KJ 50 TRANSIENCE
published May 20, 2002
This world of dew
is only a world of dew,
and yet, and yet…
– Issa (1763-1827)
Cover Image by Tiery Le…
It is hardly coincidental that so many of Japan’s cultural traditions — including haiku, tea ceremony, calligraphy, and flower arrangement — cultivate a special awareness of both the season and the present instant of focused attention. Buddhist philosophy holds that the entire world is continually recreated, moment by moment. Entering that evanescent instant of creation, one can’t help but be simultaneously aware of its transience.
A store isn’t a building, it’s an activity, and a neighborhood is not a collection of buildings, but a social net created by people who live there. Every frayed mat and wobbly table on the soi is a link to the centuries-old tradition of periodic markets that once flourished along canals and village lanes, a way of life that continues to reinvent itself, even in the shadow of shopping malls.
From where I sit, I have a clear view of the house being demolished across the street. Kyoto. It happens all the time. I’m on the second floor of my friend’s house, a ringside seat. A large, tracked machine is perched atop a pile of debris in the middle of the site. Its huge, jointed arm wields a maneuverable set of pincer-like jaws that the operator, sitting calmly on top of his work, uses to tear steadily and methodically at the little wooden house he’s ripping to pieces.
If we compare a society’s fate with an individual human life, using the Chinese system of the four seasons, America, like Japan, cannot remain forever in the green spring of youth., nor does it seem to be in the red heat of summer any longer. That means we are heading for the white autumn. This is not simply a season of declining energies. It is a time of reigning in rampant, wild energies, achieving a sense of calm, and building a mature, ripe culture.
With great fanfare from drums, cymbals, horns and bells, on that final day the head lama — much like a pizza parlor chef — ritually sliced up the delicate image with a small metal lightening bolt vajra; then an assistant swept up the component grains into a blur the color of all colors and poured the gumbo into a container. …Onlookers’ faces went from disbelief to horror. How could they mess it up after all that they have done to create it?
Some suggest that we each have immutable souls which pass from one life on to the next. We have, they say, mistakes to correct, lessons to learn and to teach. Others assert that we’re given but one precious incarnation in which to do our changing and learning. Somehow, in light of my experiences, I feel both of these standpoints hold truths which are partially clouded by illusion, that neither has it quite whole.
Kasai whirlingly dances the standstills in a multitude of movements in rest; Tanaka dances a lot of movements in standstill. Butoh is not based on one philosophy — Kasai’s and Tanaka’s are certainly very different — but the power of a butoh dancer, as the critic Goda describes it, is “to make dance into a personal philosophy.”
While performances are by definition meant to be seen, these performers forget, and are liberated from the desire to be something — for instance, to be as beautiful as possible. That is when they can enter a different non-worldly state of mind, and simply dance on a wave of transience.
Overlooking Kyoto from his sacred mountain — one hand shading his eyes against the southern sun — the Bishamonten of Kurama has seen it all. Purple dawns, golden sunsets, the habitual arcs of moon and planets, seasons of rice-plantings, harvests, fire festivals, bamboo-cutting; typhoons, floods, earthquakes, unimaginable change
Haiku can be an antidote to the speed of post-modern culture – allowing one to step off the spinning wheel, to stop and breathe deeply and slowly. To note the birth and death of each moment.
Wasabeef? How fascinating — beef and wasabi flavored potato chips. The excellently named Crunky and Collon. Puffy green soybean-y items with plum flavor. Rows of Pocky, too many varieties to count, an array of drinks to boggle the mind. I felt at peace, surrounded by infinite possibilities.
“I felt clean for the first time in my life.” That’s what Aldous Huxley said when his house and everything in it was destroyed in a fire. I admired the man and read everything he wrote. And I longed for this kind of non-attachment, too.
Ink splashed on thin paper. You could tear it with your little finger if you wanted. But it will last over 1000 years, even in this country of earthquakes, active volcanoes, and wars.
Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular and enduring. Wabi-sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes.
Let’s keep it simple. There’s Big-T Transience and there’s little-t transience. Big-T is cosmic and eternal and everywhere operative; little-t is local, temporary, artificial. Humanity’s “progressive” activities are little-t: politics, highways, careers, convenience stores, dynasties, acid rain. Big-T subsumes and drives all the little-t stuff seamlessly and invisibly without pause or notice…
You see this great mandala appearing, this great sun, and beyond the violet, there’s black. Black, like obsidian, not flat black, but transparent black, like lacquer. And again, blazing out of the black, as the yang comes from the yin, more light.
When I was eight years old, my father took me to a monastery for training and discipline. We started in the early morning light, on a path through rugged mountains. Around noon we ate our lunch overlooking a village. Later in the afternoon a young monk was waiting for us below an old dilapidated gate.
The process of examining one’s motives, behaviour, actions and inner life is what makes human beings both themselves and of the human race. This has not changed in the passage of time from the Bronze Age to the present day. The system of the Book of Changes is based on the belief that everything which happens at a particular moment in time is imbued with or resonates with the characteristics of that moment.
From the beginning this thing called “self” is only a concept without any actual substance. It is like the horns of a hare or a turtle’s fur. The horns of a hare or a turtle’s fur can be depicted conceptually, expressed in words, and so on, but the actual thing does not exist.
The construction of form, space and place in Japan, whether traditional or modern, is fundamentally and pervasively informed by a sense of transience, of the impermanent quality of life, nature, and human artifacts, known in Japanese as mujokan
I have no doubt that, within ten years, the fundamental way of tea will die out. When it dies out, people in society will believe, on the contrary, that it is flourishing. The miserable end — when it becomes completely a matter of worldly amusement — is now in sight.
Transience is a theme often associated with The Tale of Genji , thanks especially to Motoori Norinaga’s (1730-1801) famous insistence that the great motif of the tale is mono no aware (“the pathos of things). Still, the notion of mono no aware remains largely Norinaga’s invention.
The Goryo Matsuri, held in May at Kamigoryo-jinja, is said to be the city’s longest-running festival. It was created to protect the country from a particularly nasty epidemic in 863, and still continues.
Grandpa Thong-in would very much have liked to tell other people, so that they understood him better, that when he and Grandma Jan were in their teens, they were in love with each other, so much in love that they’d gladly have died for each other, so much in love that they were ready to elope, but their parents had thwarted their plans, claiming they were no match for each other, and time had finally separated them.
. The self will pass, the weather will change, the person who thinks that nothing is what it used to be will soon be nothing himself; but everything that’s true will last. Life, my Buddhist neighbors whisper, is nothing less than a “joyful participation in a world of sorrows.“
Ash, by Holly Thompson — Leza Lowitz
The Wind in the Pines: Classic Writings of the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path, by Ed. Dennis Hirota — Ken Rodgers
Kodo: The Way of Incense, by David Pybus — Sally McLaren