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