We were all sitting under the cherry blossom tree in the middle of the afternoon.
The tree shades the ground
From the afternoon sun-
As its blossoms flutter to the ground.
This class taught me a lot of important things about Japanese culture that I did not know before, but more importantly it taught me valuable things about life. I learned that failure is inevitable, but then, so is success. It is best to just be at the zero level- of nothing- than to be either up or down because then you are always going to face the other extreme next. I also learned to appreciate lyrical moments. Instead of rushing around worrying where I have to be next, I now appreciate the things along the way- images, sounds, and smells of the world around me. Most importantly, this class was focused on evanescence. Knowing that everything is constantly changing gives me some comfort because now I’m ready for it. I won’t face change with sadness and despair, but with positivity for what is to come in the future. Maybe my happiness won’t last, but neither will sadness. And besides, there is beauty in sadness. After taking this class, I try to make sure I live every day like it could be my last, appreciating every moment for what it is worth.
I was on my way to South Station Friday night, and when we were passing over the Charles River, I could only see the buildings and the water in the darkness of the night.
A brief view of the city skyline
Reflects against the water—
The train is pulled underground.
Once I finally grasped the concept of nonsymbolic meaning of things, we start learning about the symbolic world that Japan slides into with its modernization. Shinto becomes a form of monotheism, and the emperor is the symbol of the nation. “Largely by way of this apotheosis of the emperor as an unchanging and lasting essence of the nation, Japanese political culture gained a stable, authoritative point of view and, therefore, a perspective on the world by which the struggling nation could systematically express and extend the unified and unifying truth of its own culturally correct version of modernity.” Japan moved from the idea of local space to national space. (Inouye 111). At first frustrated with the contradictions, I now understand this concept best with the pictures of the two gardens. The Japanese view used to be like the garden where you have to see one thing at a time and walk through the garden to experience it. Now, with its modernization, Japan shifts more toward the view of the garden at Versailles, where you can see everything at once from one spot. Change should come as no surprise at this point because the world is always changing- evanescence just like we have seen over and over again. However, this is sort of a “new kind of evanescence”. Instead of things always changing in the same way, they are now changing but progressing. “Unlike evanescence in general, it has a specific direction. Progress expresses intention. It is pointed.” (Inouye 105). Now the Japanese saw themselves in the context of the rest of the world and were forced to modernize to keep up. However, with this Western influence, I am glad Japan still kept some of its original cultural values. The values and form in Japan will never die, according to Nitobe. “Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom; nor is it a dried-up specimen of an antique virtue preserved in the herbarium of our history…The conditions of society which brought it forth and nourished it have long disappeared; but as those far-off stars which once were and are not, still continue to shed their rays upon us, so the light of chivalry still illuminates our moral path, surviving its mother institution.” (Nitobe 33).
When I was walking home one night while the sun was setting, I was standing near Carmichael Hall on a part of the hill where you can see pretty far off into the distance.
The last glimpse of daylight
Glows pink around the buildings—
The sky fades to dark.
In reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I saw conflicting ideas between what we have learned (that there is no such thing as self) and Basho’s self-conscious journey to answer questions such as who am I? “For Basho, an ever-changing reality lended itself to the obliteration of difference that, in turn, created a poetic consciousness, or a creative self in this limited sense,” (Inouye 79). I feel like it makes some sense to define self because if there were no designation of what self is, then how would we know there is no such thing as self? Basho’s journey was in search of enlightenment that he came to experience through his travels; “Roadside images seemed to invite me from every corner, so it was impossible for me to stay idle at home,” (Basho 97). Basho was travelling to seek enlightenment, but there were also concubines travelling, who Basho compares to bush clovers and he is the moon. Although they are so far apart, they exist in the same reality. Basho tells them, “Go as travelers go.” (Basho 132). In a way, we’re all travelers—everything and everyone and there is nothing permanent in this world. “A thicket of grass is all that remains of the dreams and ambitions of ancient warriors.” (Basho 118). This is the beauty of nature. The cycle of life and death is ongoing, but nature remains the same. “I am awestruck to hear a cricket singing underneath the dark cavity of an old helmet.” (Basho 134). Although the warrior died and decayed, there is new life under the helmet. With all these experiences Basho had on his journey, I can understand why it is difficult to pass this enlightenment on to others. But I wonder then, how can those who find enlightenment come back to reality and help others who are in the burning house if it is so difficult to pass on the truths? I guess everyone has to find these truths themselves and can only find enlightenment through means of experience.
Unfortunately, I did not have a lyrical experience this week.
Most of our discussion this week was about living life in pursuit of pleasure. This concept of Hedonism sounds pretty good to me- who doesn’t like to feel good? At first, this idea seemed to contradict what we had been learning so far about the world constantly changing. How can you lead a life of pleasure if nothing lasts? However, after reading The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love, I began to understand where the evanescence of the world fit into place with this concept of Hedonism. The woman in the story lives a life of pleasure, but that pleasure is fleeting. Since the world is always changing, the good things can’t last. She ends up in poverty and has nothing left but sorrow. “How cruel the floating world, its solaces how few—and soon my unmourned life, will vanish with the dew,” (Saikaku 172). Just as the pleasures she once experienced do not last, neither will the misfortune and poverty she encounters. I think it is important to fill your life with pleasure seeing as every day could be your last, but it The Woman Who Spent Her Life in Love teaches us that these pleasures are not permanent, “In this floating world anything can happen,” (Saikaku 185). But even when the woman is left with nothing but sadness, isn’t that the beauty of life? According to the ideology of mono no aware, there is sadness in all things, which is what I think leads to the pursuit of pleasure in the first place. If we all suck, then we are all on the same lowest level. “We become the denizens of a floating world of pleasure tinged with sorrow, temporarily finding reprieve,” (Inouye 82). This corresponds to Saikaku’s idea of mono no aware “a sadness that is constantly evolving toward gaiety,” (Inouye 84). In my mind, if this evanescent world is always going to be sad and we all suck, why not enjoy ourselves and feel good even if the pleasure might not last?
On a day when it was not freezing cold, I went for a jog and ran past this lake where a bird sat perched on a log and was still sitting there when I returned home.
A small lake—
A bird sits still and calm
As the wind rustles the trees.
At first I didn’t buy into the idea of nothingness, but when applied to an example regarding friendships, nothingness started to make sense. When I look around on campus, everyone is always walking to class and eating meals with the same crowd of friends. There are a few thousand students on this campus and chances are we will never meet most of them because we are too comfortable with the few friends we already have—our “something.” Without that something, we would be free to approach other students and meet some very interesting people who we would otherwise never give the time of day. This idea of nothingness is expressed in the Noh play Atsumori, when Atsumori and the Priest are sharing lines back and forth, breaking down barriers, getting back to nothing. “Once enemies…but now…in truth may we be named…friends in Buddha’s Law.” (Atsumori 69) Thomas Merton also talks about breaking down barriers that exist between us and other things to open our minds to these new things. “As long as we are inauthentic, as long as we block and obscure the presence of what truly is, we are in delusion and we are in pain,” (Merton 87). Thomas Merton explains here that if we don’t achieve nothing, we will always have desire to fulfill something, including the desire to achieve nothing. I think the idea of nothing is very important as it applies to the Noh Theater. “Noh’s emptiness is that quality of form that allows that possibility of all other forms to come to mind,” (Inouye 68). The Noh Theater also portrays the form we have discussed all semester. The Noh plays tended to have very little scenery or props, basically leaving the audience to nothing, and allowing them to open their minds without distraction to the skilled actors. I found it interesting that the Noh actors seem so basic yet convey so much to the audience. “We might say that only by mastery of the fundamentals does one progress to a more fluid state of creativity,” (Inouye 66). If there were no form and rules, no one would have the opportunity to stand out and be exceptional. There would be no great musicians or scholars. While I think complete nothingness is important in instances such as the Noh Theater to open yourself up to new things and emotions, I’m still not completely sold on the idea as applying to all circumstances. Why can’t I maintain the friendships I have now and still meet new people? While I think complete emptiness is important in some aspects, I think there might be a middle ground in other circumstances. Maybe if I am able to eventually have nothing, I will better understand its true value.
I was walking home from the gym Monday night while it was lightly snowing, and the snow on the street was glistening under the street lamps.
The street lamp
Makes every flake sparkle —
A glimpse of bliss in the bitter air.
This week in class we discussed the inevitability of failure in one’s life. Wherever there is success, it will be followed by failure. This sounded like a very negative outlook at first, but then if failure always follows success, then success must always follow failure (Inouye 49). This unavoidable cycle provides me with some hope; knowing that things will always get better when life seems to be at its worst. In Tale of the Heike, there is a large series of failures of the Heike because they simply cannot hold onto their success forever. This idea follows along with what we’ve been learning all semester— nothing lasts, everything is always changing. In reading Kamo-no-Chomei’s story, he talks about how we are temporary and even our houses, which we think will be around forever, are temporary. It never occurred to me that I might go home one day and my house will no longer be there until hurricane Sandy destroyed many of my friends’ houses and they returned from college to flooding and wreckage. Kamo-no-Chomei is absolutely right in his description of impermanency of everything. He compares a person’s life with the lifetime duration of a bead of dew, “A house and its master are like the dew that gathers on the morning glory. Which will be the first to pass?” (Chomei 33). Because everything in life is fleeting, Kamo-no-Chomei suggests that people should stop spending their time doing things they don’t want to do just because they think it will get them what they want in the future- but what if there is no future for them past tomorrow?
I was walking toward the Memorial Steps on my way to class one morning after it had snowed while puddles were newly forming on the black street.
Puddles reflecting images
Of students hurrying to class.
This week in class, we started discussing Buddhism, which is a religion mostly understood on a visual level (Lecture 2). One of the fundamental notions of Buddhism is “Anitya,” meaning nothing is permanent (Lecture 2). Ok, so this idea is nothing too complex to understand after we spent the first week of class talking about evanescence. In As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Lady Sarashina writes, “As I long for her cherry trees to bloom and grieve when her blossoms start to fall,” which illustrates the lack of permanence in this world, but goes back to what we learned last week in that everything is changing in the same way (p. 49). Lady Sarashina seems to take a passive role in her life, living in a dream-like state. At first this seemed to me like she was just giving up and being lazy by not wanting to take an active role in her own life. However, I now think that her dreams were not an escape from reality as much as they were a response or even parallel to reality (Inouye 30). Dreams do not last, sometimes they are promising and other times disappointing, just like the world in which we live (Inouye 30). The second Buddhist notion is that life is suffering (Lecture 2). I believe Anitya causes this suffering because people tend to suffer due to their failure to accept that nothing is permanent. The final Buddhist notion of “Anatman” means there is no such thing as self. Everyone and everything in this world depends on each other (Lecture 2). Everyone is constantly changing; people come into this world and leave it every day. Lady Sarashina writes of someone deceased, “Though now I dwell among the clouds, that Heavenly Door seems far away, and like the moon I fondly think upon the vanished past,” (p. 81). The world will still go on after you die, and who you “were” is irrelevant because the world is constantly changing.