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Japanese Flowering Cherry Tree

Japanese Flowering Cherry Tree

My timing was perfect, even if the place was not as I imagined. How could two cities be so different yet share something so distinct as to make them like sisters in a family? There was no doubt in my mind that it was the cherry blossoms that created the illusion before me – an illusion of something Japanese, in a place as American as New York City. Today was the annual Sakura Matsuri or cherry blossom festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where more than 200 cherry trees were in full bloom. I remembered the Japanese because of the cherry trees.

In this shimmering spring day
Ah, with ever anxious heart
The blossoms are falling…
Ki no Tomonori
Japanese waka poet

What could be more joyful than this moment, when all the Japanese flowering cherry trees or Sakura were bursting with pale pink and white blossoms? I could see the delicate blossoms falling to the ground even before withering out, as if someone had shaken the cherry trees and thrown the petals in the air. The scent of cherries wafted the cool breeze in the garden, blending like a symphony with the laughter of the people who posed under, besides or in front of the cherry trees.

The radiance of cherry blossoms
Their scent, ever fresh with every passing year,
So man grows old, eternally.
Ki no Tomonori
Japanese waka poet

Like any tourist, I admired the cherry blossoms for its aesthetic value, not knowing the Sakura symbolized something more profound to the Japanese. The falling leaves or blossoms are a metaphor for death in Buddhism. That’s because the Japanese compared the short life of a cherry blossom to the life of a samurai or warrior who was fully prepared to sacrifice his life in the cause of his master. I thought the samurai was rather like a Christian martyr who was fully prepared to sacrifice his life in the cause of his faith in Jesus.

Myriads of things past
Are brought to my mind –
These cherry blossoms!
Basho Matsuo
Japanese haiku poet

A few days ago, we were at the Senso-ji Temple, in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan where I noticed the cherry blossoms within the courtyard of the famous Buddhist Temple. Our good friend Yachiyo explained a little about the cherry and Buddhism.

“Those are not real anymore but made of plastic,” she said. “They are there all year round so that people could hang their prayer petitions under the trees. We don’t have a mass like you do. We don’t worship a God like you do.”

Yes, I did notice several sheets of paper (with characters on it) hanging under the shade of the cherry trees. It was something that even I could relate to. The scene reminded me of how the Jews inserted prayer petitions between the bricks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Even Catholics have prayer petitions through lighted candles or written paper that are burned after praying.

From a Buddhist’s perspective, however, the cheery tree is a deity and each petal of cherry blossom is a person who sacrifices himself for a certain mission or ideal. It is as simple as the flower will wither, the warrior will die, and the world will fade away.

The rains poured down as I sat to eat our bento lunch underneath a large tent. Surrounded by cherry trees, I understood how people see the world from the perspective of their own faith but regardless of faith, I sensed the connection of mankind to nature and to a higher power above. Yes, immortality was never meant for man on earth but how beautiful it is to know that we have a purpose to strive for and like the Buddhists, we could live well at the moment with eternal spring in our heart.

This year on, forever,
It’s all gravy to me now-
Spring arrives.
Japanese haiku poet