Yesterday I happened upon a book from the writer/philosopher Alain de Botton, The Architecture Of Happiness it is called. It begin so lyrically that I will start my ruminations here, with de Botton’s first words:
“A terraced house on a tree-lined street. Earlier today, the house rang with the sound of children’s cries and adult voices, but since the last occupant took off (with her satchel) a few hours ago, it has been left to sample the morning by itself. The sun has risen over the gables of the buildings opposite and now washes through the ground-floor windows, painting the interior with a buttery yellow and warming the grainy-red brick facade. Within shafts of sunlight, platelets of dust move as if in obedience to the rhythms of a silent waltz. From the hallway, the low murmur of accelerating traffic can be detected a few blocks away. Occasionally, the letter-box opens with a rasp to admit a plaintive leaflet.
“The house gives signs of enjoying the emptiness. It is rearranging itself after the night, clearing its pipes and crackling its joints. This dignified and seasoned creature, with its coppery veins and wooden feet nestled in a bed of clay, has endured much… [It] has grown into a knowledgeable witness.”
de Botton’s words, so beautiful I could weep, aroused deep emotion in me, and set loose thoughts — free-radicals for my mind and soul — about architecture in the broadest sense, as the act of giving shape and structure, not to a building, but to a life.
I am deeply interested in this notion that the way we construct our lives matters, that the work of building fully realized lives takes place not only in the inner terrain of our emotional-psychological-spiritual landscape, but also “out there,” in the world, where we have the rarest of opportunities, by virtues of having obtained a human birth — which Buddhism tells us is difficult to attain. Mind you, this is not to suggest that there is anything particularly precious about human life. In the hierarchy of Buddhist cosmology it is low on the totem pole, but all states of consciousness in the universe are available to a human life, from suffering to the liberation therefrom, which we know by many names: enlightenment, satori, samādhi, Heaven on Earth.