吹禅 – Birth of a Komuso


A Komuso is born…

 
It had been my plan for a while to do some type of shakuhachi pilgrimage every year. The anniversary of my formal shakuhachi lessons is in April /May, so I am late this year…if doing it on the date matters.
 
I set off fairly early on the pilgrimage. I was nervous, and dressed in a traditional Zen monk’s work clothing a Samue. Even then I was a bit self conscious, no one noticed or cared, they were dressed in western fashion, me the gaijin was dressed in traditional wear. It is an interesting world view.
 
The trip to Nara was simple, and fairly quick. I was traveling ahead of schedule so did not feel rushed at all. I arrived and looked around for a locker to stash my backpack. However even though early the coin lockers at the station were full. Oh well, thanks to my Sempai, I was shown another place that was setup for people to drop off luggage. He had arrived shortly after I did. I found a toilet room and changed into my kimono, after which I put on the borrowed Komuso gear from my Sempai. He had given some basic directions about what to do while wearing the “basket”, theTengai. Do not talk while basket is in place, remove it on the temple grounds, when speaking lifting the basket was ok or taking it off. I found that a bit hard to remember, lift and talk. I forgot many times and thought oops! I rather liked having the basket down, I was anonymous and hidden. A no one, people saw the clothes, and heard the sounds, but me as me not so much. Not the Black guy in Japanese gear. At least in my mind.
 
We started slow, I followed Sempai’s lead. With the Tengai in place I could listen to my playing and his. Not see the people watching, or at the least ignore them better. I was pleasantly surprised we were able to play in harmony. I have heard recording of other Komuso playing and many times the tones do not match. In the Komuso world it is not supposed to matter. My Sensei also told me that in traditional Japanese music it is not about being in tune, harmonically with other players. It is more so with Shakuhachi Komuso Playing. However my musical roots come from a different place. Disharmony of tones can be an accent but not the norm. So, I was told that it did not matter, but to a musician it did. So yeah, not having to fight a tonal discord made it easier to follow the lead of Semapi on his phrasing of the Cho Shi melody. 
 
We played first near the train station, then slowly walked toward the park, stopping every so often. People always took pictures. Being in the basket, I did not care. I was not me, who I was did not matter, what I was doing mattered and I could do it faceless. There is a Kyudo ceremony I have seen that the archer covers his face while shooting. This way it is not about the shooter but the shooting. Here it was not who was sharing the dharma, but the dharma. The Dharma in this case is the musical tones of Cho Shi.
 
Once we reached the park we had our first negative encounter. I was told negative encounters happen. Not always, but they are out there, where there is Yang there is Yin. This is the Tao/Do of life. Sh*t happens! they say in the street.
A security guard or sorts made us the target of his day’s power trip. He basically told us we could not play there on the street in front of the Park. Even though we were not IN the park, it was considered part of the park. At least in his view. Sempai was quite surprised having been doing this for a number of years. Rather than hassle with this “rent-a-cop” on a power trip, we moved on and crossed the street. There was fewer people traffic, but it could not be helped. We walked on.
 
We made several stops to play after that without any further incidents. Our next encounter came from a couple of tourist girls. They said we were Co-playing. Sempai corrected them that we were in fact real priests. He was from a local temple. They were surprised and wanted pictures taken with us and them. The first of several group pictures throughout the day.
 
I noticed most times we stop, there was always a small crowd gathered taking pictures, even as we walked some times, pictures were common. This day much much more than donations. I was not really concerned about the donations, for me it was more about being out there. Playing and doing the practice. Turning inward and doing the song under the “Tengai” got easier as the day went on. I could block out, the photo ops crowds and just play. A couple of times a few people would get really really close like they were trying to see inside. Perhaps Chinese tourist, they are not known here for being subtle. I rolled with it. When you stand in the wind, you have to expect something to get in your eye.
 
One of the more difficult parts was walking and playing. That became a real challenge. There was the timing of the song, the musician me was concerned about the rhythm of walking and the playing of the song, the martial artist me was concerned about the rhythm of the breath while walking and playing. Should everything match? Meanwhile my Tengai was slipping down over my head and covering my eyes, and other parts of my Kumoso wear needed constant adjustments from slipping. Add to that some knee discomfort and foot discomfort. As with sitting Zen there was more to it than meets the eye. It is not Just sitting, it is not just playing, one as to over come distractions, internal and external. One can not attach to the distractions, one just does the practice.
 
I noticed during our travels, the different reactions to us. Tourist took pictures, kids pointed and had kid reactions, some just ignored us. Some of the older Japanese surprised me with their reverence. They would stop and bow. That was to me touching, not seeing me, but the spirit I represented.
 
One older man spoke with Semapi upon hearing us play. He said the sounds returned him to his childhood during the war. There was a legless Shakuhachi player in his town. He wanted to learn from him. However the cripple said he ( the kid) did not want to go on this path (of suffering/sadness? ). Later he was able to take lessons, but had not played in many many years. He said the spirit that we conveyed was beyond and more important than not being Japanese. I found that comforting.
 
In most of the tales about Komuso, it is about them wandering around playing. However it seemed the playing was about and for their enlightenment or money. They did not really do Buddhist Priest type of things. When I see and have donated to other Priest on the street they give some type of blessing to the giver. I was told when receiving a donation as Komuso, one bows and keeps playing or restarts the Cho Shi song. After the day was over, Sempai said to me, the donations you received it would be good when you got home to put it in your sacred spot and say a pray or chant over it to honor/bless those who gave. For me that struck a good cord and really gave a purpose to the collections outside of self to buy lunch or the train ticket. It was also doing something as a priest since I do not belong to a temple here or do outside charity work, here in Japan. I have not seen much of other Komusos other than for special events, so this to me gives meaning to being a Zen Priest. Something to support my vows.
 
Overall it was an educational and enjoyable experience. I enjoyed having a spiritual outlet for playing and being a “Ronin” priest. I have decided to do more of this and make it a part of my Lohan Chan practice. Even if nothing happens via teaching Budo and sharing dharma that way, there is this musical dharma outlet, that is not just me playing for self enlightenment. The Modern street Komuso playing touches people, more so the elders, perhaps they need it more these days. Perhaps also praying over the donations adds positive energy to the world conditions. Maybe on some level eases someone’s suffering… even if just in their or my head having a Priest pray.
 
 
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Two forward, one back

Steps, forward and backward

 
We at Kishiwada Kyudojo had a Rei Kai the other day. I finally got the name right. Rei Kai not Day or Dae Kai, but Rei Kai. That is an improvement. The days or a couple of days before that I thought I was making good improvements with my Kyudo shooting. My hits ratio were improving. I had figured out what was needed, so I thought. I thought I would do ok at the Rei Kai, and I sort of did. I got one hit out of four every time I went up. I have hit 4/4 before a couple of times in the past and also 2/4. However that is in the past. That was Zen this is now. These days I have been sucky.
 
After my first round of shots, my head sensei comes over and asked, basically what the hell was that with the way I was hikiwaki as did another Sensei. I thought I had it figured out…wrong! The other Sensei told me what I was doing wrong. I was way off in my thinking. So I went back to the old way on the next round and was told that was better. Then the head Sensei told me my bringing the Yumi down and back to my hip sucks. Not in those words but it meant the same. So he showed me how to do it. i had been told before I was doing it wrong, I had too much curve in the travel but no one explained how I should do it. So the last few classes I have been doing it the new way and no one has complained…so far.
 
Ok, so Tues are Tai Hai days, so far I have been getting very little correction with that. The other day, I was corrected on my Rei which was too low, and my timing on entry steps. Other wise I seem to be ok with my Resha use. I feel pretty comfortable with that, no matter where my placement is in the Tachi grouping. We get random picks on in line placement, by having our arrows selected like drawing straws, but drawing Ya.
 
The other day another of my Sempai Sensei comes over to help me. He has done so in the past and although he does not speak English I get it he recently helped with my Tenochi and I finally got it, I can feel the difference. I got another adjustment the other day. He also watched my Hikiwaki and I think I got it. I was having issues with my right elbow placement. I had figured out if I push my elbow forward in Kai, my ya would travel straight and my arm would travel across the top when unfolding and not change my ya travel angle. However this was completely wrong. I was told my elbow should be back and in line with my back and not facing down as much as I was doing, my arm on release should travel not over the top but sideways…ehhhhh, ohhhh souka. Fist distance in between my hand and shoulder. In Zanshin my right thumb should point to the rear, my left thumb should point to the front. I have been watching the Kaicho, his does not do that in Zanshin. This sensei told me it is not correct, it should. Ok So I started trying this, my hits when down at first while I was working it, but after a few shots and sighting adjustments, it started to make sense.
 
These details are a bitch, but they make the difference. I keep working on them. I am of the mind set, by the time I pass Yon-dan I will be ready for Go-dan. I have found out there is one Shinsa at my dojo this year, I will attend in Sept…maybe if I can make some solid advancement by the registration date in Aug. if not then I will wait until next year. There are other chances, however, the dojo where the shinsas are most of this year, I do not like. The setup means one has to enter on the right foot and exit on the left. I have enough to deal with without having to switchup my foot work. I have done it, I took my San Dan under those conditions, but really dislike it.
 
At the Rei Kai the other day, I had to do really stuff in the event. I was told I would do something, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Part of it was being a score keeper. That was easy now that I have done it already at the last Tai Hai. It is just flicking switches. The other thing was taking the Ya from whoever turned it during the final shoot off, showing it to the judges and then to the shooters who were lined up waiting. I was walked through it by another of the Sensei, so was not so bad. The actual function was not so bad to remember but the word to use to the judges I do not remember. I think it was something to do with being the second group. Anyway, if I have to do it again I am sure I will get help.
 
So yeah, slowly I am making headway a couple of steps forward, and step back. Usually when I start thinking I got it, I don’t, but that is ok. A Zen master said once mistakes are opportunities to learn. 
 
So onward, little by little. Like the turtle, not how fast to reach the finish but reaching it is the goal. We were told in my old Chan class about turtle breathing. Slow and steady, this helps give them long life. A dog breathes fast and has a short life, turtle breath slow and have long life. So I think of my Kyudo training as turtle breathing, slow, and deep.
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Kyudo…The Saga contiues

Yeah, not much writing on Kyudo these days, however, it has not stopped. Day before yesterday I went to practice. I did fairly well, a couple of days before that I did better. So I was thinking, ok finally I am making some improvement, small but headway is headway. Like having. Dollar is better than having a dime. I was it getting cocky, but still feeling better at least I was taking a step forward. This was Sat. Sunday There was. Tai Kai. I was thinking ok, well I should do better, not get but better than I have been in a while.
 
Sunday’s Tai Kai, I had a been given a real task to do. Usually I just take photos. I am comfortable with that. I understand that it is my thing. This time I was assigned the job of being a score keeper. Well a switch flipper, score keeper. I watched, when the shooter hit the target, I would flip a switch and on the light board it would show. I was nervous. Did I understand the directions right. It seemed simple but, what if I made a mistake, what if I could not see clearly when it hit on the side. Another woman and I were to work together. Her first time also, she was also nervous, so I did not feel so bad, but at least she understood Japanese. Mine was iffy. I looked at the switch board the day of the Tai Kai it did not seem to complex. Just flip the switch, X or O, simple at least that part. Did I have it right , O is a hit, X is a miss? Seems like X should be a hit, O a miss, I was thinking too much! Just do it.
 
Another thing on my head was getting there on time. I missed the last Tai Kai, and another time before that, hmmm last year, I was late! This time I was there early, and already dressed. I did at home and worn my Gi on the train. A couple of the lead Senseis, one of which was the Kaicho, said, ohhhh ! You are here early!! Desho ( yup, that’s right! ) I said and we laughed. We all gathered outside before the dojo building opened.
I took a few pictures. I took a shot of on of the Sensei with his school group. He was giving them directions and whatever else. He saw me taking a picture and said Ohayo! All the kids turned looked at me, bowed and said Ohayo! Wow! I was not expecting that. Kind of shocking!
The building opened and everyone entered. I grabbed a spot for my stuff and went to look at my assignment area. My partner also showed up shortly afterward. I had talked with her outside also. Ok, we got some final directions and things were simplified a bit. She had one section I had another. A third person on the other side had another. whew, I was thrown off for a bit thinking we had three sections.
 
The event started, the usual opening stuff, then it was on. At first it was scary, but after a few it was ok, not really a big deal. There were also I found out backups, checking what we posted and another also doing it on paper. So the three should all match. Ok, i felt better and better. Then I found out that I did not have to sit there the whole time until it was my turn to shoot. There were also high schoolers, taking shifts with us. So I really only had to sit there maybe for three or four lines of three shooters, with four arrows each. After that I could hangout or whatever. I used the time to take pictures. I did not bring my Nikon since I thought I would be too busy score keeping. I only had my phone cam, which did not do so well with the sun light coming in at a bad angle. Oh well, I rolled with it.
 
I had one guy come introduce himself to me. I did not really figured out what was going on until afterward. He had said something about a boat, and sailing, and nice to meet me. Afterward, it came to me that he was the one that I had heard about from the boatmaster where I work, had a boat there to get a bottom job. He had seen me then and wondered if I was the gaijin doing Kyudo. So yeah, afterward I got what it was all about.
 
The Tai Kai went smooth. It was not as big as some of the others there at my Dojo, but that was ok. There were 87 competitors. I was #84. I have no idea how they come up that. No matter. I got three round of shooting, four arrows. I got two hits! Sad, but oh well, no matter. More training is needed, but I already knew that. I got to see a couple of classmates I had not seen in a while. One of which has been testing with me for Yon-dan. He was still San-dan also. Another woman who was trying for san-dan was still Ni-dan. Ok, so to is not just me! I felt better, I was not left far behind with my choice not to test for a while.
 
So anyway, the inter action with my classmates is very comfortable these days after almost 4 years. I am really one of the group in many ways now and share some laughs and small chats with some. They tend to look out for me, on things I am not sure of or missing, they have my back as part of the “wa”.

Sakai Blues festival


Blues in Sakai

 
There is an annual Blues Festival in The city of Sakai Japan, which is in South Osaka. It is a small city, city not a town. I am not sure how long it has been in effect this show. This is the third year I know of.
However last year was the first I played in it, with the Doc’s Blues band. We played in a little bar in the basement. There are several venues in operation during the two day event. There is a main stage out door, where the “names” play, and there are two other small venues, such as the bar, where we played.
 
 
Last year our first year, was pretty sad, so I thought, rushing to set up, small space, too many people packed in. The Doc did all of the singing, afterward says ohh, I should have had you sing a song. Whatever, I thought. Not really a big deal, he wanted the spot light so, no problem. We did not even know what songs we were doing until just before the show, or he decided once we were on stage. I no longer let that bother me, and just roll with it.
 
This year, we were back. That was a surprise. We had to go play at a Jam session by one of the promotors, but that was easy and did not go badly. So yeah this year we were back. Sorry no good picture. The drummer pressed for a meeting before hand to go over what songs we were to play. I am glad he took the effort, because I am done with trying to have the band look professional, much less sound professional. 
 
We meet for lunch just before the show and talked about what songs, etc. Helpful. Although the songs were picked weeks ago or longer, but the Doc said nothing until the night before. Sigh.

So we roll up, walk up really, to the club after lunch, figure out some setup details and go setup at our time.again a rush, but not so much this time. We went through the songs mostly with out any gliches…mostly. The crowd like when I did Mustang Sally, and some danced. It was a good set. The drummer and I took off right afterwards. We stopped over at the main stage area and checked out the all girl band that as playing. Turns out the leader is the owner of Chicago Rock daughter. Chicago Rock is a club we used to play at. I had spoken with the daughter before and said I wanted to see her band, however never made it back to do so. They were pretty good! After one song I left though, there was the rain happening. Vocals, two guitars, bass, drummer, full sound. Maybe this link will work to a video

 
The next day, Sunday I was back, this time not as a musician, but as a photographer and reporter .
I was going to do an interview of one of the performers. The interview is for a website called BlackTokyo.com. I was interviewed and a podcast was made when we were in Kamakura. The owner is a friend of many years. The person I was interviewing today is pretty well known around this area and is also from Philly. We have met several times and she did a couple of songs with us before. She is good, vegetarian, buddhist, animal rights supporter. I planned on hooking up with her after her show.
 
I arrived just before she went on and so I wandered around. I knew she would be busy before the set. I chatted some with the owner of Chicago Rock, who is a sponsor of the show.
There was also another band whos members I know, at least the leader and sitting in trumpet player, who were playing right after my friend Davina was done. I was not asked but I could tell by how excited he was seeing my business Nikon, that he wanted me to take some pictures. It was during my interview time, but I would make the effort.
 
I got a little bold on where I walked and took pictures, since I knew a sponsor and several of the attendants, knew me. Only once was I asked about having a staff pass. I just said I am with blah blah, and it was dropped. The band were good, it was pretty fun just hanging out doing some shots, then speaking with my friend afterward, in English. That was nice I could relax and talk for a change.
 
My only regret is that my guys do not want to put in the effort to be good enough to play main stage. I am toying more with the idea of my own group more. Even playing in one of the basement venues next year as a start. I need to give more thought to who would play with me. I would love to do some serious funky blues. No one I saw is doing that. Well my friend Davina is close. 
 
Anyway the festival is wrap for this year. I need to give some serious thought to a game musical game plan. Next weekend I am doing a couple of song with the Jazz band folks and the following I will sit in with the mix Jazz group at Snafkin. I was invited today to do play at a show at Tajiri Marina in Jul, for some event. This is where I work. They had a show there on the same day/ night as the blues fest. The friend, the percussionist who set me up with a recent gig for charity invited me to this. Now I need to think of band members. I know a couple of keyboard players and a drummer. I am thinking a female keyboardist who speak some English, and a female drummer, who does not. She is not that good, but she is steady, I like that. I know a couple of female horn players. It maybe a good gimmick, me with a Japanese mostly girl band. I will see how it all flows as time goes on.

吹禅 – Lohan Shaolin Shakuhachi


Lohan Shorin Shakuhachi

 
My two-year of formal shakuhachi study was last month. I have yet to make my annual anniversary pilgrimage. It is coming though. I did have a small one of sorts. Rather unplanned.
 
I finished learning my second traditional Shakuhachi song this week. Golden week here in Japan. It was a struggle for me. The first two days I spent in pain and a numb mouth from dental work. Which was just hours before my scheduled Skype Lesson. I believe I already said this on my last post. So I will not again, if not, just imagine, numb mouth shakuhachi class. Next two-day a cold! Anyway, I persevered. My fellow Zen path follower was kind enough to teach me the song I needed to do a day with a Komuso upcoming later this month. I am grateful for the help to make the trip possible. Now I need practice! 
 
So any-who, I decided on Friday the weather was great, I was feeling almost 100% normal…for me. I make the choice to go out, get some practice in, some fresh air, some exercise. One of the things, that stuck me holding the shakuhachi was its feel as a weapon, having a martial art background. I read that some of the old Komuso, being former samurai also felt the connection with the shakuhachi as a weapon and they at time used it as such. With that in mind I had been thinking about training with it with a different mind-set. In my shaolin studies, we have a short staff “form” or kata as it is called in Japanese. This lends itself well to use of the shakuhachi as a a short staff. However, i was thinking more in terms of sword. I have a Tai Chi sword form I am re-learning, this I felt would be perfect for use with a shakuhachi instead of blade. In Japan I can not freely go out and practice with my swords as in the states. So I use a cane, or a collapsible sword or cheap meal. Both work , but lack a feel, which I am sure is a mental thing. I decided, practicing with a shakuhachi would give the practice a different feel, something unique. A different feeling than with a sword, but also different from a fake sword. That would be part of my practice for today. Physical, mental, spiritual, audio. Formless and form. I could also Practice Kali with the shakuhachi. But really unnecessary due to the nature of Kali. Also the limits of a two-part Shakuhachi. None of the training is really suitable for a two piece shakuhachi, however the Tai Chi jhian form is the least of being chanced harmful to the shakuhachi.

So I have my plan. Go to the temple grounds near our home. This is my favorite temple in the area, Chokei-ji. The grounds over look the area . I can see to the Osaka Bay from over by the large Bell, which is next to the grave yard. The place is usually quiet. I can practice some of the faces of Chan, in peace. Movement, stillness, sound, as well as take a few photos. Practice my photographic art. I wonder sometime from something LZ said if people think I like posting pictures of myself on FB. Really I have started being able to separate myself as the model and as me. The model is just there, because I need a subject or as part of the subject really more a prop. My photos are more about the shot than about me, or a graphic to support the story.

Off I set on the bike heading for the temple grounds. It is about a 10-15 min bike ride to the grounds. Then there is a climb of 100 steps to reach the main ground. It is said that a wish is granted after climbing the 100 steps at the main entrance. I also feel a charge going up the steps , then passing through the entrance gate with the two spirit guards on the sides. I am guessing the entrance is very very old from the looks of it.

 
I make the upward passage to the entrance, I bow and enter. Today I am being extra respectful as I have a motive from coming. I go to the main temple and to the incense burner and forever candle. I light a stick of incense I brought with me. I pass my Shakuhachi through the smoke of the incense after a small thanks of gratitude for the use of the grounds. Next to the altar and bell. I made an offering , bowed, small prayer. Now I felt I could do my practice, after giving respect to the spirits.
 
I went over to the large bell and changed my clothes. There I took few shoots, and practiced Tai Chi, hand and sword sets. Then I walked around a bit and took some more shots I thought would be interesting and fun. There were some that thought would be great, but I did not want to walk on certain parts of a pagoda, it did not seem proper. I was made more aware of that when I visited the Kyudojo in Kamakura and I was stopped from walking on an area near a prayer spot. This was also in my mind from watching the visitors there today. The pagodas had some meaning as they prayed at them. So I figured the best way is to avoid possible lost of face. I grabbed a few shots from here and there , changing my on some planned shots.
 
I picked a spot overlooking the main grounds and had lunch among the rocks. I was not sure if I should be eating there so I kept a low profile. Afterwards, I played the Shakuhachi songs I felt fit the place. One was the new song I am learning. My Sensei said when I go to visit temples, the amount that I have learned is proper and enough to pay as a “gift”, offering. I also played the new song I was just taught. I did not play long but what I felt was enough. Then just sat for a bit before making ready to go home.
 
This day was the first I had ever seen any of the temple staff. A couple were out doing gardening, another couple went in and out of the housing area. I watched them closely to see if I was doing something wrong. I was pretty much ignored the whole time.
After I had finished my audio shakuhachi practice and was packing my stuff. I did not think I was playing that loud, or noticeably. I thought I was pretty on the “under”. Someone came out of the housing area, a woman, on her way to someplace else. She looked over at me directly and did a small bow. I did not notice at first, she did it again, I returned the bow, she left.

World Naked gardening day

NNGD…

 
It is said that working in dirt, feeling it, helps cure depression. I can see how that would happen. There is a certain feeling that comes from working with clay, doing ceramics, bring something to life from dirt. Gardening is bring something to life from dirt. I call it the God complex, they have I am sure other names. Anywho, yeah, doing gardening is therapeutic, very Zen active mediation kind of thing, Kyudo, Tai Chi, shakuhachi, kind of Meditation. Other faces of Chan. I heard one of my Chan Shifu recently say that, along with every day life is Chan, Chan is everyday life.
 
So my Chan gardening meditation project, spring session has started. I thought it would be a one day project but it has turned into three. It is a good golden week project. I will be working with reduced hours for a while, so on another level it is good to be planting food. Helps to eat fresh, save money, eat healthy. I do not have enough space to really be serious about growing. However herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, teas, can be grown easy and enough to be worth the effort as harvested.
 
It took me travels to three places for soil, food, misc. It was a large undertaking.
I am putting more effort into the garden this year. Last year was weak, very weak. The first year was better. This year I am adding more organic fertilizer, but of a different type. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I am also setting up a computer sheet, showing what was planted where, and what date. I will not rely on guessing what was growing. I tried labels, but they come off, get wet, something. This is a better idea…so far.
This time I have a chart with pictures as well. This way I can recall the seed. Don’t know if I can find these again, i got them from a place in northern Ca called the seed bank. It is an old bank changed to a retail seed store. I have my oldest in contact still friend living in the same town, so there is a chance of a repurchase. God be willing and the creek don’t rise.
 
I finished up the planting yesterday. It was a three day task. The downer of two of those day was my trip to the dentist. First time in many years. I need work. 😦 Three shots on day one! My mouth was a wreak trying to take a Shakuhachi class afterward. I also ended up chew my cheek flesh a bit, when eating and not being able to feel. It made the evening not too pleasant.
 
On the third day a cold struck ! Maybe from the dentist…the chill change in the weather, stress from being in the chair, holding on for dear life. Actually, I started thinking about Kyudo, if I can remain relaxed while this guy is digging in my mouth, I can easy stay relaxed when at Shinsa. Although, being relaxed at shinsa is not my issue, hitting is….I digress
 
So yeah the third day. I heard that May 2nd is World Naked Gardening day. I thought, wow, perfect timing. As I am finishing up today. So I joined in the celebration. I took a couple of photos, because you know the saying, if there is no pictures, it never happened.
 
So the first picture, I could not find my tripod, so I took it while holding the camera.
 
 
I was called away afterward so I could not get back to working until after the dentist, and my shakuhachi class via skype from Chicago. That is kind of different iznnit! Lesson from Chicago on a Japanese instrument, while I am in Japan. I am learning one certain song that is why. I need this in order to get the Komuso experience …coming soon. Oops , digression, the picture, yeah, so I got back out to finish up, I found my trip so I was able to get a full shot, it was a little dark though. Oh, well…
 

I am looking for a good harvest this year. I have some ideas in place that I have been thinking on from the last couple of plantings. The practice is evolving.
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Vegan Fest

Vegan Fest

I had seen ads for the Vegan fest for the last couple of years, one thing or another was on the same day so I could never attend. This year I made a point of going. I am not a vegan , but I am a vegetarian. Also the event is about environmental conscienceless and helping ease the suffering of animals, so two things as a Chan Priest I had concerns on. Therefore, I had the spiritual need in my mind to go support this, so I was off to the Fest.

 
The day was pleasant, not cold, not hot, perfect for an outing. I made my way there without any trouble finding it. The on-line map was good, using my smart phone. So I went right to the place. It was a small event for the most part. Not crowded, but not empty. There was a pretty good selection of foods, more dessert items than main stay, but there was still those as well. The place reminded me of a “hippie” event in the states. There was a large foreign turnout, but the majority were Japanese. Several of the booths were run by mixed couples. 
 
I first walked around to check things out , scout the scene. Then I made my food choices. I started with a “taco” thing, and some fruit drink mixture. It was good. Next Samosas, very good, small but good. Plain no sauce but still good. I wanted a falafel but the line was long and all the signs and info was in Japanese. So , I passed, on standing then looking stupid when trying to figure out, what was up. Of course they may have spoke English, but why were all the signs only in Japanese, all the other booths had English and Japanese…
When I finally made my way back they were sold out! That was sort of common , I saw a lot of places with signs up that certain thing were already sold out and it was sort of early in Tue afternoon. I went back to another stand and they to were sold out, I settled for some Indian fried rice and salad. There were a lot of places to sit and eat, so that was nice. I got a few things to take home, some cookies, two Samosa for LZ, some homemade sauerkraut, then headed back. I passed a Thai restaurant on the way back to the train station, I was very temped to stop in for a little something, but restrained myself.
 
On the train ride home I ended up sitting across from an older man who was carrying a yumi. I spoke with him a bit. He was coming From Osaka Castle. He had a Yon-dan. I did not get everything he was saying but a bit of it. He knew of my Senseis and was saying something about a lot of people from my school. He got off at the next stop. Two days later I went to my Dojo for our Tuesday Kimono practice day. I found out more of what he was saying. There was a Taikai that day there at Osakajo, I was supposed to be there, in it!!! It was pointed out to me when I arrived at class! Doh!! How embarrassing! I had completely forgotten, having gotten my days , times, and months all mixed up. Lucky for me I had some omiyage from the Kamakura trip with me, so it added some weight to my apology. I have made an extra be sure marker on the next TaiKai on May. I have already signed up for and been given my tasks to help as we are hosting the event. So I have to be extra careful not to lose face…again!
Doh!
more pix are here if interested X

Pilgramage – Kamakura

Engaku-ji

 

 
I had been looking forward to this for a while . Even though my original hope was to be able to shoot there were dashed. It still had the making of an interesting trip. The agenda was, watch Kyudo, visit the temple, go to another temple to see the Great Buddha.
 
We catch a late bus out of Osaka. It was some 9-10 hrs ride. The bus trip was smooth, another still I /we were unable to sleep much. Me less than LZ , much less. The seats were uncomfortable, space was cramped. I watch a movie on my Ipad, “Logan”, Xcellent flick. Then tried to sleep.
 
Finally we arrived in Yokohama and had to wait for something or another, plus grab some breakfast. Finally we got the train we wanted, and off we went. Dropped off our bags in a coin locker and went to the fist temple. Engakuji a old Zen temple, were the Kyudojo was. We had no idea if the dojo was going to be open or when. I was prepared for that. Even if it was closed I could still look at some of the facility somewhat. When we arrived at the gate, which was a surprise to be right almost next to the train stop, they were just opening. We enquired about the dojo. We were pointed to it and told , if the path was unblocked we could go into the grounds. 
 
We made our way over to the area which was just a few steps from the entrance. Luck was with us and the path was un-blocked. There was a grounds person just starting to open it. We asked. Few question and were told the would be practice at 10:00a.m. Currently it was 9:30 or so. We said our thanks and our we’ll be back words. We headed out into the main temple grounds.
 
The grounds were huge, clean. It was a perfect time to visit. The temps were comfortable, it was not crowded, and there were some Sakuras in bloom. They were not in full glory yet but enough to give the sight a nice charm. We walked around checking out misc.buildings. For me interesting. LZ is usually not so into the old temple stuff but she seemed to find these grounds interesting. It was nice pleasant not having the crowds. As we were leaving more people started to show up. It was now 10:00 a.m. So we headed back to the Kyudojo.
 
As we arrived the shooter were just getting warmed up. A few of the older guys were doing some stretching. Another couple or so were getting their equipment together. I watched from outside as we were supposed to do. Aa couple of guys started on the makiwara. I noticed behind them were one or two people doing meditation or praying.
I think meditation, this is a Zen based Kydojo. I walked back and forth to view what I could. Finally I could take no more and asked one the shooters. “Are there different ranks here now? What is the average? Something close to that. I was told there are no ranks, they only do it for personal development. Then I remembered they are not part of the Federation. I was told we could have a seat off in the side yard. We were was ok, to move the barrier and go in the other area. We enter and Got a better view of the shooting area of the dojo.
 
More people started to arrive. Some noticed we were inside the yard and also moved the barrier and came it. I watched for a while, took more pictures from this angle and then we left. I found out later that some of my dojomates, upper ranks had no idea there was a Kyudojo in Kamakura. I was kind of surprised, but since they are not part of the Renmei they go unnoticed by the group.
 
The Great Buddha
 
Our next stop was the Great Buddha. It was only a short trip to the Temple of the Great Buddha. It was now around 11:00 am, the crowds where out. The “fun” quality of the trip diminished with the size of the crowd. Side stepping, dodging, we made our way to the Buddha. My only reason was just for historic value. It was big, I got a few good shots and picked up a few small omeyage. Then we headed back. A few stops were made at a couple of local shops. We had planned on visiting one other temple but changed or minds. Instead opted to go right to lunch. The Thai place LZ had picked was closed. However there was another within walking distance. It was run by real Thais, it was right across from the beach. I was surprised there was such a nice beach there. LZ said it is a famous beach , used as a back drop for many many Movies, TV, etc . The food was ok, so far I have yet to find any Thai as good as the place I was a regular at in Ca.
 
The next stop was our hotel. There we rested and had a great dinner. The room was small but comfortable. I say small because it was picked as a placed for LZ to do a report on. So we could basically write off our trip for the most part. There was a private jacuzzi time. The Jacuzzi over looked the water, it was only so so, to me because the weather was still chilly, so not really enjoyable. However the dinner as I said was good.
 
Yokosuka
 
The next day we visited, long term friends of ours from NorCal. Another mixed couple like us. The husband currently works for the Naval base there at Yokosuka. He took us to a spot that over looked the placed where Admiral Perry first came and threaten the Japanese.
Trade or die! We next went to the Military base and technically went back on American soil, by foot! We had a bit of an issue getting on base, we needed passes, and LZ did not bring a photo ID. It took a while but we were able to get a pass for the day. On base we got a tour, and did some shopping, of food stuff not easy to get in Japan. A gold mine score.
Next to their house for wine and cheese, chatting and laughs. I was given an interview for the website and facebook site, “Black Toyko” .
 
After all that we hustled off to the train/bus for the long trip home. Overall to was fun. It was good to hang out with our friends and kick it like we did in Cal.
It was a long trip but worthwhile in my mind. Even though could not shoot at the Kyudojo, it was still worthwhile to visit the temple and grounds. It was nicer we thought than Kyoto. The Great Buddha was “Meh” but ok to see once. I picked up a small gold plated Buddha statue for my home shrine.
more photos here –> X

God willing and the Creek don’t rise

God willing and the creek don’t rise.

 
There was a Tai Kai for a couple of Sundays ago. I was set to go, at least in my head. I was not shooting that well but, I was viewing it as practice, so it matter. Everything is practice, maybe even life, who knows for sure. However that is another story…
The night before for some reason. I did not sleep well. Maybe nerves from not being really ready to shoot badly in public. Yeah, my hit ratio still sucks, oh well. Anyway I was up early to get going. I did my morning drills, Chan-ding ( zazen), Tai Chi and then set off. I was even wearing my dogi, so as not to waste time changing and dealing with looking for a spot to stand in the crowded dressing room at Kishiwada. 
 
I hope on the train making the effort to catch one that I did not have to rush to make. I am riding along I switch to an express to the main station instead of the local one where I usually get off. The next main one is also a regular stop when I am wanting to walk less. I figure I would save some time and be there in plenty of time. I am hearing things on the speaker about the next stop, which sounds like is not my stop but the next next big station. I am thinking, hmmm I must not be hearing right, because the train always stops at Haruki. Surprised I am when it goes pass my stop! Ehhhhhh? Hmmm. Ok, I think no panic Good thing I am early. At the next stop I get off and change to a local going the opposite direction. 
 
I make it to my stop with plenty of time to burn, sort of. I stop in the convenience store for a drink and walk over to the dojo. I was not early enough to see the folks lined up outside waiting to get in. The building was already open. Once upstairs, I get another shock! The dojo is empty! No one, no bows, zip! Ehhhh? My mind races, I check the board, hmmmm, ok, I see the two Tai Kai I signed up for are not today! Hmmmm, however my calendar says there is a Tai Kai today! It took me a while then figured out, I was on the right day, the right time, but the wrong place!! Doh! 
 
Oh well, i figured, I guess I will just practice alone. Nothing I can do about it now. Anyway, I guess I was not expected anyway, after some memory checks, i did not recall signing up for the Osakajo Tai Kai anyway. Oh well. I setup thing to practice. Just before I was ready to shoot another dojo mates enters. She tells me yes, there is a Tai Kai at The Osaka Castle Dojo. Sigh.

I have at my practice. Shortly later another mate shows up, so now there is three of us. I am at it, checking my this n that and not hitting anything! This was the theme for the day. Zip for hits, close and around the mato, but not one hit out of sixteen. After a couple of disgusting hours, I called it a day. A sempai says to me I need to open my chest more. I make a note of it, but still head out, I am done. I mark down my perfect Zero score and head home.
 
Oh well, there is next time, if God be willing and the creek don’t rise, I will be back.

Faces of Chan


Faces of Chan

 
In Kyudo there is talk of spiritual skills and technical skills. I have heard, seen, been in some heated discussions about Zen and Kyudo. I have always said there is religious Zen and there is Philosophical Zen, branches of the same tree. It was brought home to me recently the differences in real life. Religiously, no Zen is not Kyudo, Kyudo is not Zen, but Philosophically it is very much part of it. As Zen is all things, it is life, the operation of the universe. Everything is Zen, as everything is Kung Fu training, everything is Zen training.
 
I want to mention three different Zen practitioners. 
#1 Listed as a master, but has no compassion for the people who work for him. His concern is self, and his benefits from whatever the $ituation . He was a big disappointment to me. After his thoughtless, selfish actions almost got me killed and I received not even a thank you for my efforts. I have stopped attending his Zazen sessions or really any association with him other than work. If my Chan Shifu ( Sensei) had not asked to meet him I would not have been in contact with him for this meeting with my teacher. 
From the meeting we had the other day with my Shifu from Taiwan and the discussion of this “master’s” ( #1) sensei, I understand now why his thoughts and action are lacking compassion. He has Technical skills on how to meditate, but lacking the heart. Same as shooting in Kyudo with technique but no spirit. Yet…on the other hand, now that I know more of why, I should have more compassion toward him and his lack of it, as my act of compassion. I should clear my heart. Still his Zazen sessions are empty of meaning for me. I can just sit on my own.
 
#2. An Abbot with the Hsu Yun order, said to me that he would publish several articles I had written. I was asked to contribute to the website, asked! Yet when I did the articles were never published. Nor was the bio and picture I was asked to contribute as a new Priest. Even after I brought it up a couple of months later after waiting. I was told, oh things got in the way, with family problems. I will check them over tonight and publish tomorrow, if I have any questions or issues I will contact you. Now another 4 months later nothing. If the writings had issues, of whatever, something should have been said. Not just leave me hanging on his words. Point here, someone with a high title, such as an Abbot should behave, operate on a higher level than just Joe Blow the seeker, at the least be true to your word. Another person with the technical skills to have a title, but lacking the compassion of the heart, to earn respect as just a person of substance, trust, compassion. I have yet to figure out what the issue is, I can only wonder if there is something racial happening.

 

#3. An acquaintance had his sensei expel him out from his “wing” because he, the student was getting more praise than the teacher for his acts of compassion, and interaction with others. He was jealous of his student. This is how a master behaves? Disappointing.

The point here really is that people are people, regardless of the title, if you are a messed up person, your title no matter how high, or powerful it is, seems, without the heart it is just another word with one’s name and empty.

One can have the technical skills to meditate, teach others how to meditate and still lack the spirit, the heart of meditation. Or perhaps it can be broken down as this. I read something somewhere about the mindfulness movement, practice, how it is lacking “wholeness” without the Buddhist influence. Technique, but no spirit, no heart. It is an unbalanced practice. This is one of the reason why I was so attracted to the Heart Chan Group, they had balance with the physical and spiritual in training. Not just sitting facing a wall.

Balance is living, one’s actions are a big part of Chan. One’s life is a bigger example than preaching words. When they being basically do as I say, not as I do. One should walk the walk as well as talk the talk. The American government version of Christianity is brought to mind. They talk about being a Christian, following Jesus, but they will not help the poor, homeless, sick. There is no money except for raises for them and bombs to drop in war.

Well, as everything is training/practice, there is something to be learned from everyone, even those you lack respect for. Perhaps those have a bigger lesson to teach, a greater learning is to be gained.