it. Four Huts presents original translations by Burton Watson—one of the most respected translators of Chinese and Japanese literature. The qualities that emerge from these writings are an awareness of impermanence, love of nature, fondness for poetry and music, and an appreciation of the quiet life. Four Huts features eleven brush paintings by artist Stephen Addiss.

Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc; New edition edition (2 Aug 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570629463
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570629464
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 14 x 21.6 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 840,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy with one's surroundings, and at peace within. 27 May 2001
By tepi - Published on Amazon.com
Burton Watson, the well-known translator of 'The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu' and Ssu-Ma Chien's 'Records of the Grand Historian of China,' here turns his attention to something much slighter, though perhaps no less profound.
'Four Huts' is made up of four short prose pieces or 'chi' (Records) praising the wisdom of the simple life: 'Record of the Thatched Hall on Mount Lu,' by the major T'ang poet, Po Chu-i; 'Record of the Pond Pavilion' by Yoshishige no Yasutane; 'Record of the Ten-Foot-Square-Hut' by Kamo no Chomei; and 'Record of the Hut of the Phantom' by the famous haiku poet, Matsuo Basho.
All four of these 'Records' or essays have the same theme: the wisdom of removing oneself from the rat-race, setting up a simple residence in beautiful natural surroundings, and getting back in touch with one's real nature and with real things. They celebrate, as Po Chu-i puts it, being 'happy with one's surroundings and at peace within' (page 9). Short, and easy to read, it would be a wonderful book to have along with you on your next trip to the forests, lakes, or mountains.
The book also contains a brief, though somewhat uninspired Preface, by Watson; brief Introductions and endnotes to each piece; and twelve fine halftone illustrations, by the remarkably competent Zen calligrapher Stephen Addiss, which help set the mood
It's a small and beautiful book of just 132 pages that will easily fit into a purse or shirt-pocket, well-printed in two colors on a heavy high-quality ivory-tinted paper, bound in a stiff glossy illustrated wrapper, and it even has persimmon endpapers. As a book, it would have been perfect if only someone had thought to add stitching.
Most of us probably realize that it is the simplest things in life that bring us the greatest joys - a simple and unostenatious dwelling, time in which to unwind and become what we are supposed to be, a refreshing breeze, sunlight, wholesome food, raindrops, birdsong, the sound of water, children's laughter, a well-loved book.
But despite knowing this we allow ourselves to be seduced by the tinsel glamor and superficial excitements of the bustling metropolis. And the question raised by this book is just which of the two, the simple or the glamorous, provides the richest and most rewarding satisfactions?
'Four Huts' will probably be read by those who need it least. But it would make an ideal gift for some Prozac-popping friend you think needs it most. It might, with a bit of luck, just end up changing their life.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief and seductive 30 Mar 2004
By wiredweird - Published on Amazon.com
The four huts are four short essays about retreat from the world, specifically retreat to small and private home. I'm not a very romantic person, but I started to feel that longing for a thoughtful, simple life as I read these essays.
The four cover an 800-year period, starting in China then moving to Japan. The earliest writing, by Po Chu-I, may be my favorite. The first part is brief and business-like, a description of the hut, its environs, and the views from it. Although the writing is plain, I can't help imagine the drifting Chinese landscape paintings I've seen, with mists and peaks off to the edge of vision. This piece ends with two brief poems that express some of the writer's quiet passion. I was quite taken by the way the prose and poetry are used to express different parts of the author's experience.
The second writing in this book struck me, at first, as disingenuous. Again, the hut is simple but sturdy and well-made, and the environs capture many different aspects of natural beauty. The landscaping is completely man-made, though, and the property was acquired and developed at huge expense, near the capitol. My second impression was that yes, the scene has some Disney artificiality about it, but the urge that drove it was as real as any. Even at that time, the start of the Heian era or just before it, urban crowding was a reality, and urban gentrification was as much a factor as in any modern city. If "The Pond Pavilion" could not be an actual withdrawal from the world, it was a lovingly built homage to the ideal.
The third essay, the Ten Square Foot Hut, has appeared elsewhere, and is still worth reading. This focuses less on the hut itself than on the process of withdrawal and the life of the near-hermit. It is pervasively Buddhist, and does not promote complete isolation from the world. It does, however, offer an appealing look at an old man, usually alone but never lonely, doing what he has worked for many years to do.
The final essay may be the shortest. It is certainly the most recent, written some time in the 17th century AD. It is also a symmetric end to the collection - Basho's lttle essay reads much like the first.
This book is quite brief, and even shorter if one skips over the translator's noted. It seemed to be over much too soon. Still, the book's brevity and simplicity are modeled after the scenes it describes. It was hard to close the book and come back to the reality of the modern world.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes me yearn to live in a 10 by 10 hut 30 Dec 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This small book containing 4 short essays (and a poem or two) on the simple life makes one realize that possessions and big houses can be a burden; life can be lived simply and serenely. These essays were written by one Chinese author and three Japanese authors, over almost a thousand years, ending with Basho. I enjoyed all four essays, but Basho has so much wit to him that I have to say he is my favorite. I love the image he presents: nothing holy or wise, just sitting there admiring the view and squishing lice. What more is there to life?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is never simple 22 April 2012
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The title of this entrancing little book is somewhat misleading. A collection of prose pieces by four famous poets, it certainly focuses on the subject of dwellings. But one poet occupies a large property with separate buildings for his family, books, and devotions. The other poets live simply, but their thoughts and impressions are not always simple. There are hidden depths here to intrigue the philosophical reader.

The four writers are:

* Po Chü-i, Chinese poet official in the Tang Dynasty. In 817 he writes of a remote two-room dwelling with a lotus pond where he achieves a state of utter calm.

* Yoshishige no Yasutane, Japanese government official and poet in the Heian period. In 982 he describes his secluded mansion in the capital, comparing himself to a snail at peace in his shell.

* Kamo no Chomei, Kamakura poet and musician. In 1212, afflicted with gloomy thoughts about impermanence, he writes poignantly of his ten-foot-square mountain hut.

* Matsui Basho, wandering Edo poet. In 1690 he writes joyously of living in an abandoned hut by a neglected shrine, with only his shadow for company.

These poets admired the spiritual ideal of detachment from the world, but they were frankly and charmingly attached to their dwellings, whether grand or minimal, and touchingly affected by the sights and sounds of nature. Po Chü-i putters happily around his hut indulging his weakness for landscape gardening. Camo no Chomei listens to the plaintive wail of wild monkeys while moon gazing. It's all so evocative, we're right there with them.

Four Huts is a subtle exploration of Asian thinking on spiritual matters and earthly marvels from four very personal viewpoints. It's not what I expected. It's much more.
0 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Four Whats? 21 Jun 2011
By Sammy The Blade - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This class was terrible so my review is going to be a bit biased. I did not enjoy the book or the class. I thought the book a bit confusing, just like the class is.
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