Monday, 8 June 2009

My search for a teacher continues

Tomorrow I'll visit a new zazenkai on my way back from work. There is a Soto Zen university not too far from my house, but I've yet to be able to go there. Tomorrow, I'll finish teaching at a university at 4:10pm and the Soto university is en route to my home and around 30 minutes from by workplace. The zazenkai starts at 5pm. I'm hoping that I can build relationships with the people there and maybe even find a teacher. It would be an exciting place to be around. Every summer vacation they holds retreats to Eiheiji Monastery, effectively the seat of Soto Zen in Japan. I'll blog about it when I get home.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

This morning's zazenkai and the avoidance of an ego trap.

There were very few at this morning's zazenkai, only five including the monk. Still and with all, we had enough to fulfil the drum and gong duties and afterwards we had a good chat and looked at the monk's photos of his pilgrimages to India, Tibet and Nepal to the various Buddhist centres.

It was particularly pleasant in the zendo with fewer people there. We all sat spaced around the place so I'd no-one sitting beside me and it was easier to relax and fidget when the time started taking its toll on my legs and back. It's a beautiful summer day here, but not as hot as it can get. We opened the main doors and let the breeze come in and the hall filled up with the sound of birds singings in the trees around the temple.

There were various lay people working around temple from quite early. The strange thing about this place is that very few lay people will be zazen practitioners. Those who were there this morning were working the gardens and the graveyard and probably wouldn't have known what we were doing in the zendo. I saw it in my home country, people getting some sort of solace from getting close to the forms of a religion, the clergy, the buildings and locations, the ceremonies, but not actually getting themselves involved in the personal, spiritual practice. I once heard it being referred to as people seeking respectability, rather than personal spiritual transformation and when I saw those I knew who were far from spiritual turning up to church on Sunday dressed in their best clothes and behaving piously, yet being very un-Christian during the week I could see what was being described. While I'm not saying that anyone there this morning falls into that category, it's true to say that Soto Zen is an establishment organisation here and there are those who seek respectability by being seen around it. It is a ego trap we can all fall into and one we must be very mindful of.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Zazenkai in the morning

So it's zazenkai in the morning. There's a pretty decent Soto Zen temple close to my house which has been holding a Sunday morning sitting for many a year. No-one there speaks much English and my Japanese is weak, but we manage all the same. I can get basic instruction, but getting into the nitty-gritty of Buddhism is beyond our ability to communicate just yet.

I'll get up at around 5am, have some toast and rooibos tea and take my scooter on the ten minute ride to the temple. People start gathering very early. Yamada-san is a grisly, old dude who drives a 1970s English Mini. He'll be there from 5am reading his Japanese history books. There are a few older women who come and, in taking with traditional societies everywhere, will see to the tea and sandwiches while we men beat the drums and ring the bells. I'll mark the beginning of the zazenkal by striking a drum and bell. Afterwards, I mark the end with two others as we hit mopan (wooden plate gongs) and an umpan, or cloud gong, which is made of metal. I hit the umpan and it makes an almighty racket.

The monk who owns the temple spent two and a half years in Eiheiji Monastery in Fukui prefecture. For those who don't know it, it's a very prestigious Soto Zen monastery, founded by Dogen himself in the 13th century. They sit for 40 minutes there, so we sit for 40 minutes in our zazenkai. It's a long sit, and was especially so when the monk dozed off one morning and didn't wake until we'd been sitting for almost an hour. Even he had difficulty getting to his feet after that length of time. He freely admits he's not altogether up for being a monk, but inherited the temple and, therefore, became a monk as a matter of filial piety, i.e. respect for his parents and ancestors. Still, he enjoys the Sunday sitting and especially the coffee and sandwich session afterwards which can run on for a few hours.

I'll blog about tomorrow's zazenkai when I get back from it.

I'm being challenged!

I'm being challenged this week for sure. First I had an attack of the piles, then dental pain, then I stopped the caffeine, which is still beating on me, and yesterday I knocked my back out. How do I rise above this I wonder? The tendency is to escape from the now given how bloody uncomfortable it is, but mindfulness is where I'm supposed to be going. Now I see just how far on this journey I have to go.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Caffeine headaches, fatigue and restlessness.

This is the third time I've been here and I don't seem to have learned. I've stopped using caffeine accept to stop the headaches and I tried to sit last night and lasted just a few minutes before throwing in the towel. I'd one today before my last class (I teach university) as I didn't want to inflict my headache and irritiability on my students, but that's the only one I've had today. Now I'm nursing a whopper and I'm thinking about having one to settle it.

I understand there is a long tradition of using caffeine to aid sitting, with monks here in Japan often drinking green tea (some of which is loaded with caffeine) before sitting to stave off sleepiness. For me though, that's not an option. I simply drink too much as my body starts to crave the drug. It's loads or none for me I'm afraid. Moderation is not an option. I'll deal with sleepiness by getting more sleep. I'll be doing the business au naturale from here on in ;o)

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Caffeine and meditation.

Before I started meditating I stopped using caffeine for two periods of over a year each. Now I'm back at it again and I'm wondering if it is effecting my ability to settle my mind during sitting and during my day generally. Certainly, I drink too much, but I find moderation very hard. I'm thinking about packing it in again.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The Life of Buddha, a BBC documentary.

Found this on YouTube. It's not too bad, giving a fair account of the life and ideas of Shakyamuni Buddha. Not too sure about the silly hair-do though. Watch out for the mysteriously appearing bun on the crown of his head immediately after his enlightment.

Taking the precepts in Japan.

I've been considering taking the precepts in Japan, but I haven't decided whether I should or not, nor do I know how to go about it. I have to be careful with myself. My ego draws lovely mental pictures of me with my head shaven, in full robes, looking the part, and people looking at me and saying, "Ooooh, aaaaah, a westerner monk, wow!" and I would feel all important whilst I hurtle in the opposite direction from enlightenment. I wonder if I can be a monk in practice and attitude, but not on paper and in attire.

To find a teacher?

I reckon I should find a teacher, but I don't want anyone whacking me on the side of the head with a fan. The monk at the temple I sit in zazen at says that I'm doing well enough with my reading. His English is virtually non-existant as is my Japanese, so he can't be it just yet I think. One of the other sitters translates for us, but his English is not great either. The monk said, "Suzuki-san ga ii." (Mr Suzuki [Shunryu] is good for now). I'm reading Beginners Mind. That said, I'd like to find a teacher.