Clouds that Passed

I was walking one day to Hill Hall, my freshmen year dorm, to collect a package from mail services, when I saw the clear blue sky and clouds scattered on it that remind me of the beautiful view which I used to enjoy from my dorm room and take photos of, and which has never visited upon me since I became a sophomore.

 

Clouds resting in sky,

Cell phone in pocket -

No picture is taken.

 

 

This week our discussion on evanescence and form continues, and we have seen that, as we come to Nara and Heian periods, building upon the animistic understanding of impermanence, Buddhism now enters the psyches of the Japanese on its way to formalizing the notion into mujō. It is rather interesting to ponder on this historical interaction in Japan of these two beliefs that are simultaneously harmonic and inharmonic. As Professor Inouye points out, the “broader” cicada-shell view of the world now transforms into hakanasa, or “the unreliability of Heian-period human relations,” before being further coded into the Buddhist view of “all things are impermanent” (Inouye 30-31.) In a sense, this Buddhist tradition resonates well with the native Japanese “awareness of change” that “preceded Buddhism”, so it is not surprising that Buddhism is much welcomed as it was introduced to the Japanese (Inouye 31.) In fact, Buddhism symbolized mujō as the representation of impermanence, and as we have discussed in lecture, the Japanese practiced Buddhism through markedly graphical means (Inouye 36; Lecture.) As we can see, this interestingly comes at odds with the “nonsymbolic understanding of symbols” that is characteristic of the native animism, which is the very source for the native understanding of impermanence (Inouye 31.) This week we also continued to discuss the significance of impermanence to oneself; unlike the animistic view of all things as awesome, Buddhist teachings encourage people to see through the impermanence of this world and find peace of mind through resignation from its false promises; in other words, “a focus on emptiness teaches us the dangers of a false sense of permanence” (Inouye 39.) This view makes sense to me; yet personally I find it hard to perceive this apparently inconsistent understanding of the world by the Japanese as both awesome and illusive, although both ideas derive from the same notion of “impermanence.” It will surely be very interesting next week to learn how the Japanese balances this world view to live their lives, and how form also comes into play.

- Zesheng Xiong (George)

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