spirituality

a poetic pilgrimage

finger wet with tears
i touch the monument to
haiku poets

-- written at Rakushisha, Kyoto

A poetic pilgrimage today. Back out to Arishiyama, this time with the intent to visit Rakushisha, the reconstructed cottage of haiku poet Mukai Kyorai. Kyorai was a friend and student of Basho, who said of Kyorai that he was "in charge of haiku in Western Japan."

Some of his haiku (gathered from the internet):

Chanting and humming / gongs immerse the green valley / in cool waves of air

Returning from a funeral / I saw this very moon / high above the moor

Awakening faith / At the time when blossoms / Are just in the bud.

Sadly fading / its light on my palm - / a glowworm

Trees as well as stones / glaring in my sight - / heat wave

I'm coming, I yelled / yet knocking on the gate - / it's snowing

Rakushisha literally means "Cottage of the Fallen Persimmons". Apparently, Kyorai had a bunch of fruit trees with a bumper crop expected, and had made arrangements to sell it. But a storm blew up one night, and knocked all the persimmons to the ground. (Arishiyama means "stormy mountain".)

When Kyorai saw the damage the next day, and saw the mountain through the now-bare trees, he had an awakening experience (even if an expensive one, since he had to pay back advance payment on the fruit.)

Basho stayed at the cottage three times, in the late 1600s. So the place has some gravitas in the haiku world.

So much so, I found (and this wasn't in the guidebook) that there's a monument to haiku poets in the garden. This "haijin to" (haiku poets memorial) gorinto (five-stone monument, a traditional form often found in graveyards representing the five elements - in Japanese thinking, earth, water, fire, wind, and heaven/void) is dedicated to all haiku poets of the past, present, and future.

Well, having written a few haiku myself, I figure that's a monument to us, not a monument to them, if you see my meaning, so I got a little teary-eyed. Touched my eye, then touched the stone, finger damp with a tear.

A poem stone next to the monument (added later, I think) reads:

the spring rain
heaven and earth here
the monument to haiku poets

haru no ame
ame tsuchi koko ni
haijin to

Love is all you need

"Love is all you need". That's playing in Mojo Bar right now.

I was reading one of the books I picked up Tuesday, on the nature of "not being religious" in Japanese culture. The author seemed to be a fan of Shin, or Jodo, Buddhism, where you put your faith and trust in Amida Buddha. At first this to me seemed to be a cheap way out, but then I realized that it was a pretty good form of "love" yoga.

The ancient Hindu teachers recommended several forms of yoga, or "yoking", binding, as religious practice. Today the term yoga is often thought to refer just to the path of physical culture, but there was also the path of work, the path of love, and the path of psychological investigation. Different paths are appropriate for people of different disposition.

All of these can also be found within Zen. The Zen martial arts are very much a physical culture working toward enlightenment. Practical working Zen is there in the story of Hui Neng, and in many classic koens. The path of love is found in Zen in the image of Kannon, and in other forms of Buddhism in the compassion of Amida Buddha. And zazen is a path of psychological investigation.

wrathful deities and anger

Tried again for Ise today....didn't realize the train I wanted from Namba only runs once an hour, and would have gotten out there too late. So went out to Nara instead. Detoured to see Yakushi-ji - bit of a disappointment, crammed with school tours, the statues were nice but not that exciting. There was a nice little temple to Fudo-Myoo off in one corner, though.

I definitely prefer Shin-Yakushi-ji for your Medicine Buddha needs. Went back there today, got some omiyage for Barbra-san, for the Well, and more for me.

Those wrathful generals, and Fudo-myo (bought a little statue of him in Nara today)...got me thinking about anger. Pete Seeger wrote

If you're gonna have great love, you're gonna have great anger
...
When I see innocent folks shot down
Should I just turn my head and frown?
...
But if you want to hit the target square, you'd better not have blind anger
...
Or else it'll be just one more time
The correction creates another crime

Fudo Myo-o; the 'bird" of paradise

So despite my cracking, growling, allergy-damaged voice, my mini-gig Thursday went over pretty well. I had done some singing at Liz's party, borrowing a guitar for a few songs, and thought I might be ok; but when I got in to my first song "She Belongs To Me" my voice started to crack like I was 13 again. I went into a more gravelly mode and finished, then explained in my pidgin Nihongo, "Sumimasen, my voice....chotto byouki deshita. Allergy, araji. Demo...ganbatte!"

Ganbatte. That's the big one. Give it your all and they will love you here. I made my way through two more songs (my own "Floating World", and "I Know You Rider"), and they actually demanded one more from me (I did "In the Pines").

The fellow who runs the folk night asked me (with the bar owner acting as translator) when I was leaving, when I'd be back in Japan. When I told him I might be back for a karate tournament in November, and mentioned Seido Juku, he went wild. Turns out he used to train in Seido. Had nothing but praise for Kaicho Nakamura, such a "good and upright" man.

So that went well.

Yesterday, went out to Takatsuki to catch the second half of a two-day jazz festival. Eric was playing with a salsa group early in the afternoon, then we hung around watching other bands all evening. Saw wild fusion with a guy playing shamisen, as well as more standard jazz trio and small bands, at halls and at cafes. Another bit of the whole international thing, jazz in the suburbs of Kansai (Takatsuki is between Kyoto and Osaka, Columbia to their Baltimore and Washington perhaps.)

Today I did some day-job work, and did some reading around Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra". When I went for lunch in Nara with Kaz, the topic of sacred mountains came up, and I tried to explain the line from that poem, about how "all true paths lead through mountains." It occurred to me that it might be a nifty thing to include in the book a "commentary" on the Sutra - if he had the balls to write a "Sutra" on Smokey, I'll take the idea and run with it. Maybe do one on Camden Benares's "Enlightenment of a Seeker" story, too.

religion and politics

Heading out now to Liz's birthday lunch in Kyoto...lovely day for it. Tonight I play a few songs at The Cellar in the Folk Jamboree thing.

Tuesday I went down to the Osaka Peace Center in Osakajo-koen. Very sobering exhibits about the air raids on Osaka in WWII and about the Japanese invasions and atrocities in Manchuria, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia. Also small exhibits on the atomic bombings and on the Auschwitz camp. They also have more exhibits on nuclear disarmament, the ecological crisis, and the work of Unicef (though this was one was all in Nihongo so I didn't really get it).

Kaz talked a little bit about how Shinto was misused leading up to the war. The whole "Emperor as a living kami who must be obeyed" thing was a creation of the Meiji restoration (which, ironically, pretty much occurred at the demand of the United States), later used in the early 20th century to ramp up nationalist fervor. Shinto shrines were built in occupied territories in Asia and the conquered people made to pay homage at them.

Zen, too, was abused, the bushido ideal twisted to the point of Zen priests cheering on kamikaze attacks.

The dangers of mixing religion and politics. There's a bumper sticker slogan, "The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake", but it's much worse than that. Despite legends of "The Burning Times", not all that many people were murdered in witch-hunts, while mixing religion with politics in Japan gave us millions dead in the Pacific theater of Word War II.

And yet...as ethical teachers, religious leaders have always had to become involved in the politics of the day. Buddha tried to get local kings to be nicer (and was almost assassinated for his trouble). Jesus might have talked about rendering on to Caesar, but once he became a threat to the power structure, bam!, crucify him. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were great spiritual leaders who led political movements - using a tactic of civil disobedience put forth by that Transcendentalist proto-pagan Thoreau.

Look for me at Starwood 2007

Hey friends. Just got the word that the folks at Starwood have put me on the program again. (You'd think they'd have seen through my line of BS by now...) Don't know yet which workshop proposals they accepted, but look for me there in July!

(What?! You don't know Starwood!? http://www.rosencomet.com/starwood/2007)

Also, while I've been here in Japan I've learned and been asked to teach a simple Shinto ritual of gratitude. I'm thinking of doing an informal, off-the-record workshop/ritual where we'll walk the grounds of Brushwood and say howdy to the local kami.

so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell?

At Tin's Hall..open mic night. Played two of my songs, "Floating World" and "Even Wise Men Get The Blues" which went over ok; also tried the spoken word piece "A Bizarre Act of Kindness", which the mostly Nihonjin audience didn't get much of...

Guy playing "Wish you Were Here"..which is a good excuse to incorporate something I wrote up recently:


So You Think You Can Tell Heaven From Hell?

Mahayana Buddhism never met an idea, a myth or a metaphor, that it didn't like. While the original teachings of Sakyamuni used the Hindu concept of re-incarnation as a teaching tool, he didn't have much to say about the afterlife. It wasn't relevant to his primary mission, relieving human suffering; and notions of a afterlife don't mesh all that well with the ideas of anatman and sunyatta, no-self and emptyness.

Poets and paganism

Feeling a little byoki...wonder if allergies are kicking in? Anyway, Friday night, gotta go out (especially since I've got to be good tomorrow night, to make it out to Nara in good shape in the early afternoon to observe Kaz's Shinto class. Went for dinner at Slices, where I ran into Liz, with two of her English students, mother and son, about 10 years old I'd guess. Hung out with them a bit, got dinner free for playing assistant Eigo sensei. Went with them to Babylon, the body mod/goth bar (yes, took the the kid) was interesting to see their reaction - actually interested, they talked to the owner (who's is heavily tattooed, pieced, and implanted) and looked at photo albums of tattoos and even a suspension. Then over the Chopstick Tattoo to see Ben, who talked with them some more (all in Nihongo) and gave the fifty cent tour.

I stopped over at the Cellar, caught the last few songs from the band playing tonight - classic rock, "Pinball Wizard" and "Tommy" and "Long Live Rock" being sung phonetically. Now down to Cinquecento.

Anyway. Finished reading the Bukowski collection I packed. He could have done ok in the bars over here I think.

I've also been reading some Whitman and Emerson, catching up on the Transcendentalists. They, and the Romantics who proceeded them, are I think a big and overlooked part of the history of this whole pagan thing. (The connection with the British Romantics was brought to my attention by Ronald Hutton's book The Triumph of the Moon; much of the information that follows comes from that tome.)

some Shinto notes

On the way back from Nara now. Today I met up with Kashiwagi Kazuhito, Kaz, the Shinto priest I met a few weeks ago.

I recorded much of our conversation, but the battery of my recorder gave out before our talk did. (Hoping that the recording came out intelligible). A few notes of things that stand out as I ride along...:

  • You have to empty your self of ego to be filled with spiritual power.
  • Shinto starts with harai (cleansing, realignment, correction), ends with harai.
  • Kagami - the mirror shows us ourselves, need a true image of ourself to make progress. "Ga" is ego. Remove it, and you become "kami". There is a ritual in which you treat your reflection as a kami.

sex (or the lack thereof) and the single gaijin

Back out to Kyoto today, on the Hankyu train now...

So Friday, after I got back home from Kyoto I decided to bike down to Shinsaibashi and go out for the evening (it being Friday night and all). Ended up at Cinquecento. Randomly met another one of Eric's co-workers - on Wednesday a new guy from Australia, Rob, had turned up at the dojo, he's a teacher at KIS, now Friday I met Kendel, another KIS teacher, from New Zealand.

A Japanese girl a few stools down decided to introduce herself. Introduce herself rather vigorously, one might say. She was nice to talk to, seemed an outsider in her own country, a hardcore punk rock fan, lonely, and I was happy to talk to her (even as, I must admit, I was eying other women). But I just wasn't interested in taking her home, as she quite clearly suggested. (Two warning signs that, IMHO, one should be very careful about getting involved with someone are the name or logo of a band tattooed on their body, and cutting scars. While neither of these are absolute deal-killers - people do change, after all, and get left with regrettable tattoos and scars after the fact - the presence of both warrants extreme caution.)

"Do you like Japanese girls?" she asked.

"Sure. I like all kinds of girls - Japanese girls, American girls, whatever." In my life I've gone from a hamburger-lover to a vegan, from a Catholic to a Zen Pagan, but I had it figured out real early that I liked girls. It was certainly never a matter of "choice", as some homophobes would have it - I was born heterosexual and seem stuck that way, even if logic suggests we'd all be better off bi (and thus maximize our chances of a date).

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