Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Gollum's Enlightenment!

I was watching The Two Towers again last night for the first time in a couple of years. This scene passed me by the last time, but this time I couldn't help but notice the comparison of Gollum's predictament with my own, a clearer seeing awareness drowning under a deluded ego. Gollum's struggle in this scene is great, as his original self, Smeagal, struggles against and decisively uproots his delusion, his rampant ego and declares himself to be free.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Not a place to listen to a sutra!

I was on the loo earlier, listening to the thunder and the rain outside, when I heard a very faint, rythmic sound which sounded very like chanting to the beat of a mokyugo. Just a minute later the rain faded away and for sure I could hear someone chanting The Heart Sutra and hitting on a mukugyo.

Then it dawned on me that it's the Obon festival here in Japan when families remember their past relatives. Many families invite a monk to their house to chant in front of the butsudan, a Buddhist shrine dedicated to past relatives which most homes have here. So there I was, sitting on the toilet, listening to a Zen monk chanting The Heart Sutra. I just thought I'd share that with you...........

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Buddhism must be relevant to all of us.

I was driving the car today with the family in tow, kids loud, 36 degrees and sweltering humidity, money tight and work needing done on the house and all was not well to be honest. I was under pressure for sure. At that point I thought of my practice and all that I have learned of late regarding attachment and the worry and anxiety that can result from it. Owning a house and having a family brings grief, that's for sure.

I thought of all those monks in all those temples hidden in all those secluded, serene places, with no possessions, no children, no concern for earning, just sitting, working the gardens and the grounds and how easy it must be for them to sustain a relatively worry free existence compared to us plebs.

Then I was struck with the realisation that Buddhism must be as relevant to me as it is to them. The promise of Buddhism must be as realisable to me and to all like me as it is to the monks or it isn't worth one gonk on a mukugo. I need to find my freedom in my life as it is, with all it's trials and grief.

And in saying that (just off on a slight tangent here), we'd a quake two days ago. My wife and I woke at 5am and the house was shaking severely. It was the biggest quake I've experienced yet. Then yesterday we went visiting to the north and drove along a very precarious road above a river, cut into the side of a mountain. I thought that such a road would be very dangerous if a quake was to hit, with landslides and the like. Then this morning I woke at around 5:30 out of a nightmare in which my family and I were falling from bridge into a river in the car because of a quake. It was crap. There was no way I was going to get back to sleep so I went downstairs, washed my face and then took out the zafu for a 20 minute sit. When my alarm went, in my mind I had a guy pinned to the ground and I was pummeling the head of him with my fists. The rest of the day wasn't much better.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Approaching Zazen. An intro video.

Here is a great zazen intro video from a bunch of lovely folks called YogaGarden who have a shed load of stuff on YouTube. Some of you might find it of some value. I certainly did.

Sesshin in Eiheji.

After some waiting, chin rubbing and a possible let-down, I heard today that I can attend a sesshin in Eiheiji temple, the head temple of the Soto Zen school. I visited there before as a tourist and it's a very beautiful place. I was able to see the training monks, albeit from a distance, going about some of their daily chores. There is a big visitors centre which holds retreats two or three times each month.

The monk at the temple I do zazen at is worried about me going, even though he has organised it. He's particularly worried about me sitting seiza (on my haunches) for periods of up to two hours. It's scaring me too a bit, but I've been hoping to go to a sesshin for some time now. This will be my first. He says that I'll need a bit of coaching before I go. I was thinking of smuggling in a few morphine shots to whack into my legs when the going gets nasty. What I'm worried about is the food situation. It's typical temple oryoki, which means small amounts of food, served quite infrequently. Here's the sesshin schedule:

  • 3:30 - Shinrei (wake up bell)
  • 3:50 - Kyoten zazen (Morning zazen)
  • 5:00 - Choka (Morning service)
  • 7:00 - Shojiki (Breakfast)
  • 8:30 - Samu (Work period)
  • 10:00 - Guchu zazen (Late-morning zazen)
  • 11:00 - Nicchu (Midday service)
  • 12:00 - Chujiki (Lunch)
  • 13:00 - Samu (Work period)
  • 14:00 - Hoji zazen (Afternoon zazen)
  • 16:00 - Banka (Evening service)
  • 17:00 - Yakuseki (Evening meal)
  • 19:00 - Yaza (Evening zazen)
  • 21:00 - Kaichin (Lights out)
As you can see, there's a 14 hour gap between even meal and breakfast. I'm not altogether sure why it's so tough. I suppose it could be argued that when we are confronted with pain in life, our motivation for overcoming pain is increased, and that the sesshin schedule, therefore, will focus minds in zazen. That's what I'm hoping. The monk at my temple tells me that the seiza periods are at least one hour, which is severe. However, I can see that morning service is scheduled for two hours, which is a monster session. Two hours of seiza on a very empty stomach. Ouchies. Morphine, see!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

There is a rule.........

I was taught this little verse by an English anarchist about 18 years ago, standing side-by-side at a tulip bulb factory conveyor belt in Holland as thousands of bulbs shimmied past us while we selected the rotten ones for the trash. It always pops into my head now and again, but now I've come to see its deep truth shining through the lilting lyric.

There is a rule that man's a fool,
He wants it hot when it's cool.
He wants it cool when it's hot.
Always wanting what it's not.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Zazenkai this morning.

Went to the temple this morning for zazen and when I turned up, I was the only one there. At first I thought it wasn't on and that I'd not understood the previous week, but after a few minutes someone else turned up who I hadn't seen there for months. So he and I were waiting with about 10 minutes to start when he put on robes which I thought were very strange for a zendo, the lower robes of a kendo or kyudo practitioner, i.e. Japanese swordsmanship and archery. It transpired that he was home on holiday from a monastery in Kyoto where he's studying Rinzai Zen and they are the training robes for monks in both Rinzai and Sotoshu. I thought it was great that he would just turn up at a Soto temple and join in the zazen there. That's pretty cool that no such sectarianism exists here. Well, at least not with him.

Noone else turned up apart from the monk. It seems that it was because it's the summer holidays. Maybe it's not right for me to say so, because I know it shouldn't matter a jot, but it was certainly nice sitting in a more or less empty zendo, with the rain lashing down outside and a myriad of plopping and dropping of the water from the roof into the various drains around the place. The rainy season has lasted longer than usual this year so quite cool in comparison with previous years. It's a sweet relief, although I know this shouldn't matter either!