Tag Archives: Buddhism

Siddhartha

Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?

I read Hesse’s Siddhartha this week. It was a good parable, and full of much thought to give me insight.

There are lessons on philosophy, on the meaning of knowledge and wisdom, as well as parallels to my own life and feeling of obligation, the suffering of love. Many things to reflect on…

One thing I’ve been thinking about is reducing anxiety by training myself on the irrationality of anxiety. For example, from the perspective of loving things. If I stop to wonder if I’ve misplaced something, I remember that I either have it, or I don’t; hurrying to check doesn’t change the fact that I’ve lost it or not. There is much human life in Tokyo, so many infrastructures and pieces in motion. When meditating many things to process, to take note of, filter and appreciate.

Hubris

I spend a lot of time reflecting on my reasons for loving Japan, perhaps too much time. Now that I think about it, there is a lot of logic in just accepting it and moving on, perhaps there are a lot more productive things I could be thinking about. Buddhism teaches to accept one’s nature. Fighting against that which is natural only leads to suffering. Humans are imperfect. We do get angry and irritated. I was talking with another henro about this earlier in the week. When climbing a mountain, it is tiring. The heat, weight of the pack, pain in the feet, all these things can be irritating. it is not useful to feel guilt for being irritated. What is useful is to accept the irritation and try to be positive. Japan is appealing for a large variety of reasons. But I am not Japanese, no matter how long I live here. I feel insecure that my attempts to integrate to Japanese society are superficial or poorly executed. There are certain other foreigners who I look at with disdain for their awkwardness and inauthenticity. Probably because I worry that is how I myself appear.

But I love Japan. I love the constant flow of people around the train stations, the chalky concrete texture on every wall and pathway. The clicking of bicycle transmissions disengaged under dusky baskets full of groceries in polyurethane bags. The sounds lilting from the cracked windows between tightly packed houses. Piano lessons and braking dogs, filling bathtubs and balcony washing machines. A thousand smells wafting on the breeze, soy sauce and cooking wines, fish and mountain potatoes. How an intricate latticework of shadows from the web of power lines, telephone cables and shopping street banners suspended overhead.

But this is not my private banana republic, no matter how much I pretend it were. There are many foreigners living in Japan and many of them are likely as enamored with being here as I am. That duality is something I have to come to terms with. It’s fine that Japan is such a big part of my identity, just as it is for others. I am special and unique, but not entitled to pride or special treatment as such.

As a twig, as a reed

In some ways I have been called strong, consistent. I know of many ways where I am fickle and easily swayed, however, even with matters to myself. My mood changes more times than I can count– with the heat, hunger, pain, and things not going as planned. In a more macroscopic sense I have even forgotten some of the blisses of henro; for there are many. Being at temple truly is a joy, there are so many things that sing to both the body and the soul. Though there is protocal about what is frowned upon, you can soak up a lot from just sitting in the center for an hour and letting the body become awash in the hypnotic beauty of Buddhism.

On zen

Today I will talk about zen. Zen is the road to enlightenment through the field of simplicity, a field that is so straight and far it disappears beyond the horizon, flawless in its truth and perfection, for not a single details stands out to catch the eye.

I do not pretend to know the thoughts and feelings of other men, but having studied them for decades I know my own. I have seen them sprout and grow, shooting off in a dozen directions, intertwining and thickening as much as they have bent in the wind like a narrow thrush. As time flows on my heart has grown stronger, gaining breadth from experience and depth from the graduation of pain.

I would hope to be a writer, for it is another channel from which my expression flows. Writing is like any other form of expression, noble in intention and clumsy at first, but with much study, thought, and practice, it can be sharpened to fell a tree like the mightiest of blades. There can be grace in its movement, and sweet life flowing through its veins. I have looked at many art forms and by no means a master, found enough skill and aplomb to satisfy myself in its application. There is nothing to be gained by waiting to express oneself. If heart is not put into practice, there will be no meaningful development.

Every moment where I allow myself to be, I have nothing but yearning to nurture the fire in my soul. It must be given fuel, and so I read, listen, and watch. It must also have air and freedom of movement, so I walk. Finally, it must have silence and emptiness, for the burning exists only between the moments when there is none. So lastly I give myself the joy of nothing, perhaps the most important celebration of all.

Breath drawn is a miracle. Though it means nothing to the void it means everything to me, and as I exist in my own reality, it is the only way I can be. The one way, the way of everything and of nothing.

Motivations

Almost a year has passed since I last wrote thinking of the trail. This year for various reasons I could not go back to Japan in the spring, and it seems I won’t have another chance for some time.

I started on the trail because I wanted to find something, to discover what was important to me, the thing that would lead me to the next step. In that respect I found what I was looking for and succeeded without finishing the journey. However after that first leg I found the road calling back to me, and a number of justifications to continue. Being on that road is something that speaks to me, and feels like an essential need I must answer. In that sense it is a very selfish wish, and far from the intentional of the pilgrimage. Knowing how much the romantic thrill of the journey lays in my motivation is slightly discouraging and taints the experience, but on the other hand that sort of worldly desire leading to suffering is at the heart of Buddhist teaching and somewhat consoling.

I think the essence of this lesson is to not pine for the man that I was, but to instead celebrate the man that I am.

The ebb and flow of strength

As fortune would have it, I have been able to come back to the idyllic surfer beach of Ooki on my way to temple 39. Today being Sunday, surfers fill the tides providing ample spectacle to observe. I feel physically tired but hopeful. The last week has been taxing on my feet, and I haven’t slept on something softer than concrete since leaving Tokyo ten days ago.

On the contrary, my spirit has been buoyed by a number of supportive villagers along the trail. Only at my most tired have I begun to grumble and doubt my choices. Being this disconnected from my normal oversaturation of media has given me a lot of pause. My behaviors range from silly to solemn. Though I can’t say that I have come to any conclusions yet, I think I am gravitating towards some. I thought my priority was to try and find some resolution about my obsessive compulsion to produce artifacts and refine my skills, but it seems I have been skirting the issue and examining my subtle prejudices instead. This of course is also quite worthwhile and I am letting my mind wander for the most part.

I love the ocean so. It will pain me to leave it behind again. Knowing in Sweden I cannot hop on a morning train and spend a blissful summer day at the shore makes me feel trapped somehow, locked away.

Return to Kochi

Nine months after leaving my love, I am back on the beaches of Kochi, my heart suspended somewhere between the gentle crash of the waves and the setting sun. Being here feels so right, I am happy anywhere in nature but it is the murmur of the sea that truly resonates with me. Maybe this is the answer I need, the last romantic adventure to bring me peace. To be with the sea, among the waves, dappled by the sun, arms outstretched to welcome the oneness that I can only find here.

The save game

And so my month of pilgrimage has come to an end.  I was going to stay in Shikoku until Friday, but various factors made it more practical to come back a couple days early.

Carrying fifteen kilograms I hitchhiked five hundred kilometers from eastern Japan, and then I walked about five hundred more:  over mountains, through rice fields, along ocean shorelines.  I paid for lodging twice in the whole month, and for twenty four days lived the life ascetic:  sleeping in vegetable fields, shrine gardens, on rest area benches, and in bus stop overhangs.  My back held up better than I expected.  By some miracle I only had two minor blisters on my right foot.  I lost an inch off my waist and three pounds.  I cooked rice in a pot, and ate handouts of oranges and throat lozenges.  I read three novels, two texts on Buddhist sutras, and one work on philosophy. I chanted the heart sutra over eighty times, lit dozens of candles and made offerings at thirty five temples– thirty two Shingon Buddhist and three Rinzai Zen.  And I took over five hundred photographs, film and digital, to remember it by.  Everything cost less than sixty thousand yen, a fraction of my living expenses in Tokyo.

But that is my trip by the numbers.  What I went looking for was solace, reflection, discovery.  I suppose I found all of these.  Nothing earth-shatterimg, no revelations to change my life, but a little deeper insight into what I think I already knew in my heart.  I don’t have a definitive answer to where my career will lead next, but I have a good start on that, and a slew of colorful mindmaps on my tablet documenting the thought processes and action items moving forward.  🙂

I’m not sure if Thoreau would curse me or shake my hand.

But that is my trip.

The birthday

I have a habit of spending birthdays alone.  I used to receive a day off from the company, and it falls in close proximity with the Japanese national holiday Culture Day.  Games that ship at Christmas are long done at the end of October, or there is a major problem, so the confluence of these events leads to time off which I almost always prefer to spend out of town, so the solitary birthday comes into being.  This time it is a whole month, and aside from a few days where friends overlapped my path, it has been a solo expedition.  To be honest I think I have handled it rather well.  No homesickness, hardly any lonely except when I have stopped moving for example due to weather.  I have my thoughts, my books, and the scenery to keep me more than occupied.   Nature itself is an endless realm of learning and challenge.

There is a certain detail-oriented allure to backpacking.  All your possessions are on your person, and as such easily cataloged and maintained.  All of the years raised to put everything in its place:  laundry washed in restroom sinks and hung on the tent rigging, a collapsible set of chopsticks that fit in a titanium lightweight mess kit, toiletries in sealable bags, each trial size and the bare minimum for survival with comfort.  With every tightly rolled sleeping bag the day begins with fulfillment and promise.

So for my birthday when everyone wishes me something special, a drink and a celebratory evening, I thank them for the sentiment but will likely spending it as I am most content:  in a distant country or a remote forest, tidying my campsite in between extended sessions of book reading, stretching, and meditation.  In bed soon after dark and dreaming of how compact my pack will be on the trail tomorrow.

The glass river

I sit on the bank of one of the many small rivers running through the valley of Kochi Prefecture.  Doves coo on the opposite bank as the sound of a housewife beating out a futon to dry echoes far downstream.   A young duck excitedly bobs and swims underwater for meters at a time, making his way home.  Sparrows, larks, and finches chatter noisily behind me as a jet liner takes off from the airport in the bay.

The rocks under my bare feet cause the sore flesh to dimple pleasingly, and I have spent a very introspective morning reading the dharmapadma while thinking of priorities.  I am so alone as to be reflective, but like the idle river in front of me to stop for a moment, a myriad of almost indiscernable ripples form from the infinitely complex web of life that surrounds us.

To think is to clean the mind, like water kidneys and and oxygen the blood.  But a life of only thought is wasted, for a hermit brings no happiness to society.  So I walk, and I pray, I smile at old women and touch the bark of great trees.

The heart is a beautiful mirror, in form as flawless and bright as polished glass, but it must be polished to retain its luster, and shone in the world to reflect the truth.  This must be the Middle Path, and one I hope to stray from no longer.

The Diamond Sutra

I must be as smoke on the mountain: ever changing yet formless, natural and unhindered yet the product of my environment, one part of millions, unnoticed in its simple beauty, gone in a matter of moments, spread with peace upon the wind.

Practice kindness and charity without attachment and you can be fully enlightened.

-The Diamond Sutra

The way to judge a man

Reading The Diamond Sutra makes my head spin with ethereal concepts, so after a while I started on in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance again, because the larger part of it is easier to relate to, with concrete examples.

Reflecting on my insecurities, and how they all trace back to the ego, the craving for individualism and validation of the self from external sources depresses me for I cannot find a substrate to begin the dissolution of the problem.

So I began to think about judgment of character, and evaluating my desire to speak, to write.  These are also undoubtedly driven by the same core psychological elements, so writing or speaking again for these reasons is unjustifiable in the Buddhist sense.

There is a saying that a man should be judged by his actions, and not his words, which I think has a lot of credence.  So, if I as a man am to do as such, words for the sake of others need be limited to the gesticulation of simple commands and needs.  If only it were so.

Communication for the completion of tasks alone is insufficient, for all humans are at some degree driven emotionally.  So the words that are most economical on their use are gratitude, understanding, and apology.  To master these words alone and their usage must take a man far in life.  There is a time, and a manner of dispensing them that builds one’s status in community of the micro and macroscopic scale.

In nirvana all these things may go unsaid, for their meaning would be implicit, and no soul hunger for them.  However, we do not live in such a world as of yet, so acknowledgement of their power is unavoidable.

Growth

What is it that prompts emotional growth?  For biological things, nutrients and environment are the biggest factors, along with any motivated conditioning.  But what about love, compassion, or social awareness?  If one is loved does one learn love?  If one is shown compassion is it learnable? 

Physical growth is possible largely due to physical factors.  So is emotional growth based on emotional factors?  From my experience it seems like dramatic change prompts growth, however this may only be as the change is memorable, so the events immediately afterwards tend to be catalogued with more scrutiny.  Am I able to love as I do now because of thirty years of slow, accumulated caring?  Could I have realized these things any sooner if I had diverted more resources to the cause?  If that is the case, then we do have direct control over how growth as human beings.  Our free will permits us the opportunity to optimize this equation.  So it is quite true that a man is best judged not by what he has, but how he spends his time.

This is another thing I mean to understand more fully in my heart.  If I did there would be much less guilt in my life, and much more satisfaction.  Thanks to the powers that gave me the conscience to realize this.

Fate

Today’s randomly chosen passage from the Buddhist scriptures:

“Of all the wordly passions, lust is the most intense.  All other worldly passions seem to follow in its train.”