Day One – Tokyo

Arrived in Tokyo yesterday after a 14 hour flight from New York. Although long, I must say the Boeing 787 is kind to economy class passengers in terms of room. The ordeal was the duration of the flight not the physical discomfort of the plane.

By the way, when Japanese transportation systems say something is going to happen at 1:42 pm, it does. Not 1:41, not 1:43. And the ride is smooth as can be. Their systems are fantastic.

After logistical adventures at the airport I reached my hotel after being awake for 24 hours. I donned my yukata (Japanese bathrobe/pajamas supplied by the hotel) and slept nearly 12 hours.

I’ve walked around quite a bit since getting here and am quite aware of being a slack jawed tourist. I really stand out around here and I’ve quickly given up any hope of blending into the crowd. People are so kind. In situations when I’ve needed help it was offered in full measure and with a smile.

In addition to being slack jawed, I’m nearly illiterate. It’s a lot like being a child again. In a way it’s a relief not to be reading advertising all the time. But I still wonder what I’m missing sometimes.

This morning I went out early to find Senso-ji temple which isn’t far from where I’m staying.  It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo and was, until the end of World War II, a Tendai temple.

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The gate at Senso-ji

During the war it was destroyed by American bombs and was rebuilt. It was strange to be in a place where something like that had happened.

Approaching the main temple I purified my hands and mouth in the manner I had learned about in my preparations for my pilgrimage. Then I climbed the steps to stand in front of the main image. I placed my hands together in gassho and bowed and then recited the Heart Sutra in Japanese. The main image in the temple is the Bodhisattva of compassion who is said to respond to the pleas of humans for help. So as I prayed I asked for her support on my pilgrimage. I found the experience very moving and worked hard to keep back my tears of joy. I thought this a wonderful way to begin my pilgrimage. I bought incense, lit it and placed it in the burner before the temple as an expression of my gratitude.

The streets around the temple are lined by shops selling sweets, trinkets, clothing and food. As I wandered around the place began to fill with tourists like myself. I had the good fortune to be there early when things were peaceful.

I have so many impresssions and these are only a few. I hope I can convey some of my amazement at the wonders of this special place here and in later posts.

Gyo

Today I leave my comfortable daily routine to begin my second year of the training that may eventually lead to ordination.  It is a challenging 10 day program.  It is so challenging that I am nervous about not being able to measure up to the high standard expected.

Repeatedly I find that Buddhism brings you to a point where you are called upon to take a step into the unknown.  While one may have confidence in the Dharma, when these moments arrive I nevertheless sense an element of risk.  Engagement with that risk is the doorway to progress.  Most of the time I handle these moments clumsily but I have learned that while I am muddling my way through I will have the compassionate aid of the members of the Sangha.  So I take the step.

Kokorodo – Half Way

Yesterday was the 50th day of my 100 day walking practice, as good a time as any to reflect on where I was, where I am and where I will be.

I’ve walked 535 miles (861 km).  I’ve walked in the snow and the rain.  I’ve slogged through the mud and slipped on the ice.  I’ve seen dozens of deer and even a coyote.  I’ve watched an ice covered river thaw and rise out of its banks.  Each day I walk to the same places I’ve never walked in before.

Change builds on change.

My body grows stronger and along with it my determination to see this thing through.  But a demanding weariness creeps in more often, a fatigue which only deep sleep can abate.

Walking for hours body and mind become focused on just the next step, the next mantra, the next place.  And then, for an instant, emptiness and they all disappear; the sleepwalker awakens for only a second.

One day when winter was still here I saw the body of a dead deer.  I felt pointed sadness when I imagined her death.  But seeing the other creatures who took nourishment from her body at a time when food was so scarce, I was glad for their deliverance from hunger; compassion for both prey and predator.

There is a white pine on my route.  It reminds me of me – old, showing signs of decay, lost its foliage on top, but still sturdy.  We take time out to encourage each other.

Along the path is a cemetery.  I stop and chant the Heart Sutra wondering what “Reverend Laura” who rests there would think of my practice.  I stand by the remains of gentle George who died two years ago this past weekend, thinking of how his wife must miss him.  I wonder if I will end up here some day.

Some days my path takes me through our little town.  I know just about everyone I see; not just their names, but also their troubles and triumphs.  I wave to them all and they wave back at me.  Interdependence isn’t just a concept here, we truly live with each other.  Compassion abounds.

I am part of the landscape not its observer.  And my journey has just begun.

The Most Dangerous Animal in the Woods

Late last night I planned on writing about one of the places I stop on my daily pilgrimage.  I even had a photo of it:

deerpath

This unremarkable place is a path made by the deer walking through the woods.  On my first kokorodo I was attracted to stop here without knowing why.  Nevertheless I continued coming here day after day.

Then this morning I read a post by Barry Briggs at Ox Herding called Zen Deer.  In it he contemplates that meditation may be natural to us and illustrates his idea with the image of a prehistoric hunter sitting patiently near a game path waiting for a deer whose death was needed by a hungry village.

Right after that I read a question attached by Senshin to my last post where she asked if there are any dangerous animals where I walk, specifically, are there any bears.  The simple answer is yes, there are bears around here, but they avoid contact with people.  The more complex answer is yes, there are many dangerous animals around here.  We are the most dangerous animals in the woods.

We have travelled a long way from Barry’s primeval hunter whose survival was dependent on the deer.  The hunter occupied a place in the larger world no different than any other being because each survives by consuming some other form of life.  The complex interaction of all the species coming into a balance that enables the greatest number to flourish is, to my way of thinking, a reflection of the Dharma.

But the threat I present is much greater than that of the hunter.  I have the potential to slay far more animals than I need to eat for my survival.  Moreover, I have at my disposal machines which in a short time can literally destroy the forest which has existed for thousands of years and on which all those animals depend.  The clever human mind must be tempered by understanding and wisdom.  In this, again, we see the Dharma here teaching us the necessity of restraint and compassion.

So today when I walk by the deer path I will venerate the deer who walk there.  I will honor our ancestors who sat in wait next to it.  And I will reflect on the importance of my understanding the danger I present to everything on and around that path if I fail to act with compassion for all sentient beings.