Living

'Relish each day the joy of survival'

Fleeting moments can bring lasting joy

"If our life did not fade and vanish... but lingered on for ever, how little the world would move us. It is the ephemeral nature of things that makes them wonderful."

These words, written by the 14th-century Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenko, ran through my mind recently when I saw a little girl blowing bubbles among the cherry blossoms in the Shukkei-en Gardens in Hiroshima.

FRAGILE BEAUTY

In Japan, cherry blossoms are greatly admired for their fragile beauty.

Each year, at this time, the Japanese hold hanami (flower-viewing) parties to appreciate and enjoy them.

The blossoms are regarded as a symbol of the fleeting beauty of life and its experiences: here one moment, and gone the next.

We might be tempted to think, as we sit beneath a cascade of pink blossoms, that the world would be a better place if the cherry trees were always in bloom.

Later, when the blooms begin to fade, we might be tempted to regret their passing.

But this would be a mistake.

If cherry blossoms lasted forever, they would - as Kenko observes - lose much of their power to move us.

It is their ephemeral nature that makes them so precious.

And the same is true of life itself.

It too is fragile and fleeting. Its moments of joy and beauty are just as quickly gone.

But, according to Kenko, this knowledge, rather than being a source of sadness and regret, should inspire us to savour and enjoy life's experiences while they last.

He wrote: "What a glorious luxury it is to taste life to the full for even a single year. If you constantly regret life's passing, even a thousand long years will seem but the dream of a night."

We should try to live, each day, mindful of the miracle of existence.

We should cultivate our appreciation of each sunrise, each blossom, each meeting with friends, each cup of tea.

They are ours to enjoy for only a brief time.

Again, in Kenko's words: "If people hate death they should love life.

"Should we not relish each day the joy of survival? Fools forget this - they go striving after other enjoyments, cease to appreciate the fortune they have and risk all to lay their hands on fresh wealth."

POIGNANT

Hiroshima is, of course, the city on which the world's first atomic weapon was dropped.

On Aug 6, 1945, at 8.15am, a bomb nicknamed Little Boy was dropped by an American B-29 bomber.

It exploded 600m above the city centre, causing massive devastation and loss of life.

On that day, many severely burned and injured people somehow made their way to the Shukkei-en Gardens, and died there.

So, for me, it was especially poignant to see a little girl there, blowing bubbles among the cherry blossoms.

The bubbles vanished even as I watched.

The blossoms will soon be gone too.

And the little girl's childhood will last only a little longer.

But it was a moment to be savoured: for the little girl, for her father who sat nearby, and for me.

POETRY

Many haiku (traditional Japanese three-line poems) have been inspired by the cherry blossom.

Here, for example, is one by Kobayashi Issa (1763-1826), one of the great haiku masters of Japan:

What a strange thing!

to be alive

beneath cherry blossoms

Here is my attempt:

Wind-borne bubbles,

more fleeting than cherry blossoms.

A moment to savour.

  • Gary Hayden is a philosophy and science writer.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline ''Relish each day the joy of survival''. Print Edition | Subscribe