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Tom's travels


Now I've been in an earthquake. It was centered in Mie, maybe 100 miles from here, 5.3 magnitude. No reports of damage; here it was just enough to be interesting.

I was just sitting here, reading about my favorite Zen lunatic Ikkyu on the web, when suddenly...what the hell?! Is that a strong wind making noise...and moving the building?! No, I don't think that's wind...

Threw on jeans and sandals and stood by the door for a few minutes to see if the shaking would get worse, but it died out in about twenty seconds (probably less, ground shaking does affect one's sense of time I think).

writing about the Buddha while drinking beer

Getting some writing done on the Zen Paganism project tonight - at the Cellar, with a Guinness in front of me, and the Tardy Boys rocking the bar music thing.

There's something, I don't know, wonderfully discordant about writing about the life of the Buddha in circumstances like this.

garden at Tenryuji; my gaijin charm

In the garden at Tenryuji.

I know what I want my backyard to look like now...

It's close to closing, and now that the crowds have thinned on this fine spring day, there's some quiet to be had. Wondrous.

(Are the legs of a pretty girl any less beautiful than a Zen garden? Any more? I think this, and I recall that Ikkyu trained here.)

Swallows(?) nesting in the rafters of the Heavenly Dragon temple. I think this perhaps makes the place more holy.

Then I think of birds and rabbits nesting in my house, in my yard; consider my blessings.

the temple bell
the cry of birds
the temple bell again

Nara: art museum, deer, meeting a Shinto priest

Today's psudeo-haiku:

sacred pilgrimage
nara temples
the smell of deer poop

Today: back to Nara. Went to see the special exhibit at the National Museum on "Shinto Gods and Buddhist Deities" , which was definitely cool. (Though I could have used more English explanation - but not their fault I don't read Japanese, now is it?) Took about 2 1/2 - 3 hours to go through, so I'm glad I went last week to see the main exhibit (indeed, it was valuable background for someone not familiar with esoteric, Shingon, and Pure Land Buddhism, and their proliferation of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Myou-ou, Tenbu, and so on.)

Nearby, in Nara Park, is Kasuga Grand Shrine - which, according to the exhibit was one of the places the Shinto gods came to Earth. I stuck my head in before - the grounds are beautiful. This time I paid to actually enter the shine area, or at least the part of it open to tourists...pretty, but not all that exciting. So I headed over toward some little shops in front of Todaiji, bought some food there for dinner (a roasted yam, some of those great kusamochi, and some biscuits for the deer), and thought I'd walk back over into the hills behind the shrine a bit.

Wandering along the paths near the shrine, had the most amazing "coincidence" or "calling" or something...

a haiku

Today's true moment:

reading Buddhist sutras
I burn my dinner
no enlightenment here!

the meaning of "osu"; a Tom Petty mood

On the meaning of "osu":

I do hear it occasionally, mostly from guys behind the bar or counter at the udon shop. Even as a toast, "cheers", "kampai".

Most interesting, though, was a scene on a TV show I saw my first week here. Before my cable got hooked up, all that was on TV was Japanese broadcast channels, and sometimes I'd watch, try to figure out what I could.

One show was some sort of medical drama, and part of the plot seemed to revolve around a young female doctor trying to deal with a difficult patient. In one scene, she'd apparently made up her mind to confront him or tell him something. And as she set off down the hall, she took a moment to gather her courage and determination, and said to herself, "osu!"

Jizou Bosatsu: a mystery solved

Out late last night, slept in a bit and was doing some research on the net about the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas depicted in the statues I saw yesterday. And ended up solving a long-standing personal mystery.

For about 15 years, I've had a Buddhist wall hanging, that I bought in the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show. I was told that the characters in an upper corner read "Earth Buddha", which I though was pretty cool. When I gained a little bit of knowledge about kanji, I tried looking them up.

Four characters: the first is indeed "earth", the last two were "bodhisattva" (or "bosatsu" in their Japanese reading). The second I couldn't quite figure out, but seemed like it might be one that could read either "Buddhist" or "Tibetan", but that seemed either redundant or inconsistent with the style (being labeled in Chinese characters and all). Still, "earth (mumble) bodhisattva" was cool.

First time I came to Japan, Eric pointed out some figures of Jizo Bosatsu, a bodhisattva associated as a protector of children. That's about all I knew about him.

Buddhist statues in Nara; the "shyness" of Japanese girls

Last night, went to see Eric play at an improv fusion music thing at Club Zerro - way cool. Today, went up to Nara again, planned to see an exhibit on Buddhist and Shinto art - only to find that it doesn't start until Sunday. Which is ok, I took 2 or 3 hours to view their permanent collection, mostly of Buddhist art. They did a fair job of explaining the images of the historical, Amida, Minoku/Maitreya, and Dainichi/Mahavairocana Buddhas, something I don't know much about (it gets into the esoteric Buddhism thing, big in Japan but I'm more of a simple, smack-upside-the-head, kill-the-Buddha sort of guy).

One particular statue that struck me was "Sakyamuni Coming Out of the Mountains." For those who don't the story, early in his career as a seeker, while fasting to extremes, the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama, known (among other titles) as Sakyamuni, "sage of the Sakya clan", almost starved himself to death. He was rescued by a passing farmgirl who fed him (overcoming her initial fear that this creature of skin and bones was some sort of demon). This statue portrays an emaciated man, ribs protruding under his robe (which, according to the story, was a stolen burial shroud), learning on a stick, emerging from his ordeal with the vital knowledge that suffering will not end suffering.

Suffering will not end suffering! As I write that it seems a noteworthy revelation, or at least a noteworthy expression of one.

shakuhachi in Osakajo-koen

Tuesday, went to Osakajo-koen just to get outside a little bit. Slightly chilly but great cherry blossoms, all sorts of picnickers out drinking under the trees. I took my shakuhachi and found a quiter spot to sit a play for a while. Some odd looks from passers-by, but not too many or too strong.

There was some sort of bonsai exhibition and sale right by Morinomiya Station - some really big and expensive (like up to about $3,000) pieces, right down to a little twisted 500 Yen pine seedling that I bought (though I don't know if there's enough sunlight in my apartment to keep it alive.)

We've replaced this subject's regular life with three months in Japan. Let's see what happens...

Experiment progress report, subject TMS0512:

After one month out of its accustomed environment,the organism seems to have adapted well to new surroundings. Through exploration and experimentation it has located new foods and food sources, some familiar, some radically different. It has established a small nest, in which it generally resides comfortably, though occasionally apparently missing the spaciousness of its former abode.

Physically, the organism has benefited from increased activity (bicycling and walking much more due to the absence of a car) and a decrease in availability of familiar "junk" foods (though consumption of french fries, or "furaido poteto", during bar sessions may be a cause for some concern). While a scale is not available it is anticipated that a few pounds of fat have been lost.

Emotionally, the subject organism oscillates between desire to return to its home and desire for further study and new experiences in the current environment; it is observed at some times to state that is prepared to return, and then at others that it wishes to remain longer.

This "double bind" may have significant implications in the future. However, for the moment we are satisfied to call the experiment a qualified success in terms of results-to-date.


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