Daniel in Japaniel

Let me tell you about my boat,

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*photo page has been added and the link can be found on your right, as well as links to two blogs*

Five blocks north from the Kyoto-eki, there is a gated off temple by the name of Nishi Honganji (“Western Temple of the Original Vow”). It’s there that the 17 students, 2 professors, and 1 TA, wake up at 4:30 in the morning in a separate temple named Koshoji. By comparison, our living quarters are modest next to the level of ornate beauty the larger temple exudes, but then again, we don’t need that much space for what we do.

After a half hour of yoga-esque stretching with Issho-sensei, we begin meditation at 5:30. We are currently practicing zazen for the trip to the very famous and austere Houkouji (temple). My meditation consists of the most dillusional stream of consciousness that with each moment creates an pervading and enervating frustration. Usually around the second to last minute of the forty to an hour session, however, maybe I will catch a glimpse of an avocado pit transforming into a McDonald’s coffee cup (and back again) or perhaps white scarab beetles falling off rod iron only to appear once more. I’m still digesting that.

All in all I’d say zazen practice is hard labor. Afterwards, we move to our living area (a tatami room of about 12×12 ft around), grab our sutra books, lay them against the floor with their protective silk bedding and await Issho-sensei’s gesture to gashou (bow) in veneration of Buddha nature available to us. After three prostrations we arise once more only to kneel or begin a half lotus position as we recite (in particular order): the Heart Sutra, another sutra, a recitation of all the Buddhas, all topped off with some good old words to end the ceremony. Apart from the Heart Sutra and the names, I’m pretty unsure what I’m saying all this time. Yet, apparently, that’s all part of it, it’s more of a breathing excercise, the words themselves are actually Japanese phonetic pronunciation of Chinese characters… so even the Japanese don’t know what they’re saying. Pretty much reminds me of the four hour death ritual recitations at Oahu or Silver Springs.

After we let blood rush into our legs once more, my favorite part of the morning begins: cleaning (Souji). We’re all asigned tasks, mine in particular is Bathroom duty. There’s no sarcasm here, the next fifteen minutes of this is amazing. Fellow partner in toilet scrubbing, Alex, and I work the porseline and tile dilegently while singing parodies, switching around the words to be about cleaning toilets. My favorites include: Lil’ Mama’s “My toilet be clean, my toilet be sparklin'”, and the Beatles’ “We all live in a yellow toilet bowl”.

Around 7:15 we gather up on the stoop of Koshoji, and walk single file to breakfast. There we do another recitation, about no wasting food etc. etc. And then eat in silence. There’s definitely a dance to eating in silence. Everyone, depending on their spot, has a role and maneuver. There are gestures for more or less food, there are cute smirks when we make eye contact unconsciously, grins at spilled miso. But more importantly, by the time I get to my boiled egg (which I make a habit of eating after alternating between rice with pickled plum and miso, but always before drinking my tea), I, without fail, sing Gaston’s song (“Gaston”) to myself, particularly the line:

“When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs
Ev’ry morning to help me get large
And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs
So I’m roughly the size of a barge!”

I haven’t digested what this means either, for me and my zazen practice.

And then, finally, with the conclusion of our meal, I pack my things and head over to class.

That can be saved for another day. But I’ll tell you this much, on the second day of Issho-sensei’s class (today’s), he broke down and explained the universe and the concept of non-self.

I love this program.

*the next entry will resume the sensory for a moment, I have to talk about baths*


Written by Daniel

September 11, 2008 at 2:11 am

Posted in temples

One Response

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  1. hi Daniel,
    You write a blog! I’m visiting here now and then making sure you are doing well.
    It seemed this program was kind of intense for me, though:p
    Take care.

    Saori Takahashi

    September 11, 2008 at 9:37 pm

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