My little naked tree… among other things.

By Laura Sabia

As I was walking home from Davis Square in the early afternoon, I looked up to notice the bare branches of a tree a few feet in front of me.


Beneath the sloping tree

Snow falls on my head.

This week we saw the ephemeral cicada-husk world transform in name and meaning from hakanasa or hakanai (a term that expresses a changing reality and the inability to make progress) (Inouye 26) to mujō (the Buddhist notion that “all things are impermanent.” (Inouye 31) We have learned that the evolution of the idea of evanescence and its doubling in importance as one of Japan’s cultural values (Inouye 31) is largely thanks to the introduction and influence of Buddhism. I was particularly fascinated with the interconnectedness of Buddhism’s three fundamental markers of existence (lecture 1/28): anitya (the idea that the “phenomenal world and our perceptions of it are constantly changing” (Inouye 31)), duhka (the concept that life is suffering insofar as we are in pursuit of mutable things), and anatman (there is no transcendent self as we are “part of this world” (Inouye 32) and therefore subject to its changeability. Although I find the proposition that “pondering anitya heals duhka” (Inouye 31) a bit idealistic and somewhat ‘unrealistic,’ I do agree with the opinion that many of us are in pursuit of material, changing things and that this strands us in a superficial and physical mind and body that is, according to Buddhism’s Vimalakirti Sutra, “transient and sure to die.” (Tsunoda, de Bary, Keene 103) Even the closest of human relationships (yo no naka)- romance are hakanai (changeable and fleeting). (Inouye 26) The concept of persistent longing (koi) for proximity to our loved ones as an evanescent presence in this kind of personal relationship (Inouye 27) is the idea that intrigues me the most this week. Our study of As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams really helped to illustrate this idea for me, especially in the narrator’s correspondence with her father who writes to her saying, “I came to a large plain…there was also a thick forest. ‘What a pretty sight,’ I thought, and then immediately regretted that I could not show it to you.” (Sarashina 68) This desire for shared space prompts a kind of hopeful dreaming: a concept that is central to the Japanese response to evanescence as it helps us “question the realness of the real,” (Inouye 29) and thereby come to awareness of the illusory nature of empty, mutable things. 

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