“Mono no aware, literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence, or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. “Mono-no aware: the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened and appreciative of transience – and also about the relationship between life and death.”
Often this concept is referred with an allegory of Japanese Cherry Blossom season in Japan which is known for its perhaps more “visible” transience. The below petals are from my office garden. The same plant in different stems conveys the unavoidable transience of life. While one of the petals is on a bloom, the other one slowly withers away.
Taylor Bond, in her wonderful article, puts it very elegantly:
“What comes most easily to mind is the beauty of the cherry blossom; the flower blooms intensely, yet only for a short period of time each year. As the flowers die and the petals fall, cherry blossoms line the streets like a layer of soft, pink snow, and are most beautiful when captured between the precipice of life and death. That is precisely the unique appeal of the cherry blossoms; their aesthetic focuses on the unavoidable transience of the material world that exists. According to this view, the fragility and inherent brevity of an instance of awe, such as the blooming of the cherry blossoms, only aids in heightening the event’s stunning, albeit melancholic nature. Because it only lasts for such a short period, it is undoubtedly appreciated more. Understanding and accepting that innate uncertainty of life helps us evade the overwhelming feeling of morbidity associated with impermanence, instead highlighting our ability to enjoy life by appreciating its fleeting moments. The unavoidable nature of finite existence is contrasted with the never-ending stream of change, as life continues to occur despite the continuous passing of objects and experience. The realization of impermanence is therefore bittersweet, tinged with mourning, and yet also capable of recognizing the beauty of change in itself.’
Similar thematic allegories are also narrated in scriptures.
“And cite for them the parable of the present life: it is like water that We send down from the sky; the plants of the earth absorb it; but then it becomes debris, scattered by the wind. God has absolute power over everything.” (Q’ 18:45)