Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sea Waves

I was walking downhill through President’s Lawn one day when I felt I saw glistening sea waves that turned out to be reflections from the melting ice that covered the lawn. 

Sea waves

Glistening -

On President’s Lawn

This week our discussion starts off with a new type of reaction to evanescence, namely hedonism, that thrived in the Edo period (Lecture 2/20.) Ihara Saikaku’s Woman Who Loved Love no doubt captures the sorrowful pleasure of such a society; further, as Professor Inouye points out, the work also pinpoints the prostitutes of the time as prominently modern, whose become acutely aware of the issue of their identity as they are set against the traditional expectations of women (Inouye 71.) I read this work last semester, but even as I revisit it, the unnamed lady’s ironical discovery at the temple strikes me nonetheless: the sadness of her hedonistic life begins with her innate beauty, develops with her involuntary involvement with the pleasure quarters, and culminates here with this failure of finding salvation even in the Buddha (Ihara 213-217.) The next point of discussion is mono no aware, which can help explain the Edo period hedonism. This “national consciousness” of “the sadness of things” fledges in the Edo period despite its much earlier origin, because during the political oppression and economic prosperity of the Tokugawa era, the masses developed “a sense of fated acceptance” (Momokawa 2; Inouye 81.) To me the situation seems totally imaginable, although it also makes me think what mentality the contemporary Chinese developed during a similar “close-the-country” policy imposed by the Qing government. It is also intriguing to know in advance that mono no aware would establish itself as the Japanese “national consciousness” and live till this day; I cannot wait to see how this comes by. The third point of discussion is the “shifting point of view” of the Japanese (Lecture 2/21.) This lack of perspective comes as no surprise to me, for in the Japanese film class I took last semester, I have seen numerous examples of early Japanese films that refuse to use visual depth to signify perspective, and rather create flat shots where every element within is treated equally and with intense attention.

- Zesheng Xiong (George)

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Snowed-in at the Loj

I went to New Hampshire with a couple of my friends this weekend and enjoyed the snow illuminated by the lights of our cozy cabin.

Snow dances

through pools of light–

The fire crackles

Drifting away from the here-and-now and the lyrical moments of life, the rapidly modernizing Japan turns towards a more transcendental view, where our sense of self keeps us firmly anchored to the realism of the modern world. To observe this first hand we turn towards the art and architecture of the time. As western perspectivalism is introduced, the Japanese struggle to ameliorate their styles with these new influences, leading to art like Okumura Masanobu’s which tried to emulate perspective with mixed success (Lecture 2/21). Originally Japanese art depicted scenes where every person is the same size, where it was not from a particular view, but rather all completely separate views. You see the painting bit by bit. This is not true with the transcendent nature of perspective, which consolidates the infinite view of the world to a single perspective. Here we see this conflict between the here-and-now and the “big picture.” In class we also compared the gardens at Katsura Detached Palace and the garden of Versailles. In Versailles “the space we see seems to conform to us, to our point of view” (Inouye 96). The gardens of Katsura instead offers you the picture piece by piece, just like the painting prior to the introduction of perspective. From my westernized perspective, I don’t quite understand the necessity of showing only a little of something at a time. In “The Woman Who Loved Love” a lord describes his perfect woman through many small traits.  “A face slightly rounded, the complexion of a cherry blossom…the nape of the neck should be slender” (Saikaku 166). Would I rather see the elbow, the eye, the ear of a beautiful woman or her entirety? If something is beautiful, I would prefer to see it at its most beautiful and complete than bit-by-bit. I find myself unsatisfied by, as Professor Inouye put it, “the smallness of the Japanese picture” (Lecture 2/21).

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By Julia Russell

Waiting for the bus in Medford Square on a very cold Friday afternoon.


A forgotten receipt,

carried by wind

down the sidewalk.


The principles of increasingly formalized Buddhism lost daily prominence and self-indulgence reigned as Japan moved into the Tokugawa era. The meaning of ukiyo changed from the floating world to “the illusive world of fleeting pleasures that one ought to pursue with abandon” (Inouye, 70). Simultaneously, mono no aware permeates Japanese life. Even as people treat themselves to various pleasures, there is a realization of our own limitations. But that’s ok, because even while I’m limited in my own power, so are you, and so is everybody else. Pursuits of anything are pretty sad in an evanescent world, but sadness is beautiful, leading to the “sad-yet-vibrant hedonism” of the era (Inouye, 85). The ideal modern woman of the day is the prostitute, who through her multiple experiences with strangers develops a sense of self (Lecture 2/20). Saikaku’s protagonist prostitute notes the extent of power her sexuality gave her even at 13, when a samurai was beheaded because of their affair: “Some of them said, ‘Surely not at her age…’ That amused me” (Saikaku 159). Her career ends in disgrace, and as she visits a temple and recognizes men of the past in all of the statues, she weeps at the realization of her downfall and her lack of stability through a husband and family. She is brought back to peace by an old admirer who encourages her to “follow the Way of the Buddha” (Saikaku, 217), and this lifestyle comforts her in her lonely lifestyle. Perhaps Buddhism only worked full-time when the world was contained for a Japanese person. Branch out, and the self-discipline of selflessness falls to the wayside as we realize the lack of agency in our (and everyone else’s) lives and figure we might as well spoil ourselves while we can.


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Hedonism, mono no aware

Chilling with a friend on Capen street at night, when it was snowing.

Snow falling-

Smoke rising-


The main focus this week was Hedonism, which I found very interesting. Personally, I find the ideas make total sense. I’d like to clarify that I don’t mean give yourself up to a crazy, 24/7 haze of pleasure, but that without any pleasure, life can be can be a life not lived.  A very important point for me was “If work is not fulfilling, why take it so seriously?” (Inouye, 69). I passionately agree that work should be enjoyable, and not the root of stress. If you are going to dedicate your life to something, then do something you enjoy, something you can get pleasure out of. Wasting away in a profession that is not enjoyable for the sake of money/future comfort is something I cannot process. Life, as Saikaku put it, “will vanish in the morning dew” (Saikaku, 172). If life is fleeting, and unpredictable, why not enjoy the flow of it, rather than strive for some sort of permanence? I don’t agree in doing things without ever thinking about some of the consequences, but to hold back completely, to withhold from any sort of pleasure, makes no sense to me. The question, however, of “who does not feel sad about dying” (Inouye, 83), left me to ponder for a while. Personally, I don’t feel sad at all about dying, because it doesn’t really mean anything. The only tangible meaning to it is that I will not be living in this current body anymore. Death is just a part of me as is life, for I can’t be a complete being if I’m not going to die. So I really don’t understand what there is to be afraid or sad about; Alan Watts said “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” I don’t know what my consciousness will be like after I leave this body, but why should I fear that, why try and ground myself in ‘this’ life, when that effort will eventually be fruitless? To quote Walt Whitman, “The smallest sprout shows there really is no death, and if ever there was it led forward to life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it…all goes onward and outward, nothing collapses…and to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier”. The very fact that I know I’m going to die, but can’t do anything to prevent it, is liberating. I don’t know, however, when I’m going to die, and that’s exactly what is exciting about life: everyday is another breath of life, another day to experience living. That’s why I think a certain amount of Hedonism in everyone’s life would do no-one harm, and everyone good. “This place is a dream, only a sleeper considers it real. Then death comes like dawn, and you wake up laughing at what you thought was your grief” (Rumi). This sentiment is echoed in the writings of Chuang Tzu, “Not until we wake do we know that we were dreaming. Only at the ultimate awakening shall we know that this [world;life] is the ultimate dream. Yet fools think they are awake, so confident they know what they are…How do I know that we who death are not exiles since childhood who have forgotten the way home?” Time and time again, at different points in human history, sages/philosophers/holy men have come to this conclusion about death. Knowing it to be true, what is there to fear or be sad about?

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The Hedonistic Life

Walking on Saturday night in Jamaica Plains after a night of drunken drama ( my attempt at a hedonistic life), feeling tired of the snow and the city that makes it (and sometimes me) so ugly.


The whiteness of the snow

turns black in the city.

Where can I rest?

“ The blossoms of the heart are scattered; by evening the tree itself has been turned to firewood. Who can escape?” [ Saikaku p.154]. There is no escape from the evanescence of reality. The hedonist realizes this and instead of seeking a way out, I would say like the Zen Buddhist, plunges head first into life’s physicality. If we are stuck, why not make the best of it and immerse ourselves in pleasure? While I see the draw to this, I do not buy it. Making the pursuit of pleasure paramount in life seems like a way of distracting ourselves from many truths. Mainly, that all things end, all is sadness (mono no aware), and that the self is not. People who constantly pursue pleasure cling to the notion that this pleasure will continue to give the good feelings, the fulfillment, that it has given them in the past; They in turn forget that all is change. These feelings do not continue, they become dull and can even end up hurting you, like they did Saikaku’s prostitute. I believe that the Hedonist runs away from his sadness or at least tries to over-compensate it. I think we have to embrace the sadness of our existence so that we can see the whole beauty of it. As Momokawa puts it, “ [mono no aware] is a sadness that is constantly evolving towards gaiety”[p.11]. Finally, hedonistic living, by its very essence, is self centered as it is fueled by the desires of the individuated self. This kind of living sees everything as a dichotomy; there is pleasure and pain, good and bad, and I only want one side of the story. I think this fundamentally stems from the notion as self as separate from other; I want that. When really it is I am that; thus there is no need to seek or to pursue. When we live from emptiness, we transcend the dichotomy and we are freed from desire and the attachment to those.


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Paper Lanterns by Kaveh Veyssi

I was walking up the library steps on Saturday night when I witnessed paper lanterns with beautiful calligraphy on them being lit and released into the sky.

The writing on paper lanterns

Fades from view

As they ascend.

The idea of Hedonism is one that I struggle with but relate to on a daily basis.  This “pursuit of pleasure” (Lecture, 2/20) in my opinion doesn’t always have to be a pursuit.  Aren’t the lyrical moments that we encounter from time to time moments of pleasure? To me they are.  To me, these moments stimulate feelings that border ecstasy.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the point is that I don’t actively pursue them, unlike the protagonist of Ihara Saikaku’s novel.  The essence of Hedonism is captured in the song that the old woman hears near the Kiyomizu Temple: “How cruel the floating world, / Its solaces how few– / And soon my unmourned life / Will vanish with the dew” (Saikaku, 172).  Having lived a privileged life, I find it hard to see the world as cruel, but I can understand the song’s sense of urgency, as our lives are so evanescent.  This song’s message led her to a life as a cortesean, the ultimate pleasure seeker.  She found herself in the same dilemma that’s described in Professor Inouye’s book when he writes, “Whether then or now, the buoyant exhilaration of the pleasure industry is hard to separate from the melancholy pull of anitya, the impermanence of all things” (Inouye, 71).  I agree with how difficult it is to distinguish between the two, but the following reasoning comforts me a bit: “A: Life is evanescent and, as a result, sorrowful. / B: Sorrow heightens the beauty of things. / C: Therefore evanescent life is beautiful” (Inouye, 85).  I couldn’t agree more.  That is why the old woman in Saikaku’s novel did not commit suicide and instead chose a life of meditation and redemption.

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I was trying to roll a film in the 35 square inch fully light proof room in the photo dark room for my photography class..

Darkness alone
many other
behind the door

still very far

In this class’ discussion of nothingness I have got introduced to a different aspect of nothingness or a different way of seeing mu. Understanding that there is no central truth to our existence that would give it a meaning but the reality of evanescence and nothingness is a challenge for the modern mind.  As Professor Inouye was discussing nothingness, he gave raking the gravel in the ground as an example of nothingness. “The lack of separation between me and the gravel is nothingness” (Lecture 2/13). This means nothingness is the immediate presence, it is neither waiting for something to happen nor another world that would make today worth putting up for.  Embracing nothingness – though I hardly manage to embrace it, I start to understand what it is- is to be aware of one’s surroundings, be receptive to everything because there is nothing ‘old’ that would block us from taking all in -no old friends, no routines. Much to my discomfort I’ve started seeing routines, familiarity as obstacles that prevent me from experiencing something or someone new. Something Professor Inouye quoted from a fellow professor Elizabeth Ammons “We get in troubles because we seek comfort”  (Lecture 2/13) struck me in this point that I noticed that trouble in this case is not allowing ourselves to experience nothingness since we are on a constant strive to hold on to things, objects, people. What Merton (109) says  upon this : “Nothing to gain, nothing to lose; nothing to give nothing to take; just to be son , and yet to be rich in inexhaustible possibilities” is what sums the conflict between modern mind who sees having things as a richness and the japanese sensibility that would see the real richness in the nothingness that clears us for everything. Wish I could leave the people or the constants I hold on to for newness and nothingness, then I would have 85 percent of my brainpower free to make wonders…

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Striving for Nothingness – Chris Navarro

I was walking home from the store Monday night when I took a moment to stand and observe the puddles on the floor.

Cars passing by

A cool night’s breeze

Light reflections on water







There was one statement that stuck with me this week.  “Nothingness is what you share with everyone” (Lecture 2/11).  The first time I heard this, I simply nodded my head and moved on.  However, upon further review, I began to analyze the implications of this statement.  Nothing is where we all should be.  “When one is in possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in” (Merton, 109).  This simple statement applies to so many scenarios.  For example, “why would I try something new when I am already familiar with something?”  But, how many experiences do we miss out on?  I believe the best example was provided by Professor Inouye, “Having friends will prevent you from meeting new friends” (Lecture 2/13).  We are creatures that like routine; and yes, I do believe we miss out on great opportunities to meet new people because we are busy doing the same thing with the same people we already know.  Therefore, having nothing is in itself something.  In Noh Theater, a successful performer may captivate the audience when standing motionless (Lecture 2/13).  It is possible that, “Noh’s emptiness is that quality of form that allows the possibility of all other forms to come to mind” (Inouye, 68).  Therefore, the nothingness of the performance causes the observers to open up and engage.  The emotions experienced by the audience members are not necessarily a reaction to the performance; rather, the observers experience them precisely because they are being open.  Being raised in an individualistic society, it is sometimes difficult to accept or embrace such ideas.  However, the information we covered last week, along with the discussions, have made a great argument in favor of this concept.

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The Order of Here-And-Now

By Nina Watts

Nothing this week.


I found this week’s discussion of “the order of here-and-now” to be very interesting. The concept helped me better understand the idea of form. I think form is a kind of “counterbalance” to evanescence (Inouye 62). “The order of here-and-now” stems from the idea that there is an order, or form, that exists in our evanescent world (Inouye 60). This is the idea behind the many Japanese cultural formalities, such as bowing, applied to everyday life (Inouye 61).  I really like that the idea is to treat each moment with respect, for “To move through space humbly is to worship, to experience the sacred” (Inouye 56). I think it’s really interesting that the Japanese have incorporated somewhat religious practices into every day life. I thought this reflected the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. I found it sad that many people have lost sight of the meaning of these cultural formalities. People have just accepted them as just shikitari, or “the way things are done” (Inouye 61). The mindful principles behind the formalities become lost “because the formal life that appropriateness supports generates meaning not by insight but by sight” (Inouye 63). I really enjoyed learning about the meaning behind Japanese cultural formalities. I like that they’re spiritual in origin and am still really enjoying seeing how everything plays into evanescence and form.

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Gray day

Yesterday evening it was starting to get dark and looked like it was about to rain.  I noticed that the sky was a little bit unevenly colored in one spot.

A white line on gray sky

Perhaps a plane’s trail

Fades nonetheless

The idea of mu, nothingness, is both comforting and difficult to fully grasp.  In the face of troubles, stress, unpleasant emotions, and other difficulties that people often encounter in life, it seems very good to focus on the nothingness that is everywhere and accept that  “there is no distance between us and the actual world we live in” (Inouye 63). I do agree with Merton’s emphasis on “the tragedy of a life centered on ‘things’” and the ego as a root of “hopeless struggle with other perverse and hostile selves competing together for the possessions which will give them power and satisfaction”(Merton 82).  I also see a lot of truth to his statement that “to be absolutely nothing is to be everything.  When one is in possession of something, that something will keep all other somethings from coming in,” but I have a hard time imagining how you could exist without holding on to anything at all (Merton 109).  True, you would be open to new experiences, but it seems to make enduring relationships of any kind impossible.  Since by nature we are social creatures, it seems like there must be some sort of ideal middle ground or balance that allows for some meaningful connections to be kept while accepting nothing in other senses, but maybe it’s all or (completely) nothing.  Noh theater seems to be a good expression of detachment from self given the fluidity between characters and the dead and the living, but I see a paradox in the lines “life is a lying dream, he only wakes/who casts the world aside” (Atsumori 64).  It could also be said that once awoken you’d be in a dream, since I imagine a state of being free of attachment to the world and open to anything being rather dreamlike as well.

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