Floating World

When do you feel at peace the most?

For me it is when I travel by train or any other means of transport. When I look out of the window and I see the the landscape change so rapidly in front of my eyes, it takes my mind far away. I become as if just an observer, rather than a participant of this life, which during these moments seems as a dream;  and like all dreams, it is a temporary reality. Then the feeling that there is something greater, something beyond that permeates through everything is right there; it’s nature is permanent unlike everything what we see with our eyes. However,  as soon as you step on the firm ground again, you are back to life, back to reality, involved in all the turmoil of it and the weight of it is ready to collapse on your mind once again.

So I like to call this world a floating one. When I was in Japan, I have realised they used to call it ‘floating’ as well.

Ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating world”.

No other nation in the world has managed to depict the impermanence and ephemeral nature of the world around us as well as the Japanese.

Although this style flourished in Japan in the 17th century and was focused on portraying the hedonistic lifestyle attributed to the Japanese during the Edo period, the term ukiyo is a homophone for a Buddhist term “Sorrowful World“. Nevertheless, I believe that there is no contradiction in that at all. The reason why Buddhists refer to this world as a sorrowful one lies in the karmic cycle of death and rebirth, which we are trying to break lifetime after lifetime. People suffer in this life without the spiritual guidance and when one’s life is not filled with purpose, it seems that the world just floats by meaninglessly. The same way pleasures and beautiful things come in our lives, the same way they go or deteriorate with the passage of time.  But that’s just natural and we have to learn to accept this. However sad it might be, that is not the real sorrow of human life. The real sorrow is in human spirit seeking liberation and fulfilment and not being able to find it.


Blossoms at dusk – making the day that just passed seem long ago.

Hence the notion of ‘Sorrowful World’ in Buddhism found its place in ukiyo-e, also transmitting fleeting, bittersweet scent of this world.

Maybe since I am a Buddhist at heart, Japanese art and culture have always touched me so deeply. Many times before, especially during my stay in Japan, I had been bewildered by the picturesque landscapes and astonishing beauty of Japanese nature, but at the same time felt a certain degree of melancholy over everything that was in front of my eyes, as if the air itself was saturated with it.

I always wondered, what is this feeling exactly? How can I translate it into my language? Since Russians are accustomed to get nostalgic and melancholic quite easily, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean depressed, and since we enjoy being in this state, normally looking out of the window on the world outside; the closest interpretation of this earnest somber yet pleasant sentiment that I have found, as a Slavic soul, is ‘svetlaya grustj’ or literally ‘light sorrow’ (‘light’ as in bright).

Nevertheless, the reason why I like to call the world outside ‘Floating’ is for its ephemeral quality primarily and, secondly, because as a traveller I often only get the chance to lay my eyes on the scenery without experiencing it. So as I a rapidly move away from the bamboo covered Japanese mountains, new horizons are flying my way, or rather I am flying, sailing, driving, walking, moving towards them. I absolutely love it… I can’t help it, it awakens something within and makes me feel alive. When I see new things, I can feel them come into my heart, and every single time this feeling is worth travelling thousands of miles.



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