Return to Paradise…Kung Fu Kyudo Sunday
Return to Paradise…Kung Fu Kyudo Sunday
I made my way to the temple which turned out to be on the same street as the Kyudo group’s meeting place. When I approached the temple I could hear chanting and prayers being said in Chinese. Ohhh. I hope I will not be Interrupting something, I thought. I could see people inside walking around in a ceremony, I could see a couple of people outside taking pictures and one person involved in the ceremony doing some filming with an iPad. Earlier I saw someone with a phone camera outside taking pictures. So I figured it was ok to take pictures and walk around. I would, however, try to be low key about it. Which is kind of funny when one thinks about it. A Black guy hanging around a Chinese temple taking pictures, being low key!! hahaha. Not disruptive, and respectful as possible would be a better thought, wording.
I walked up the main steps as walking on rice paper. I hung back from the doors, yet, even so, I was out in the open and got looks as the line inside walked past the open doors, as I made my way up the stairs. Just observing, trying to be small. I slowly walked around the outside. In a moment of boldness and a break in the line, I took a few quick pictures. Thinking to myself this listed as a sort of tourist place, people come to see the temple, so I should not be so self-conscious. I slowly walked around the front grabbing a few shots of the building.
I walk around to the side, as I am starting to feel the call of nature. I spotted a woman just sitting on a chair by the steps, looking like she was just relaxing or waiting for someone. I asked her in Chinese if she spoke English? She looked at me like I just landed from the moon. Sort of like when some people of color say they get the blank look when they speak Japanese to a Japanese. Perhaps she was in shock that I spoke to her in Chinese. So I asked in English where is the toilet? She snapped to awareness and smiled and gave me directions. I thanked her and bowed in Gassho, she smiled.
I walked around to the side and saw more buildings, smaller, and they also were open and no people, nice I thought. After making my pit stop I went exploring. I went into the first one and saw it was some kind of memorial hall I am guessing for the departed souls. There were a lot of plaques on the wall and an Altar in the center of the floor, with a stand, marked offerings. Ok, cool this would be easy enough. I went in slowly, checking things out grabbed a few pictures and went up to the altar. I did the multi-bows thing and finished up. I moved on to the next building. It was the same. However, there was a man sitting outside. I wondered would he say something about me being there. I went by him with my palms together and bowed. He returned the bow and motion. Something I did not get from the Young Priest guy at ChoZenji, in fact maybe from anyone there except one person who was just on a stay there. It is felt in Japan if you bow to someone and they do not return it is rude. I also did not get it from the monks there at the temple when they looked at me from inside the temple. In their defense they were busy. I am guessing they also just saw some strange black tourist dude, watching the show. Still… Anyway…I digress.
I continued into this building, it was open and had misc food on trays and bags on the floor. It also had groups of birds eating stuff off the offering trays around the room. I did a repeat of actions of the first building and departed.
Now I went up to the rear of the main building, again took pictures. Next went around to the front of the main building. I watched more and made my way around to the other side. Many eyes watching. I am not sure what they were doing at that point. Not walking around still singing and chanting which had been going on the whole time I was there, even before I arrived because I could hear them when I was still up the street.
I walk around now with palm facing. I watch some of the proceedings from the other side of the building at the open door. I couple of the monks who are doing the ceremony look at me, I bow, they continue with they are doing, chanting and beating on a drum. I think hummm, kind of rude, but this is not Japan.
I head down the stairs on the other side, I had seen another open set of doors when I was first coming up. Some kind of lower level room. I walk by and peek in. It is mostly empty except for a couple of Nuns. I notice there is a small library of books and statues in a corner. There are several Altars. and some chairs and kneeling benches as in the other building. Ok, I figure it must be ok to go in here. I go to each of the Altars and make full bows. Another nun enters, I continue. No one says anything or gives me more than a brief look. I figure I am ok. I take a few pictures and look at the photos on the wall. A couple of other Nuns come and go. No one says anything. I leave, I am considering looking into one more building I saw, I am unsure it kind of looks like a kitchen area or something. I start to walk as someone comes out of there. She sees me and comes over to me as she is walking by. Are you here to see the temple, she asks in English. I say yes and show her a print out of the clergy on our sect’s webpage. I point to the Master, she says yes that is him. I point out my late teacher, she says I do not know her. I explain why I am here and to pray. She says yes, go inside and pray. She says there are people up there, go in and join them, they are praying. I say thank you. However thinking, no way will I just walk in there. I do not know what is going on. I will just hang outside and observe.
I did that, taking a spot just offset from the door, but I could see, I could also be seen. When the group bowed, I bowed, I stood palm together, quietly. Now inside the were taking something off the wall and stuffing it into a large trash can. Then the group came outside. I stepped back, but still stayed, now standing with the group. I watched, the can was taken down to the parking lot and the insides set ablaze. I knew what was happening and spiritually became part of it standing off to the side, a part of, yet apart. The group afterward went back in. Then the monks left out the side door along with many others leaving by front and side doors. I am thinking ok it is done. I can go inside once everyone leaves.
It is then I am approached by a man. Who says something I could not understand. He is handicapped. I reposed in Chinese “I speak English”. He nods and says something else. It took me a moment to understand his English because of his voice deformity. He asked something that sounded like are you from Tibet? Are you something-something, I had on my Kyosho at this point, when I had come to stand outside because I wanted to be seen as not just another looky-lo tourist. I had something to do with Buddhism.
Ok, so the guy is talking, much of it I am not getting. I am thinking he is nice but maybe just a bit mental. I cannot be rude and just blow him off so I try to listen and understand. I am starting to get something about the Dahli Lama visiting and also some other ranking Buddhist Monks. Did I see them I was asked? No, I said I missed that. He continues. Then I am getting to understand I can come inside and sit. Hesitantly I do that. I ask, may I go to the main Altar to pray? He says no, but here where he is pointing is ok. I thank him and do the Chinese full formal bows. I kneel, bow, then open and raise both palms. Three times I do this. When I am finished, he comes again. He now takes me around to each of the smaller Altars and explains what each of the Buddha’s represents. I full bow at each. We make our way around the main hall, with him explaining as we go. He waiting while I do respects at each. We are back to the main hall and floor. He is explaining now about the three main Buddhas and their function and colors and meanings and some other things that I was not quite getting. The Monks return, he says something about me to them, they smile, and nod a bow, the ladies seated in the hearing range also smile nicely and nodding their heads. A kind smile, like welcome not like a weird smile. Another ceremony starts. The guy leaves me and returns to where he was in the beginning. I stand off to the side and follow along, chanting the sounds but not the words. I do this for a while then slowly make my way back to the other side of the hall stopping at a couple of the Altars to bow again and grab a few snapshots. I am ready to slip out the door. The guy that greeted me was there, also the woman who told me where that toilet was there. I bowed, they bowed. Then I figured I would take one last picture of the Altar of Kwan Kung. The guy motioned that I could go over to it to take the picture, while he still stood as part of the now started chanting and ceremonies group. I did so then make my way out the door bowing, they bowed in return. Chinese I have encountered tend to be much nicer once they know who you are. Some say they are much more real, some Japanese come off as nice at first but it is a fake nice. This has been told to me by Japanese. There is an old song that comes to mind. “Smiling Faces they sometimes tell lies”
Outside I am thinking …
A link to the full photo album for this post can be seen here:
Return to Paradise… Kyudo at ChoZenji
Ok, so they got set up as did I. The equipment was funky! I found a bow I could use, however, I needed to re-tie the string. It was way too loose! The bow would flip around to it’s unstrung state when I shot. That took some time to correct. Next I had to find arrows. The only ones near my length were Makiwara ya, with Makiwara feathers. Sigh. After trying to shoot them and not have them not go near where I was aiming to shoot, I looked for some different ones. There was another set of range mato arrows, however, they were short for me, quite short, since I had no other choice than the markiwara ya, I figured I would try at least. With a lot of conscious effort, I was able to shoot. As I drew the bow I had to keep touching the tip of the arrow to see how far I had left to draw safely. Then I needed to compensate my right pull to be able to straighten my left arm as it should be. I was able to make a couple of hits, after much effort. It was a challenge but I was able to pull it off being fully mindful of what I was doing. I guess in a way it was helpful because I had to really pay attention to all parts of my draw.
The others continued with their shooting. A woman joined us. So the three of them did western shooting I did Japanese. In order to maintain harmony with the flow of shooting and fetching the arrows, I set my timing with them so everyone could retrieve their arrows at the same time. They shot 12 arrows to my 2. Their twelve arrows time also included them doing their weird funky, to me, Tai Chi. Which should have not even been called Tai Chi! I was told the founding master had learned Tai Chi Chuan in China. He was very accomplished in many Budo arts. He had several high ranks in Judo, Kendo, Karate, maybe more things which I can not recall. It is said he was a martial art genius.
He took what he considered the most important elements of the long form of Tai Chi Chuan and condensed it down to 10 steps. It was not supposed to be a Budo from, but a way to build “Chi/Ki” and focus the mind and spirit for shooting or whatever. There was also a loud Kiai in the form at times. It was a Zen tool for them, not a “Budo” or even a health art. Ok, I thought it was lame watching them do it, but that was just my opinion and perhaps a reflection of their skill. Either way, it was just my opinion which does not matter. So yeah, their 12 shots to my 2 shots. Kind of funny when you think about. I reflected at one point that my going through one cycle of Shooting with the correct breath, grounded stance, mindfulness was much more centering, calming, a release of attachments, focusing, Ki building than the soft karate they were doing. Just my opinion. If it worked for them, the program and the master…so be it! This went on for about an hour.
It was brought up at some point, not by me that maybe I could come In and shoot on my own since the Kyudojo was not being used much and I was coming back on Monday for an early class plus later that evening or another class. It made sense I could just hang out there and practice on my own, no one would be there using it. I thought as well it would be great. I had seen a back room where there were longer Ya so I thought ahhh! That would be cool! I would ask. We closed up the Dojo and I was shown how to put things away.
Les and I chatted for a while about, Tai Chi and his current Tai Chi teacher. Not the current in change person there. This was someone the founder or ex-master recommend he train with or something like that, to learn full Tai Chi. Anyway, he was I find out the person there at Chozenji that runs the Tai Chi class. I would join this class on Monday. Anyway, we spoke of misc martial things and training there at Chozenji. The difference between the old ways with the founder and former master and the current young admin, and his sometimes displeasure, with the new “way”. Also the strong point of the Martial art training there was Kendo/Hojo. A Shotokan Karate class was just added fro Sunday’s.
Afterward, I went back to the community room to gather my stuff to go to my hotel. The young head priest in charge since the master was traveling was there. When I came in he says. Oh, so you got to shoot! How was it? I said it was challenging, I had some issues with equipment. He replies I learned early on it is not the equipment but the shooter!
I took a breath…and replied, gently. I was feeling/reading a certain “vibe” from his comment. One could say the hairs on the back of my neck bristled a bit. I deepened my breath and then spoke. Yes, that is true, except in the case of safety and being the wrong equipment for me. The arrows were way too short, the string was not tied correctly. If I did not take care and make adjustments I or someone could have lost an eye or gotten otherwise injured. However, I did make it work, as I said it was just a challenge. My reply was not in a mean or a smart-ass way as he was in charge. I was respectful.
I ask; the music you were playing the other night, that was not a Honkyoku was it? Now he replies, that was something from Honda Sensei, we play Shakuhachi as Zen tool, not as a musical instrument. We use it to develop breath and the like. Some times blowing until we completely empty the full breath, not in keeping with a musical piece. It is ChoZenji Shakuhachi not a music piece like most people play these days. Me: again a breath and reply hmmm Honkyoku are Zen pieces. He said, not with most people I know, most I encounter they are playing as them as music. Honda sensei says one can play one note your whole life to work on getting it right, developing it fully, as Zen training. It is about breath and mindfulness… I say slowly “those you have met in your circle”. Yes, he says in my circle. I drop the subject again.
I move on to safer ground.
I next asked about making a donation, I saw envelopes. I was told where to do it. Donations were not something that they pushed on people. The person had to want to make it enough that they asked about to do it. Ohhh, different from other places. Ok, Thanks. Or maybe this would have been a good starting place first. Oh well.
I made the arrangement and purchase via his “girlfriend” I believe she is, from watching how she serves him lunch, maybe, maybe not, but I got that vibe. She is the first person I was dealing with when I was arranging to visit and did my orientation and gave me the tour. She was nice enough I thought at the time. Even though she would not let me join right into the Zazen when I arrive, therefore wasting a day. She was fairly pleasant and professional.
The more I thought about it the more I was irked about it, and not just him, but the sense I felt there. Having traveled from Japan to experience the center I felt they should be a bit more accommodating. I asked to attend a Zazen session on my first day. I said I had the experience, I could follow along fairly easy. But was told no! I had to wait until the proper orientation class. In which it took all of 15 min or less for her to explain things and was the only one attending the intro class. Therefore causing, me to waste a whole day of the trip and miss a class I wanted. Now this, with the denial of grounds use, so I would not have to spend hours traveling back and forth to the dojo. Hmmm. Not really helpful folks, are they. I thought more and got more irked, however also came the thought. Why should it be all about you (me) why should I get special treatment, just because I traveled a long way? That was an ego minded thought. One thing came to mind often during this thought process was something I was told in the beginning ” we here are more in the Japanese tradition than Hawaiian tradition.” Also recalling something I read about they do not encourage just casual visitors or something like that.
“we discourage tourists and recreational visitors from attending zazen or class.”
Just because I did not consider myself a recreational visitor, does not mean the same to them.
With that thought came the ahhh moment! Hawaiian style is laid back, more flexible. Japanese are not flexible, the rule, the way is the way. It can not be changed! Although they are doing just that with their Kyudo, Tai Chi, junk food treats and meals. It is still their way, their “DO“! What an ego, I had to make things about me, I am nothing, but a passing visitor to their home, center, Way ( Do ). Ok, my bad…
Once that clicked in place. I was able to let the negative thoughts go…mostly. When I told my wife that she said ahh yes, he is not being mean he is following the Japanese way. He is in charge and has to follow the rules.
Still though…a bit of compassion and consideration goes a long ways…Amituofo
Next off to Hsu Yun Chan Buddhist temple…
Next, we stood in a circle held hands and did some Hawaiian call and response chanting. After that we sat and did introductions around, who was who, was who, your name, where do you consider yourself from, and why are you here. That was sort of interesting, where do you consider yourself from, sort of like what was your face before you were born type of question when you thought about it. After I did my part in the circle sharing we did some movement drills, is the best way to describe it. Moving around the room in a line, not in a line, avoiding someone else moving around the room with their eyes closed and try not to hit them. It was explained as a drill in awareness. Like moving through your life, trying to get somewhere, but needing to avoid some random item, issue, person, a thing. Needing to be aware of it and that it is coming, but continue to move forward.
The last section of the class the leader asked about who wanted to do some Tai Chi or do some chanting. I wanted the Tai Chi, but the group wanted the chanting. So I remained quiet and went with the flow to learn, experience something new and different. I have never been big of chanting. Maybe to self-conscious, weird for a person who sings in a band. Anyway, we sat in a circle. We were given a book of chants. A bit was discussed about the nature of the chant. It was not about the words, in some cases, the words have been lost. It is about the sound, the vibe. The body as a sound chamber. The same as what is being done playing Shakuhachi as SuiZen. It is not the music it is the sound, the vibe.
We chatted for a while with the leader banging the fish for the timing. It was interesting, more so now that I am thinking back on it.
We ended the session with another Hawaiian hand-holding group call and answer chant.
The class session name “Zen and Aloha Spirit” makes sense now. It was not what I was looking for, but I got something out of it. I learned something, which was part of the point of going to this Hawaiian pilgrimage.
“Sometimes times one learns what they need, not want they want.”…Brown Buddha
There are not many people in your life or have come into your life that you can say made a big difference in the course of it, for good. That can stand out. Also not just your life but in the lives of many. Usually, in my case at least it is an older person. An Uncle, teacher, coach. Rarely is it a peer. Rarely does one think of any of their hanging out buds as great people. I do not mean great as far as a cool friend, I mean great as to humanity. It is rare to know someone who has helped change many lives positively.
I had the honor and blessing of knowing one such man. He recently passed away. A shocking wakeup to impermanence. I have been reading over the posts to his FB pages and I am continually touched by the remembrances from his students and friends. His name was Steven Baugh (Da Shi ChuanSheng). We trained Northern Shaolin Tai Chi Praying Mantis together since the ’70s. Even though I was his technically elder brother, I held great respect for him as did everyone. I watched him develop his art through the years and expand beyond just the several styles of martial aspects of study. He returned to the basic roots of Spiritual Shaolin and studied deeply the spiritual side of Chinese Budo. He studied and graduated as a priest from the Hsu Yun Chan Buddhist temple in Hawaii and afterward founded the Lohan Buddhist temple – Spiritual and cultural center in Las Vegas. He was already schooled in Taoism and Native American spiritual practices. Being part Native American he had inside access to that training path.
His past, training, studies, and heart gave him insight and connection to the minority community, which in many cases is overlooked when spiritual teachers are going public in Mainstream America. He told me once his teacher told him to go back to the mainland from Hawaii and teach because he was able to reach out to a large variety of people. If one saw his school, students and temple members, one could see this right off.
Once I moved to Japan, I had little thought I would see him again. I found out later that we had one of the same Chan teachers, and she held him as one of her favorites. Saying she had little to teach him as he was already deeply knowledgable. I found out he was coming to Osaka as a treat from one of his student’s who’s wife is from Japan. We arranged to meet up, and that marked a serious changed in my Chan path even after over 10 yrs of study and later became ordained through him in the Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
For the past three days since his passing, I have been usually sensitive and mournful. It took me some thought to figure out it had to do with not just losing a friend, kung fu brother, but my abbot. I received direct dharma transmission from him. That gave us a different, more Spiritually Psychic connection, I am guessing. I suffered a grave sense of loss at times over the 3 days. I made a pilgrimage to a local Buddhist/Shinto temple complex yesterday. I prayed at each of the Statues, burnt incense, and played Tamuke ( a Komuso offering song for the departed ), tearing up partway into the song unable to finish. However, it was enough. I was told by my Shakuhachi Sensei it is not important to play the whole song in this type of case. I recalled my first really public playing was as a “thank you” offering at the temple after my ordination.
This post this time is about something, someone more important than me. My Abbot, my brother, my friend ( 35 yrs + ). May you have completed all cycles and now be free of suffering.
Most who chance to read this, will not know who he was or will it matter. However, it matters to me in some small way I can honor him and ease some of my sadness with this post.
Society for the Study of Classical Shakuhachi
We had our monthly meeting a few days ago. The day before my return to Shitennoji to play. So it was another good chance to practice in front of serious ears.
Today we were supposed to have a guest. A student of Oliver, a sempai to me of course. He is a college prof and a writer. You can read his blog/webpage here on Komuso, shakuhachi, Ok, so his student from China who is visiting in Japan was going to be there. Hopefully, she would bring her Chinese Koto and play.
I was coming for sure that day. I came from another part of town than usual, I wanted to attend a Buddhist meetup I had been pushing off for a long time. A spent a lot of lost time that morning searching for the location. However, all of that is another story. I arrived at the Shaku group meeting a little later than planned but not enough to have missed a lot. I needed to pick up food to bring and grab something to eat then.
I slipped in and joined in the song that was upcoming on the agenda. A short while later another elder sempai bows his way in. We continue and also repeat Cho Shi together once more.
The way is made around the table for everyone to play a solo piece. I did Tamuki as a test for the Komuso offering event at Shitennoji. ( FYI: that whole story is on the Komuso blog). It went over ok, no one gave up any corrections except do not move the flute around so much. ( I was trying to find the sweet spot). The correction I was given last time I got the ok nod from another sempai when I asked him it was, ok? So ok, past that. I am feeling better about the performance on Sunday.
The visitor is up. She says she will not play shakuhachi but will play her Koto for the group. Perfect! we all some questions about the Koto as she was tuning. We all looked it over from all angles.
When she played it was heavenly. We all loved it. It was suggested that since I was the musician that she and I do a song together. If there was the time I would have liked that, however, I was feeling a bit shy about that at the moment as was she, so neither of us stepped to make it happen. Thinking back now I should have tried. It was not like a big deal to sound bad. Hahahah. It would have been all in fun. Sometimes being humble and shy is a fun blocker. I still need to step out of my comfort zone more, yet another personal challenge to work on….Amitoufo
Back to the clinic. After the patch was removed. I was cleaned and checked, given more drops, asked questions, rechecked. I was asked how my vision was. I had a little difficulty opening my eyes fully but I could do it and I was shocked how clear my sight was on that eye. More drops, waiting, checks. At one point another man spoke with me who just also had the operation the same day as me. I was also good. I was given new drops to take home, protection glasses, and a night shield, more instructions, and my bill. Because we are low income we have another government discount. The same we received when I had my dental work done. Which in the US would have cost me $5-10,000.00. No matter what procedure within a month, my cost would be about $380.00. Pharmacy stuff like drops and glasses where extra but they were only about $15.00 U.S.. My next operation is in two weeks within the month period, so I have no other medical cost for this. With our standard medical it would have come to about $1,200. U.S. there are some good points to being low income in Japan if you can live simple. My U.S. SS income is not counted toward our income support. So to the government here, we live off of my wife’s part-time work and my part-time work.
Meanwhile, everyone is getting settled. The main Sensei is there today. Shimura Sensei, I had heard about him before that he was going to start coming again. I meet him once at Myoanji. He is the official leader of the group. I found out later he is a Professor @ Osaka University of Arts he teaches the only class in traditional Japanese music or something like that. I also found out he is a Komuso and a noted performer. This guy is the real deal!! What good fortune to be in his group. He sent me a picture later.
I have gotten an idea to put some questions to the group about Shakuhachi and Komuso. That could be an interesting post. There is a mix in the group, I believe of Philosophy types. One day we had a short talk on Spirit vs Technique in playing over some food and sake!
I had brought along my extra flutes today. The 2.0 and the 2.5 made by Oota Sensei, but also the “bell” the plastic bamboo hybrid for the guys to look at. There was only mild interest as I expected. Only a couple blew the Bell. Shimura Sensei took the most interest, he took pictures, looked inside, etc etc. when he played it he said musugashi, meaning difficult, or perhaps something else as well. He has a doctorate in Shakuhachi Research and quite a personal collection I hear. So naturally, he would take an interest in the new kid on the block. I did not “pick up” that he was overly impressed though. This is a long flute Ryu, so the 1.8 is not the choice tool. Kishi Sensei was looking at it more from a good for a student level, whereas Shimura Sensei was thinking from a performer level. I am guessing this only. Seems logical, life is perspective.
Back to the story… I was surprised to see the 1.7’s or whatever had been on the table when I arrived. Oliver was picking up one for a new student of his from China.
About now we start misc stuff and again someone plays something. Then I hear Fuu-San play something your style. Ehhhhh! Again I am surprised. hmmmmm, Ok, I have been thinking about doing a Jazzy “Summertime” on the 2.0 it is my performance flute. Even though, Kishi Sensei thinks it is junk and will give me bad habits if I play it. I like it. It is in tune for playing modern music, it looks funky cool. so I gave it a shot. It went well. I was pleased. My next performance of the song I will use that flute and not the short one. Also, people end up with more than one instrument, when playing for a while. I saw one famous woman on FB that had her collection up. Maybe more than 20! She said different sounds, different feeling, emotion when playing Honkyuko. She is a pro, as a musician and teacher, I understand what she was saying. I have been using restraint with my gathering of instruments. Many Bass players and guitarist have many several and are not even collectors. Anyway Yeah, I use restraint and not having money to throw around also helps maintain the will power and discipline. I digress…
After another song that, pretty much was a wrap for the practice session. Out came the food and drinks and we relaxed and hung out for a while before heading off into the night to go home. We walked not quite so steady after the drinks, well maybe it was mostly me. Because I have not been drinking and I kept getting my glass filled. Three of us took the fast train back to south Osaka and for a change, I did not have to go the furthest.