I was walking to Olin from downhill one day, traversing through the grass field of President’s Lawn; seeing the bare tree branches and the dried leaves that fell last fall still scattering around reminds me of my mother.
Bare branches above
Leaves beside foot-
A mother’s love
Our semester’s discussion on evanescence and form kicks off last week with the notion of the impermanence of the very self and how we are to accept it. As Professor Inouye puts in his book, “nothing teaches us the truth of change as effectively as our bodies” (Inouye 36.) Interestingly, when asked about attitudes toward this personal level evanescence, what comes to my mind is, although slightly impertinent, a Chinese proverb quoted from Romance of the Three Kingdoms: “it is up to men to project schemes, yet it is up to the heavens to grant them success” (“謀事在人成事在天.”) Although it focuses more on scheming rather than living itself, my spontaneous reaction to “life’s impermanence” seems to be rooted in this proverb: that similar to scheming, living could be dealt with by working out the best of what is held in control, and consigning the rest, including my very life and the condition of my body, to the heavens to determine. In a sense, this resonates nicely with the Japanese notion of form, examples of which include the ring in a sumō game, that is meant to answer the same question of evanescence (Lecture 1/16.) Further, as a side note, the Chinese character for “to scheme” (“謀”) also finds its way into representing the Japanese word hakaru, or “to plan,” which in turn gives birth to hakanasa, or evanescence (Inouye 26.) This is, of course, representing two different approaches to evanescence by the Chinese and the Japanese, and I will leave further discussion on hakanasa to my next post, where it should belong. For this week, the focus is utsusemi, or “empty cicada,” which presents evanescence before “continental” influences such as Buddhism came to Japan (Inouye 19.) What I find to be most surprising is the quote from Orikuchi Shinobu suggesting that utsusemi in fact comes from utsushiki mi, or “mortal body,” not only because it is my first time learning this, but also because it reaffirms how the body plays a deciding role in men’s understanding of impermanence (Inouye 23.)
- Zesheng Xiong (George)