spirituality

Nanzen-ji again; the place of Zen in Japan

So after hanging out at the Amemura Folk Jam last night, with a little help from the owner as translator I booked a slot to play the next time, May 3rd. (The guy who runs it has about as much English as I have Japanese.) The amazing thing is that they're all booked up though June! Not bad for what we'd call an open-mic night back home. But since I'm gone long before then he managed to squeeze me in.


Today, back out to Kyoto, Nanzen-ji again. Saw the gardens at the side temples, nice; went up into the Senmon, tall, good, view. There was some sort of rehearsal for a ritual or event going on in the main temple, which was really cool to see. It seemed to be about or for the benefit of a family of lay practitioners. I stood there for about fifteen minutes watching a priestess(?) teach a little girl how to walk gracefully, while two other priestesses worked out a bow-and-turn routine. A couple of Zen monks goofed off, one stoking another's shaved head and making some sort of joke. They work out their "marks" based off a piece of tape on the carpet. It was as ordinary as a wedding rehearsal back home.

beauty and the mystical sense

Waiting at the crosswalk, near the bridge by the Osaka Dome: a man my age, perhaps a few years younger, ordinary guy in khaki windbreaker holding hands on either side with his daughters, maybe six and eight: they, on unicycles, one pink, one yellow, white tires; the girls in matching outfits (unicycle team outfits? or just kawaii?): blue jeans (with mutli-colored stars low on the leg), pink jackets/sweatshirts, white puffy parka-type vest.

Me, big smile, trying not to stare; the girls sneaking looks at the funny-looking long-haired gaijin. All beautiful.

Speaking of beauty...

All of us have some sort of aesthetic sense, a sense of beauty. What triggers it may be as varied as Cantor's diagonalization argument about the infinity of the reals versus the infinity of rational numbers, or the Ramones classic punk anthem "Blitzkrieg Bop", or a folk song played in Japanese with harmonica and guitar, but every human being of sound mind possesses the ability to experience the recognition of beauty. We would hold a person without this ability to be damaged, lacking, an object of pity.

Similar to this aesthetic sense, but distinct from it, is what we might call a "mystical sense".(Credit to Raymond Smullyan for this analogy between the aesthetic and mystical senses.) The experience of the mystical is sometimes expressed as the sense of "the presence of the divine", sometimes as an experience of "Cosmic Consciousness", sometimes as "the perception of emptiness" or a "feeling of oneness with the universe", depending on the social conditioning and religious training of the experiencer. But these are all perceptions of the mystical sense, just as things are varied as the beauty of a sunset, of a Bach fugue, and a Zen garden are all perceptions of the aesthetic sense.

Daruma-dera: temple of the red-bearded barbarian

Back out to Kyoto today. (Seeing that it's past April 15, did I mention that I filed for an extension on my taxes? I had planned to bring all the papers over here and do them here on-line, needing the refund, but the papers took up too much luggage space. Anyway...)

To Nijo Castle, Daruma-dera, then walking around Gion a bit.

Nijo: castle's ok, worth seeing for historical interest, it's where the last shogun announced the restoration of the Emperor to the daimyo. the gardens a nice - some parts are trees and shrubs with grass and wildflowers allowed to grow. A kid with a dandelion, more interested in it than in all the carefully planted trees - thanks young sensei.

About a mile off is Daruma-dera, a temple dedicated to Daruma. Not in my guidebook, I found a little bit about it on the web and knew I had to check it out. Fortunately it's marked on the Periplus map of Kyoto I bought this morning. Tucked away in the suburbs, it's an active temple, no English brochure or signs other that the one in front. The main hall has zillions of Daruma figures.

Interesting fellow, Daruma, and interesting his adaptation as a toy/good luck charm/holy image by the Japanese. Daruma, a.k.a Bodhidharma outside of Japan, is credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism, as well as being the root of many of the healing and martial arts that trace their origin to China - including both karate and shiatsu. (See why I had to go say hi?)

He lived around 500 A.D. or so, and came to China from either India or Persia. Classically he is often depicted as being swarthy, with wild hair and often a red beard. (Many koans make reference to "the barbarian's red beard.") He also often is shown with bulging eyes, the legend being that, frustrated with falling asleep while meditating, he cut off his own eyelids; where he threw them to the ground,the first tea plant sprouted.

(Zen is replete with stories about hacking off body parts - thankfully, most of them should be taken figuratively, otherwise early Zen followers would have been dying from blood loss or subsequent infection at such a rate at to preclude the school's survival.)

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...

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.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - spirituality