Hold It All

Category: Japan

Share the Wealth with Justin Lorenz: Shinkansen, Onsen, & Zen–Japan from the Inside

Allow me to take you on a train ride from Tokyo down to Nagasaki and back, as I did in Japan for three fascinating weeks last fall. Encounter my promotional campaign for the “Pocari Sweat” beverage, make laundry detergent with the L’Arche community in the Shizuoka farmland, visit the lake town of Fujikawaguchiko where I have family residing (and climb Fuji-san), take in “Kirishitan” (underground Christian) and atomic bomb history, check out the firefighting competitions and love hotels of Tokyo, and be changed in even more ways. I’ll welcome stories about Japan that others bring to share as well.

Justin is a Cincinnati native, St. Louis transplant, recreational poet and broomball player, and explorer of worlds inside and outside his lanky 30-something year old body. He studied Social Work and Public Admin at SLU and has spent most of his adult life in L’Arche communities in St. Louis, Mexico, and Florida, where people of diverse abilities befriend and transform each other. He is currently aspiring to manage L’Arche St. Louis’s physical spaces and finances and attempting to charm his way through Missouri’s formidable state bureaucracy.

Join us
Sunday 16 February
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Justin begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Ellen Curry and Cami Kasmerchak
4256 Botanical Avenue
Apartment #5 [Third Floor]
Saint Louis, MO
63110

All Part of the Great Life Force

Mayumi Oda, I Opened the Gate, Laughing: An Inner Journey

Mayumi’s inner journey meant getting divorced from her husband (John Nathan) and reconnecting with the Buddhism of her youth, as well as finding her path through gardening and connecting to the earth. This book has many colorful prints of her garden, fruits and vegetables (radishes, cabbages), other creatures (frogs, spiders, and insects) and strong women role models, aka goddesses (Green Tara).

I realize I first encountered Mayumi back in the late 80s and early 90s when I was reading the first books of Thich Nhat Hanh published through Parallax Press; she contributed the drawings. In addition to revisiting and enjoying them, I will continue to reflect on the following passages from I Opened the Gate, Laughing

We both maintained exciting professional lives in NY. Life was very exhilarating, but somehow it didn’t make much sense to me.

Everything I have done is in the service of Gaia’s garden.

My heart was calm and my eyes were open.

Many times I felt like a failure at living my life.

My heart still pounds with the mystery of this blossoming out of wet, black soil. Read the rest of this entry »

Japaneseness

In the 90s, phrases like “global village” and “global economy” were increasingly common. The technologies that have emerged since then allow us incredible possibilities of connecting and learning.

Think … besides anime, what do we as US people know about Japanese culture?
Are we so collectively refined that we don’t need examples of fūryū?

Does kenjō seem irrelevant to the greatest nation on earth?

Would we be impressed by a person who exhibits deep gyō? Read the rest of this entry »

Trying To Be One-Pointed

In the autumn, on retreat at a mountain temple

Although I try
to hold the single thought
of Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
the many crickets’ voices calling as well.

–Izumi Shikibu
Translated by Jane Hirshfeld, with the aid of Mariko Aratani, The Ink Dark Moon

What’s Possible

1.
If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an “artless art” growing out of the unconscious. D.T. Suzuki

The inward work, however, consists in his turning the man he is, and the self he feels himself and perpetually finds himself to be, into the raw material of a training and shaping whose end is mastery.

Steep is the way to mastery. Often nothing keeps the pupil on the move but his faith in his teacher, whose mastery is now beginning to dawn on him. He is a living example of the inner work, and he convinces by his mere presence.

Those who do not know the power of rigorous and protracted meditation cannot judge the self-control it makes possible. At any rate the perfected Master betrays his fearlessness at every turn, not in words, but in his whole demeanor: one has only to look at him to be profoundly affected by it. Unshakeable fearlessness as such already amounts to mastery, which, in the nature of things, is realized only by the few.

Every Master who practices an art molded by Zen is like a flash of lightning from the cloud of all-encompassing Truth. This Truth is present in the free movement of his spirit, and he meets it again, in “It,” as his own original and nameless essence. He meets this essence over and over again as his own being’s utmost possibilities, so that the Truth assumes for him—and for others through him— a thousand shapes and forms.

— Eugen Herrigel, Zen and the Art of Archery Read the rest of this entry »

Transmitting Beauty

Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan
Columbia University Press, 2008

The first sentence of George Steiner’s first book (on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) reads: “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love.”  Donald Keene’s fascinating  Chronicles of My Life tells the story of his love for Japanese literature over many decades. A few selections from the book point to his ardent commitment to reading, writing, and teaching.

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When I think back on my life, it is clear that luck, rather than any decision made after long deliberation, has governed my life. The accident of sitting next to a Chinese in an undergraduate class awakened an interest in his country and later in all of East Asia, which has grown with the years until it is now the most important part of my life. The outbreak of the Pacific War, just at a time when I had begun to study Japanese, determined my whole life.

 Japanese, which at first had no connection with my ancestors, my literary tastes, or my awareness of myself as a person, has become the central element of my life.

For me, the complicated way in which Japanese is written was one of its chief attractions. In fact, if Japanese were written in roman letters, I probably would not have felt the urge to conquer its difficulties. 27 Read the rest of this entry »

Three Questions

Gregg Krech, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace,  and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection (Stone Bridge Press, 2001)

I learned of Naikan through consulting the bibliography of Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, Improv Wisdom.  Therein, she cited books on Constructive Living by  David K. Reynolds, and Gregg Krech’s manual on this “Japanese art of self-reflection,” which was the brainchild of Ishin Yoshimoto.

On retreats in Japan, one is encouraged to answer three questions about the most important people in our lives, typically beginning with one’s mother:
What have I received from my mother?
What have I given my mother?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused my mother?
The aim is to be factual, detailed and specific as possible in addressing the questions. Read the rest of this entry »

Short, Savory, and Sound: Aitken’s Miniatures

In fall 2000 I first encountered Robert Aitken Roshi with his book, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, a collection of scores of four-line poems, or gathas.  Nine years later, I read his Miniatures of a Zen Master, which served me as a model text —compressed, no excess verbiage, just the pith.  Among Aitken’s inspirations were Thoreau’s journals, and  Bashō and Kenkō’s prose works. In my journal, I wrote “Merge Aitken  with Galeano.  This is the path.  Write one book, 130 chapter titles….His table of contents is an inspiration, for a terse, spare next book.”

The result  several years later was  Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine.  While Aitken wrote in short paragraphs, I typically  composed in short stanzas: transfigured recollections, meditations, lists, stories I carried around for thirty years.  He was a beneficent influence in the generation and shaping of the novel.

Here are some of my favorite Aitken miniatures …

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A lot of us start out on the practice because we don’t accept ourselves fully. Under good tutelage we find ourselves in a process of forgetting ourselves, and realize that this is really the way to uncover the unique one that has been there all along. Give the Tao a chance. Give yourself a chance. [17] Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Precious Treasure

Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran distinguished between two kinds of  spiritual reading: instruction and inspiration.  While he believes it makes sense to limit your instructions to one teacher/lineage/path, you can fruitfully read from all religious traditions for inspiration.

In that spirit, I  offer gleanings from three Japanese Zen teachers I’ve recently encountered.  Perhaps one of these passages will speak to you…

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By meeting what you are faced with right now, though, in this very instant, completely without judgment or evaluation, you can transcend by far all question of cause and effect. You may be working in the kitchen or sweeping the garden or cleaning the toilet or laboring for somebody else, but you do it without consideration of its relative merit. That means simple doing with all your might, becoming one with whatever situation in which you find yourself in this instant. I would like for you to clearly know that there is this other way of living your life.

To believe in  your teacher, in your seniors, in the tradition, is in other words, to believe in yourself. You must puzzle out your unripeness.

Again and again I returned to the take-off point; over and over I reiterated my original resolve. I believe that courage is upholding what you have once decided to do and enduring all troubles encountered along the way. To sustain and carry out that original intention—just this, in itself—is real courage. Read the rest of this entry »

Remember–Longing, Too, Is Impermanent

To a man who said we should meet, 
even if it were only for a single time
Even if I now saw you
Only once,
I would long for you
Through worlds,
Worlds.

–Izumi Shikibu

trans. Jane Hirshfield w/ Mariko Artani, The Ink Dark Moon