On Introduction to Spring and Ashura

Confidence in Introduction to Spring and Ashura
The poems in Spring and Ashura were composed during a period of spiritual crisis in Kenjifs life that included the death of his sister. But by contemplating and recording his mental state through the medium of the "mental sketches," Kenji objectified his mental crisis and was thus able to overcome it. He was confident that he had gained an original philosophical perspective via this repeated exercise in recording his mental states. Introduction to Spring and Ashura presents this philosophical perspective in dry and humorous poetical elocution. Kenjifs radical, ambitious, and philosophical recognition of issues is rendered in an indirect and suggestive form. He presented his arguments in such a roundabout way, however, that he was not understood by most of his contemporaries. The majority of modern-day readers as well, while intrigued with much in the Introduction, find it a daunting maze that leaves Kenjifs message ultimately incomprehensible.

"All," "I," and "everyone and everything" @The most humorous, grandiose, and inexplicable passage in the Introduction,

As a result people and galaxies and Ashura and sea urchins/Will think up new ontological proofs as they see them/Consuming their cosmic dust...and breathing in salt water and air/In the end all of these make up a landscape of the heart

Quotation from KENJI MIYAZAWA POEMS
translated by Roger Pulvers, published by Chikuma Shobo.

is a nonsensical one in which galaxies consume their cosmic dust, people breath in air, sea urchins breath in salt water, and each of them wonders, "Do I really exist?"

The key to what Kenji means is found in an obscure line at the end of the passage in parentheses,

(All is contained in everyone and everything/Just as all is everyone and everything contained in me)

This confusing proposition, resembling an exercise in logic, can be grasped if we recall the model of Indrafs net in the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Scripture). Indrafs net is a symbol of the mutual interrelation of the elements that constitute the world_a net of myriads of jewels that reflect each other, and the entire world is reflected in each jewel. If we make an analogy between this model and the line above, then "All" is the world, "everyone and everything" is the myriad jewels, and "I" am one jewel. Considered in this way, Kenji is saying that when "I," who am one jewel, look at "all," or the world, this is equivalent to all the other jewels, "everyone and everything," being reflected in me, and simultaneously "all," the world, being reflected in every other jewel, "everyone and everything." Thus we are led to a rational understanding of the line in parentheses.

(The model of Indrafs net in the Avatamsaka Sutra closely resembles Leibnizfs theory of monadology; perhaps this accounts for Kenjifs sympathy toward monadology and his frequent use of the term "monad" in his poetry.)

If we allow the above interpretation, then it is natural to think of the "people and galaxies and Ashura and sea urchins" mentioned in the first half of the stanza as jewels, or "everyone and everything." Viewed in this way, Kenji means by the nonsensical passage in which galaxies consume cosmic dust, people breath in air, and sea urchins breath in salt water, all the while thinking up ontological proofs, that "everyone and everything" interacts with its environment and perceives the world in its own way.

In the stanza preceding this one we find another line in parentheses,

(the totality flickers in time with me all sensing all that I sense coincidentally)

Kenji says that his mental sketches are records of "all," the world, reflected in "I," and that "all" is what "everyone and everything" experiences simultaneously. We should keep in mind, though, that by "experience simultaneously" Kenji does not mean to "experience in the same way"_"everyone and everything" has its own way of interacting with and perceiving the world.

Thus the Introduction emphasizes that there are many methods and many perspectives by which the world at a point in time can be understood, and Kenji implies that for him the "mental phenomena" of his mental sketches are records of how he relates to the world from his own particular frame of reference.

Uncertainty in "documents and history...or the earthfs past" This brings us to how Kenji views peoplefs understanding of the world at different points in time. In regard to the temporal aspect of understanding, the opening line of the Introduction, "The phenomenon called I," brings into question the relationship between a range of micro phenomena and "I."

We would expect that a persistent feature of mental sketches that record "The phenomenon called I" is the issue of how to regard time. Kenji says his mental sketches were,

Brought together in paper and mineral ink/From the directions sensed as past/For these twenty-two months

He hints that unconsciously "I" have changed and am completely different from the "I" of before,

These words were meant to be transcribed faithfully/.../Yet they have gone ahead and altered their construct and quality

Kenji then shifts to the temporal range of understanding viewed from a broad perspective,

In all probability just as we are aware of our own sense organs/And of scenery and of peoplefs individuality through feeling/And just as what is is but what we sense in common/So it is that documents and history...or the earthfs past/As well as these various data/Are nothing but what we have become conscious of/(at the root of the karmic covenant of spacetime
Kenji means that just as there is uncertainty about the "mental phenomena" recorded in his mental sketches, so the truths of scholarship and science such as "...history...or the earthfs past" can be easily shaken.

Kenji is trying to say that although people living in a certain age may assume that their understanding of "documents and history...or the earthfs past" is absolute truth, it is only because they have a common frame of reference by which to interpret such data, but as times change frames of reference change with them, greatly affecting how data is interpreted.

Criticism of synchronic and diachronic understanding Along this line, Kenji pointed out that at any point in time there are multiple perspectives other than the reference frameworks of human beings, such as those of other creatures and dynamic systems, that exist through which an understanding of the world is filtered. On the other hand, he was concerned with perceptions of the world that altered over time; of how our image of the world changes greatly as each agefs common frameworks for interpretation shift.

Here Kenji places understanding in a broad context and takes a critical view of both synchronous understanding and diachronic and historical understanding. Ordinarily, people tend to rely on their methodical frameworks of understanding and not doubt them; Kenji stresses, however, that they are actually quite transient and undependable.

An "observer" orientation The Introduction seems to be presenting a grandiloquent argument, so to speak, but what it comes down to is a simple explanation of what Kenji is aiming to accomplish via his "mental sketches."

The term "mental sketch" indicates that Kenji appoints himself as a "mental observer." "Mental observer" is a variation on the title of one of his poems, Observer of Scenery, and signifies someone who takes on the role of an "observer" who observes and records the various phenomena he experiences as "mental phenomena." Observing and recording experiences doesnft seem to be any different from observing and recording phenomena experienced as "mental phenomena," but as a matter of fact, a large chasm separates the two. Someone who is merely recording experiences is not particularly aware of the things and events experienced as appearing through the channel of "mental phenomena." Observing and recording phenomena experienced as "mental phenomena," however, also includes inquiry into the relationship between the external world and the "mental phenomena." The "mental observer" is an observer who is deeply aware of this issue. (This approach shares points in common with the phenomenological method of psychology.) Kenjifs approach of relentless inquiry into "mental phenomena" is closely tied to his frequent experiences of singular mental phenomena that he calls "visions." Many of the poems in Spring and Ashura Part I describe Kenjifs experiences of warped or unstable perceptional frameworks for deciphering sense data and the anxiety he feels as a result. Contrastingly, at times he experienced archetypal images that were highly significant for him; these appeared in his "visions," or the singular mental phenomena he experienced that deviated from conventional sense frameworks. He contemplates and records this "mental phenomena" in the mental sketches of Spring and Ashura Part I. (Kenji wrote in a letter to Ichi Morisa that Spring and Ashura was not poetry, describing it as "rough mental sketches in preparation for psychological work.") Kenji depicts his "mental spacetime" by relentless inquiry into where he feels his dead sister has gone and descriptions of the archetypal images that appear to him in his "visions." The complex personality of Kenjifs "mental spacetime" is completely disparate from the homogeonous spacetime of classical physics.

There is no evidence that Kenji knew of Edmund Husserlfs Lectures on the Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, but in any event his approach to the challenge of observing and recording "spacetime" as experienced by the mind and differentiated from the spacetime of classical physics diverged from that of academics of the phenomenology school.

Multiple frameworks that methodize sense and understanding The accumulation of "mental sketches" of Spring and Ashura Part I provided Kenji with a broad context for his critical perspective of understanding, which he set forth in the Introduction. In other words, Kenji was trying to say in the Introduction that we should not let ourselves be bound by the frameworks of sense and understanding we depend on without question; it is necessary to recognize that there are all sorts of perspectives and frameworks that methodize sense and understanding, and that we should search for a perspective that can embrace all such pluralistic systems.

The manifesto in the concluding passage of the Introduction,

The propositions that you have before you are without exception/Asserted within the confines of a four dimension continuum/As the nature of the mental state and time in themselves
may be read as such a message.

Kenji, possessor of the singular sense that he was, could not be content to share the common sense of his contemporaries; but by taking his singular sense to heart, he was able to arrive at this sort of radical, critical understanding.

From Spring and Ashura in The Complete Works of Miyazawa Kenji Vol.1,
Chikuma Bunko

->Spring and Ashura Part I: Mental Sketches and "Blue"


Space-time
The World of Kenji's Works
The World of Kenji Miyazawa