I was standing in front of the cherry blossom tree with holding the sake cup, when I noticed that the petals hang from tree branches was falling down.
Spring blue sky—
Cherry blossom petals hang from tree branches
Falling down in the sake cup
This class gave me special emotional moments. Especially the Hanami celebration was wonderful time for me. This event reminded me of what we have learned and explored in our class. When I watched the cherry blossoms, I felt I could commune with nature. The Japanese music, cherry blossom viewing, warm sake, and beautiful weather made a perfect harmony. It was such a wonderful experience in my life. I could feel the Japanese culture deeply. Learning different cultures are always interesting to me. Since I have a plan to work for Japan, this class was worthy of learning for my future. In this class, I have learned valuable lesson that everything is constantly changing, so nothing lasts. Furthermore, some moments are precious, and sadness is beautiful. “Evanescence and form” brought me a poetic sentiment. This class changed my way of thinking. I was able to fulfill myself through this experience. When I posted my haiku and picture in the class blog, I could interact with our classmates. I could learn the different and interesting views from them. This works were a priceless time. I appreciate that this class gave me these great opportunities during the semester.
Week 7 : The Transcendental Order
By Songwha Choi
I was walking in front of Alewife station in the middle of the night when I noticed that the icicles hang from tree branches was falling down.
Icicles hang from tree branches
Falling down in the snow
A person’s identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation is called by national identity. People can get a sense of unity when they share strong faith with a group of people in a nation. This week, we discussed the situation of Japan in the 19th century. In the Meiji government, Japan advocated nationalism to defend the country from European and Western invading forces. This nationalism allowed Japan to achieve solidarity. It caused the powerful imperialism in Japanese society. Imperialism in a sense means the extension of one nation’s power over other lands. Imperialism can give a powerful sense of unity to a nation. In Japan, Imperialism had a strong influence on national identity, so it made Japan pursue only one common goal with a single perspective. The emperor tried to control not only Japanese society but also colonies with political power. Japan’s national identity is filled with domination. However, the Kamikaze demonstrates that this powerful rule was being misused to sustain the emperor’s power. The emperor encouraged the Japanese to sacrifice their lives for the country. The Japanese had to obey the transcendental order because they regarded the emperor as God. The nation was brainwashed by the slogan: “If you die for your country, you can be kami” (Lecture 06/02/13). How did the emperor convince the Japanese people to devote themselves to their counry? Glory was important to the Japanese, hence, the emperor went on to talk about how individual good and individual glory depended on the imperial glory.
While Kamikaze embraced evanescence and sadness, in Bushido-the Soul of Japan, Nitobe Inaz embraced the victims as the hero. Their noble deaths are not futile for the country. Even though the dead warriors cannot revive in the current Japanese society, their loyalties can live forever. Young generations can learn solidarity and patriotism from their ancestors. Inazo emphasizes the soul of Bushido. The Japanese warrior ethos can be Japan’s driving force. The samurai represents the way of Japanese warrior. Samurai had lived with the virtues of Bushido, such as rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity, honor, loyalty and self-control. “Life being regarded as the means whereby to serve his master, and its ideal being set upon honour, the whole education and training of a samurai were conducted accordingly (Inazo 93). This idea can be the moral guideline for the Japanese. The Japanese can follow a great cause in order to attain their common goal. It also can make the Japanese mind and body stronger. While Basho enjoyed a natural image, Inazo tried to ake the samurai’s and sakura’s image in order to apply to the national identity. There was a political motivation. He sought a big picture that the nation identity forces individual to the world with invisible idea. As Professor inouye said, “Japanese, we are all samurai” (lecture 08/02/2013). The Japanese national spirit comes from the samurai ethos of what Inazo called Busido. “It is only in the code of chivalrous honour that loyalty assumes paramount importance” (Inazo 82). The Japanese should take to heart the immortal lesson taught by history. It will be a valuable and intensive power in Japanese society.
Week 6: The order of here-and-now
By Songwha Choi
I was walking in front of the student center in the evening when I noticed that the streetlight was reflecting bright light.
A standing streetlight
In this week, we discussed the order of here and now. It was hard to understand the concept of this week’s subject because it is abstract to me. However, The Bodhisattva Cycle is strongly impressive to me. When I fail a plan A, I get so frustrated by my failure. After that, I think about a Plan B which I can try to figure out my problems in a different way, and I realize that the plan B is actually better than the plan A. My view toward the world is so limited, so I cannot know that which option is better for me before I do it. If my life always goes direct way, it will be not meaningful. Accepting diversities is very important in our lives because we can learn from them (lecture 02/25/13). Sometimes, because of diverse failures and frustrations, I can grow up and get good lessons.
Bosho in his book, The Narrow Road to The Deep North also tries to accept the diversities of nature. When I read the book, I felt Basho knows the real meaning of a wonder of nature. It makes Basho’s life beautiful because he can appreciate his life. “I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind-filled with a strong desire to wander” (Basho 97). While he wanders Japan’s remote northeastern region of Tohoku, he enjoys being lost in thought. When he stops overnight at the Zenshoji Temple, he writes about autumn wind. “All night long, I listened to the autumn wind…” (Basho 136). The autumn reminds of image of death, so I realized that Basho feels lonely and sentimental about the nature. However, Basho looks as if he enjoys the loneliness. “I was very lucky to find in such a lonely place” (Basho 120). Because of his lonely life, he could be friend with nature, and write a wonderful poem. His loneliness makes him contemplate on his life, nature, and God. He has tried to trust the divine providence in the nature. “The gods seemed to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out” (Basho 97). God gives us the here and now, so we should know the precious value of the moment. Life is too short to be wasted.
Week 5: Hedonism, mono no aware, and monstrosity
No moment this week
The fifth week, we mainly discussed the value of Hedonism which is a different response to evanescence. Our lives are fragile and weak, so the hedonism that we embrac in our youth is valuable. We might die or get in an accident tomorrow. Even though we are working hard now, if there is no future, it does not matter at all. So why don’t we enjoy our lives more than now? I lived a very ascetic life. I was swinging between the twin poles of hedonism and asceticism. However, after I went to the last lecture, I realized that the only thing that is valuable is pleasure and all things are means to a pleasurable end. Let’s enjoy, we do not know what is going on tomorrow (Lecture 02/20).We should not consider pure passion for sexual desire as a sin. We have to accept that human’s sexual instincts and needs are inevitable.
In The Woman Who Loved Love, the lives of five women are bold because they try to seek their love and pleasure aggressively. However, their lives end up sad and poor. In The Musical and Dancing Festivities, the gentleman also tries to have a physical pleasure with women dancers. “Thus the gentleman’s feelings were deftly stirred” (Saikaku 161). The man is stirred by women’s temptation. However, those women want to get money from man, not love. So there is no real love. “The average man was unaware of it, but all these girls were after the same thing” (161). They use their music and dance to make the gentleman lose control. “We can take advantage of all the noise and excitement… (161). In Hedonism, it could be that there is no pure love. It might be sad, but we cannot always seek a platonic love. In Mono no aware, Kenneth said that “I have a feeling that Japanese people are living with a somewhat strangling notion of uneasiness” (Norinaga 14). To release our extreme uneasiness and stress in the world, sometimes we need to enjoy a physical pleasure.
Week 4: Nothingness
By Songwha Choi
On Friday evening, when I was on my way to a friend’s house to have a dinner, I saw a bright crescent moon in the night sky.
Winter night sky—
A crescent moon
The fourth week, we mainly discussed value of nothingness which is one of the elements of evanescence. Generally, people have a negative view of nothing (Lecture 11/02). In modern times, we live in a materialistic world, so we try to get something as much as possible. However, materialism devastates the human emotions. When we end up fail to get something, we can easily feel the futility of life. On the other hand, emptiness can be everything. Nothing is all space, all wisdom, and free (Inouye 20). When we dismiss all our obsessions, we can have a real freedom. Thomas Merton and two main characters in Atsumori suggest that how nothingness is valuable in our lives.
Thomas Merton had lived nothingness. He had learned the value of emptiness by pioneering dialogue with the Japanese writer D.T Suzuki. He did not speak because he was trying to empty his mind through meditation. By doing so, he wanted to accept to other people’s view. For this reason, he could learn many different countries’ cultural and religious thoughts. If your mind is full of something, something else cannot enter it (Inouye 22). He truly had known the real meaning of nothingness.
In Atsumori, Atsumori and Kumagai also follow the value of nothingness in the different way. Even though Atsumori is killed by the Minamoto warrior Kumagai Naozane, he does not resent Kumagai. Atsumori is not a vengeful spirit. In the last part of play, the ghost declares that Kumagai is not his enemy. Atsumori tries to empty his grudge by forgiving Kumagai. His behavior truly shows the nothingness’ beauty. Grudge is not nothingness. Kumagai also tries to atone for his sin, so he becomes a monk and changes his name. He sincerely regrets his previous sin, and he wants to clean his anguish of heart. “Guide us on our passage through this sad world” (Zeami 66). Those two main characters suggest that even though we are suffering from many problems in the world, we can pursue nothingness by cleaning our confused mind.
Think about Decline, failure, and leaving the world
By Songwha Choi
On Saturday morning, I awoke to find the world mantled in a sheet of white snow.
All the world
The third week, we continually discussed that nothing lasts in life. It is true that in life there are always ups and downs. When we sung “The house is on fire,” it enlightened us to think about our lives’ decline and failure. I realized that even though I tried to succeed in my life, I might end in failure later. I think that failure is an also very important part of people’s lives. If I think about my life in this way, I do not need to try to get fame, money, and status aggressively. I should not struggle over tangible assets because those can easily be lost. I realized that I should focus more on intangible assets from now on. This idea definitely wakes me up from my ordinary life. “You don’t need money, you need enlightenment! “ (Inouye 9) If life is bad, why stick around (Inouye 20)? Maybe we cannot easily give up our obsessions. We should leave our lives as they are. Why do we try to be someone who is adored by other people. Why do we mostly try to be doctors, lawyers, and CEOs? We can just give up if we end up failure. Maybe I am not a doctor, or lawyer, but rather something else (Lecture 02/06). “Reality depends upon our mind alone” (Chomei 75). We also learned about the Japanese history of Samurai who were “the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan” (OED: Samurai). Samurai are familiar with me because I frequently saw the movies which are related to them. I felt Samurai act in obedience to the orders of their commanders, and they care about a sense of a loyalty. Professor Inouye taught that dew is another image of evanescence (Lecture 02/06). “A place of beauty has no owner so there is nothing to spoil the pleasure” (Chomei 67). This part of poem is one of my favorite parts of Hojoki. We might feel depressed because we do not feel beauty of nature. We can take some time to appreciate the beauty of nature unless we are slaves in a harsh world.
Thinking about Hakanasa to Mujo
I got various colored roses as a present from my friend yesterday, so I put them in a vase to appreciate their beauty.
Roses in a vase
In the second week, Professor Inouye taught various concepts of the Japanese culture to us. When he talked about Kami, it especially interested me. Kami is simply “God”, and it means all things are awesome, worthy of reverence. (44) Everything can be Kami, so nature and space can be sacred, spiritual, and visible. For these reasons, I think that Japanese people have a sense of awe toward nature. Everything has a soul. (Lecture 1/30) This idea is similar with the movie Avatar’s main concept that humans have to be in communion with nature. We also mainly discussed the Japanese fundamental Buddhist notions: Anitya, Duhha, and Anatman. Anita and the Japanese evanescence (Mujo and Hakanasa) have something in common. Those both have the idea that all things are constantly changing. (Lecture 1/30) Lastly, we learned about Heian classics. As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams is a Heian woman’s understanding of the world of change. (Inouye 25) Japanese people idealize their lives and love like a dream. I think it is romantic. I also sometimes dream an imaginary love by myself. It is little unrealistic, but not useless because in my dream world at least I could realize my hidden desire. When I read Sources of Japanese Tradition, I learned how to solve my sin and desire in a meaningful way. I found out that, “The religious life starts with an awareness of one’s sins and the desire to atone for them. It is reason which enables us to surmount these failings, and the highest expression of the triumph of reason is in an act of self-sacrifice.” (Tsunoda, de Bary, Keene 95) Human always sin in their lives, but we can learn how to atone for our wrongs through the Japanese Buddhism.
Thinking about Cicadas
By Songwha Choi
When I was on my way home in cold weather, I realized that many trees in my garden already had lost their leaves.
Garden trees without leaves
Winter’s withered trees
With having a snowstorm
In our class, we are going to discuss about “evanescence and form.” (Inouye 1) Since I was young, I have been curious about these ideas. As an Asian student, when I was in high school, I learned about those two concepts. However, I want to explore them in more detail from our class. Change is balanced by “shape” (kata) to the evanescence. (Inouye 7) It is hard to understand because I have never heard of the idea. According to Professor Inouye, Utsusemi is the essence of change. This image is the Japanese world view. He said that “nothing is permanent, and nothing lasts forever!” That idea makes me take some time for introspection. If everything changes, my life also is limited, but I would not like to think this in a pessimistic way. The poem by Otomo makes me understand Japanese sadness. It is not a bad thing, but rather positive and beautiful. (Lecture 1/23) Even though our lives are fragile or unpredictable, we can be contingent to overcome our weaknesses. Nothing is permanent in this wicked world-not even our troubles. (Charlie Chaplin) I think that after finishing this class, I would have learned a lot and become more insightful in my life.