autumn wind- a paulownia tree being blown, now frost on the ivy -Matsuo Basho (translated by David Landis Barnhill)
As we near the end of October, we welcome the mini-season of Frost Descent. This season starts on October 23,2022 and continues until November 07,2022. In Japan during this time, it is said that frost begins to form during the overnight hours.(1)
Frost Descent is one of the mini-seasons identified by the traditional Japanese seasonal calendar. In 1685, these mini-seasons were further separated into 72 micro-seasons. The micro-season for Frost Descent are:
- The First Frost Falls (Oct 23- Oct 27)
- Light Rain Showers (Oct 28 – Nov 01)
- The Maple and Ivy Turn Yellow (Nov 2 – Nov 7)
In describing the micro-season of “Light Rain Showers” the authors of the 72-season app state, “There is something lonesome about the rain pattering on the fallen leaves which gives a sense of impermanence.”(1)
Impermanence recognizes that things are only temporary. The Law of Impermanence is one of the foundational teachings of Buddhism, which seems so relevant at this time. Thich Nhat Hahn, a Zen Buddhist Monk, states, “Impermanence means that everything changes and nothing remains the same in any consecutive moment.” (2) So when leaves fall to the ground we are witnessing the impermanence of the natural world. When fall turns into winter, and when winter turns into spring, we continue to witness the impermanence of things. The shifting of the seasons, and the shifting of our lives, is something that is unavoidable.
These transitions are also something that captures our imagination, and something that I believe the haiku is perfectly constructed to put into words.
Haiku and Impermanence
This autumn why do I feel old? birds in clouds Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
The haiku’s focus on nature provides a perfect framework to explore the concept of impermanence. George Marsh explains, “The strong emphasis on the seasons in haiku means that a sense of the changes in the natural world, paralleled in the human world, is at the core of every haiku.”(3) Therefore, the haiku can provide us with glimpses of the law of impermanence as seen through the eye of the poet.
Below are a few examples of haiku that speak of change.
Not for a moment do things stand still color in the trees Omoda Seiju (1771-1776)
All moving things must arrive at their end a knotty willow Tokyuso Enshi (1734-1780)
The summer grasses all that remains of soldiers imperial dreams Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
That which blossom falls, the way of all flesh in this world of flowers Kiko (1771-1823)
Although we are focusing on the passing away of things as a result of our current season, we need to remember that impermanence also means growth. Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us:
“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible. If a grain of corn is not impermanent, it can never be transformed into a stalk of corn. If the stalk were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat. If your daughter is not impermanent, she cannot grow up to become a woman. Then your grandchildren would never manifest. So instead of complaining about impermanence, we should say, ‘Warm welcome and long live impermanence.’ We should be happy. When we can see the miracle of impermanence our sadness and suffering will pass.”(2)
So just like fall turns into winter, and what has grown falls away, the opposite is also true. Winter turns to spring, and spring into summer. With spring and summer, we experience growth and abundance. Therefore, impermanence also means that everything that passes provides space for new things to emerge.
Within your life and mine- there lives a cherry blossom Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
The last winter leave clinging to the black branches burst into nightjars Masumi Kato (1726-1796)
My storehouse burned down now nothing stands between me and the moon above Mizuta Masahide (1657-1723)
Sometimes, the transition into late fall and winter can be hard for people. But the passing away is only half of the picture. If we are able to see this as a part of the natural order, and the rest that comes with this time is needed for a new life, then impermanence is something to honor and not to fear. Without winter, we cannot have spring. Without rest, we cannot grow.
- 72 Seasons App
- Thich Nhat Hahn, “Looking Deeply With the Three Dharma Seals: Impermanence, No-self, and Nirvana”, Lion’s Roar
- George Marsh, “Haiku and Zen”, The Haiku Foundation
Loved the Haikus today!
Hi Adele! Thanks for the continued support!
I knew a girl who lived in Singapore who sometimes lamented that there were no seasons there–it was essentially tropical summer all year long (with some minor variations), quite unlike here in the States, where many regions have discernable seasons. To witness the impermanence of the seasons most definitely helps us mark the passage of time and certainly forces us to consider life from sometimes drastically differing perspectives. Even though I sorely dislike winter, I know that spring will come eventually, and when I see the green arrive, the trees budding, the return of birds (and baseball season!), I can’t help but to embrace the impermanence of life. Good writing, Mark, and I loved every one of those haiku. 🙂
Hi Mike, Thanks for the the comment. I lived in San Diego for a bit many, many years ago. I had the same challenge with the minor variations in seasons. I never would have thought that I would miss winter, until there wasn’t one!
The title of your post made me smile, since rain is falling here in Maryland 🙂 Also, I enjoyed reading your discussion of impermanence. Indeed, change is natural — and I like how you say that impermanence is something to honor. A beautiful example of that are the leaves loosening from branches and floating down. In my walks, I love seeing those. They’re poetry. And they tell us change can be beautiful.
Hi Dave, Thanks for sharing your observations, and yes sometimes change is beautiful. It can be hard, but also very wonderful! Thanks for adding to the conversation. Talk soon,
A wonderful post of Fall and its transitions! I love the quote of growing old…..but the birds still fly. Life goes on with or without us!
Hi Dwight, Thanks for the comment. That one by Basho definitely stuck with me too! Thanks for sharing.
You are welcome…. love your posts.
I love the sound of rain especially at night. My favorite thing is falling asleep to a playlist of gentle rain!!
Hi Lizi, I agree, the sound of light rain showers can be very relaxing. Thanks for adding to the conversation! Talk soon,
Thanks for your comment! I am glad that you enjoyed it.
I’m beginning to appreciate winter more the older I become. I don’t know why that should be because it’s more challenging to me! I think that reading about the various seasons (and mini-seasons) helps me to enjoy them all the more.
I’ve enjoyed this post, Mark, and reading the comments from your readers. Thank you!
Hi Lesley, I am also really enjoying this exploration into the mini seasons. It’s encouraging me to really notice what is happening outside.
I am glad that you enjoyed the post and the comments. I really enjoy how they add to the conversation. Be well and talk soon,
Hi Mark, a great post again, I think we must be on the same wavelength! Following the seasons is something everyone should do as it “grounds” us and helps us to know what’s happening to the earth. Two books I am currently reading: Lev Parikian’s “Light Rains Sometimes Fall” (it is quietly humourous) and Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Living”. Your quotes about impermanence are excellent and like you, I find that writing haiku is the perfect way to make nature observations and our place in nature!
Hi Ashley, I think you may be right! We seem to be on the same track. That is very interesting. Maybe we could start a series of “letters” to each other about what we are reading. It could be an interesting way to dive
deeper into these concepts! I hope you are doing well and enjoying your weekend! Talk soon,
Haha! There is something about a letter that really appeals to me, but let me have a think over the next few days. Do you have a contact page?
Hi Ashley, My email is naturalistweekly[at]gmail.com. It could be fun, and definitely no pressure. It is just a pleasure to be able to interact with others around this stuff in any ways that works. And it could give us plenty blog writing content! in case you need that.
storm winds from the north
but so many of these leaves
still will not let go
Hi Sue, That is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. This fits nicely with the conversation.
Nice essay! Love the last haiku quoted by Basho – within each of us is a cherry blossom!
Hi Phil, thanks for the comment! The more I read of Basho, the more y really enjoy his work. Glad you liked the post. Be well and talk soon,
Such a wonderful and detailed post! The haikus are very evocative, as well as the photos! 🙂
Hi JChristian, thanks for the comment. I am glad to hear you like the post and the selected haikus. Thanks for adding the conversation!
Love the Haikus 🙂
Thanks! It took some digging, but I think they fit well. I am glad you enjoyed the post!