吹禅 – The gathering

Two years ago, about, more or less, I was looking to join a shakuhachi club. I thought that was the way to go to get lessons. However I found out that is for already knowing how to play people. Then I came across my current Sensei a short while later. Lead by the hand of the Universe I encountered him. Major stroke of luck, or blessing…depends on your view-point!
 
Skip ahead…
 
Now two years later I was introduced to someone who is in one of those Shakuhachi groups. I was invited to attend a meeting. The cool part was that this group was/is in some remote way connected to the Kumoso players in Kyoto. Major Shakuhachi luck strike! I had gone to a concert by some of the members of this group. I do think I wrote about the concert, maybe I did, but do not feel like checking right now… So a little recap now. There were 45 invited players to this concert. Different styles and schools. It was interesting even though I did not see all the players. Which was kind of good, since it would have been a loooong day. Also some of the styles I did not really care for. Eg: the really breathy style. I like the note sound not the breath so much. 
 
Ok, the meeting was small. Not all the members attend all the time. There were six of us this time. Several of the people there were Shakuhachi makers, one of them a professional. That guy also makes Tengai, for Komuso. He had one with him, the cost was about $1,000 US. Store brought in Japan about $400! Today’s Komuso have money I guess. I have heard about some of the parts for the Komuso-wear are also very costly. Quite shocking for a group that traditionally went around just begging. Most do not beg any longer, so yeah, times have changed. The Komuso ( not all ) have money.
 
Another two people had their own self-made Shakuhachi with them. Each of them gave me one to try out. This group plays the large Shakuhachi, not the standard size you see Komuso with in pictures. I was told that if I like one it was mine to take home. I was quite shocked! I was told before arriving that one of the players wanted to gift me a shakuhachi as he had plenty he made. I was thinking, one of the small one simple made. However….no this was a big flute, with an inlay at the mouth piece not just cut. I was shocked, I said that, right? So yeah, way cool, I like the big shakuhachi, anyway. I prefer the deep tones. 
 
I was given a bunch of music that they were going over. The notation was a bit different from my Kinko style so I easily got lost. My musician ear and watching another player helped keep me somewhat stay up with the group. The first song, the starting off song, I already knew from learning it to do the Komuso walk. So that was not really a big deal, other than playing it on a really big Shakuhachi that I was not accustom to playing. It was good, no one really cared.
There was a point were everyone played a piece solo that was going to be in the next upcoming concert. They went around the table, each one playing a song…and came to me. I tried to pass, but was unable. I was told it was ok to replay the song I knew, Cho Shi. Hesitantly I did. There were times I could not get the note out. However following my sensei’s advice I just kept going like it was part of what I was doing. Over all it was not bad. Not good, but not too bad. I thought well at least I did not embarrass myself. I was told it was impressive I could play that well, with a new instrument. I felt relief, yatta!
 
I was asked to tell how I met my Sensei. I was taken back for a bit, because the guys there did not speak English. I surprised myself by just speaking in Japanese. I did not even give it that much thought, to how to explain. I did somewhat ok, until I started to think about what I was doing, then my words got mixed up. Still, everyone understood, and that is more important than the correct word is the communication. Heart to heart communication, like in Chan transmission.
 
After a few more songs we closed the room up and went to a local shop for dinner. These guys are Shakuhachi freaks! The whole time the conversation was about Shakuhachis and playing, for the most part. I did not get most of it, but my friend translated, that was a big help. My small shakuhachi from the recycle shop was checked out ( looked over), and given a big ok. Some had one also by the same maker. It was not a cheap flute. I felt grateful to the Force for leading me to it.
 
So we shared food, drinks and laughs, then called it a day. I was invited to return anytime I wanted. The guys were all nice, and low-key. I will be returning as a regular attenders. I am pleased with the path my Shakuhachi study is taking me. Also grateful for the guidance from others. _/|\_
From the Izakaya, after dinner, 3 or 4 glasses of wine, 2 cups of Sake (none of which were full) I went to Kyudo practice. I did terrible, which was not surprising. It was really more about me doing it, than how well I did it. Sometimes just showing up is the training._
_/|\_

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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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.
_/|\_

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.

World Chan Conference

World Chan conference.

 
I have been doing some study on-line with a teacher from the Chan linage of Sheng Yen. Beishi Guohan is the head teacher and founder in the Cosmos Chan Community. A few months ago Guohan Shifu mentioned that he was coming to Kyoto to see some Zen temples. I offered to help him get to Kyoto. This week he arrived, I was contacted and asked if he could met any Zen Masters or monks. I said, I only know of a couple and only one in my area. I was referring to Yoh Aoki. Even though I have some issues with him as a Zen Master, he still has the credentials, even if not the heart. In my opinion.
 
Moving on…
 
Although pretty much last minute, the arrangements were made. Guohan Shifu, his wife, and myself would go over to the Marina and meet with Aoki “Shacho” (company president). 
 
I was somewhat fretful the night before, I am not big on meeting new people. What will we talk about? Ok well Chan, but meeting with a master, am I suppose to ask some deep questions or something? Slowly slowly slowly I let it go, and just did what I needed to do, rolled with it.
 
I arrived at the agreed place but the Shifu was not there. He had arrived very early, him and his wife were out and about, looking at stuff. I messaged them and we hooked up. It was comfortable meeting him. He is sort of quiet, so I felt somewhat pressed to speak. I asked the general stuff and the three of us chatted comfortably. I really liked his wife, she reminded me of my Kung Fu auntie in Oakland.
When she found out I could speak some Chinese she helped me with a few things. At the end of the day she gave me a Jade, necklace for LZ.
 
One of the things I wanted to ask The shifu, well really the only thing. “What is the meaning of life? “
I have seen this question posted by a Buddhist Meetup group. I had seen this posted in another form by a Muslim, I recall this from my Christian days. Christians say “to bring glory to God”, Muslim: “To know God” ( something like that), my teacher’s answer was,” to know truth”. To me this could all be the same thing. It was not the mind blowing answer, I hoping for, but not a surprising answer. Hmmm perhaps in its simplisty.
 
We made our way over to the Aoki boat yard, where we were greeted and offered tea. There we chat a little before heading out to lunch. It was decided that we would go to the Indian Restaurant we go to was nearby and we could get veggie foods for Shifu and myself. Once there my friend the manager, made both myself and Shifu some thing special. It is good to have a connection.
 
So the world Chan conference began. China, Japan and American representatives 🙂 We had a nice chat about this and that, reasons for starting Chan, temples, masters, etc. At one point Aoki Shacho had to leave there were things to do back at the Boat yard. I found out later there was an interview. Anyway it was fine. I sat with the Shifu and his wife a while longer. Then we left.
 
We walked to the train station and I rode with them to the airport, where they made the connection to return to Kyoto where they were staying. I was invited to come visit them in Taipei. I liked them both. They were both approachable and down to earth. I will be continuing to study with Shifu Gouhan. Perhaps I have found my true Chan teacher…when the student is ready kind of thing. Some fate involved with him coming to Japan, otherwise he would have just been a voice on a internet conference. Too bad he is not a Kung Fu master as well, that would be off the hook…cool!
 
As for going to Taiwan, that could be a very cool thing and affordable for at least one visit. I can visit both my Chan shifus, I can stay at one of the temples for sure and people from the Heart Chan group will take me/us around as family. Also I have I believe a Kung Fu Uncle there who I could visit maybe train a bit with him. I am pretty sure Ling Sisuk sometimes goes to Taiwan for training, he could get me a hookup. I was told there are more and more vegetarians there in Tawain now so a lot of places to eat. I could get a lot of bang for a few days of low spending. Hmmm something to think about. LZ is up for a visit. I would need at least 4 days. One day for Kung Fu training , two days for the Chan temples, sight seeing one day, hmmmm. Ok maybe a week. Maybe we could go together and I can stay a couple of days extra for training. Something to think about anyway.
 
Anyway as far as Chan study, it is good to have a teacher again, someone I respect, I can grow now, I told my Abbott I would continue to train. My Heart Chan Shifu, Wujue Miaotian from Tawain does not speak English and I am not really in touch with the Ca group, it is hard to connect via on-line teachings, with the time factor. I am still connected but my path is different, I am not feeling somethings about that path. The group of Hsu Yun, my teacher there passed away. The group seems to have stalled, I see no future for me with them further. It is as Gouhan Shifu would say, a Karmic connection that has connected me with his group. (PS: Anyone interested in dharma classes free on-line drop me a note). I find it interesting that part of the training that I wanted to do in Japan was Zen, but my training is coming still from the Chinese path, even being in Japan.