Author Archives: Nikita Rahman

How Still!

Leaving my house this morning, I was blinded by the bright snow and felt the surprisingly warm air hug my body—I was experiencing the mythical Medford-spring.

The sound of a glistening stream

Rolling down

Besides melting snow.

I love the meaning of fueiki, which embodies “a lasting sentiment or aesthetic quality that can be discerned throughout time, no matter the era” (Inouye 76).  The fact that there even is a word to describe that whole notion is amazing to me.  I think the lexicon of a particular culture is very telling; it is indicative of the values, and ideologies of the culture, and the general discourse—I am not aware of a word in the English language that expresses the same idea.  To reiterate Earl Miner’s “power of a place”, and that places “impart a spiritual power to the visitor… there is a spiritual presence to every location” (Inouye 78).  Throughout Basho’s journey, he encounters places described by poets possessing mystical essences.  Basho was able to tap into it, simply by having a sincere open heart, and being at that location.  This open sincere heart, makato, is important—one has to let go of one’s intention or personal desire to truly learn.  If the feeling doesn’t come naturally, you will not be one with it, and only be able to imitate. (Inouye 76) But when one does enter the essence of a particular location or object, he/she is able to realize that “that they are neither no more or no less created than anything else, and that their beauty is what teaches us that we, too, are like them” (Inouye 79) I think it is also so humbling to know that we are of same value, same essence of the world around us—and again can become borderless and one.  For after empires crumble, and dictators fall “there remain only mountains and rivers, and on a ruined caste in spring only grasses thrive.” (Basho 118)  Our accomplishments will one day be forgotten, for we aren’t that special, not any more than the moon, and sun and all that surrounds us at least.

Posted in Week 6: The Order of Here and Now | Leave a comment

Predictable Spontaneity

As I walked out of Danish Pastry House yesterday, I noticed that the snow was in full swing—showering everything in sight.

The snow drifts


Indifferent to where it lands.

I feel like I’ve started to understand a bit more why Japanese culture seems to have such extremes.  It made no sense to me how etiquette was so strictly followed and valued while at the same time wild indulgent festivals were widespread—however, it’s clearer now that they’re both responses to evanescence.  By acting limitless, there is an awareness of limitation, “even if it comes with an awareness of the temporary or even false nature of what is done” (Inouye 71).  However, even this recklessness is within the parameters of form.  The concept of spontaneity prima facie does not entail certainty—yet the Japanese are insisting that it does! It would seem as though spontaneity require unpredictability—the here-and-now is so situational it should somehow be unique. But the Japanese might be on to something.  Who the fuck doesn’t look at the flamboyant Somerville sunsets and get over-flooded with awe and a moment of heavy-heartedness?  But how can form be placed upon something as ephemeral and unstable as emotion—something that often seems to violate form.  The phrase mono no aware encapsulates this tension—aware being the spontaneous reaction to reality and mono the generalizing it to all things (Inouye 81).  Takahito uses Heidegger’s concept ‘Stimmung’ to explain mono no aware as  “a priori condition of our thought” (Takahito 2).  A human predisposition on how to react to something; therefore, “a person of understanding always experiences what the occasion calls for.” (Inouye 84) Thereafter, we might rationalize our emotions differently from one another, but it seems as though there is something universal about our emotional response—that something being mono no aware.  This for me also shed light about why our poems require the strict form that they do and should only “record phenomenologically the reality [we] see” (Takahito 14).  Since we are all human (maybe there are a few androids in the class, who knows), it follows that “Situation A yields Emotion A,” so there is no need to dilute it with our interpretation of the moment—doing so would maybe even misdirect.  This way of interpreting mono no aware speaks the most clearly to me.  Though labeling essences are often limiting and tricky, it gives a nice definition to what it is to be human. Motoori Norinaga would go as far to say that “a person who did not comprehend ‘mono no aware’ would be less than human.” (Takahito 1) It’s a uniting force that is best understood felt, than explained.

Posted in Week 1: Shell of the Cicada | Leave a comment

Going with the Flow

The night after the blizzard, a friend opened his window wide—in silence we stared out, listening to the soundlessness of the usually busy Boston Ave.

The cicada-shell world

Frozen still with snow

Soon to melt

Sitting in the dark room, singing soprano (alto?) beside my fellow classmates, and having my professor rap about the unavoidable failure of life was both hysterical and enlightening.   The concept of the ever-changing world was once again really driven home, literally.  I’ve never fully realized how houses are a manifestation of our yearning for permanence (Lecture 2/6).   It makes sense then, like everything else in this world, that they “will not outlive the day” (Chomei 33).  Further, accepting evanescence is accepting that bad things will happen—success will be followed by failure.  It then does not make sense to then question why it happened, or internalize it too much (Inouye 50).  On the bright side, it’s nice knowing that neither success nor failure prevails! The Buddhist reality of relieving dunka by accepting anitya really resonates for me here.  We cannot be unhappy if we know that the world is constantly shifting, our failure will soon be followed by success, and that even though pain is inevitable, it cannot lasts forever.  We should live our lives similar to Japanese skyscrapers; using flexibility to withstand the world’s surprises (Lecture 2/6)—“nothing gives the mind stability like an awareness of the world’s radical instability” (Inouye 50).

Posted in Week 3: Failure, Success, and Leaving the World | 1 Comment

Letting go of Self

As I left my house last Tuesday, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear—the air was no longer bitter and the birds were out!

Snow drip off branches

Birds roar—

The sun rises

Something that I’ve been recently really trying to grapple with, and has been brought up in class, is the notion that Self is an illusion.  Recent strides in cognitive sciences and computer science points to this notion more and more, yet it’s crazy to me that the Japanese have concluded this hundreds of years before without peering into such technologies!  The Buddhist term, anatman, refers to this concept of no-self (Inouye 31).  It is much easier to grasp that everything in our world is changing; we are constantly observing it, constantly reminded of it.   However, when it comes to ourselves, we like to think that something about us remains the same, a certain essence that is “lasting and can stand on its own” (Inouye 32).  The logic follows from anitya, the notion of impermanence, that since everything is changing, including our understanding of change, we too are changing and “conditional” (Lecture 1/28, Inouye 31).  Buddhism’s Vimalakirti Sutra explains the physical body, and therefore also “self” as, “It has no individuality as the fire has none. It has no durability as the wind has none. It has no personality as the water has none “(Tsunoda, de Bary, Keene 103).  What troubles me about this is that when there is lack of Self, there is also lack of Other.  If everything is one and the same, how is it that I feel relatively distinct from this table, or my computer? Or a relative sense of permanence since it seems from day to day, others recognize me as Nikita.  It makes sense, though, why accepting the idea of anatman is beneficial—from it arises “an acceptance of the mutability of all things” (Inouye 32).  Not only are we affected by our environment, but also are the environment—everything is one and the same—“neither master nor Man dominates the other” (Inouye 34).  Then people would not go to war with one another, since it would harming an extension of self, which is other, which is everything.  People would be humbled, not only by other people, but by everything surrounding us—the trees, the wind, the sun. There is something peaceful about being boundless, but also leads to me having an existential crisis.  Alas, I guess it’s something “I” will have to work on throughout this semester to achieve.


Posted in Week 2: From Hakanasa to Mujo | 2 Comments

Tangible spirituality

I was sitting in the library, peering out the window, when I watched in amusement a squirrel jumping from one tree to another.

Scurrying off the high branch

The squirrel in air

Landing just barely

I find it so interesting that Japanese religion and spirituality is so “present and local” (Lecture 1/23).  Most monotheistic religions emphasize the idea of God and heaven being separate from the realm of reality of mortals.  They emphasize God as an entity beyond reach, but may be available through certain means, but those means themselves are not God, but represent this distant Being. It’s somewhat comforting to think of spiritual objects in the Japanese way, “not as representations of kami but as kami.” (Kitagawa 45).   The tangibility of Japanese spirituality is nice and calming.  I also appreciate the “sense of mutual participation” in divinity. (Kitagawa 48)  It humbles man, and urges him to seek beyond himself for the definition of self.  This definition of sacredness idea seemed foreign at first.  However, reflecting back on my youth, I realized my Bengali culture instilled a bit of this notion in me.  Children are often told to touch the feet of elders as a sign of respect, this is known as salaam. To give salaam meant to acknowledge someone’s sacredness.  Elderly were not the only persons/things that were sacred, but so were books, kitchen counters, musical instruments. If I ever stepped on a book, it felt disrespectful and it felt necessary to salaam it.  Books contained knowledge, they themselves are knowledge, and stepping on it was like stepping on sacred knowledge.   This visceral need to pay respect to small objects around me has dissipated a bit since, but it’ll be nice to revisit this concept and explore it further in class.

Posted in Week 1: Shell of the Cicada | Leave a comment