Flower petals fall, but the flower endures. The form perishes, but the being endures ー a saying of Buddhist philosopher Kaneko Daiei.
Originally written in Japanese, Flower Petals Fall, but the Flower Endures (Japan Publishing Industry Foundation, 2019) is a thought-provoking work by Seiichi Takeuchi, a scholar and author who specializes in ethics, Japanese intellectual history and Japanese spiritual history.
Like his manifold specialties, this book is a mélange of genres such as philosophy, spirituality, and religion. I later learned the volume is a compilation of Takeuchi’s essays and lectures, some a part of his graduation thesis, to commemorate his retirement from the University of Tokyo.
From the first page this book revolves around the concept of mujokan, which is translated as the “impermanence of worldly things” (2). Although the translation is not mistaken, a more natural way to understand the concept is that “all aspects of life are evanescent.”
Through the methodological lens of literature, art, religion, philosophy, and spirituality, the author probes seemingly opposing themes in his essays, such as mizukara and onozukara, life and death, and sadness and happiness. Then he goes further, into yet additional themes such as gratitude, grief/pain, and love, weaving their interconnectivity under the concept of mujokan through the course of 200 pages. It is interesting to see how seamlessly his academic work fits under this theme.
Mujokan connotes loneliness to many of us familiar with the word’s common use in Japanese. But after reading this book, the meaning carried by the word might better be redefined. As everything is mujo, there is always going to be pain. And in many cases, that is caused by death.
Convincing Lessons from the Author
Through this book I have learned that death and the pain that follows is not something that should hinder you, but is a force that drives you to happiness, or in Japanese shiawase, in the long run. When grief, sorrow, and pain overflow and there is nothing else to fill your mind and heart, you will be able to look back at the event and cherish it, as it makes you who you are today.
The author also comforts the reader by convincing us of the fact that pain itself is impermanent.
Takeuchi introduces many poems and anecdotes on the topic of overcoming death (or pain), which make particularly enjoyable reading. Through his essays he explains how people have turned pain into words which continue to speak to us decades after. The concept of translating pain into language is a gift from the author that I, and hopefully others who read the book, will carry on into our lives from now on.
Structurally, the author’s skillful inclusion of art forms such as poetry and manga lines to show how different art forms express people’s pain was effective as a means of highlighting the Japanese philosophical view of life and death.
The book puts forth a new idea of pain, inviting the reader to approach it from a new dimension. Pain is something inevitable, the author tells us. It is impermanent, but always existing, so why not embrace and accept it full-heartedly?
Initially, the book may be difficult to understand for those readers who are unaccustomed to Japanese culture. Some previous understanding of Japanese culture would undoubtedly make it easier to appreciate the author’s message and the beautifully woven flow of the book as it captures core elements of Japanese philosophy and spirituality.
Nevertheless, Flower Petals Fall but the Flower Endures is a treasure for anyone who wants to understand the cultural implications behind Japanese words and phrases. The author will surely make you think of the depth, weight, and history that each word carries. And despite hearing the same words strung together casually in sentences on a day-to-day basis, many will be surprised to learn the true meaning behind those words.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: Flower Petals Fall but the Flower Endures
Author: Seiichi Takeuchi
Publisher: Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture (Gakugei Shuppan)
Purchase the Book: Available in hardback, paperback in kindle format through Amazon, here.
Learn More: Learn about this book, which has been made available to English language readers by the Japan Library, here.
Author: Ami Eldridge