In his autobiography, the great director Akira Kurosowa muses: “’Mono-no-aware,’ sadness at the fleeting nature of things, like the sweet, nostalgic sorrow of watching the cherry blossoms fall — when I heard this ancient poetic term, I was suddenly struck by enlightenment as if waking from a dream.”
To recognize impermanence can be saddening but also an awakening.
Temporality is a religious as well as a human observation. The book of Ecclesiastes is built around this awareness: “All is vanity” means everything passes away. The book is a meditation on mortality and an instruction on how to live mindful that all is ephemeral.
Yeats puts it simply: “Man is in love and loves what vanishes/ What more is there to say?” There is more to say. For the religious spirit, although we may not know what lies beyond this life, there is an assurance that ultimately, nothing vanishes. The alchemy of eternity begins in fear and may bring transformation; but to be a spark of God means that something of us endures. Some people believe the world is only stuff; others believe that stuff is infused with spirit. For those who cherish spirit, the crucial datum is not the fall of the cherry blossom but the eye of the director.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.