Category Archives: Week 2: From Hakanasa to Mujo

These are all posts from week two.

From Hakanasa to Mujo – Michael Charewycz

This past weekend I visited my girlfriend in New York City, and on the way back in the evening I noticed the reflections of passing towns and cars and lights through and on the large window I sat next to.


Gliding over glass

Fireflies in night

Lives wandering on


This past week we discussed the transition from traditional animistic beliefs to Buddhism within the scope of Japanese culture, with special focus on the concepts of anitya, dukha, and anatman, which translate to impermanence, suffering, and lack of self respectively (Inouye 31). We framed these values within a cultural context by examining works including As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams and the Nara Buddhism reading. Through this we realized anitya as the connecting principle between dukha and anatman central to Japanese Buddhism. For there can be no sense of self, anatman, when all is changing both within and externally; this lack of self and control over one’s surroundings leads to a sort of existential suffering, dukha (Lecture 1/30). I find these concepts easy to relate to, as I identify as a stoic. Having recognized myself as unimportant with the vast scope of an ever changing reality contrasted against any sense of self, and being largely out of control of my surroundings, I try and control and shape myself in response to the universe, thus trying to achieve contentment.

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Sarah Marakos

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.

Grey sky-

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.

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Letting Go

I was sitting on the subway when I overheard a conversation of a between a woman and her friend.  One of the women was talking about how she had to leave her children due to drug addiction when I noticed the color of her eyes.

Tears trickling down wrinkled cheeks

Emerald eyes–

Holding onto a mother’s love

I was ill last week so I will do my best to write about what I have learned and observed. The week seemed to focus on the principle values of Buddhism: Anitya (impermanence) , Dukha (suffering), and Anatman (no-self) . While I’ve heard these concepts before, these concepts seem foreign to me. I think it may be a construct of Western philosophy, which to me was always dissatisfying because you would never end up with an answer, just another argument. A lot of people seemed to think that this concepts of Anitya and Anatman were incredibly depressing, but I felt like it was pretty satisfying. The book “As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams” seems to emphasize the idea Buddhism through dreaming. The main characters finds solace in her dreams, but at the same time that comfort seems to also imprison her in a false sense of security. Inouye says that, “it becomes difficult to choose between a dreamlike reality and a dream” (Inouye, 29). This reminds me a lot of what Professor Inouye talked to us about when he rapped and made us all sing. I think it may have been more impressive if he didn’t read off the board. Anyway, these concepts follow very closely to what we talked about the very first week,. I’m starting to think more that Japanese culture and Buddhism seems to be more about and “being” rather than “existing.” I don’t know if that makes sense, but I hope it does soon.


-Krishna Soni

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Week 2 : Hakanasa to Mujo

Thinking about Hakanasa to Mujo

By Song

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

Already withering


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.

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From Hakanasa to Mujo – By Chris Navarro

I walked my dog to the park at midnight on a snowy night and I was taken by how beautiful and bright it was.

Grass covered with snow

Black dog running in the night

Appears bright as day


In class, we discussed how Japan’s society was polytheistic —a crucial point in understanding modern day Japan.  “The Kami were multiple rather than single” (Inouye 33).  Many of these kami were marked with shimenawa.  However, unlike many other religions, these kami are not representations of other beings (Lecture 1/28).  This early social understanding of life facilitated the spread of Buddhism, and its concept of mujo.  Therefore, the expression of evanescence, which will be a continuing subject of study in this class, evolves throughout Japanese history as utsusemi to hakanasa to mujo (Inouye 30).  When it comes to Buddhism, we have covered three major topics: anitya, duhkha, and anatman. Anitya is very similar to the concept of evanescence.  It expresses that both our environment and our perceptions are constantly changing.  Duhkha refers to the Buddhist idea that: “life is suffering” (lecture 1/28).  This expresses that the reason we suffer in life, is because we are attached to things of this world.  For example, when a family member passes away, we suffer due to the emotional attachment we have with them.   Finally, the word anatman is the notion that there is no-self (Inouye 31).  This idea seems to be the hardest for people to accept.  I have to admit that it is quite difficult for me as well.  However, having a background in social psychology, I understand that much of what we consider “me” is easily changed.  For example, research shows that one’s overall perception of happiness and satisfaction can be influenced by how comfortable one is while being asked.  Therefore, your perception of how happy you are with your life varies if you are sitting on an uncomfortable stool versus sitting on a comfortable reclining chair.  I found these data very surprising. However, it definitely coincides with the Japanese and Buddhist terms we have discussed.


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Japan Primed for Buddhism and the Transformation of Ideas

The other morning I walked up the President’s Lawn and looked through the trees to see the sun shining through the trees.

Sunlight through the trees

Illuminates the world

Waiting for spring to arrive

This week we learned about how Japan received Buddhism and how Japan’s culture primed it for the change from the classic Japanese term for evanescence, hakanasa, to the more Buddhist term of mujō. In terms of poetics, Inouye points out how Japanese writers easily adopted the Buddhist notion of anitya, or impermanence, and expanded upon hakanasa. They took the concept that “a change of environment or situation results in a corresponding change of emotion,” and transformed it into one that says “we live because the world makes us respond continuously, spontaneously, and emotionally to change” (Inouye text, 35). Not only does the environment change, but that change changes us and allows humanity to live and breathe. These Heian classics, notably most written by women, include the Tale of Genji, The Pillow Book, and Lady Sarashina’s As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams. In Sarashina’s case, her writing talked about life and love as a dream, since nothing is so fleeting and difficult to understand as complex emotions like love. (Inouye lecture, 1/30/13). My favorite aspect of her work, however, was how she seamlessly wove a step-by-step, factually-based narrative into numerous works of poetry. At one point, Sarashina notices a bright moon over Kuroto Beach, and “the scene inspired [them] to write poems” (As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, 34). I think this is what Professor Inouye wants us to experience as we write our weekly poems. In addition to learning about numerous Japanese historical periods like the Yayoi, Heian, and Muromachi, we also read a piece on Nara Buddhism. In it, we learned that while Buddhist missionaries brought their religious conviction and sacred idols to Japan in order to spread their message, “establish[ing] the new faith in Japan required the transplating of essential articles—images, vestments, books, ritual devices—as well as of ideas” (Sources of Japanese Tradition, 92). Overall, I was glad to learn about such an important time for the adoption and transformation of fundamental Japanese ideas and life principles and to have the opportunity to appreciate that transition through literature of the time. Hopefully we will take the same approach with modern Japanese history, too.

~Ezra Dunkle-Polier

Buddhism entered Japan and hoped to both adapt to and assimilate with the Way of the Gods.

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Late on Thursday night I was hurrying back from the SMFA shuttle after class and it was unbelievably cold and windy.  On my street everything was blowing wildly and the light from the streetlamps was very foreboding in general.

Though not yet frozen

The night chills my bones

And shadows churn on Teele Avenue

This week’s continuation of evanescence and form brought in more elements of Buddhism and the absence of self.  We read that certain aspects of Buddhism naturally stuck well with early Japanese people, such as the ideals laid forth in the Vimalakirti sutra (Nara Buddhism 99).  Three important Buddhist notions stood out:  anitya, the notion of impermanence; anatman, lack of self; and duhka, suffering (Inouye 31).  The importance of nonsymbolic readings of symbols came up several times again, which I think I understand but have a feeling will be difficult to enforce because searching for symbolism is so ingrained in most other areas of study.  I also thought it was interesting to talk about how religion or spirituality is manifested and recognized in Japan, with most people not necessarily identifying themselves as religious even though they follow many religion-based practices (Lecture 1/28).  I’m still thinking about the overlap of religion and tradition and whether or not those are necessarily different things.  We also talked about where dreaming fits in, with a lot of connections to Lady Sarashina, a constant dreamer and romantic (Lecture 1/30).  I’m not sure how I feel about living life in a dream state and whether or not that can be seen as passivity.  On one hand it sounds appealing in an enlightened (or escapist) sense but it also seems like a somewhat sad way to go through life.

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Dreaming Buddhas

Having woken up late and feeling groggy on Sunday I opened the shade to see the afternoon snow.


A once clouded head

Sees the floating snow–

Now cleared by clouds above


Anitya is the Buddhist concept that “the phenomenal world and our perceptions of it are constantly changing” (Inouye, 31). This single idea was the core of Japanese Buddhism, and as we learn in the Nara Buddhism excerpt, inspired multitude Japanese monarchs to adopt Buddhism as the religion/beliefs to live by (Tsunoda, 96). The two other important concepts to know from Buddhism are duhka and anatman which essentially mean the suffering inherent in life and “no-self” respectively (Inouye, 31, 32). We learn that these three ideas are connected in that by accepting anitya and the notion that you as a single entity don’t really exist you avoid the duhka in life—you “become more accepting and appreciative of simplicity” (Inouye, 32). I have trouble convincing myself that I don’t exist separately and, like all others things, possess a certain emptiness, or sunyata (Inouye, 37). Sure, I am not the same person I was yesterday, but on the other hand, I’m not just some random other person—there are undeniably a continuance of characteristics that solely I have. Life is brief and can end at any moment, yes, but I think until that inevitable end I am the sum of my experiences. Like our unnamed protagonist in As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams, I can’t be certain of many things and have to accept the chaos that is life. She more or less dodges these notions and lives somewhat in a dream, continually subject to intense bouts of emotion that seem to wear on her. On the plus side though, it seems her vulnerability/spacey-ness permit her powerful feelings of koi or longing that really give her a beautiful appreciation of nature. These lyrical experiences of nature that I don’t struggle in having but in writing, she accomplishes swiftly and with ease. As one of the many women authors of the Heian period, poetry was the main form of communication and artistic expression. Hakanai is the main word to encompass the concept of continual change and thus unpredictability (Inouye, 26). To the women of the Heian period, this word was closely tied to romance, “where love is, generally speaking, hakanai—changing and fleeting” (Inouye, 27).

Ben deButts

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the evanescent beautiful

On Sunday morning, Evan was sitting on his bed, spacing out and trying to decide what to eat, and I saw the snow through his window.


Swirling in the air

Window frame, your silhouette


Last week we talked about influence of Buddhism on Japanese interpretations of life experience. The three fundamental elements of existence, anitya, duhka, and anatman, which represent impermanence, suffering and no-self respectively, are compatible with the idea of evanescence in Japanese culture. When Buddhism first came to Japan, these fundamental ideas were transformed and combined with Japanese understanding of the ever-changing nature of the world, which is polytheistic, animistic, and shanmanistic (Inouye 32.) The non-symbolic understanding of symbols is an example of how Buddhist ideas fit into Japanese context, where gods are tangible and available, and our relationship with nature is close but ever-flowing. The close tie between our surroundings and us also explains the importance of natural imagery in Japanese poems (Inouye 34.) In As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, her poems are always based on her observations and feelings aroused by nature. She saw rustling bamboo leaves, the autumn moon, and fragrant blossoms, and the scenes echo her sorrow from being apart with the loved ones and moving from place to place. As we discussed in the lecture, the ever-flowing nature of life, and our attempt to maintain or pursue a permanent relationship that we are experiencing now is futile, sad, but beautiful.

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Week 2

I left Tisch late on Monday night after it snowed and saw a bunny hop in front of me around Goddard Chapel!

dimly lit walkway

untouched snow

suddenly — a bunny




I was a little confused after class discussion when we were talking about why the author of As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams had the ability to write about her thoughts (Lecture 1/30). The class came up with Buddhism as a justification. We also have talked a lot about duhka and how “life is suffering” which happens as we try to pursue pleasures that are temporary and will never last (Inouye 31). In my mind, Buddhism would not encourage living a life in daydreams because they could never be fulfilled which would cause so much mental anguish. Buddhism is about removing the control of the external world and meditating on the idea of anitya (the world and our perceptions change) to escape from duhka (Inouye 31). Living in a dream world is not a productive way to achieve enlightenment.

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