In my earlier post about "Genji Monogatari," I talked about "Mono No Aware" a little bit.
Actually, it is one of the most important Japanese aesthetic, philosophy, thought, and feeling, so I would like to explore it a little more right now:
物 (Mono)- means "Things"
の- means "of"
and 哀れ (Aware) is very difficult to translate, because it has so many meanings. In fact, plugging this word into a simple Google Translate application brings up this: ”Pity, compassion, misery, sorrow, glamour, grief, charm, allure, magic, attraction, prettiness, compassion, captivation, enchantment, fascination, delight, loveliness, helpless, and pathos.”
Basically, the most accepted definition of 物の哀れ (Mono No Aware) is "the pathos of things"
Now, what is pathos.
You may have heard the word before.
In Philosophy, Aristotle’s "ingredients for persuasion" – otherwise known as "appeals" – are known by the names of ethos, pathos, and logos. They are all means of persuading others to take a particular point of view.
Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader.
Logos is an appeal to logic, and is a way of persuading an audience by reason.
And, Pathos is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.
In philosophy, pathos basically is the term used to define an argument that evokes an emotional response.
The general definition of "pathos" is “a quality that evokes pity or sadness."
Fundamentally, 物の哀れ (Mono no Aware) expresses a feeling.
Another widely accepted definition is this:
"awareness of the impermanence or transience of all things, and the gentle sadness and wistfulness at their passing."
Now, what exactly does "wistful" mean?
It means “melancholy or yearning, or having a mournful or regretful longing.”
Watch this short video (start at 24:44):
花見 (Hanami) is the perfect example of 物の哀れ. Hanami is the time during Spring, when the Sakura trees blossom, and Japanese people go to view the beautiful Sakuras, usually by sitting below the tree and having a picnic.
Typically, the trees only bloom for a few days to a week, so it is a very special time in Japan.
It is the perfect example, because it is something so beautiful, yet so fragile and impermanent, that you can only appreciate its beauty for a short time, and you might get a feeling of sadness because something so beautiful only lasts such a brief time.
From a Buddhist perspective, it expresses the transient impermanence of all things.
Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, or in a constant state of flux. The mutability of life, that time passes on no matter what happens, is an important aspect of impermanence. The Pali word anicca literally means "inconstant" and arises from a synthesis of two separate words, 'Nicca' and the "privative particle" 'a'. Where the word 'Nicca' refers to the concept of continuity and permanence, 'Anicca' refers to its exact opposite; the absence of permanence and continuity.
In my opinion, 物の哀れ expresses beauty, and the sadness behind the beauty is the sadness felt looking at something beautiful and feeling sad because you realize that like everything in life, it is only fleeting, and impermanent.
The most famous example of 物の哀れ is in the "Tale of Genji", Japan's oldest novel.
But some other examples are in:
The somewhat later Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike Clan) begins with these famous lines, which clearly show impermanence as the basis for the feeling of mono no aware:
“The sound of the Gion shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sōla 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.”
Yoshida Kenko, a famous Buddhist Monk and author, said, “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”
Also,“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?”