Photo Sunday: Sakura

After a rainy, gloomy week where I live, the sun finally came out and the weather warmed up, and every plant and tree seems to have burst into bloom overnight. That includes these cherry trees, which exploded in dense bunches of pink flowers as if staging a fireworks display to usher in the spring:

[click for larger version]

[click for larger version]

I feel a philosophical affection for the Japanese cultural interpretation of these flowers, which they call sakura. The cherry blossoms bloom en masse but fade and fall away almost as quickly, a fitting metaphor for the fleeting nature of life that makes it more precious. This quality of beauty in transience is called mono no aware:

The phrase is derived from the Japanese word mono, which means “thing”, and aware, which was a Heian period expression of measured surprise (similar to “ah” or “oh”), translating roughly as “pathos”, “poignancy”, “deep feeling”, “sensitivity”, or “awareness”. Thus, mono no aware has frequently been translated as “the ‘ahh-ness’ of things”, life, and love. Awareness of the transience of all things heightens appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing. (source)

And from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“The sound of the Gion shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sola flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.”

And here is Kenko on the link between impermanence and beauty: “If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty” (Keene, 7). The acceptance and celebration of impermanence goes beyond all morbidity, and enables full enjoyment of life:

“How is it possible for men not to rejoice each day over the pleasure of being alive? Foolish men, forgetting this pleasure, laboriously seek others; forgetting the wealth they possess, they risk their lives in their greed for new wealth. But their desires are never satisfied. While they live they do not rejoice in life, but, when faced with death, they fear it — what could be more illogical?”

Photo by the author. Camera: Sony α6000. Photo in this post is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.